The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs has released its Interim Report: Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Infrastructure, which contains several key contributions from OSPE. The report outlines the committee’s findings and recommendations regarding the COVID-19 crisis and Ontario’s infrastructure sector. It reflects the testimony received during public hearings held on July 30 and August 4, as well as written submissions delivered to the Committee Clerk.
As well, OSPE was invited to deliver recommendations to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, regarding the Economic and Fiscal Update Act, 2020 and the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on certain sectors of the economy, as it pertains to infrastructure.
OSPE CEO, Sandro Perruzza, had the honour of sharing the priorities of Ontario’s engineering community. OSPE’s message was clear: Engineers generate wealth for the province, through the development and commercialization of new technologies and by designing innovative and sustainable solutions that benefit all Ontarians.
OSPE highlighted the following recommendations:
- Invest in shovel worthy projects by developing a comprehensive project investment pipeline document. This must be informed by currently regulated municipal asset management plans.
- Support small and medium sized engineering firms by tackling increasing liability insurance costs.
- Accelerate the electrification of the transportation system, including EV adoption.
- Modernize Ontario’s Building Code.
- Invest in talent development, knowledge training, and supports for engineers across the province.
- Invest in Ontario’s Mining Infrastructure
These recommendations detail how Ontario’s engineering community is essential for the post COVID-19 economic prosperity of our province.
The Standing Committee’s report highlights OSPE’s following comments and recommendations:
Insurance Costs (Page 9)
“According to the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE), “the liability insurance issue is the sleeper issue no one is talking about and will have the biggest impact on economic recovery in this sector.”
OSPE maintains that the insurance industry generally regards Ontario as a high-risk jurisdiction. With the onset of the pandemic, this view of the province has translated into rising insurance costs, not only for professional services such as engineering, but also for general business liability and property insurance coverage.
More alarmingly, OSPE reports that some Ontario insurers are refusing to sell liability coverage to some engineers and engineering firms. One consequence of this industry practice is that less infrastructure will be designed and built, “stunting economic growth.”
OSPE recommends that the Province exercise its regulatory power over the insurance industry to control insurance costs for infrastructure-related businesses and services.”
Recommendations: Insurance costs — exercise provincial regulatory power to control insurance costs in the infrastructure sector.
Rural Municipalities (Page 15)
“Other witnesses said that a provincial rural investment strategy should include investments in the mining sector. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers identified the proposed chromite mining operation in the Ring of Fire area as “an immense and untapped economic opportunity.” Proponents of this development acknowledge that “there continue to be barriers to putting shovels in the ground,” but say it is nonetheless important that the government fast-track this project. Indigenous communities, the mining and construction sectors, and the entire province, it was stated, would benefit from the project.”
Indigenous Issues (Page 22)
“Professional organizations and private sector companies also spoke to how infrastructure development can support Indigenous communities. The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) noted that mining is the largest private sector employer of Indigenous people, and stressed the importance of creating professional technical capacity within these communities when planning mining projects. OSPE noted, for example, that members of Indigenous communities, trained as engineers and technicians, could operate the proposed chromium mining and smelting project in the Ring of Fire.”
Skilled Trades and Accreditation (Page 26)
“A common refrain during the hearings was that the pandemic is an opportunity to invest in the development of skills, and specifically the skilled trades. The Associated Equipment Distributors, the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, and the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario (CDAO) all recommend that the government continue to invest in skilled trades programs to address the shortage in this area of the labour market.”
Changing The Way We Do Things (Page 27)
“The many proposals submitted for the Committee’s consideration draw on both years of pre-pandemic experience in Ontario and on recent international trends.
Some of the more notable suggestions are outlined below.
Project Pipeline Transparency — develop a multi-year project pipeline document, based on municipal asset management plans and similar to Infrastructure Ontario’s Market Updates, which keep the public informed on the status of major public infrastructure projects. Project pipeline documents allow the private sector to plan and allocate resources to meet the province’s future infrastructure needs. International precedents for pipeline documents exist in the United Kingdom and Australia.”
Specifically, The Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs recommends that:
- The government should digitize documentation to allow electronic submissions for projects.
- Ontario should consider reviewing its infrastructure asset portfolio to determine areas where it could leverage private sector capital by monetizing, selling, or recycling assets.
- Ontario should provide education and training to municipal leaders and staff to equip them with the skills to structure, procure, and successfully deliver their infrastructure projects.
- For smaller similar projects, the government should consider bundling smaller similar projects. The program can be built around similar types of asset or geographically.
- Place more emphasis on the role of organizations such as Infrastructure Ontario in assisting the municipal sector deliver worthwhile projects.
- The provincial government should work with supportive stakeholders to aggressively advocate for federal infrastructure stimulus support on provincial priorities.
- Work with the federal government to upgrade and modernize digital infrastructure and build out broadband. These issues are significant in rural, northern, and Indigenous localities.
- Leverage Ontario’s broadband action plan funding to ensure that modern broadband connectivity is available in more public library branches in communities across Ontario, most especially rural and northern areas.
- The Province should explore ways to reduce the high costs of utility pole access that are a detriment to expanding broadband.
- As part of the post pandemic recovery strategy, the Province should consult on the potential adoption of a utilities model used in other jurisdictions for the financing and delivery of critical water and wastewater infrastructure.
OSPE is happy to see that our organization has been extensively quoted in this report. This means that politicians are listening to the expertise that engineers bring to the table. We are also pleased to know that the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs has echoed some of the recommendations put forward by OSPE.