Canadian Consulting Engineer

Infrastructure – What’s the Future? An interview with Minister John Godfrey

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada recently met with the Honourable John Godfrey, Minister of State (Infrastructure and Communities) to gain insight into his plans for Canada's infrastr...

June 1, 2005   Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada recently met with the Honourable John Godfrey, Minister of State (Infrastructure and Communities) to gain insight into his plans for Canada’s infrastructure renewal.

ACEC President Claude Paul Boivin: As Minister of State (Infrastructure and Communities), what is your vision for the next 15 years?

Honourable John Godfrey: The vision is not a ‘John Godfrey’ vision but rather an ‘all-of-Government vision’ that is articulated in our “New Deal for Cities and Communities.” We are at a very particular moment now in Canada. Three agendas are coming together — a new vision and New Deal for Cities and Communities, ongoing support for building and renewing infrastructure, and a focus on sustainability that includes particular attention to addressing climate change issues. These provide us with a strong sense of direction that all orders of government and groups like the ACEC need to pursue jointly to ensure that Canadian communities foster and support the quality of life Canadians deserve. It’s quality of life that is the vision, achieved through planned and sustainable community development. We need to pursue this over the next 15 years and beyond.

How we get there is the immediate question. The Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities, under the direction of the Honourable Mike Harcourt, is fleshing out that vision and the roadmap. But clearly and immediately, planned, renewed and new public infrastructure is going to be key. And it can’t be achieved through short-term fixes. We need to invest, through partnerships, in ways that take advantage of new technologies, factor in asset management, integrate more systematically innovations that will improve asset lifecycle and contribute to other priorities like mitigating and adapting to climate change.

This is a long-term proposition. This is why the Government is committed to renewing its public infrastructure funds that recognize the long timeframes inherent in planning and executing infrastructure projects and invest accordingly. The Budget 2005 commitment to indefinite gas tax transfers is but one illustration of our resolve. We intend to think and act predictably and over the long-term and do so in conjunction with social partners like the ACEC and its members.

Achieving the vision will require more than money though. It requires new ways of thinking and working amongst all orders of government and already we see that idea germinating at the national level and in some provinces. It requires innovative multi-disciplinary research on communities and infrastructure, technology development, learning from the experience of other countries in dealing with similar challenges, effective knowledge transfer and improved infrastructure literacy amongst Canadians. It requires that the Government of Canada be more coherent and coordinated in its own policies and programs that affect the quality of life in communities. It requires that the Government of Canada integrate innovative approaches and incentives in future generations of public infrastructure funds. One way we have started to address these kinds of need is by providing funds for capacity building to help communities better assess their existing infrastructure and strengthen municipal planning.

As with the Technology Road Map [the joint report prepared by the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers and the Canadian Public Works Association in collaboration with the National Research Council], the Government of Canada is seizing the opportunity to enhance and ensure the quality of life in Canadians’ communities by working with a variety of partners who all contribute to the infrastructure policy process.

Boivin: What do you think needs to happen over the next five years for the infrastructure program to be successful?

Godfrey: The next five years are going to be critical. We are embarking on major partnership investments with the other orders of government to put the federal gas tax transfer of $5 billion towards environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure. This internationally innovative initiative will be subject to annual reporting to Canadians so that we can collectively judge success. As well, we will be pursuing — again with the other orders of government, infrastructure investments through the renewed Municipal Rural Infrastructure, Canada Strategic Infrastructure and Border Infrastructure Funds.

While success will no doubt be measured in the number of Canadians having improved access to mass transit or to clean water, in the amount of treated wastewater, in more efficient energy systems, in better municipal planning and management of infrastructure, there is another measure we want to be able to make.

That measure is that Canadians see their governments and other stakeholders like the ACEC purposefully and successfully working together to address the infrastructure challenge. This indicator of success may be more of a challenge to measure through statistical analysis of miles of new pipeline laid or in construction costs reduced through the application of a new technology, but reach it we must to say we have truly achieved success.

No one would argue that any one order of government can respond to the infrastructure challenge on its own. Those of us who deal with the policy and project facets of infrastructure on a daily and professional basis recognize this. For Canadians, it is only natural that their governments work on this together, and this is something we must remain committed to in order to ensure the success we all seek.

Boivin: How can the Government of Canada use the federal Infrastructure Program to help meet Canada’s climate change challenge?

Godfrey: Through Infrastructure Canada’s initiatives and programs, the Government of Canada is helping to ensure that our communities are great places in which to live and invest — places that provide a high quality of life, safe drinking water, security and safety, efficient public transit and economic opportunity — while addressing overarching objectives in areas such as sustainable development.

Investments in public infrastructure are, by their nature, investments for the long term. Infrastructure built today will be serving Canadians 50, 100 or more years from now. The design, construction and management of public infrastructure must support sustainable development and be responsive to the long-term implications of factors such as climate change.

In recognition of this, the Government of Canada’s infrastructure programs have evolved significantly over the past decade to better support sustainability and the environment. But there is still more to do in order to embed integrated approaches into decision-making, which would be totally inclusive from planning to demolition (inception to grave).

Infrastructure programs are investing in cutting-edge research, assisting communities to support sustainable development and a healthy environment, and are accountable to Canadians. In addition, a climate change lens is applied to our infrastructure projects to ensure that GHG [greenhouse gas] impacts, both in the construction and operation of the infrastructure, are taken into considerations. We also encourage project proponents to reduce GHG emissions through the use of innovative technologies and practices.

In Budget 2005, the Government enhanced its commitment to sustainable development by providing stable, predictable long-term funding as part of the New Deal for Cities and Communities. The New Deal funding will provide a share of the revenue from the federal excise tax on gasoline to municipalities to help fund local environmentally sustainable infrastructure.

Funds from the gas tax will be directed to environmentally sustainable municipal infrastructure projects such as public transit, water and wastewater systems, community en
ergy systems, solid waste management, rehabilitation of roads and bridges, and capacity building. These investments will help Canada’s cities and communities improve the quality of the environment, for example, through reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air and water.

But beyond climate change action, Infrastructure Canada and the Infrastructure and Communities portfolio, support projects that are focused on other environmental benefits such as minimization of waste generation and improvement of waste management; and efficient land use, enhanced urban green space and conservation of natural ecosystems.

Through effective partnerships, and the merging of national environmental goals and local needs, the Government of Canada is helping to build healthy, vibrant and sustainable communities. The benefits from cleaner air, safe drinking water and urban green space will be a legacy for generations of Canadians to come.

Boivin: Do you think a National Roundtable on Infrastructure, composed of key stakeholders from the public and private sectors, including consulting engineers, can help you in your mandate as Minister?

Godfrey: The simple answer here is emphatically “yes.” Since we received the Technology Road Map report, and its recommendation for a round table, departmental officials have been discussing this and other recommendations with stakeholder representatives. I have discussed the round table with various players and offered my encouragement to the consultations under way at this time to assess the interest and concerns of provincial and territorial governments.

As I have said in many fora, dealing with the infrastructure challenge is going to be more than just a matter of money — as key as that is. We need to take the broader perspective that a round table can offer. We need to bring disparate interests together to tap the collective thinking and experience necessary to help set government priorities, to exchange expertise and experience, and to build on the many successes of others. In this, and not only for the Government of Canada and me, a round table could offer a complementary focal point for reflection, dialogue and exchange. In the coming months we will take stock of the progress achieved and the emerging consensus. Then, we will be able to identify the best way forward, including the possibility of a round table.

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