Dec 2017 | Green & Prospering Communities

THE INVESTING IN CANADA INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN: WHAT’S NEXT?
PSD’S SLOANE SWEAZEY IN CONVERSATION WITH THE HONOURABLE AMARJEET SOHI, CANADA’S MINISTER OF INFRASTRUCTURE & COMMUNITIES

The infrastructure gap continues to persist in Canada – its burden heavily impacting municipalities who own the majority of Canadian infrastructure. In 2016, Infrastructure Canada announced the Investing in Canada Plan, a sizeable $180 billion investment in infrastructure over a 12-year period. PSD sat down with the Honourable Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Infrastructure Canada, to speak about the Plan, discuss new funding opportunities for municipalities, and to learn of the type of infrastructure investments to be expected in 2018.

It’s been a busy year for Infrastructure Canada with the implementation of Phase 1 of the Investing in Canada Plan. What progress has been made in 2017 to address the infrastructure gap in Canadian communities?

We launched a historic Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan in two phases. We started Phase 1 in 2016, investing more than $12 billion to improve community infrastructure, public transit, water and wastewater infrastructure, affordable housing, and cultural infrastructure, which involves rehabilitation and repairs. Phase 1 is currently being delivered and I am proud to say that we have approved more than 4,000 projects since its beginning in 2015 – most of them currently underway. The projects are enabling communities to buy new buses, or convert their diesel buses to electric or more fuel-efficient buses. Even more, investments are allowing municipalities to turn their old transit fleet into more accessible transit fleets, as well as improving the quality of water in many small rural communities, including Indigenous communities. It also allows communities to renovate and rehabilitate social housing units. These are the achievements we are making in Phase 1 as we launch our long-term plan, which we will be negotiating with the provinces and territories and concluding those negotiations by the first quarter of next year.

 

Entering 2018, what do you perceive as the key infrastructure issues facing Canadian municipalities?

The long-term infrastructure plan focuses on five areas of investment: public transit, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and rural and northern communities.  We are investing $29 billion over the next 12 years towards public transit infrastructure. In regards to green infrastructure, we want to support communities to be more resilient to climate change – flood and disaster mitigation, quality of water, and wastewater infrastructure. Also, supporting investment in new technologies where provinces can undertake projects that will reduce the production of greenhouse gas emissions. $21.9 billion is being invested to support social infrastructure, which includes affordable housing, early learning and childcare facilities, and recreational and cultural infrastructure. We are also focused on trade and transportation infrastructure, as well as supporting rural and northern communities. This is the focus of discussions with the provinces and territories to sign bilateral agreements.

 

 

Have you seen communities already implement green infrastructure solutions and if so, what do those look like?

We have seen many communities implement the use of green infrastructure funding to improve the quality of water in their communities while also improving the systems that deal with wastewater or solid waste. We have also seen green infrastructure being used for long-term planning initiatives to understand how the resiliency of communities can be improved.

 

What do you think of the municipal asset management regulation coming down the pipeline in Ontario? Do you think that this is something that the rest of Canada should adopt as well?

We strongly encourage municipalities to develop long term capital plans, as well as plans to manage the existing assets they have. We are working closely with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, where we have provided them with dedicated funding to build the capacity of communities – particularly midsized and small communities – to help them develop an asset management plan. We firmly believe that having a plan in place is the responsible approach to take. Not only does it allow you to assess what kind of infrastructure a community owns, but what condition it is in, what kind of investment it would require to keep it in good condition, and also, recognizing the new needs in communities. We’re supporting the municipal sector to develop that kind of asset management plan.

 

Can you talk about the Smart Cities Challenge? What tips can you provide to communities looking to participate in the challenge?

We see the Smart Cities Challenge as a potential way to use technology to improve a community’s quality of life and solve problems. We are not going to define what a smart community looks like – we are going to leave it up to the local communities and they should work with the private sector, post-secondary institutions, the non-profit sector, and other aspects of the community to develop their Smart City Challenge projects. The idea behind the Challenge is to make sure municipalities have enough resources from the federal government to think outside of the box and to think more creatively using data and technology, and to mobilize the community to come up with creative ideas to solve problems.

Timeline of Smart Cities Challenge Process       Source: Infrastructure Canada

 

 

You highly encourage municipalities to partner with the private-sector to implement Smart City initiatives. Why do you think public-private partnerships (PPPs) are so valuable and what advice can you give to municipalities looking to embark on a PPP?

I think it is always valuable when you bring different expertise to the same table, whether it is expertise in data management or expertise in the technology sector. The public sector expertise knows what the problems are and the private sector expertise can be utilized to solve those public problems. At the end of the day we all live in communities; we have the same interests and values of building a community that we all desire to live in. We want welcoming and inclusive places where everyone has the opportunity to succeed – where an economy prospers, and jobs are being created. That is a shared goal and a shared goal by many people in the private sector and other institutions. In our minds, it is always valuable to bring all the players together to come up with creative ideas.

 

The Board of Directors for the Canadian Infrastructure Development Bank were recently announced. What can we expect from the Bank in 2018?

I am very pleased that we have appointed ten very committed Canadians from very diverse experiences who will bring their knowledge and expertise to help us succeed in what we want the Infrastructure Bank to achieve, which is to build new infrastructure. I am very proud that these Canadians are stepping up to help us set up the Bank and get the Bank’s work underway.

More information about the Canadian Infrastructure Bank, including its key functions and structure, can be found on Infrastructure Canada’s website: http://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/CIB-BIC/index-eng.html.

 

As the Infrastructure Minister, what are the main questions or concerns that you get from municipalities?

I come from a municipal background and municipalities face a number of challenges in regards to infrastructure. One of them is the lack of long-term sustainable and predictable funding. My goal in the first quarter of next year is to focus on signing bilateral agreements that will give communities that certainty, that will give them long-term predictable funding. The other challenge municipalities face is the limited capacity to match. This is why we have contributed 50 percent of the funding to Phase 1 and we will contribute 40 percent of the funding in Phase 2 to relieve some of the pressures on property owners in communities. As well, municipalities are looking for partnership. They are not looking for a top-heavy approach coming from Ottawa, but more collaborative partnerships where the local decision making is respected.

 

What other funding opportunities will be made available to help municipalities close the infrastructure gap more quickly and efficiently?

We want to demonstrate to them that we are here for the long term – that is why we’re tripling our investments in infrastructure. We will be investing close to $180 billion over the next decade, so that is a significant increase on our part. We also hope that provinces will continue to provide them the necessary support as well. And for municipalities to have their own capital plan. All of the different powers of government coming together to build more infrastructure is the best approach and that’s the approach that Canadian municipalities have asked us to develop and that’s exactly what we are doing.

 

What is the long-term outcome you hope to achieve by the end of this 12-year Investment Plan?

Our government came into power to build a stronger middle class and provide opportunities for Canadians to work hard each and every day to be part of the middle class. So economic growth and economic opportunity are both very important to us. We believe that investing in infrastructure makes an economy more productive, more efficient, and it opens up opportunities for long-term economic growth. So that’s one objective. The other goal that we want to achieve is building more resilient communities. Asking questions such as, “how are we moving towards a more low-carbon economy?” And, “are we building communities where we all desire to live in; are they welcoming places – are they places where everyone feels that they can succeed?” I think those are the objectives that we want to achieve and those are the objectives not only to infrastructure investment, but a government-as-a-whole approach. Everything that we do is to make communities better, to create opportunities for Canadians, to create jobs for them, and to build a strong middle class.

 

Infrastructure Canada is working towards a low-carbon future. How will infrastructure related projects achieve this goal?

We are developing a green lens – a climate change lens – which means that when we evaluate infrastructure projects we examine and consider how the projects build more resilient communities and how do they help us reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions. That green lens is being developed in partnership with other partners and we are very hopeful that with such a collaborative approach municipalities will be able to adapt and implement practices that will help us reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

 

SLOANE SWEAZEY, MA is a Research Analyst for the Public Sector Digest. She completed her master’s degree in Political Science, specializing in Public Policy and Administration, as well as a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and International Development, both from the University of Guelph. Sloane has worked on multiple research projects examining policy analysis and development. Her research interests surround municipal governance and public policy, where she has researched community-engagement initiatives and child care policy at length. In her role, Sloane researches and writes articles for publication, while also sourcing content from external contributors.