OSPE Responds to the National Infrastructure Assesment

Engineers on OSPE’s Infrastructure Task Force have submitted a response to the federal government’s National Infrastructure Assessment. OSPE Infrastructure Task Force Chair, Oliver Xiao, P.Eng., believes the assessment lays a good foundation by seeking to address the following three priorities:

  1. Assessing infrastructure needs and establishing a long-term vision;
  2. Improving coordination among infrastructure owners and funders; and
  3. Determining the best ways to fund and finance infrastructure

Engineers believe that this assessment would be strengthened by the incorporation of the following key actions and principles:

  1. Prioritization of sustainable, shovel-worthy infrastructure

Proper, smart, and prioritized investment in sustainable infrastructure will help alleviate the economic burden the province is facing, while decreasing unemployment rates in several critical sectors of the economy.

A 2019 study by the University of Maryland and CANCEA in Ontario has estimated that every dollar invested in infrastructure returns approximately $3.70 in economic growth over 20 years. Developing a comprehensive project investment pipeline, which is informed by existing regulated municipal asset management plans, will facilitate the prioritization of early works. Projects identified in the pipeline should be not only “shovel-ready,” but “shovel-worthy” to provide a positive return on investment. By using and periodically refreshing these plans to select projects for investment, the government will be able to reduce application timelines and ensure a speedy and safe recovery.

It is also important to allocate funds for rehabilitating current and deteriorated infrastructure, to ensure it is able to provide benefits for both current and future generations. This will also provide the opportunity to make improvements in sustainability and resilience. In order to remain competitive globally, Canada must invest in repairing deteriorated infrastructure.

Investing in sustainable, shovel-worthy infrastructure will create job opportunities for engineers across Ontario.

  1. Full transparency on projects

To build long-term sustainable infrastructure, the government should consult appropriately with stakeholders and the communities affected. These consultations must be transparent, and information should be shared throughout the entire process. This will require working with provinces and municipalities to ensure that the infrastructure projects with the most benefits get funded and constructed.

A mechanism guided by full transparency will help ensure that infrastructure projects get built on time—allowing engineering work to be completed without major delays.

  1. Make use of a Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) framework for procurement of engineering services

By adopting Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) as its best practice for the selection of engineering consultants, the government can realize the greatest possible value for investment in its infrastructure projects.

QBS is an internationally recognized best practice for the procurement of engineering services. It is a competitive, sound, and fair process that selects firms that are best qualified for the project. This best practice has been mandated by law in the United States since the 1970s (The Brooks Act), and more recently in the city of Calgary and province of Quebec.

QBS protects the public interest over the life cycle of the project, including design, construction, operations, maintenance and eventual upgrading or de-commissioning. QBS is the smartest tool to ensure post-COVID-19 economic recovery throughout our country.

Benefits to Canadians:

  1. Better value to taxpayers

QBS encourages innovation, which in turn drives better value on infrastructure investments. It provides accountability by ensuring that fees will directly correspond to the level of service and the value of deliverables to be provided. QBS also results in more realistic and predictable budgets and schedules for project expenditures.

  1. Significant life-cycle savings

QBS maximizes the value of the consultant’s contribution to a project while reducing the project’s life cycle costs. Engineering typically accounts for only about 2% of the life cycle cost of a project, but dramatically impacts the cost and quality of the remaining 98%.

Likewise, a recent American Public Works Association study shows that using QBS for professional services reduces construction cost overruns from an average of 10% to less than 3%—equivalent to a savings of up to $700K on a $10M capital project.

  1. Benefits for small firms

QBS enables small firms to compete by providing them a process to demonstrate their competitive advantages over larger firms, including a greater degree of niche market expertise, knowledge of the local market and involvement of senior level management in the execution of the project.

  1. Promotes communication and technical innovation

Using QBS provides owners the opportunity to fully define the scope of work of the project during the selection process. This results in a project that is thoroughly thought out and fosters innovative, creative, cost and time-saving approaches to problems. It also fosters better communication and business relationships between owners and proponents as the process makes them partners in the job.

  1. Listen to infrastructure expertsincluding engineers

Engineers are key to the effective design and development of virtually all aspects of infrastructure. Engineers know that promoting public safety and the environment, while advancing a diverse and inclusive society, must also be reflected in government plans moving forward. We urge all orders of government to continue consulting engineers when it comes to transit development and the creation of other technical plans for Ontario.

  1. Foster a sustainable management framework

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published a study in 2015 that stated,

“Good governance is a necessary condition for good infrastructure delivery” and “poor governance is a major reason why infrastructure projects fail to meet their timeframe, budget and service delivery objectives. Infrastructure projects with deficient governance often result in cost overruns, delays, underperformance, underutilisation, accelerated deterioration due to poor maintenance…”

Governance is defined by the standard ISO 21505: Project, programme and portfolio management – Guidance on governance as “the principles, policies and framework by which an organization is directed and controlled.” This standard identifies elements that need to be in place to provide a good governance framework for a project, such as the authority and responsibility of the governing body, approach to risk management and framework for engagement with stakeholders.

To minimize waste, Darya Duma, P.Eng., recommends that “large infrastructure projects provide assurance of good governance in compliance with ISO 21505”. This will support a sustainable effort and selection of “shovel-worthy” projects. 

Read OSPE’s full submission here.

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