Collaboration and innovation were among the main themes at this year's National Infrastructure Summit held in Regina.
“There was a recognition that there needed to be better collaboration between the private sector and the public sector in terms of how to deal with the needs going forward. No one group can plan in isolation and effectively achieve a significant change,” said Canadian Construction Association (CCA) chair John Schubert.
This was the second National Infrastructure Summit after the inaugural event last year.
It advanced the conversation about infrastructure, discussing citizen engagement, financing, defining the need, innovation and the politics of infrastructure.
These conversations are particularly important, said the CCA, as the nation’s first ever long-term infrastructure plan expires in 2014 and the federal government is expected to announce a permanent long-term plan.
The main message of Schubert’s presentation from the construction industry’s perspective was that good asset management is fundamental.
“Not only does it allow the municipality or the local government to better understand and to plan for their rehabilitation and growth,” he said.
“It allows industry to see in advance what the thought process is, what’s coming down so it allows industry to better plan their resources.”
Better long-term funding plans will also allow the industry to plan better and earlier tendering practices allow more work to be done.”
Schubert said some governments do not tender projects until mid or late in the season.
“Contractors are already committed and have already allocated their resources so there are fewer bidders,’ he said.
“We think that would help in bringing in more competitive pricing, more bidders for example if the tendering period was earlier.”
Schubert also pointed to regionalization as a tactic for some municipalities.
For example, instead of having a water treatment plant in each municipality, there could be one servicing multiple areas.
“What that allows is larger projects, which can allow more innovation because you don’t get the same innovation on smaller projects that you see in larger projects,” he explained.
“That, of course, can be quite controversial in some of the municipalities because everyone thinks they have to maintain control rather than sharing, but one of the other benefits of regionalization is sharing the cost over a larger tax base.”
The CCA tried to highlight these and other issues to begin a discussion about possible alternatives when it comes to addressing infrastructure.
Much discussion at the summit centred on innovation and finding funding alternatives.
Schubert pointed to the town of Rockland, Ont., outside of Ottawa.
Two years ago, the municipality initiated a 3.5 per cent tax increase strictly for infrastructure renewal and then added another per cent this year.
“One of the byproducts was they had a problem this year and they were able to spend $600,000 to remedy it without having to cut back services in other areas so it showed that it was quite prudent on their part,” he said.
“If you can earmark the money and people feel that’s going to something that they can see a direct benefit from, they’re much more receptive than just a general increase and having it go into general revenue.”
The federal government is expected to announce the new long-term infrastructure funding plan in the 2013 budget.