Canadian Consulting Engineer

ACEC Takes Message to Parliament

November 1, 2004
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The following is the Executive Summary of the Brief of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance titled "Investing Wisely in Canada's Infrastructure."...

The following is the Executive Summary of the Brief of the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance titled “Investing Wisely in Canada’s Infrastructure.”

Investing in Canada’s future

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada has been pleased with the attention the government is paying to the state of our cities, but commitments such as the municipal GST rebate will not come close to replacing the nation’s decaying infrastructure, which has a deficit of $60 billion and is increasing by $2 billion every year. ACEC joins with other national engineering organizations to call for a National Round Table for Infrastructure that involves public and private sector stakeholders and experts in developing a multi-year National Infrastructure Plan. That would allow Canada to comprehensively plan its infrastructure development and make strategic investments to support our standard of living and the growth of our economy. After all, that’s what infrastructure funding is: an investment. With proper design and construction, a project’s maintenance costs will be lowered, resulting in a fiscally responsible solution. Statistics Canada has found that infrastructure investments have a tangible impact on the productivity and economic performance of the Canadian business sector, and that as real public infrastructure capital stock falls, so does GDP. In addition to bringing about economic benefits, modern infrastructure has social benefits including a cleaner environment and better standard of living. Canada must drastically increase infrastructure investments to meet this challenge.

Qualifications-based selection

The best way in which to invest in infrastructure is by procuring expert services to achieve the best end result. As such, ACEC recommends procuring design services on the basis of Qualifications-Based Selection. QBS is a transparent procurement process that focuses on competence, creativity and proven performance. Selection of professional engineers based primarily on cost may save an owner a small amount on up-front design costs, but the pressure to produce the cheapest proposal constrains a consultant’s ability to provide the best design for the project. The fee for engineering services typically amounts to a miniscule 1% of the total life-cycle cost of the project, yet it is through the engineering services that the client has the best opportunity to reduce the remaining 99% of the construction, maintenance and operating costs, as well as the best opportunity to improve reliability and service life. In fact, QBS has been so successful in the United States that its principles have been enacted into federal law and adopted by 44 states and hundreds of local authorities.

How Canada can maximize its aid

Recently, the Canadian International Development Agency has moved away from building poorer countries’ physical infrastructure and from involving Canadians in international cooperation efforts. In fact, over the past 30 years, Canada has donated only 11% of its aid to infrastructure. At the same time, African leaders and international financing institutions have called upon the developed world to contribute to bricks and mortar projects, with the World Bank declaring that “Providing these basic infrastructure services will help cut extreme poverty in half by 2015 by bolstering the number of children in primary schools, reducing child mortality, improving the living conditions of slum dwellers, and enabling local businesses opportunities.”

Canadians have a role to play in international development, yet CIDA has recently been reducing direct country-to-country development assistance in favour of monetary transfers to international financing institutions and direct program support to governments, institutions and enterprises in developing countries. These new practices reduce Canadian involvement and visibility, diminishing our reputation for providing support where it is most needed. Canadians and Canadian NGOs bring well-regarded expertise to projects, as well as high ethical standards. ACEC is calling on the government to rebalance CIDA’s development assistance funding and continue to use Canadian talent to support Canada’s international cooperation goals.


1. ACEC recommends that the government convene a National Round Table for Infrastructure involving all relevant public and private sector stakeholders, including consulting engineers, in developing a comprehensive National Infrastructure Action Plan, and commit stable funding to implement the plan.

2. ACEC recommends that the government maintain current federal outsourcing policy objectives for professional engineering and architectural design services, and adopt legislation requiring that Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) be used for federal procurement, which will provide quality and value in sustainable infrastructure development and lead to life-cycle cost savings.

3. ACEC recommends that the government re-establish balance in Canada’s international cooperation portfolio by reinstating funding for sustainable physical infrastructure investments in the developing world in order to address the priority needs of those countries, and by continuing to use Canadians’ talent and resources to support the government’s international cooperation goals.


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