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Commentary: January-February 2013

Becoming One Voice


February 12, 2013
By Andrew Macklin


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Is it time for industry to push a national infrastructure agenda?

Is it time for industry to push a national infrastructure agenda?

In September 2012, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released its first-ever Canadian Infrastructure Report Card. The study reported a disturbing statistic that many of us already understood as reality: more than half of our municipal road infrastructure in Canada is in need of significant repairs.

In March 2014, two billion dollars in federal funding for municipal infrastructure is going to lapse, with no clear indication from government as to how it will be renewed, or if it will be renewed at all. Clearly, a new solution will have to be put in place. But what that solution will be, and how much funding will be attached to it, remains uncertain.

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For its part, FCM has made a few recommendations. The organization requested that the current gas tax funding be maintained, and that a cost-of-living increase be attached. It has also proposed the need to design a new federal program that would help leverage municipal and provincial funding partnerships while keeping red tape and bureaucracy to a minimum. Both of these ideas would prove to be a valuable part of the overall solution for infrastructure funding.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has presented its views, and has launched a website to promote the need for the renewal of infrastructure funding. As a national organization, it carries more weight than provincial and municipal associations because of the scope of people they represent across the country. So when it comes to the debate on national infrastructure renewal, it is safe to say that the federation will play a significant role in the discussions.

Where does that leave the role of the rock-to-road industry and its associations? Without question, the provincial associations across Canada provide good representation for industry objectives at the government level. And yes, the strength of numbers in these associations does carry some weight when it comes to being listened to by political officials in discussions regarding funding for infrastructure projects.

But 2014 is just a year away. The government is cutting back funding of almost everything as it battles deficits and debts at record highs. The competition for government funding is fierce, even for projects that are in obvious need. Is a collection of provincial associations going to be enough to get the attention of government long enough to both have its voice heard AND secure the needed dollars?

Or is it time for a unified voice in the aggregates industry? Is it time for associations from across Canada to come together and put aside their provincial spending priorities long enough to unite and ensure that the voice of industry is heard loud and clear in discussions about infrastructure spending?

There is no question that a unified voice would be forceful. Take into consideration the number of commercial and corporate stakeholders that could come together as part of it. Take a moment to consider how many employees that organization would represent. Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Also, consider the leadership and industry expertise that would be available for such an association. Look at the board of directors list and administration for any provincial association and you will quickly understand that there is no shortage of strong representatives to help push a national agenda forward.

But the question remains: is there a will, or a desire, to come together to form a national agenda? Is the upcoming infrastructure funding renewal debate enough of a catalyst to put territorial differences aside to push for national solutions? Or are there so many local, regional, urban and rural divides that a national organization for the industry just won’t work?

At the very least, it’s a conversation that needs to take place.


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