The concept of establishing a "northern corridor" to reduce the cost of living in Canada's North is moving ahead, with the publication of a new research report on the idea.

The corridor would be a pre-approved area where companies could build transportation infrastructure such as pipelines, highways, railways and electrical lines, connecting northern communities to the South. The idea is to get some of the initial work — planning, surveying and land use consultation — out of the way, clearing the path for investment later. 

Kent Fellows, a researcher with the University of Calgary and one of the report's authors, says it could have a big impact on northern communities, namely "lowering the cost of everything in the North."

Kent Fellows

'We really want to get out ahead and coordinate development in the North,' said Kent Fellows, a University of Calgary researcher. (CBC)

"We really want to get out ahead and coordinate development in the North," Fellows said.

"If you can improve infrastructure you can reduce the costs — not only of getting commodities and resources out of those regions, but getting imports into those regions."

The corridor is not a new idea. The report notes that several Mid-Canada Corridor studies were done in the late 1960s. It also notes that the idea of a new, cross-Canada network hasn't been discussed for almost 50 years. 

The northern corridor would connect to Canada's existing transportation network, which the report calls "southern-focussed." It says the current system is closed off to a big part of the country, inhibiting development opportunities in the North.

Who's going to pay?

The report's concept puts the corridor at approximately 7,000 kilometres in length and up to five kilometres wide. It would follow the boreal forest in the northern part of the west, moving northwest along the Mackenzie Valley, southeast from the Churchill, Man., area to northern Ontario and across northern Quebec to Labrador.

Ideally, Fellows said a route would be established that's agreeable to "as many parties as we can, so that we have a good idea of where this type of infrastructure should be going."

The report estimates that, if fully built, the corridor would cost $100 billion.

Fellows says that wouldn't fall on one party though — noting that infrastructure like roads could fall to municipal, territorial or federal governments. Once the groundwork is in place, he expects that proponents for things like rails and pipelines will come forward with their chequebooks.

"There's a lot more scope for trade-offs that can make everyone better off," Fellows said.

"You've seen a lot of talk about individual projects here and there, and they end up sort of scattered as a spider web over different parts of the North," he said.

"By coordinating these and putting them into single right-of ways we can really improve the advantage there in terms of both facilitating this type of construction and also making sure it happens where it should be happening."

With files from Randy Henderson