Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canada’s infrastructure near breaking point, say municipalities

November 20, 2007
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

A report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has raised alarms in the press, hitting home hard the point...

A report from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities has raised alarms in the press, hitting home hard the point that the country’s infrastructure needs more investment.
“Danger Ahead: the Coming Collapse of Canada’s Municipal Infrastructure,” is the title of the report released on November 20 by FCM President Gord Steeves at a press conference in Ottawa. Steeves was accompanied by the head of the author of the report and the study it represents, Dr. Saeed Mirza of McGill University’s Department of Civil Engineering.
The 24-page report was presented as a “snapshot” of Canada’s infrastructure needs, but the snapshot comes with a huge price tag — $123 billion. The reason given is that “close to 80 per cent of Canada’s infrastructure is past its service life.”
The deficit figure is much larger than previous estimates. Dr. Mirza noted: “The $123-billion figure, when compared with earlier estimates, clearly shows the municipal infrastructure deficit is growing faster than previously thought. Most municipal infrastructure was built between the 1950s and 170s, and much of it is due for replacement. As assets reach the end of their service life, repair and replacement costs skyrocket. Across Canada, municipal infrastructure has reached the breaking point.”
Previous estimates had put the infrastructure deficit at around $60 billion and growing by about $2 billion a year. In June of this year, the FCM hired Dr. Mirza to conduct a survey of municipalities to ask their needs. Around 85 municipalities responded, representing approximately 46% of Canada’s population. The responding municipalities had populations ranging in size from less than 10,000 to more than 1 million.
The $123 billion estimate was broken down into sub-deficits: water and wastewater $31 billion; transportation $21.7 billion; transit $22.8 billion; waste management $7.7 billion; and cultural, social, community and recreation infrastructure $40.2 billion.
In the executive summary, the report notes that municipalities have been “caught in a fiscal squeeze” for the past 20 years because they have been handed growing responsibilities for infrastructure but have reduced revenues. Municipalities are largely dependent on property taxes, which are not as responsive to general economic growth as are sales and income taxes. As a result the report says, the municipalities “were forced to defer needed investment, and municipal infrastructure continued to deteriorate, with the cost of fixing it climbing five-fold from an estimated $12 billion in 1985 to $60 billion in 2003. This cost is the municipal infrastructure deficit, and today it has reached $123 billion.”
The report recommends that there must be a more complete and clearly defined inventory of existing infrastructure, to “allow all three orders of government to develop key elements of a national plan.”
The report laments the current “ad hoc definitions of what constitutes infrastructure in successive federal programs, definitions that fail to account for the full range of municipal infrastructure.” It says environmental regulations can dramatically increase infrastructure needs, and notes that any sound infrastructure plan needs “to fit unique regional demographic or geographic needs, rather than relying on national, one-size-fits-all approaches.”
The report also says there need to be accountability measures built into any infrastructure funding program.
To download the report, visit


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