I was recently appointed to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities. This committee is responsible for many vital aspects of Canada’s economic life. One exciting project that has recently come before the committee is the proposed Alaska-to-Alberta Railway, or A2A.
A perennial problem for businesses in the land-locked prairies is our limited access to tidewater to ship our products to the world. At present, although there are a few branch lines, only two major rail lines ship Western goods to BC ports.
As well, many Canadians would be shocked to learn that only a single rail line, the Mackenzie Northern Railway, connects the northern territories economically to the rest of Canada and it has only a single terminal in the Northwest Territories.
The Calgary-based A2A Development Corporation aims to solve these problems by constructing a $20 billion privately-owned, privately-financed 2,570 kilometre rail line connecting Fort McMurray, Alberta to the Delta Junction in Alaska, from which cars can be transferred to other lines that connect to Alaska’s seaports.
Along the way, the proposed railway would provide a long-overdue rail connection to the Yukon territory as well as an additional connection to the Northwest Territories. In addition to shipping resources from Alberta and Saskatchewan to port, the line could ship fruits, vegetables and refrigerated goods to the people of the North and could potentially provide alternatives for passenger transportation. As well, it would provide the northern resource sector with more access to markets in the south. A2A estimates that the project will lift long-term household incomes by an average of 40 per cent for communities along the route.
While it’s easy to see how this rail project benefits Alberta and Yukon, it also would revolutionize transportation in Saskatchewan. How often have our agricultural producers and businesses in the resource sectors lost money because of delays in our current clogged transport system? A third option of accessible seaports would allow us faster, more nimble access to world markets for our grain, potash, uranium, oil and other products.
A2A’s goal is to build the line by 2025. A2A executives predict that, by 2040, it could generate $60 billion in economic output and generate 28,000 jobs.
While this all sounds very good, we all know the sad and frustrating history of major infrastructure projects in Canada, such as the Northern Gateway, Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines. A2A has tried to learn lessons from those past failures. They have already invested $100 million into preliminary environmental studies and community engagement. They have paid particular attention to engage early with Indigenous communities, with whom they have discussed revenue sharing arrangements. Jean Paul Gladu, the president of A2A, is himself a member of the Sand Point First Nation.
The project recently got a boost when U.S. President Trump approved the Alaska segment of the rail line. But, as usual, the problem lies on the Canadian side of the border. The federal Liberals have shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the project. Justin Trudeau has even threatened to invoke Bill C-69 in the project assessment. This bill, which invokes heightened health, environmental and social assessments, was previously nicknamed the “No More Pipelines Bill” but now it’s clear that it should be called the “No More Infrastructure of Any Kind Bill”.
My Conservative colleagues and I on the Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities committee, as well as in the House, are strong advocates for A2A. But we face an uphill battle. Even though we are in a minority parliament, we have no allies on this project. On the one hand, we face the anti-energy biases of the Liberals and NDP and, on the other hand, we have the Bloc who have no interest in helping the West on anything.
For the benefits of the A2A proposal to come to fruition, it will need strong support from politicians, from the public, and especially from the business community. I encourage everyone to get on board!