December 28, 2012

First-ever infrastructure report card top 2012 story

The release of the first National Infrastructure Report Card and the federal government’s commitment to construction ranked as the top stories of the year for the industry’s national leaders.

“Not only does it more empirically measure the state of our current infrastructure, but I think it’s going to be important going forward, as a benchmark, to ensure that the billions of dollars that are being spent by the various levels of government on infrastructure are in fact having a positive impact,” said Canadian Construction Association president Michael Atkinson of the report card.

The report card surveyed 123 municipalities, representing from 40.7 to 59.1 per cent of the Canadian population, depending on the infrastructure assets. It found that more than half of municipal roads require significant repairs and one in four wastewater plans needs major upgrades. The report card also highlighted that many municipalities do not have an adequate asset management plan.

“One of the biggest public policy challenges for the broader infrastructure community is how can we encourage and assist municipalities into adopting sound asset management plans without penalizing those who have grabbed the bull by the horns and taken this on already,” said John Gamble, president of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada.

“Asset management is a vital piece of making sure that we get value for money in infrastructure investments.”

The federal government has been receptive to the calls from key stakeholders that the country needs a long-term infrastructure plan to replace the current Building Canada Plan, which expires in March 2014. The government has also passed pieces of legislation that enable the construction industry to move faster on certain issues.

Atkinson was impressed with the speed in which the federal government moved on creating a new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The government announced the reforms on April 17 and the new act went into effect on July 1.

“It’s very important because resource development is a huge, huge potential area for us,” said Atkinson.

Natural Resources Canada says there are about 600 resource development projects that are already underway or that will occur within the next 10 years that are worth about $650 billion.

“It’s our economic engine right now and there’s so much new exploration, development, etc. planned that involves our industry, whether it’s in mining, oil and gas, metals, potash...it’s an incredible area of opportunity for our industry.”

Within the new act is the “one project, one review” policy, which will make major construction projects more efficient by recognizing provincial processes as substitutes or equivalents to federal ones.

“The people who have got billions of dollars to invest, we need them to be able to get their money out and get using it right away,” said Bob Blakely, director of Canadian Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department. “It needs to happen once and it needs to happen robustly.”

Blakely praised the revised Temporary Foreign Worker Program, which speeds up some Labour Market Opinions to a few days instead of up to 25 weeks.

“(It is) making sure that the evil people who want to bring people in here to pay them nothing don’t get the opportunity to do that, making sure that we would use the training standards that we have here in Canada as the threshold...that sounds pretty good to me,” he said.

As the federal government removed funding for the sector council, Oakey praised the efforts of the construction industry that came together to help fill the void.

“I think it showed that construction could all come together, both union and non-union, owners, contractors, workers, labour organizations and we’re currently at the final stages of creating a new organization that will actually continue the good work that was being done by the Construction Sector Council,” he said.

“It’s something that’s been needed by the industry and we’ve answered the call.”

Looking at the Charbonneau Inquiry concerning allegations of corruption in Quebec’s construction industry, Gamble hopes to see a quick conclusion and a determination of wrongdoing.

“As long as this drags on, we’re going to have allegations swirling and they may very well taint people that have done nothing wrong, people that have very earnestly, conscientiously and effectively done their job and contributed to both our economy and our quality of life,” he said.

“I’d hate to see them tainted because of innuendo and allegations that may at the end of the day remain unproven.”

Blakely believes that Quebec corruption is a broader story than most people believe.

“It seems to happen in Quebec, but I bet you it happens in a lot of other provinces too,” he said.

“This isn’t the greedy worker conspiring to steal money from his employer, this is the engineering and construction firms conspiring with people at various levels of government in order to kick money back for political purposes.”

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