The Labourers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) is bullish on new Ontario transportation infrastructure projects over the next 10 years with the union keen to invest in major public-private partnership (P3) builds such as subways, highways and even tunnelling into downtown Toronto.
That was the message LIUNA international vice-president Joe Mancinelli delivered to delegates attending the annual conference of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships in Toronto recently.
Mancinelli, a keynote breakfast speaker, told an audience that had significant international representation, that LIUNA has already supported numerous P3 projects through investments by its $7-billion pension fund and also through workforce participation.
He said in an interview several factors are aligning for LIUNA right now to spur it to invest in transportation, including an Ontario-wide transportation infrastructure gap, the urgent need for better transit and road access to downtown Toronto in particular, the launch of the Canada Infrastructure Bank with its mandate to encourage innovative solutions to funding infrastructure and LIUNA’s relationship with Ontario’s Doug Ford government.
Mancinelli’s presentation argued Canada’s infrastructure gap was the result of decades of underfunding. Focusing on Toronto, he showed slides of the 55-year-old Gardiner Expressway showing major deterioration.
“What I think you are going to see in the next 10 years, transportation infrastructure is going to be where it’s at,” he said. “Bridges, highways, expansion of highways, expansion of the QEW. Maybe new roads. The 427, they’ve been talking about it forever, that has to be done as well.
“So I think you are going to see a lot in that space. Of course subways, downtown Toronto, LRTs, all transportation infrastructure all over the province. I see that as a sector that is going to be exploding.”
Ford and Mancinelli recently shared a platform as the premier announced the government was reversing legislation passed by the previous Liberal government that threatened LIUNA jobs in the ICI formwork sector.
Mancinelli said he has spoken with the government about investing in a variety of transportation projects in Toronto including new subways, a tunnelling roadway concept that would go under the bedrock of Lake Ontario, around Highway 404 and into the city, and also elevated and semi-elevated roadway designs into the downtown.
“I am not sure which one is going to land but I hope one of them does because right now the Gardiner is just unacceptable,” said Mancinelli.
“I think the Ford government is anxious to embrace the P3 model as well because they sure don’t have the money, with the budgets being what they are.
“Clearly this is the route they have to go, and we’ll be there to invest our pension money.”
Mancinelli said in his address that in an average year in Canada, P3s create $14 billion in economic activity, attract $4 billion in private investment and create 150,000 jobs.
“As a leader of the largest construction union, I am sure you will agree, producing 150,000 job-years is very important,” he said.
LIUNA has 130,000 Canadian members and 100,000 in Ontario. One P3 project alone, the $1.3-billion Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and P.E.I., provided work for 5,000 construction workers, of which 90 per cent were LIUNA members, Mancinelli said.
The launch of the Canadian Infrastructure Bank last year has provided LIUNA with another outlet for project discussions, Mancinelli said. Direct conversations have already taken place, he confirmed.
“We’d love to invest there as well because it’s a similar situation to working with P3s or Infrastructure Ontario or Metrolinx,” he said.
Mancinelli said the two factors, jobs for LIUNA members and investment returns to the Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada, are tightly linked.
“They are tied together completely,” he said. “The investments that traditional pension plans have, stocks and bonds and whatever, are pretty limited. And in fact, as my slide showed, 7.6 per cent over 10 years is what we got with our stocks and bonds. P3s are bringing in double-digit returns, depending on the project, between 12 and 18 per cent return, which is huge for a pension fund.”
Mancinelli suggested LIUNA would not be the only Canadian pension fund looking closely at P3 infrastructure investments in Toronto and Ontario.
“I think what you’ll see, it is not just us, I think what you’re going to see is OMERS, Teachers, you are going to see all those guys who are investing globally. When they see the amount of work that’s here, they are going to be investing here as well,” he said.