If you think road traffic is annoying, the Canadian Automobile Association has just released some data to back you up: Drivers on Canada's 20 worst sections of road waste 11.5 million hours every year, and burn an extra 22.3 million litres of fuel. Yet while this is clearly a serious problem, especially in larger urban areas like Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, Canadians also regularly find themselves stuck in several other kinds of "traffic."
1. Emergency room congestion
If you need medical attention in a hurry, road traffic on the way to the hospital is not your only obstacle. According to a 2016 report by Quebec's Health and Welfare Commissioner, 19% of Canadians waited five hours or more for help in an emergency room, far worse than in other industrialized countries like the UK (3%), Germany (5%), and France (9%). Quebec is at the bottom of the pack, with 35% of patients waiting at least five hours. In all, nearly half of waits in the province exceeded the health department's own norms, for a total of 13 million hours of over-waiting by Quebec patients alone. Rather than just throwing more money at the problem, isn't it time we look at realigning the incentives that keep emergency rooms congested, and hospitals underperforming more generally?
2. Interprovincial trade blockades
The borders between provinces, easy to miss if you blink while travelling in a car, abound with regulatory obstacles blocking the flow of certain goods and services. Gérard Comeau, for instance, was charged in 2012 with exceeding the limit on beer and liquor that can be brought into New Brunswick from another province. He was acquitted in April 2016, but the province is now seeking to appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada. According to a 2016 report by the Standing Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce, these kinds of interprovincial trade barriers could cost Canada as much as $130 billion a year.
3. Energy bottlenecks
Another kind of flow that meets with significant interference is the transportation of energy, especially when it comes to using pipelines to move oil from where it is produced to where it is refined and consumed. While Ottawa has recently given the green light to two pipeline projects to bring Alberta oil to market, it is at the same time asking the National Energy Board (NEB) to reject a third project, the Northern Gateway pipeline. A fourth project, the Energy East pipeline to bring Alberta oil to New Brunswick, remains in limbo as well. This is especially worrisome given that these projects represent tens of billions of dollars of private investments which would stimulate the economy and create thousands of jobs.
When we're idling in the hospital, when goods and services are blocked by provincial protectionism, when we must forego the benefits of energy infrastructure investments, we pay a steep price. We can debate the details, but one thing is sure: Bumper-to-bumper controls and regulations reduce the wealth and well-being of all Canadians. Let's hope that in 2017, we can get rid of some of the orange cones cluttering up our lives.
Jasmin Guénette is Vice President of the Montreal Economic Institute. The views reflected in this op-ed are his own.
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