By Alex Binkley

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is preparing to launch months of consultations on how to respond to the 244 recommendations in a review of national transportation policy, which urged governments to think of the future in their decisions on infrastructure.

On May 24, Garneau and Transport Department officials held the first of many roundtables and other consultations with representatives of the transportation industry, its customers, planners and provincial and municipal governments, which should wrap up in the fall. Government and business need to develop situational awareness of what’s happening within the transportation system, the minister has said in recent speeches. It’s “better for safety, better for moving goods efficiently, better for all Canadians getting from point A to point B. “The federal government cannot develop this ability alone,” he adds. “It will take unprecedented information sharing between the transportation sectors, governments and several other bodies to accomplish this goal.”

The review of the Canada Transportation Act headed by former cabinet Minister David Emerson was released in February. The most controversial proposals involved Prairie grain transportation and the government postponed a decision on them until 2017.

The public forums on the Emerson report thus far have generally applauded its emphasis on thinking long-term about the overall effectiveness of the transportation network that moves goods and people and stop focusing on the current well-being of individual carriers, ports and airports. Garneau says, “If we truly see transport as a living, breathing, integrated system, we must see it as having all modes connect and function in harmony. … Transportation is essential to drive this country’s economic growth and the future prosperity of all Canadians. But we must also design and manage the transportation system so that we continue to protect passengers, communities and our environment.”

Garneau said he wants ideas on where the transportation system should be in the next 20 to 30 years as well as priority areas for action over the short- to medium-term “that will position the system to support economic growth, a healthier environment and Canada’s competitiveness in global markets.” One issue the Minister raised is the capacity of the country’s railway system. “Over the last three decades, we’ve seen a doubling in the volume of goods travelling by rail, such as grain, natural resources, petroleum products, automobiles and other consumer items. The result is longer trains, in some cases with double-stack containers, to handle the demand. The question is whether our rail system can handle even more traffic in the future. “The plain truth is that transportation corridors in Canada today continue to face bottlenecks that block the fluid movement of the goods transported through them,” he noted. “My challenge is to change that.”

Garneau says his marching orders from Prime Minister Trudeau “state that my overarching goal is to ensure that Canada’s transportation system supports the government’s agenda for economic growth and job creation. We have an amazing opportunity right now to think about what transportation can do to help build this country for future generations. Let’s start by thinking big. After all, we live in the second biggest country on Earth! Let’s strive to create a future for transportation that is based on imagination, innovation and inspiration. It takes years to build infrastructure. So how do we, as a country, develop the next generation of transportation infrastructure that will meet the demands of markets that are not on our radar today?”

There are five themes in the consultations: safer transportation; trade corridors to global markets; green and innovative transportation; the traveller and waterways, coasts and the North. While much of the report focused on freight transportation, Garneau was planning an online discussion with Canadians on the theme of “The Passenger”.

Anyone who wants to comment on the Emerson report can go to the website , which contains a link to a submission form under “Have an idea?”.