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Opinion: Building back better should include CN’s Milton Logistics Hub

Opinion: Building back better should include CN’s Milton Logistics Hub

In Canada’s fight against COVID-19, the federal government wants to “build back better.” That’s good. The building can and should...

In Canada’s fight against COVID-19, the federal government wants to “build back better.” That’s good. The building can and should start now — with infrastructure. CN’s proposed $250-million Milton Logistics Hub, northwest of Toronto, which has undergone five years of environmental assessment and is now awaiting a federal government decision on its fate, would be an ideal first step.

At the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 AGM & Convention that took place Oct. 26-27, the Milton Hub was raised as a shovel-ready infrastructure project that the proponent wants to build with its own money, but that’s been bogged down by a lamentably slow, uncertain regulatory regime.

Meanwhile, the jobs the Milton facility should have generated by now — 375 in construction, 130 permanent and 1,000 indirect — haven’t materialized.

Disruptions triggered by COVID-19 have strained the highly-integrated supply chain upon which Canada depends. As we seek to restore our economy amid the ongoing pandemic, it’s critical that we ensure our businesses can stay competitive and remain productive. To do that, we need to invest in reliable transportation infrastructure that ensures our supply chain continues to work effectively. Thus, the need for Milton.

CN currently serves southern Ontario and points beyond through its Brampton Intermodal Terminal, Canada’s busiest and largest inland intermodal facility. But Brampton is nearing capacity and the demand for household goods entering and leaving the region keeps growing.

If approved this year, Milton could be up and operational by early 2023, providing much-needed transportation capacity within “Canada’s innovation corridor,” which is anchored by the Greater Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo areas. The nation’s fastest-growing region, it’s being battered by gridlock and congestion that are costing businesses up to $15 billion annually.

This is a national issue. Milton would help facilitate the delivery of everything Canadian families need to live their busy lives — from food products and medical supplies, to cars and electronics — and ensure that Canadian manufacturers can efficiently access domestic and international markets.

By 2030, freight emissions are expected to surpass passenger emissions in Canada. Since trucks generate four times more greenhouse gas emissions than trains, rail represents an environmentally responsible way to move goods. It’s been well-documented that a single intermodal train removes up to 300 long-haul trucks from our clogged highways. Since it would serve four trains daily, CN’s Milton facility would in effect remove more than 400,000 trucks annually from our roadways, significantly reducing greenhouse gas and other emissions. (As a result of CN’s existing network, more than two million trucks are removed each year from Canadian highways.)

In January 2020, an expert Joint Review Panel, which conducted an extensive public hearing on Milton in mid-2019, issued a report that recognized the negative project effects are relatively small. And CN has proposed extensive measures to mitigate potential environmental effects brought about by the Hub.

The urgent need for the facility, coupled with CN’s focus on environmental responsibility, is why the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Chamber, and boards of trade, ports, and businesses across the country have strongly endorsed the project.

CN announced its plans to build the Milton Logistics Hub in March 2015. Last month, after such an exhaustive federal environmental review of the project, a decision on the facility was expected by the government of Canada. However, it was postponed for up to 90 days.

Time is of the essence here. The Milton Logistics Hub would strengthen the national supply chain, and quickly. Once built, it would bring desperately needed relief and efficiency to our transportation network. Without it, gridlock will increase, our ability to compete will be further undermined, and hundreds of jobs won’t be created.

Building back better should include the Milton Logistics Hub. We hope to see this project approved soon.

Perrin Beatty is president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Rocco Rossi is president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

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