Canadian Consulting Engineer

Tackling the national infrastructure deficit: ACEC’s submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Finance

Canada's infrastructure deficit and cumulative infrastructure debt should be seen as equally crippling as the national fiscal debt, and they should be tackled with the same level of priority and urgen...

October 1, 2002  Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canada’s infrastructure deficit and cumulative infrastructure debt should be seen as equally crippling as the national fiscal debt, and they should be tackled with the same level of priority and urgency because they directly affect people’s lives. This is one of the recommendations made in a submission by the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (ACEC) to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, which is preparing recommendations to the Chrtien government on the next federal budget. Below are excerpts of the ACEC brief.

Canada has a serious infrastructure deficit

Canadians need clean water, safe disposal of wastes, reliable highways and a more efficient national rail system. Canada’s infrastructure deficit poses a significant threat to the quality of life of its citizens. As professionals who have played a leading role in the planning, design and development of the nation’s physical infrastructure, consulting engineers have long recognized the deficit and have urged concerted action to address this ever-growing problem as an absolute priority. In the past several months, four respected national organizations and one task force of elected federal officials have called on the federal government to tackle this problem now. These organizations are: the TD Bank Financial Group, the Conference Board of Canada, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the C.D. Howe Institute and the Prime Minister’s Caucus Task Force on Urban Issues.

Although it is difficult to determine the exact level of funding required to address Canada’s infrastructure challenges, Canada’s infrastructure shortfall is estimated to be at least $44 billion, of which $17 billion is attributable to under-investment in roads and highways. An additional $8 to $10 billion will be required to modernize Canada’s rail system. A 2002 TD Bank Financial Group special report on cities estimates that the total infrastructure shortfall is growing by about $2 billion per year.

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Recommendations

To maintain and renew Canada’s infrastructure in a coordinated manner, there must be a federal-provincial-municipal process for deciding on priority projects.

Recommendation 1: That the federal government, in concert with the provinces, territories and municipalities, establish a set of priorities for investments in infrastructure based, first, on the health and safety of Canadians and, secondly, on the benefits to the Canadian economy.

Infrastructure projects such as sewage facilities or highways take years to build. Such projects cannot just be turned off or on, and consequently require a guaranteed source of funding to implement them. Moreover, Canada’s infrastructure deficit and cumulative infrastructure debt potentially have a greater impact on the health, safety and well being of Canadians than does the national fiscal debt.

Recommendation 2: That the federal government demonstrate leadership in addressing the national infrastructure deficit by committing to a 15-year plan of action and to a stable level of funding necessary to implement the plan, and that such funding have the same budgetary priority as the repayment of the national debt.

Canada’s investments in its infrastructure must be protected. To ensure efficient use and a maximum life span, proper maintenance and repairs are essential. Consequently, the funding of new infrastructure projects must be accompanied by commitments to ongoing maintenance.

Recommendation 3: That funding for infrastructure be tied to commitments from partners, including other levels of government, to ensure that adequate funding for maintenance is, or will be, in place for the entire life cycle of the works.

The full ACEC submission is available at www.acec.ca

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