Can Canada's border cities accommodate their growth?
By GRAEME SMITH
Source: Statistics Canada
March 13, 2002
Canadian cities near the U.S. border flourished during a decade of free trade but are now threatened because their roads, rails and border checkpoints have not kept pace with the boom, mayors and other experts warn.
"We have a heck of a problem here," said Doug McCallum, the mayor of Surrey, B.C. "The federal and provincial governments haven't recognized how fast some of these cities are growing."
Census data released yesterday show that more people are living near the border as Canada increases its reliance on trade with the United States.
Across the country, census divisions immediately beside the border registered an average population growth rate of 7 per cent from 1996 to 2001, well above the national average of 4 per cent.
Some of Canada's strongest population growth appeared in areas that gained economic advantage from the U.S.-Canada free-trade agreement in 1989 and the North American free-trade agreement in 1994.
Canadian exports to the United States climbed 57 per cent between 1996 and 2001, to $351-billion annually. Roughly half of that growth came from Ontario, much of it flowing through Canada's busiest trade crossing in Windsor.
Ontario also received the largest population influx of any province during that period, welcoming 656,000 people over five years.
Eighty-nine per cent of those people arrived in the southern part of Ontario that Statistics Canada labelled the "Windsor corridor extended horseshoe," a heavily populated zone stretching from Barrie to Windsor and within reach of three major border crossings.
But the swelling population and export numbers have not been met with an equal increase in government spending on transportation and border crossings, said John Bescec, a vice-president of the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters.
"The infrastructure development hasn't kept pace with either the population increase or the increase in business," Mr. Bescec said. "The roads, bridges, and tunnels need to be expanded."
Ironically, he added, Canada's border areas threaten to become victims of their own prosperity as traffic chokes off trade and investment.
"If nothing is done, there's a possibility that the trade volume could actually decrease."
As mayor of Surrey, Mr. McCallum is proud that his city's population has grown by 42 per cent since 1991, to 347,825 people, according to the 2001 census. Surrey also boasts Canada's second-busiest border checkpoint.
But Mr. McCallum is also chairman of TransLink, which runs public transportation systems in the Vancouver area. As a result, he deals with frustrating aspects of growth -- congested roads, lineups at the border and railways pushed to capacity.
"We're in gridlock most of the time here," Mr. McCallum said. "And the problems are starting to multiply."
Markham's amazing growth
City 2001 1996 % change
City of Markham 208,615 173,383 20.3%
City of Toronto 2,481,494 2,385,421 4.0%