The Canadian Northern Corridor: Planning for National Prosperity




Canadian Northern Corridor, multi-modal infrastructure, indigenous community development, regional economics, environmental protection, standards of living, northern sovereignty


This paper is a follow-up to the School of Public Policy’s initial publication on the corridor concept published by Fellows and Sulzenko (2016). In it, they give a summary of the broad scope of the Canadian Northern Corridor (CNC) concept and The School of Public Policy’s CNC research program.

Canada has benefited immensely from major national infrastructure projects, however; there remain significant constraints in the Canadian transportation grid that must be addressed to seize opportunities for shared prosperity and security now and into the future. Addressing these constraints requires substantive investments by the private and public sectors to grow and diversify Canada’s domestic and international markets, support northern and Indigenous community development, fulfill commitments to reconciliation, reduce environmental footprints, strengthen the national infrastructure grid, enhance northern security and sovereignty, and address barriers to inter-regional trade. Current approaches to national infrastructure planning and development are wanting, putting the achievement of these important objectives at risk.

Canada’s current infrastructure approach is piecemeal; projects are planned and implemented in isolation from one another and regulatory and governance frameworks are specifically designed for individual projects and their specific purposes. This reliance on one-off projects comes with little or no consideration of a long-term national strategy or integration with other infrastructure initiatives. Project investors must address all environmental, Indigenous and intergovernmental concerns; shoulder all costs; and have the capacity to survive an uncertain approval process lasting a decade or more. Further, there is no opportunity for sharing the approval and construction costs with other infrastructure projects by integrating and coordinating their planning and implementation processes. These characteristics translate into high costs and uncertainty with the result that, increasingly, major private investors may choose to go elsewhere, taking along with them potential associated benefits.   

The CNC concept addresses these issues. The CNC is multi-modal, capable of accommodating infrastructure in the form of roads, rail, power lines, communications cables and transmission equipment, commodity pipelines, and other future linear infrastructure modes. The CNC involves a set of pre-approved and administered rights-of-way, combined with an institutional framework for its development and operation, improving the economics and decreasing the environmental footprint of infrastructure investments that cross regional boundaries. 

The establishment of a single comprehensive and integrated body for corridor regulation and operation could enhance the capacity of local communities to plan and participate in long-term infrastructure projects. Further, the CNC could deliver economic opportunities and participation for Indigenous communities. Even regions with high degrees of existing transportation infrastructure connectivity will benefit from reduced congestion and linkages to new regions.






Briefing Papers