Mid-Continental Trade Corridor

Thanks to Global Warming, which is decreasing crop yields for staples like rice and could sink 21% of Bangledesh with a single meter rise in sea level (pushing 15 million people out of their homes), we also are looking at the prospect of an ice-free Artic summer in the near future. So, while Rome burns, Manitoba may be able to play the fiddle.

I was speaking with a rather well-educated guy the other day and he had no idea that Manitoba was well situated to take advantage of the ice melt because Churchill is closer to Asia and Europe than most people realize.

What? How can this be? Well, mis-education has helped many to see the world in a distorted, 2-dimensional, flat way. Here is what your grade seven teacher used as a world map:

Mercator Projection of the World

Mercator Projection of the World

As Lloyd Axworthy recounts in his book, “Navigating A New World” (Thanks to Andrew for the gift), we look to the East and West for links, rather than the North because of this distorted map. (see pages 329-336) But, we are living on a the geodesic surface of a sphere-like object.

The shortest distance from (1) Murmansk to Chicago; (2) Paris to LA; (3) Tokyo to New York; and (4) Beijing to Chicago all passes through Manitoba. When you look at the map above, this is counter-intuitive. But, looking at Earth cum geode, thanks to Google Earth, here are our four examples:

Murmansk to Chicago

Murmansk to Chicago

Paris to Los Angeles

Paris to Los Angeles

Tokyo to New York

Tokyo to New York

Beijing to Chicago

Beijing to Chicago


Manitoba should be looking at this and licking its collective lips. The Mid-Continental Trade Corridor policy is a vital part of Manitoba’s future. Winnipeg will be a key city in the future thanks to its strategic position as a bridge between literally hundreds of millions of people. The potential wealth generated by this trade corridor could leave us in a position to finally be the “Chicago of the North” if we manage it wisely.

The Mid-Continental Trade Corridor is one of the main reasons why I am optimistic about Winnipeg’s future.


6 responses to “Mid-Continental Trade Corridor

  1. Don’t tell the anti-NAFTA people about this. They will be rather upset!

    Certainly, as the Arctic becomes ice free due to climate change, Manitoba is set to become the hub of North America. Another main benefit is that Manitoba largely runs on hydro-electricity, making Manitoba a very attractive place in the oil-depleted future. I also heard rumours that they are thinking of tapping into the massive iron deposit out by Neepawa, which could make Winnipeg the new Pittsburgh. If this deposit is tapped, it is very lucky that a lot of the rail infrastructure is still intact (unlike in southern Ontario).

    I agree, Winnipeg’s prospects in the future are looking really good.

  2. I didn’t know about the iron, too! Winnipeg is well situated to be a hub awash with resources and connections to the world, partially insulated from oil-depletion, in a world that is resource scarce.

    I would also add that we are blessed with a massive cultural diaspora that will help us culturally connect with diverse trading partners.

  3. Good topic for discussion Mike. The mid-continent corridor is vital for Manitoba’s future even without global warming, but if/when the drastic effects of global warming start to really take root, we will be well situated geographically to reap the benefits, as it were. I realize this sounds absolutely callous, but it’s not meant to be taken that way… sometimes reality isn’t pleasant.

    However, it’s not enough to just have a strategic location on the map. No, that is only the starting point. What concerns me is that we won’t have the infrastructure in place to take advantage of our strategic position. Your maps that you present are good in that they remind us how close we in Manitoba are to centres in Europe and Asia. However, straight lines, while illustratively useful, do not represent actual transportation routes. Roads, rail and shipping routes seldom, if ever, follow a straight line path. Therefore, I we should look at what’s already in place to see where our constraints and opportunities are.

    For instance, you use New York to Tokyo as an example of a route passing through Manitoba. When you draw a straight line across the globe, this seems like a huge opportunity. But, wait, there are already well established rail and highway networks running through the US that shipping companies would want to take advantage of. What’s more, there are many well established ports capable of processing large quantities of container traffic along both the eastern and western coasts that shipping companies can make easy use of.

    Maybe the answer is for Manitoba to increase the capacity of our rail and highway systems and to improve the processing capacity in Churchill to compete with these other more established networks. The reality is, such improvements would run into the billions of dollars. But maybe the cost of doing nothing is greater?

    The second-last point I would like to make is that even if we build it, will they come? Just because we build state-of-the-art infrastructure doesn’t mean that we’ll have shipping companies knocking our doors down. By attracting business to our province on such a large scale means we are taking business away from some other area. The type of infrastructure we’re talking about – roads, rail, ports – represent sunk costs for business and government, meaning they are essentially stuck with these things. So they’re not going to just sit idly by while shipping companies move to the greener pastures of Manitoba and they’re left with legacy mega-projects.

    Now the last issue that needs to be raised is the border. Currently, it’s becoming more and more of a hassle to cross the border. If this continues, this will be a major impediment for American business to ship through Canada.

    All the points I’ve raised are not insurmountable and they are not meant to play down the importance of the mid-continent corridor. Rather, before we fall over ourselves in collective amazement at our geographic fortune, we need to step back for a moment and realize that there are some important impediments that we face in the short, medium and long terms.

  4. 'upset anti-nafta people'?

    This corridor idea has been pushed forward for the past decade or so, and follows with proposed corridors for both the east and west coasts of the continent (i.e. “Atlantica” and “PNWER”). I actually find it interesting how the ‘myths vs. facts’ on NASCO’s website are actually quite different from what the website originally stated.

    To be honest, like the wild-eyed, hemp-chewing, anti-nafta crazy that I am, I do see this as a furthering of the trade agreement. I’ve gone through a lot of independent research on NAFTA that states that it’s given corporations far more power, governments far less power, depressed wages, eroded social programs, undermined democracy, and worsened poverty and inequality… the kind of stuff you’ll never hear from the big business world. But if we can get our shoes for even cheaper from a Mexican factory, why not?

    I’m really just hoping this enthusiasm in ‘trade’ to make Manitoba a great place isn’t based on a failed trickle-down theory. The pyramid is somehow sloped so money moves up…

    Sorry to provide a break in the positive hopefulness, donaldstreet. I still really like your blog. Now back to my monopoly game…

  5. ‘upset’ and PhilKing each raised good points which I will briefly address:

    On NAFTA and shoes, I was previously of the opinion that we should ultimately leave choices to consumers. Vote with dollars. However, while I buy fair-trade coffee, 20 times more people prefer to vote for slavery! It’s a shock to me that consumers are not able to do unto others as they would have done unto themselves. So, I am forced into accepting the need for better trade agreements. In an ideal world, future trade agreements would include social and ecological rules governing minimum economic and political standards for all citizens.

    But, the shoes you raise are more illustrative than you may have thought. The classic sweat-shop child-labour shoe factory isn’t always located in Mexico, despite NAFTA. These shoes come from around the world, even though they are not part of NAFTA. Trade is, and will continue to be, global. However, trade can be regulated through international agreements. Not easy to do, by any means, but necessary if we are to avoid subjecting ourselves to the nastier market forces.

    As for Phil, my drawings above are mere geometric fancy. While there are evident distance and time advantages to going along the shortest route (not a straight route, btw), the complexities you raised cannot be ignored. It strikes me that there are ample studies to be conducted before the ice melts, followed by inter-governmental agreements, followed by Canada-Manitoba joint funding of major infrastructure improvements, followed by etc…

    The shortest distance wins only if it is the most feasible. My lines are worth nothing without major government policies over many years. Like Axworthy, I am facinated by the possibilities, but well aware that there is a lot of work to be done first.

  6. On the Churchill end of things I was there last summer. Got a tour of the Port and other facilities up there. People on the port end of things were quite bullish about the future. In the 8 days I was there a Russian cruse ship and a European Grain ship both pulled in the same week.

    The season is three weeks longer now than when OmniTrax took the port over a few years back, the shipping insurance companies are relaxing the rules when it comes to Arctic shipping and each day of ocean time saved on one of those ships is around $20k saved in dollars. The port has pretty minimal costs – I think the GM said they only need something like 8 grain ships a year to break even.

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