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August 22, 2012

Infrastructure tops consulting engineers' pre-budget submission

The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-Canada (ACEC) has reinforced its messaging on infrastructure in its annual pre-budget submission to the Commons standing committee on finance.

“Last year’s budget signalled a commitment on the part of the government to develop a long-term program to replace the Building Canada Fund,” said association president John Gamble.

“We wanted to ensure that commitment remains in place in upcoming federal budgets.”

In its submission, delivered for the first time in an electronic format, the association expressed its views on four key issues identified by the finance committee, which plans to hold public hearings when Parliament resumes this fall.

The consultations will result in a report to be tabled in the House in December.

Suggestions of Canadians as well as committee recommendations will be taken into consideration by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in preparation of the 2013 budget.

One of the issues raised by the committee pertained to economic recovery and growth.

Stakeholders were asked what specific federal measures are needed for a sustained economic recovery and enhanced economic growth in Canada, “given the current climate of federal and global fiscal restraint.”

ACEC recommended that the government follow through on its current commitment to a long-term infrastructure plan, noting that according to the Conference Board of Canada, infrastructure spending has the largest impact on economic growth of all forms of government investment.

“Recognizing the current need to balance much-needed investment with current fiscal realities, a co-ordinated, well-planned, long-term approach is critical,” the association said.

To strengthen the economy and enhance Canada’s competitiveness over the long term, ACEC said this plan, in part, should include:

A commitment to close and stabilize the infrastructure deficit over the long term;

Realistic timelines that balance the long-term urgency of infrastructure investment with current fiscal pressures; and

Adoption of sound asset management practices to quantify the condition and remaining service life of existing infrastructure.

ACEC also recommended that the plan provide for a robust assessment and prioritization of projects and programs, clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each level of government and an annual evaluation of progress and return on investment.

It underlined the importance of developing a predictable plan that will allow all levels of government, public agencies and private firms to appropriately develop and allocate resources to plan, finance, design, construct and operate infrastructure projects.

In its submission, the association also underscored the connection between a long-term plan and three other issues identified by the finance committee: job creation, demographic change and productivity.

ACEC said such a plan can create “quality sustainable jobs” in multiple sectors including the design and construction industries, help lay the foundation for an increasingly competitive economy needed to tackle demographic challenges, and help eliminate the economic costs of infrastructure under investment.

“We felt it was important in our submission to articulate not only the importance of infrastructure investment in this country’s economic prosperity but to also make sure it is recognized as an investment in our future,” Gamble said.

The association is poised to participate in a national roundtable this fall hosted by the federal government to inform development of the long-term plan, which will set the stage to replace nearly $2 billion in annual infrastructure funding due to expire in 2014.

Over the summer, representatives of ACEC member organizations participated in five regional roundtables in different parts of the country.

“As a leading industry stakeholder, we were very pleased to have the opportunity to participate in these discussions,” Gamble said.

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