Ontario Premier Doug Ford highlighted his government’s initiatives to get roads built faster as well as some tips for lean practices during the annual Good Roads conference in Toronto recently.
In attendance were representatives from municipalities and First Nations across the province as well as members of the transportation and infrastructure sectors.
“We’re doing everything we can to build roads faster. We’re improving the procurement strategies, making use of leading technologies and enhancing Ontario’s One Call system so we can safely get shovels in the ground more quickly,” said Ford. “We also recognize to deliver on our plan to build and improve our roads and to build the infrastructure our province needs we’re going to need thousands of new skilled construction workers over the next decade.”
After his speech, Ford sat down with Scott Butler, executive director of Good Roads, for a fireside chat.
In terms of the relationship between Queen’s Park and Ontario’s 444 municipalities, Ford said the key is having all levels of government work together.
“We have to make sure that we have affordable, attainable non-profit homes that people can afford,” he noted. “We have larger demand right now, not to mention 435,000 people coming into our province. They need a place to live, they need a place for their kids to go to school.”
The province needs to get away from the red tape and regulations and standardize processes across all municipalities, he said. He pointed out getting a building permit in Ontario can take up to five years.
“It’s unheard of anywhere in North America,” Ford stated. “You can go down to Ohio and get the shovels in the ground in six months to build a 500,000-square-foot building. Why can’t we do it here in Ontario? We can and we will.”
Butler pointed out Ontario is different.
“It can’t be that simple though can it?” he commented. “Ohio doesn’t have Ontario’s growth.”
When asked about his vision for the transportation sector, Ford said he wants to get shovels in the ground and not duplicate government processes.
“We don’t need the federal government to do an EA (environmental assessment) on top of our EA,” said Ford. “I mentioned this to the federal government…We need to start building those roads.”
Butler said one of the challenges many of people in the room have is they are behind on the maintenance of their assets.
“Does the province have a role in helping fill that gap? Because if we’re going to be connected to our neighbours in the south, if we’re gong to be economically viable, a lot of it depends on pavement and good condition,” Butler pointed out.
“We’re pouring money into infrastructure,” Ford responded. “We’re going to help the municipalities. I understand the small municipalities and even the large municipalities see challenges and backlog infrastructure, backlog maintenance.”
Butler said municipalities have “a big basket of goods and a little purse to pay for that big basket of goods.”
“As you can appreciate, you have the luxury of being able to run up a deficit, do debt financing. The folks here don’t in the same way,” he said. “How do they reconcile this great big responsibility they’re getting handed to them as councillors, as mayors, as public works officials with the fact that only about nine cents out of every tax dollar raised actually finds its way back to them in order to be able to deliver?”
Ford said all levels of government need to step up and driving lean systems will also help.
“We introduced lean methodologies, Lean Six Sigma, into the province for the first time ever,” he said. “We’re going into ministries with our lean team and driving standardization and efficiencies.”
Good Roads also received some good news at its annual conference.
The Government of Ontario will be investing $1.8 million to support a project that will help municipalities recruit, train and retain frontline public works staff, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton announced.
“Recently Good Roads came to us with a solution that would help municipalities recruit, train and retain front line public works staff,” McNaughton told the crowd in attendance.
“They proposed e-learning courses that would bring training to new regions not previously served in rural, small and northern municipalities as well as First Nations. This idea is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that our government is looking for, cost effective, flexible and giving workers the skills they need for better jobs with bigger paycheques.”
Courses include the basics of road construction and maintenance, heavy equipment operations, including snowplows and leadership training for new supervisors. The project will be supported through the Skills Development Fund and will help 625 workers.
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