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Private infrastructure financing on agenda of Ottawa meeting

Patricia Williams

Infrastructure Canada is scheduled to host a meeting in Ottawa August 29 to look at the role of the private sector in infrastructure development. The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-Canada was invited.

“I think it is important that we have these discussions,” said John Gamble, president of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-Canada, one of the organizations invited to attend the meeting.

“I think this roundtable will constitute a good basis for moving forward.”

The provincial and territorial roundtables, which wrapped up in late July, were designed to gather first-hand input from key stakeholders on development of a new long-term infrastructure plan.

The plan will set the stage to replace nearly $2 billion in annual infrastructure funding that is due to expire in 2014.

Representatives of ACEC member organizations participated in five roundtables in different parts of the country. A national roundtable is scheduled for this fall.

Gamble said financing “clearly” will be one of the items on the agenda at today’s meeting. “I think it’s appropriate that we look at all of the options that are available in terms of how we stabilize and begin to chip away at the infrastructure deficit,” he said.

“Quite frankly, that’s not going to happen unless there is some opportunity to bring some private financing into the equation.”

One of those options is public-private partnerships (P3s).

While such partnerships can be an “extremely successful” mechanism for leveraging financing for infrastructure projects, Gamble said this approach does not represent “a one-size-fits-all” solution. Potential projects need to be “prudently” identified, he said.

In Canada, municipal governments own 65 per cent of public infrastructure. The provinces own 31 per cent and the federal government, 3.1 per cent.

“Some municipalities are quite comfortable with the notion of P3s,” Gamble said. “Others are not.”

ACEC itself is “neither for nor against” this method of project delivery, Gamble said, noting that member firms have participated in P3s both as parts of consortia and as owners’ representatives.

“Certainly, we want to make sure that experience and expertise is part of the discussion as we talk about an appropriate role for private financing in developing public infrastructure.” Gamble said he hopes the discussions will involve some “blue-sky thinking” as well. “I think this (development of the new plan) represents a major opportunity for both the consulting engineering industry and the municipalities to look at new ways of doing things.”

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