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Canada may cut cost of travel in populous areas, not boondocks

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It's going to cost more to mosey to Moose Jaw but less to move to Montreal. That could be the result of a shake-up in Canada's transportation policy, from planes to trucks. The Canadian government might even sell off its airports to local authorities or private enterprise. Deregulation would be too mild a word to describe what might happen under a recently issued policy paper called Freedom to Move.

Canada's transportation policy is a mess of regulations covering air fares, trucking rules, rail policy, and rates for ships operating on the Great Lakes and other domestic Canadian ports.

The federal government owns its own airline -- Air Canada, one the biggest in the world -- and its own railroad -- Canadian National, also one of the biggest in the world. The reason for all these superlatives is that Canada is also one of the biggest countries in the world. Only the Soviet Union is larger.

Canada's huge size -- 3.8 million square miles -- means that transportation is important. Coupled with that size is a relatively small population, just 25 million people. Making sure someone in Newfoundland can visit his aunt in Tuktoyaktuk on the shores on the Arctic Ocean is a big job. Without transportation there would be no Canada.

It was a hundred years ago that the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. It connected the provinces of central Canada with the British territories in the west. The railway was built through Canada, taking the tough route over the muskeg on the north shore of Lake Superior.

Without the CPR, the western provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia would never have been settled and might have drifted into union with the United States. But the railway brought rules. And over the years those rules have developed into the Byzantine hodgepodge that currently makes up Canadian transportation policy.

One of the tenets of Canadian transportation policy is that one has to be able to get to any point in the country. So you want to fly to Moose Jaw? Fine, there's an airport there, right out in the middle of a wheat field. But the best way to fly to Moose Jaw is to fly to Regina, 40 miles away.

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