The Ontario government will put its own stamp on a new infrastructure spending package in its April 11 budget, predicts the head of the Consulting Engineers of Ontario (CEO), but it’s hard to say whether the Doug Ford plan will be radically different from that of its predecessor or moderately so.
Bruce Matthews, chief executive officer of the CEO, described advocacy efforts by his organization over the last eight months since the Ford government came to power during an interview marking March as National Engineering Month. He said the government seems to be onside with an aggressive asset management planning strategy, that there might be a focus on infrastructure refurbishment over new spends, and that the government seems to believe in evidence-based decisions.
The former Kathleen Wynne government’s BuildON infrastructure plan called for $160 billion in spending on new infrastructure and repairs over 12 years.
“We are aware the government plans to put out its own long-term infrastructure investment plan that will be a little bit different than what came out of the Liberal government less than two years ago, and we are just waiting to see what it’s going to look like,” said Matthews.
“The details are a little unclear. The current government wants to put its own thumbprint on the plan. How much of a deviation it is going to be is hard to suss out based on the meetings and discussions we have had thus far.
“The government is holding its cards close to its chest.”
Advocacy is one of three pillars in the CEO’s strategic planning approach, Matthews said, with business risk and member engagement being the other two, and all three have led to positive developments on the policy side in the past year, the first of his tenure in the job, he asserted.
Prominent issues the CEO has made headway on as enumerated by Matthews include qualifications-based selection in procurement, improvements to the quality of construction documents, and advocacy on the uptake of the CEO’s rapid response service responding to flawed municipal construction contracts.
Then there’s diversity in the workplace — that’s another story.
Matthews noted the interview was being conducted on International Women’s Day and thus it was an opportunity to acknowledge that the engineering profession has a long way to go to develop gender equity.
Currently, only 13 per cent of engineers are women and among new engineers, the number is only slightly higher, at 17 per cent. It’s an issue the CEO’s membership engagement team, including its young professionals committee with its mandate to address change, is best suited to grapple with, he said.
“To me the importance of that aspect, and increasing diversity in general, it is not just about ensuring different cultures and backgrounds, it is about the benefits gained from having different perspectives around the table making decisions,” explained Matthews.
“People talk about a skills gap. Well in the engineering community there is a perspectives gap because we have not leveraged diversity the way we should.”
National Engineers Month is an opportunity for the profession to step out of the shadows and remind citizens and stakeholders of the myriad of important functions consulting engineers perform, said Matthews.
“It’s an opportunity to talk about and celebrate the things we do on a day to day basis that allows the general public to take things for granted,” he said. “Turning on the taps to get safe, reliable drinking water, turning on the light switch, driving on roads, entering buildings, driving on bridges, it’s a moment to think about all things they interact with that have engineering content.”
Advocacy on procurement at both the provincial and municipal level by ensuring, for example, that municipalities have the assistance they need to develop sophisticated asset management plans is a logical extension of the consulting engineer’s role, Matthews argued.
“There has been a significant level of deterioration taking place because of investment decisions taken by municipalities in terms of upkeep and growth. For us it is a matter of assisting municipalities with the choices they have to make with respect to infrastructure investments and making sure it is done in an informed and evidence-based way,” he said.