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The New Ontario Infrastructure Plan

Why the new plan is an important document for Ontario.


August 11, 2011
By Rob Bradford

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For all of the anticipation surrounding it, Infrastructure Minister Bob
Chiarelli’s unveiling of the Ontario government’s “10-Year
Infrastructure Plan” on June 24 stirred a reaction more akin to ripples
than the whitecaps some might have expected.

For all of the anticipation surrounding it, Infrastructure Minister Bob Chiarelli’s unveiling of the Ontario government’s “10-Year Infrastructure Plan” on June 24 stirred a reaction more akin to ripples than the whitecaps some might have expected.

True, the 112-page document titled “Building Together: Jobs and Prosperity for Ontarians” is a slick piece of work that doesn’t answer the big questions on everyone’s mind: “How much money and where is it coming from?”  True, the 10-Year Plan tends to be an overview and if one chooses to be cynical they could make a case about the lack of significant detail.

Instead, let’s talk about why the new 10-Year Infrastructure Plan is an important document. 

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First off, it was never intended to be a project list of what and when the province will build over the next decade.  Its purpose is to “underscore the Provincial commitment to infrastructure” and it does that.  The last time Ontario actually planned its infrastructure investments with anything past the next election in mind, let alone 10 years, was way back when Premiers had names like Frost and Robarts, and the long-term vision created the infrastructure that we still depend on today.  Since the early 1970’s and through Premiers of all three political stripes, infrastructure has been an afterthought.

The Plan makes much of the Liberal government’s record over the past seven years and shows clearly that current investment levels are higher by multiples than they were from the 1970s through to the mid – 2000s.  The Plan actually touts the beginning if its increased funding commitment as the start of an ‘age of renewal’, but one might excuse the hyperbole because the fact is, the statistics show it’s a pretty accurate statement. 

The 10-Year Plan makes it government policy not to return to the neglect of the past several decades, which is an extremely important commitment to a construction industry accustomed to starting out each season and waiting to see if any work is going to come.

For contractors the 10-Year Infrastructure Plan represents the commitment needed to more effectively plan investment in training and recruitment, equipment and materials and the assurance that those decisions will prove to be sound ones 10 years from now.  It tells contractors in the ICI sector that 27 hospital completions will be funded and the province will start three to five new expansions every year.  For contractors in the civil construction sector, it signals that water is a priority and smaller communities will receive help in securing clean water.  It tells road builders that the commitment to highway renewal and strategic expansion will continue and that bridges will be a priority.

As an association manager, the new Infrastructure Plan also impresses because its content backs up its statements about the extensive consultations that were held with stakeholders – at least from the road builders’ point of view.  Although we can’t claim to have invented the ideas and certainly others were telling Minister Chiarelli the same things, a number of our priorities are directly addressed in the Plan:

  • Measureable, state-of-good-repair targets for highway and bridge condition will be implemented. 
  • Municipalities will be encouraged and eventually required to implement asset management systems in order to access    provincial funding.
  • The unique needs of Northern Ontario are recognized by making Trans-Canada highway corridors in the North an investment priority (among other specific Northern development strategies).
  • Strategic highways investment to support economic development. The Plan identifies the 400-series of highways as critical to moving export goods to the U.S. border.  A ‘corridor-based approach’ will guide investment strategies.
  • Implementation of the Plan will be monitored and reported in regular ‘state of the Infrastructure’ reports.
  • Although the Plan signals full speed ahead for AFP procurement models and practices such as project bundling which give rise to concern from some contractors:  “At the same time, (the Province) will continue to tender projects in a range of sizes to support small and medium-sized construction companies.”

The new 10-Year Infrastructure Plan stands on its own as the first attempt in many years to look a decade into the future and set priorities based on social, demographic and economic development objectives. It demonstrates commitment to infrastructure renewal and development at a time when a failure to do so would be disastrous for the province, even though it doesn’t talk about the money beyond the government’s current three-year, $35-billion program.

But yes, there still is the money issue.  The Infrastructure Plan itself notes quite candidly that even the increased levels of investment in the past several years are just making a dent in Ontario’s infrastructure deficit.  Governments at all levels are struggling with debt and deficits and health care is sucking tax dollars into a black hole at an unsustainable pace.  It isn’t a crisis of this government’s making, but it is a fiscal crisis and it is going to require some tough decisions and a lot of help from the economy if Ontario is to really embrace an infrastructure “age of renewal.”

Check out the full “Building Together” document at:
http://www.moi.gov.on.ca/pdf/en/BuildingTogether_En.pdf