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Chamber urges streamlined infrastructure process

Don Wall
Chamber urges streamlined infrastructure process

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has issued a call for the provincial government to commit to stronger policies encouraging infrastructure resilience and boosting municipal asset management as the province prepares its upcoming Long-Term Infrastructure Plan (LTIP).

The chamber also took a shot at the federal government’s scattergun approach to managing its infrastructure budget as it laid out eight LTIP recommendations for the province in a report titled Building Better: Setting the 2017 Ontario Infrastructure Plan Up for Success.

As the province proceeds with its plans to spend $190 billion on infrastructure over 13 years and the feds prepare to embark on phase two infrastructure allocations as part of its $187-billion, 12-year infrastructure plan — much of it to be spent on shared-cost projects with the provinces — the chamber is also urging greater transparency and accountability and more sophisticated reporting mechanisms to minimize infrastructure spending waste.

"Ontario needs to invest in significant infrastructure spending to fill the current gap, and to ensure Ontario is equipped for the future, a future that has very different infrastructure needs from the past," said Richard Koroscil, interim-president and CEO at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce in a statement. "To succeed in the increasingly technology-driven economy, we must ensure that infrastructure dollars are spent on innovative and forward-looking projects that will grow Ontario’s capacity to do business and grow our economy."

The report touches on federal spending several times.

"Any time you maintain an asset you know what service level you are at,"

Nadia Todorova

Ontario Chamber of Commerce

Nadia Todorova, senior policy analyst for the chamber and author of Building Better, twice referred to federal infrastructure experiences as cautionary tales in a recent interview.

First, the federal phase-one rollout of infrastructure dollars was slow, she noted, with only $4.6 billion worth of projects spent out of $13.6 billion announced in Budget 2016 for the fiscal years 2016-18.

Second, the report noted, Infrastructure Canada is tasked with trying to efficiently manage some 30 different infrastructure programs.

Discussing the multiplicity of programs at the federal level, Todorova said, "We need to make sure that if there are any federal programs coming out of LTIP that they are streamlined and there is collaboration between the different programs and every program knows what is happening with different programs and there is no overlap. That priorities are in sync."

The report was prepared after a series of roundtables this spring involving chamber members and other stakeholders.

In addition to identifying the need for more streamlining of internal approval processes for infrastructure projects, the chamber also called for an expansion of the alternative financing and procurement (AFP) method currently used by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) to include less costly builds and it urged the province to work with the federal government on the latter’s new Canada Infrastructure Bank program.

Currently, IO sets the lower limit on projects it undertakes using the AFP model at $100 million.

"Given the large amount of funding dollars the government has committed, and the number of projects coming down the pipeline, we understand that traditional procurement is not going to be able to handle all of the work," commented Torodova.

"So, with the success IO has had in public-private partnerships, we really want the government to ask, are those projects viable on a smaller scale, under $100 million dollars, using the best practices that the IO has, can they be scaled down."

Torodova’s report acknowledged that recent provincial government efforts to encourage all municipalities to create asset management plans have been successful, with a 95 per cent take-up, but she said now it’s time for the province to push for greater uniformity across the province and ensure through information programs and financial assistance that the plans are effective.

It’s important, she said, for municipalities to have full knowledge of asset life cycles.

"Any time you maintain an asset you know what service level you are at," she said. "If you spend $100,000 for five years, that’s better than waiting 25 years and having to pay $50 million."

Todorova referred to the recent Texas floods as an example of why governments should create policies and spend adequate amounts to prevent catastrophic damage across a regional economy.

"To protect against floods, you need to shore up walls, so they can withstand 100-year storms that can happen now every one or two or three years," she said.

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