An engagement paper on Canada’s first National Infrastructure Assessment was recently launched by the federal government and the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has responded with three recommendations after extensive consultation with the industry.
“Our goal is for the government to have confidence to move forward with this concept, to obviously take into consideration the advice that we have given in how we think it could and should be shaped, so that it delivers the maximum impact on infrastructure investment to Canada,” CCA president Mary Van Buren told the Daily Commercial News.
The association has been advocating the federal government to commit to a 25-year plan for sustainable infrastructure investment for many years.
“The industry has identified that how Canada invests in infrastructure is simply not working as well as we think it could. Therefore, we have been advocating strongly for a long-term investment strategy that will better serve all Canadians in helping to advance our national aspirations,” she said.
“With the announcement by the federal government of considering a National Infrastructure Assessment, we are really encouraged that they not only listened to CCA and our members, but they are taking a very concrete step towards this.”
The government paper, Building the Canada We Want in 2050, sets out the purpose of undertaking a National Infrastructure Assessment and seeks input on its priorities which include “assessing Canada’s infrastructure needs and establishing a long-term vision; improving co-ordination among infrastructure owners and funders; and determining the best ways to fund and finance infrastructure.”
The CCA conducted national, industry-wide consultation with support from Nanos Research which held focus groups with stakeholders and members, one-on-one interviews, a comprehensive literature review and an online survey. CCA also consulted with its five national advisory councils which included generals, trades, local construction associations, manufacturers, suppliers, services and civil. The consultation process also included a “big room” with local construction association chairs, chief operating officers and the board of directors discussing opportunities and issues.
“That was supported by some evidence-based analysis from the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis,” explained Van Buren.
“We put that all together into our submission, so it was really coast, to coast, to coast consultation of not just our members but stakeholders as well.”
The first recommendation in CCA’s response is to develop a long-term vision guided by an independent, apolitical council referred to as the Canadian Strategic Infrastructure Council.
“We all know how complex it is to not only decide on what infrastructure needs to be built and maintained and when but the funding of it as well,” said Van Buren.
“We think that an independent, data-backed advisory council will obviously provide really important guidance to the federal government with experts who can make this information more data driven, but it ideally provides some insulation to the government of the day from immediate political pressures.”
The second recommendation is that the funding allocation model change from “one-off” projects identified by provinces, municipalities or Indigenous communities, to a longer-term asset management plan.
The third recommendation is adopting a collaborative and agile approach to public procurement, which will accelerate the benefits to be gained from infrastructure investment.
The association states the federal government should fund provincial and municipal asset plans, not individual projects; there should be a parallel transparent review process between the council and the federal government and between the federal government and provinces/municipalities to ensure accountability; and for federal government-owned and directed initiatives, new collaborative models should be researched and explored, instead of relying on the low-cost bid or P3s.
“As with any large system there is an opportunity to be more effective and more efficient,” said Van Buren.
“Rather than the continued focus on just what is the least expensive model, what are other models that might be looked at? How can we have innovation as part of a project when we are look at investing in sustainability? We know it costs more up front but if there is a continued focus on just low cost then it’s going to be really hard for us to achieve our national goals, whether it’s on the environment or others.”
A stable, long-term infrastructure pipeline is needed to create a resilient industry powered by a diverse workforce.
“The whole idea is to keep things in balance,” Van Buren said.
“You’ve got a portfolio of smaller projects, more medium term projects and then you’ve got your longer term, so the industry can align itself and make sure the investment dollars are lined up, make sure the people are lined up and make sure we’ve got the capacity lined up.”
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