Reforms to the New Building Canada Fund
The Liberal Party has committed to make some reforms to the New Building Canada Fund. They promise to make the NBCF “more focused and more transparent”. The Liberal Party also remarks that the Conservative government made the funding “back-loaded, with more than 70 percent … locked away until after 2019”, though it makes no specific promises to fix this. In order to make the NBCF “more focused”, the Liberal party has committed to make “significant, separate investments” in transit, green and social infrastructure, effectively compartmentalizing much of the funding.
While making additional investments is commendable, it is not clear what the benefit of compartmentalization is. It is not clear as to how that benefits provinces or municipalities; if anything, it only makes things more difficult for them by limiting how they can spend funding. Instead of spending according to their own needs, municipalities and provinces would be forced to allocate funds according to the federal government’s divisions. This may or may not prove problematic.
In order to make NBCF “more transparent”, the Liberal Party has committed to introduce “clearer project criteria” and “faster approval processes”. ACEC has long advocated for transparent approval processes with clear and consistent criteria and applauds this promise. Efficient approval processes are also good, but it is important that these do not compromise the quality of the procurement process. It is important that procurement criteria and approval processes don’t undermine effective procurement by oversimplifying things. For example, ‘low-cost’ is a clear criterion and makes approval simple and quick, but is ultimately counterproductive because it reduces the quality of the investment. The Liberal party should adopt more effective procurement strategies like QBS or P3s that emphasize the quality of the procurement, the inherent complexity of the evaluation process, and the qualifications of competing firms. These provide an opportunity for transparency and timeliness while also ensuring efficient investments and long-term value for infrastructure dollars.
Because the Liberal party has not yet publicly defined “clearer project criteria” and “faster approval processes”, ACEC still has an opportunity to work with other stakeholders to assist the federal government with design of its infrastructure programs including input into program criteria and the application process. Again, there may be an opportunity for ACEC to lobby the federal government to make the funding conditional on the adoption of Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) or other acceptable procurement practices.