In “danger + opportunity ≠ crisis“, Sinologist Victor Mair warns us that we often misinterpret the hanzi (or what we Japanese speakers call kanji) – literally “Chinese characters”. In the case of the danger + opportunity = crisis, we are interpreting “incipient moment; crucial point” as “opportunity”. Not the same thing at all.
But, I think that the paradigm is still useful. We should see Threats as Opportunities to change. Along those lines, the US Stimulus bill includes a very small (only $8 Billion out of $787 Billion) support for high-speed rail in the US.
Although decades behind the Japanese Shinkansen system or the French TGV, the US is now actively supporting regional high-speed rail systems that can out-compete airlines for speed and reliability. At 310 MILES PER HOUR, and without having to show up 2 hours ahead of the departure, and without locating stations an hour outside of city centers like airports, the new train systems are far and above superior to air travel within smaller regions. (My 350 km trip from downtown Osaka to downtown Tokyo was three hours faster by rail than plane, by the way. London to Paris is a feasible trip for a night out on the town by rail, not by plane.)
Further, these new systems are not only convenient but can get the US off its oil addiction and reduce green-house gas emissions. Bully for Obama.
Now, look closely at that map. The regional high-speed lines are getting closer together. They may be linked soon into a continental system. They are already linking with Vancouver and Montreal. Toronto can’t be far behind. And Winnipeg is close enough to Minneapolis to join the system eventually. All this is well and good in of itself. But, consider the effects on Canadian sovereignty.
In 1867, the new Canadian government understood that our geography meant that most Canadian centers were easily absorbed into regional US systems. Thus, the national railway was built to link the country together and encourage East-West instead of just North-South travel, communication, tourism, and trade. If Canada wants to keep up with the rest of the first world and protect our sovereignty, it is time that we begin to construct our own regional high-speed networks. The oft-mentioned Windsor-Quebec corridor would be a first step. Alberta and Southern BC would also benefit from high-speed rail. And the Prairies? Can Winnipeg be connected to these new systems or are we to remain out of the loop? How can we be part of the solution to many convergent crises?