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Public Investments: The Case of the Trans-Canada Highway


June 12, 2017

The view on public investments and country growth have changed. The notion of environmental sustainability was barely on the radar when the National Film Board of Canada made a documentary about the building of the Trans-Canada Highway almost 60 years ago (embedded below).

Growth was the primary rationale for building a little over 8,000 kilometers of highway in the 1950s. What is interesting to public investment planners of today is the lack of foresight about economic changes. For example:

  • Fisheries in Newfoundland, coal mining on Cape Breton Island, and nickel mining in Sudbury (complete with burning slag heaps) have been on a significant decline
  • In addition to the environmental issues with mining, atomic energy and dams are highlighted
  • Montreal is the largest city in Canada, and financial capital in 1958 – it’s now Toronto
  • Population growth and urbanization  means that 2 lane highways are unable to handle traffic flow in even smaller cities

Trans Canada Summer, Ronald Dick, Jack Olsen & Jean Palardy, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Were these economic changes unthinkable in the 1950s? We need to ask ourselves whether the state-of-the-art of public investment scenario planning is sufficient. Many governments plan without considering the Sustainable Development Goals. Some government focus entirely on economic growth leading to a public policy gap.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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