Canadian Consulting Engineer

Minister of Infrastructure answers ACEC questions

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada asked Andy Scott, P.C., Minister of State for Infrastructure, five questions about the Government's commitment to infrastructure. An excerpt may be found in the ACEC May Communiqu. The following i...

June 1, 2004  Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada asked Andy Scott, P.C., Minister of State for Infrastructure, five questions about the Government’s commitment to infrastructure. An excerpt may be found in the ACEC May Communiqu. The following is the full text of the Minister’s responses.

ACEC: What will be your top priority in your first year as Minister of State for Infrastructure?

Minister Scott: We have a pro-active agenda for 2004-2005 to fulfill the commitments in the Speech from the Throne and the 2004 federal budget to implement a “New Deal” for Canada’s communities. We have several specific objectives for this fiscal year:

We will continue to work with our partners to realize the thousands of infrastructure projects already under way.

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We will conclude negotiations as quickly as possible with the provinces and territories to implement the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund (MRIF) that will help meet the needs particularly of communities with fewer than 250,000 people. Funding applications can then be submitted and assessed so that money can get into the hands of municipalities, keeping in mind that on a national average, 60 per cent of the MRIF will go to green projects. As announced in Budget 2004, we will also work to accelerate these investments over the next five years instead of 10.

We will speed up the commitment of the $1 billion investment in affordable housing. Agreements have been signed with all provinces and territories for the first tranche of funding — $680 million.

We will promote consultation, viable public-private partnerships, research and innovation as effective tools in maximizing the “New Deal” for Canadian communities.

We will move forward on the clean-up of contaminated sites. Funding of $4 billion over 10 years has been identified in the 2004 federal Budget to clean up federal contaminated sites and sites for which the Government has partial responsibility.

We will build on the strengths my portfolio represents, in terms of land development, environmental solutions and contributing to sustainable communities.

ACEC: Do you see an increasing need for Private Public Partnerships?

Minister Scott: Yes, provided the partnerships recognize and accept certain principles related to participation in public projects. There must be clear lines of authority and responsibility among the partners, joint investment of resources, allocation of risk and full accountability. Infrastructure Canada is currently supporting five PPP projects by funding $725 million of the combined total project costs of $2.6 billion.

A strong trend towards partnerships is evident throughout the developed world and several Canadian projects have already been successfully completed. These include the Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island; the Cobequid Pass toll highway in Nova Scotia; the Waterville Landfill Gas Power project in Ontario and the Port Hardy water treatment facility in British Columbia.

We also recognize this need on the affordable housing front. In 2003, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, one of the crown corporations for which I am responsible, introduced new tools on this front. These include financial assistance and training for potential housing providers who are in the very early stages of a housing proposal that is affordable, innovative, or community-based. We also recognize that the persistent need for housing assistance, both in the general population and in First Nation communities, points to perhaps the requirement for different approaches to providing housing assistance. We are committed to working on innovative solutions that will involve a wide variety of partners in delivering safe, affordable housing to those who need it most.

ACEC: What is the biggest challenge to addressing Canada’s $60-billion of infrastructure debt?

Minister Scott: There needs to be an understanding of the magnitude of the issue and shared decisions with our partners on where to apply scarce funds in the face of overall needs. So, should dollars go to rebuilding old or toward new infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing economy? Or, should resources go to long-term infrastructure projects that will allow for far-reaching changes in the economy, such as meeting the water needs of the Prairies so the agricultural industry can flourish and expand? In what proportion should the infrastructure dollar be shared by these three categories?

There are varying estimates of the total cost of replacing, renewing and expanding Canada’s infrastructure to meet the desired social, economic and environmental objectives through billions of new dollars being pledged by the Government of Canada. However, we must keep in mind that in addition to funding the supply of infrastructure, we need to work towards managing the demand in order to ensure sustainable growth in the future. This includes increasing transit ridership, lowering water consumption, and managing urban sprawl.

The availability of capital and the generation of more investment revenues through the continuing growth of the Canadian economy will dictate the speed at which we can proceed with infrastructure investments.

It is also essential that the private sector and provincial, territorial and municipal governments continue to participate financially. Federal contributions of $12 billion over the past decade are expected to generate total infrastructure investments of $30 billion. This is a result which we are confident will be repeated in the future.

ACEC: Do you see a need for a round table or advisory council, composed of public and private stakeholders, to advise you as Minister in developing a long-term plan?

Minister Scott: A number of representations have been made to me about convening a roundtable of infrastructure stakeholders and I’m leaning positively towards the idea as another step in the consultative processes this Government promotes.

The way I try to do my job is to engage as many people as I can. I strongly encourage current and potential partners to provide input on the formulation and implementation of Infrastructure Canada policies and programs. A continued collaborative effort is necessary to define strategic priorities.

I also welcome input on the affordable housing front. Public consultation and direct involvement by housing stakeholders is critical to the success of the existing $1-billion affordable housing program and possible new directions in housing policy.

Already, the Technology Road Map (TRM) project is providing opportunities for the engineering and public works communities to contribute to the infrastructure policy process. TRM assists us greatly by reflecting the views of many stakeholders; in setting out specific objectives and recommendations; proposing practical approaches to catalogue and inventory Canada’s infrastructure assets, and promoting the transfer of innovative technology.

Also, Infrastructure Canada has worked with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), a key stakeholder on municipal infrastructure issues, on several occasions, and has funded initiatives that have included their participation. One such program is the National Guide for Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure.

The National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure is a project funded under the Infrastructure Canada Program that identifies and disseminates best practices and encourages innovation to support sustainable municipal infrastructure decisions and actions. The FCM jointly administers this program with the National Research Council.

Further, with each new development, Canada Lands Company, another Crown corporation for which I am responsible, assesses the unique circumstances of the community and then develops plans that best meet those needs and challenges. When redeveloping its properties, the company engages in extensive consultations with the public and other stakeholders to develop a plan for future development. Modern urban planning principles are implemented and municipal planning processes are then followed. Activities to date of the
Canada Lands Company, along with estimates for its sold properties, will lead to 19,200 new or refurbished residential units at all affordability levels.

ACEC: How long do you think it will take for a comprehensive plan to be in place?

Minister Scott: Much of the groundwork for a comprehensive infrastructure strategy is already in place with the partnership investments made through the Infrastructure Canada Program, the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund and Border Infrastructure Fund. And in 2004, we began to explore new longer-term approaches that complement current housing programs and relationships. To this we can now add:

The 100 per cent GST rebate, retroactive to February 1, 2004. This will provide municipalities with $7 billion in additional monies over the next decade that can be invested, as the Finance Minister said, in critical priorities such as roads, transit and clean water.

The placement of Infrastructure Canada and the five Crown corporations — Canada Lands Company, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the Old Port of Montral Corporation, Queens Quay West Land Corporation, and Downsview Park — together under the Environment Portfolio. This will allow us to take better advantage of our individual contributions towards sustainable communities.

The acceleration of funding under the Municipal Rural Infrastructure Fund. Specifically, the $1 billion provided in the 2003 budget will now be spent over five years instead of the original 10, doubling the amount of funding available to municipalities over the next five years. This will give municipalities across Canada quicker access to the funds they need to plan their infrastructure improvements and put them in place. As I mentioned earlier, we are looking forward to an early and successful conclusion of negotiations for disbursements from this Fund.

This engagement with provinces, territories and municipalities on infrastructure is part of a larger federal commitment to communities large and small. We see this commitment in the Budget 2004 undertaking of annual, pre-budget consultations with municipal representatives. Also, the appointment of a Parliamentary Secretary to lead efforts on a New Deal for Communities, as well as a federal External Advisory Committee on Cities and Communities, as announced in the 2004 Speech from the Throne, represents a significant step towards this commitment.

The ultimate timetable will be determined by the degree of co-operation, participation and contributions we are able to achieve among those partners who share the Government of Canada’s determination to make Canada’s communities the envy of the world.

ACEC member-organizations: Association des ingnieurs-conseils du Qubec, Consulting Engineers of Ontario, Nova Scotia Consulting Engineers Association, Consulting Engineers of British Columbia, Association of Consulting Engineers of Saskatchewan, Consulting Engineers of Alberta, Association of Consulting Engineers of Manitoba, Consulting Engineers of New Brunswick, Consulting Engineers of Yukon, Consulting Engineers of the Northwest Territories, Consulting Engineers of Newfoundland.

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