The Concept

A Canadian Northern Corridor

The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary is undertaking research to explore the potential for an ambitious national concept: the Canadian Northern Corridor. 

What is the Canadian Northern Corridor Concept?

The envisioned Canadian Northern Corridor (CNC) Concept is a connected series of pathways linking Canada’s northern communities and development projects to three coasts and the southern trade and transportation corridor.

The Corridor’s pathways, also called multi-modal rights-of-ways, would include accompanying policy, regulatory and governance structures. When rights-of-way are established for the pathway segments,  space would be set aside for the coordinated development of infrastructure such as road, rail, transmission, pipeline and communication.

Read on to learn more about the Corridor Concept. To learn more about the Research Program and how it will develop the information base, analysis and policy options to support effective corridor implementation, see our Research Program page.


Is there a need for a new national corridor network?

Canada's economy relies on a considerable volume of inter-regional and international trade. Corridors and their infrastructure (road, rail, transmission, pipeline and communication technology) enable this trade. Canada’s southern regions have experienced considerable prosperity due to its corridor network. However, Canada’s North and Near North regions lack a corridor network and its associated infrastructure.

The lack of widespread northern corridor and infrastructure development has had negative consequences for Canada.  Northern regions experience lower levels of trade, higher costs for goods and services and a lack of or limited availability of critical services such as Internet connectivity.  Provincial and territorial GDP is negatively impacted because logistical challenges and high shipping costs discourage trade with the North. 

The CNC Research Program is investigating whether the Canadian Northern Corridor Concept could address these problems while improving the socio-economic status of peoples in Canada’s North.



Why does the CNC Concept include a new approach to Canadian infrastructure planning and development?

Canada’s current infrastructure planning and development process focuses on singular (“one-off”) infrastructure projects put forth by developers. This one-off project approach means projects are scattered across regions, which increases the environmental footprint of economic activity. Furthermore, developers are not required to situate their projects near other development sites, so the opportunity to co-locate services and develop a major transportation route(s) is lost. Additionally, project applications can still be rejected even after commissioning years' worth of studies and assessments, public consultations, and meeting all requirements.

Consequently, Canada’s current infrastructure approval process is lengthy, expensive and perceived as risky, and many project developers and investors have become reluctant to establish operations in Canada.


 “There is a need to increase certainty for investors and help get major infrastructure and transmission projects done in a timely fashion while minimizing environmental impacts, lowering the costs of environmental assessments, and maintaining high standards of Indigenous consultation and science-based assessments. These options should include further discussions on pan-Canadian economic corridors, both east-west and north-south, to increase productivity by distributing energy, communications, and economic potential currently locked in a single province or territory to other jurisdictions.” - The Council of the Federation, Canada’s Premiers. July 11, 2019.

What approach to infrastructure planning and development is the CNC Research Program investigating?

The Canadian Northern Corridor Concept envisions a new approach to infrastructure planning to address the needs of industry, communities and Indigenous rights-holders. First, through consultation, communities, Indigenous rights-holders and other stakeholders would identify the infrastructure they need and desire for a nearby corridor segment. This work would be followed by feasibility and environmental studies and rights-of-way negotiations. Once completed, the land would be set aside for that corridor segment, and developers would apply to establish the approved infrastructure.

The Canadian Northern Corridor Research Program is undertaking academically-led, peer-reviewed studies and engaging with stakeholders, rights-holders and communities to understand the feasibility, acceptability and desirability of this approach to infrastructure development.


Is the Canadian Northern Corridor Concept and Research Program affiliated with project proponents (e.g. infrastructure investors and developers, corridor advocates)?

The CNC Research Program is not affiliated with any project proponent or corridor advocacy group, nor does it recommend or specify the infrastructure contained with corridor pathways.  We describe the Corridor Concept as a “multi-modal” infrastructure corridor because it could contain different types of infrastructure such as roads, railways, pipelines, transmission lines and communications technology.

The Research Program is situated in The School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. Research is guided by a multidisciplinary research team and draws on the expertise of academics and industry professionals from across Canada. Our research is academically led and peer-reviewed. The Research Program aims to provide comprehensive, objective knowledge and analysis to inform dialogue and decision-making on the Corridor Concept and the infrastructure planning and development approach that would support it.

Occasionally, the CNC Research Program may provide a Letter of Support to academic researchers and public entities seeking funding to conduct corridor-related research, assessment and planning. The CNC Research Program may also receive Letters of Support from municipal and provincial governments and industry when applying for federal government research grants. We have listed CNC Research Program endorsements and letters of support here [hyperlink].

The CNC Research Program gratefully acknowledges funding from the Government of Alberta and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The amount of funding we have received enables us to complete two-thirds of the planned research program.

You can find Letters of Support for the CNC Concept, here. See media coverage highlights here.