Canada is shovel-ready in the long and short-term, according to a panel of experts.
A group of infrastructure agency leaders and deputy ministers came together for the Shovel Ready: Agency Heads on How They’re Implementing Ambitious Government Infrastructure Plans panel at the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships P3 2021 virtual conference held recently.
The panel consisted of Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Transportation and Infrastructure deputy minister Cory Grandy, Infrastructure BC president and CEO Mark Liedemann, Infrastructure Ontario president and CEO Michael Lindsay and Government of Saskatchewan Saskbuilds and procurement deputy minister Kyle Toffan.
Gowling WLG partner Lindsay Wong moderated the discussion.
Liedemann began by pointing out the state of emergency and damage to infrastructure from powerful rainstorms, flooding and landslides had changed the procurement calculus in B.C.
“Shovel-ready last week was much more orderly and now what the B.C. government and others have to do is get highways open as soon as possible,” Liedemann said.
“We will have to be nimble and creative and push ourselves in ways never considered before, reprioritize our spend and draw on contractor resources as well as human resources in the public sector.”
Toffan remarked Saskatchewan is a relatively small jurisdiction in contrast to other provinces and that “we look to learn.”
“We’ve focused on our governance model and spent a lot of time on bringing together a central agency for infrastructure. We have a board structured of government MLAs, which allows us to get approvals together much faster, ensuring we have the opportunity to streamline and move the capital plan forward,” he said.
Grandy said it’s important to have plans on the shelf waiting for the right funding opportunity.
“If you’re doing high level planning with five- or 10-year outlooks, jurisdictions are able to better react when funding’s announced,” he said.
“It’s all a function of objectives and risk,” he said, adding Infrastructure Ontario is “hugely lucky” that shaping new models happens in direct dialog with Canadian industry stakeholders who provide direct feedback.
Liedemann cautioned his fellow panellists that “we need to be able to explain to the public what these models are and aren’t. We’re using the same words, but don’t have the same understanding.
“I think in B.C. we’ll have more education in regards to competitive alliances, so we can have a better market discussion,” he said.
He also pointed out the state of emergency affecting B.C. would have consequences across the country.
Grandy raised concerns that Newfoundland’s remote geography would keep work from the province’s large-scale projects.
“Some contractors might see risk in coming this far east. We want to make it look like Newfoundland and Labrador are good places to invest. As things key up in the rest of Canada that will become more real for us as we’re geographically far front the centre,” he said.
Lindsay said while the pandemic was a challenge it also pushed the industry forward.
“For all of us, in many ways, the pandemic punted us five to 10 years in the future. It made us all think about digitization, HVAC systems, everything up to signage,” Lindsay said.
“The challenge is to continue to develop forward momentum for project pipelines as we think about what has to be changed. I bet on us collectively, along with talented bureaucrats, but here again we need the voice of industry to tell us how to help governments,” Lindsay said.
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