CivicAction report takes a long view of federal infrastructure spending

Date: 13 Oct 2016

Ottawa’s $60 billion payout must go toward “future proofed” projects and account for a broad array of needs, report says.

With Ottawa earmarking $60 billion for infrastructure spendingover the next decade, a coalition of GTA civic leaders is urging investment in projects that will help communities prosper over the long haul.

CivicAction, in a report being released Thursday in collaboration with Deloitte, makes a variety of proposals for prioritizing that spending.

It consulted more than 80 organizations spanning business, political, community service, arts and culture and academic fields in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, regarding the challenges they face and their infrastructure needs.

“Governments make decisions about infrastructure investments, but every one of us lives with those decisions,” said CEO Sevaun Palvetzian. She said those decisions must have “long-term payoff,” rather than be “one-time, bang-for-your-buck” investments.

“Often in our consultations we had people refer to the gazebos in the north,” she said — a reference to a federally financed community project in a Conservative riding during the 2010 preparations for the G20/G8 summit that came in for much criticism.

“That comes out of a previous era, where there were some infrastructure projects that may have been more about local demand in the moment and not necessarily about long-term benefit,” Palvetzian said.

Future infrastructure should be “trade-enabling,” the report recommends, highlighting the fact that exports and imports account for more than half of the national GDP. Airports, roads, ports and highways are examples of projects that can boost trade, said Palvetzian.

The “resiliency factor” also needs to be taken into account, the report suggests. Projects must be “future-proofed,” to account for changing weather patterns and increased population density.

“We know that for every dollar that we spend on infrastructure that is future-proof, that is resilient … it’s going to yield between $9 (and) $38 in avoided damage in the future,” Palvetzian said.

The report emphasizes the need for community partners, such as local business leaders, to participate in discussions before the government decides how it will prioritize funding.

“My fear is that if (the federal government) were to walk into our city hall, the priorities of the politicians would be different than the priorities of many of the other voices in the leadership community in Hamilton,” said Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

During CivicAction’s consultations, the chamber hosted a roundtable discussion involving Hamilton community leaders, who put forward ideas for “visionary long-term investments.”

“If you just go to the municipalities and say, ‘What do you need?’ what you’re going to get is a lot of people saying: ‘Thanks, we’ll take that money to fill all the potholes,’” Loomis said. “When you open up the conversation and seek the input of the groups that Civic Action has … we’re going to provide a perspective that looks much beyond the end of our nose.”

Palvetzian emphasized the need to fund the appropriate skills training required to build future infrastructure, such as the ability to construct subways versus roads. She also urged eliminating red tape so that projects can get off the ground more quickly.

“These decisions that we make around infrastructure, have multiple (years), in some cases decades, between when you make the decision and when you cut the ribbon on opening day. In that time, disruptive technology has snuck up and been a game-changer,” she said, pointing to Uber’s emergence during the past few years and its impact on reducing ridership on the Union-Pearson Express.

“Some of these pieces we cannot anticipate,” said Palvetzian. “Let’s not make perfection something that holds us back from progress.”


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