By: Michael Atkinson, President, Canadian Construction Association (CCA)
There is little doubt about the need for safe, reliable, and efficient core infrastructure, both for the safety of Canadians and the competitiveness of the Canadian economy.
The Canadian Construction Association, which represents the non-residential construction industry, has worked diligently to ensure that infrastructure remains a key policy consideration for the federal government. We believe it is critical to continue building partnerships with government leaders, industry, and other stakeholders to promote the importance of infrastructure investment—both now and in the future.
Over the past three years, all orders of government have invested considerable funds into infrastructure improvements, launching a worthy and long overdue national effort to modernize Canada’s infrastructure systems. However, much more is still required in order to complete the modernization process, ensure these assets meet 21st century standards, and that they will adequately serve the needs of Canadians for years to come.
The Canadian Construction Association has long championed the cause that adequate infrastructure funding is economically critical to maintaining Canada’s competitive advantage. With projected strong growth in the resource and energy sectors, it will be imperative that Canada possesses an adequate and efficient system of infrastructure to support economic growth and investment, and help Canadian businesses remain globally competitive.
For the Canadian construction industry, this will require infrastructure investment that is built on a long-term and sustainable model that addresses key characteristics.
One of the most important and fundamental characteristics is that investments address the long-term needs of the Canadian economy and the Canadian population. As opposed to making reactionary investments in Canada’s infrastructure system, we should be following a sustainable plan based on the current and future needs of the country.
It is also imperative that any infrastructure program be clear in its purpose. This means identifying key goals to ensure both progress and accountability. Any infrastructure investment must be for a defined and distinct reason. Coupled with meeting the long-term requirements of the Canadian economy, this goal-setting will help keep any future planning on track and on target.
At the same time, any sustainable infrastructure investment will have to involve the private sector if we are to meaningfully address funding needs. With the inability of governments to finance and maintain infrastructure at the pace of its decline, it is becoming increasingly important to involve private-sector partners with new and innovative funding models.
This requires a “de-politicization” of infrastructure investment programs. Oftentimes, infrastructure investment is reactionary and short-term. Sustainable investment in Canadian infrastructure will have to come from a long-term program that is immune to changes in political priorities or to the governing party. It should not be viewed as a program linked to a particular group, but rather, as a program fundamental to the economic and social well-being of the country.
Further to this, a long-term and sustainable infrastructure investment program should not be adversely affected by economic cycles, inflation or public sector fiscal concerns. This may mean shifting funding away from traditional property or excise taxes toward user fees and income or sales taxes. Regardless of the ultimate funding mechanism, a sustainable infrastructure program must be built—and built to last.
As well, the program must be self-perpetuating, and not dependent on renewed grants, authorizations, or successive commitments and contributions. That said, future infrastructure plans, and particularly the funding options, will need to remain flexible. Given the size of the Canadian landscape, and the varying needs of the different regions across Canada, it is very important that any plan and priorities fit the unique regional needs of the country, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
We understand the importance of infrastructure investment both for the economy and Canadian society. Should the infrastructure deficit continue to grow, it will become increasingly clear that new ideas and policies will be required to help overcome this important issue. But with a clear and long-term infrastructure plan, a more sustainable solution can be developed for Canada’s future.