Ontario is facing a massive infrastructure deficit and the new Doug Ford government needs to have a plan with respect to infrastructure priorities and investments, says Bruce Matthews, the recently appointed chief executive officer of Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO).
“As we hit the fall and a new session in the legislature, at that point I think it would be reasonable to expect them to have a vision and plan with respect to long-term infrastructure investment and where those priorities are,” he told the Daily Commercial News.
“Certainly our members have issues, concerns and questions in terms of going forward and we do appreciate it’s very early days for the new government, but we have not heard much with respect to their actual infrastructure planning and spending plan. There was certainly nothing said in the context of the throne speech itself.”
The previous Liberal government introduced a long-term infrastructure investment plan, explained Matthews. With the election of the Progressive Conservative government, it is unclear where that plan stands.
“Either it’s going to be continuing the efforts and activities that were initiated under the old (Liberal) government or new and different priorities and we’re going to slowly turn the course of the infrastructure investment in a slightly different direction,” he said. “Either way some sort of a definitive statement with respect to their intent as it relates to infrastructure investment would be important for our member firms.”
Matthews noted in many municipalities across the province highways, public transit systems, hospitals and other key pieces of infrastructure are long overdue for repairs, upgrades and new construction, carrying a combined price tag of more than $100 billion.
We’re trying to determine what the priorities are
— Bruce Matthews
Consulting Engineers of Ontario
“During the course of the campaign, to their credit, the Doug Ford folks said a number of good things with respect to the importance of infrastructure, mainly in the area of transit, mainly focused on the GTHA area but still good words nonetheless,” he said.
Matthews has met with staff at the premier’s office and various ministries to reinforce CEO’s priorities with respect to infrastructure.
“We’re trying to determine what the priorities are, ensuring that the message is out there with respect to the role that consulting engineers play in infrastructure planning and development and prioritization,” said Matthews.
“Infrastructure issues may not be the most exciting and newsworthy stuff during the course of an election campaign, but we would still like to know what their thinking is and what their priorities are. At the moment the cards are being played a little close to the vest.”
CEO represents 170 engineering firms in Ontario, almost two thirds of which are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
“With the new government being elected they have clearly indicated that they are open for business which is certainly encouraging to our member firms,” said Matthews. “We are trying to reinforce the message to the new government to try and view consulting engineering firms as problem solvers, as facilitators and enablers of positive change who are ultimately going to enhance safety and prosperity in Ontario.”
There are also concerns with respect to the process of procurement and contracting of engineering services for consulting engineering firms doing business with government, Matthews pointed out.
“We’ve had issues in the past and we have brought them to the attention of the previous government with respect to the downloading of risk that seems to exist in the terms and conditions attached to the contracting language,” said Matthews.
“It makes it very difficult for our firms to get properly insured to undertake the kind of work that they’re doing. There is also a pervasive attitude of engineering being viewed almost as a commodity. That is certainly an attitude that we want to see changed.”
Matthews said another concern is the current government’s view on science, technology and innovation. For the first time in a long time no ministries have those words in their title, he added.
“The Ford government did fire the chief science officer very early days in the new government so it’s a bit of a concern because engineers are an important component of what is viewed as the knowledge economy,” said Matthews.
“What engineers do is ultimately translate science and research work into real world applications.”