Although the federal government recognizes climate change is the central challenge of our time, the housing crisis is currently the fundamental priority, said Peter Fragiskatos, parliamentary secretary to the minister of housing, infrastructure and communities during P3 2023.
“We have an immediate challenge and that is housing. That is going to be with us for the next few years for sure,” Fragiskatos told the audience at the annual Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships (CCPPP) conference. “So, tying housing to infrastructure…I think is something you are going to continue to see the government emphasize. We will continue to work with the private sector to bring their knowledge and their abilities to the fore to get those results.”
Fragiskatos stepped in for Canada’s Minister of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Sean Fraser, who was unable to attend the Toronto conference. Fragiskatos sat down with CCPPP president and CEO Lisa Mitchell for a fireside chat.
“The tie between housing and infrastructure has always been obvious but not emphasized by governments of the past,” he said. “One of the fundamental objectives of minister Fraser has been to ensure that there is much more of a tie that’s not just emphasized but in our infrastructure vision is really brought to the fore.”
When asked what the next generation of federal infrastructure programs and initiatives looks like, Fragiskatos said in addition to water and wastewater, the federal government will also continue to focus on climate adaptation.
“We have an obligation to mitigate the effects of climate change as much as possible and that means working with municipalities, working with provincial governments, but the private sector can be there too,” Fragiskatos said. “They have the expertise. They have the knowledge.”
Mitchell also asked for an update on the status of the National Infrastructure Assessment.
“There will certainly be something by the end of this year and I am speaking specifically now about an advisory council that really reflects a great deal of consultation that was done throughout the country with industry experts understanding what model would best serve the country,” Fragiskatos explained. “We need a council of experts to advise on the way forward. Net-zero is fundamental to every conversation that we are having, including on the infrastructure side obviously, but an advisory council or board would be crucial because they would bring the expertise, the background. They would have the necessary talents and abilities to give government insight on what exactly we can do.”
Mitchell asked Fragiskatos what role infrastructure leaders can play in addressing the issues in the country.
“We’re going to continue to need your advice,” he said. “This is not something the government will solve on its own, nor should it. The way forward necessitates that we work as closely as we possibly can with the private sector.”
He used the federal government’s move to waive the GST on purpose-built rentals as an example.
“This is something that was called for, for a long time and the government did act,” he noted. “The idea being that if you incent the private sector, you can actually get the results that you are looking for. We will see that going forward with purpose-built rentals. We will see it with respect to the work that is done with municipalities. We need more homes. There is no other way to put it. We have to build as much as we possibly can.”
Going forward, he said the way the government can help the private sector is two-fold.
“An industrial strategy…it is really about putting together those things that the private sector will need to thrive in this regard,” Fragiskatos explained. “You will need workers, so our immigration strategy is now
much more tailored towards facilitating the arrival of those with the skills and abilities to help build. We have to emphasize the trades more in Canada.
“The government will continue to work with the provincial government to make sure the trades are emphasized but also building that into our immigration strategy.”
He talked about the importance of the Housing Accelerator Fund. Modular housing is another area of focus.
“Modular allows for that, but we need a really focus that allows the sector to grow,” Fragiskatos said. “Incentivizing the growth of that sector will be crucial to the way forward. We are not a leader in this realm, but we could be. I think you can look forward to the government putting in place the fundamental policy building blocks to get that sector off the ground in ways we haven’t seen before.”
Fragiskatos was also asked how to put the “partnership P” back in P3.
“You can’t get things done unless you have various orders of government at the table and not-for-profits, with respect to housing in particular, but also the private sector. Infrastructure and housing are now joined at the hip much more than ever before, certainly from the federal perspective. Unless we’re regularly engaging the private sector, unless were incentivizing the private sector as much as possible, then we won’t get to the results that we are looking for.”