Budget 2017 reaffirms government commitment to infrastructure, but ACEC wants to see more progress in getting projects underway
On March 22nd, Minister Bill Morneau tabled his second budget, Building a Strong Middle Class, which reaffirmed the government’s commitment to infrastructure. However, it included very little new funding and lacked details on plans for Phase 2 spending, the Canada Infrastructure Bank and other programs important to the success of the consulting engineering sector. "We’re supportive of this government’s commitment to infrastructure" states John Gamble. "We had hoped that there would be more of a roadmap of how we’re going to get there. We had hoped more of the implementation details would have already been worked out"
In the past year, ACEC-Canada President and CEO John Gamble advocated predictable and timely infrastructure investment when meeting with Minister Sohi and MPs on the House of Commons Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Committee. This would support the government’s goal of strong fiscal growth and permit consulting engineering firms and municipalities to make better informed business decisions. Unfortunately, Budget 2017 provided few new details on the roll out of Phase 2 funding, which will now have to await another round of negotiations with the provinces, a concern for the sector considering the 10% to 15% drop in their workforce over the past five years. "The government is looking for infrastructure to grow the economy and create wealth and revenue. We don't want to push that too far down the road," said John Gamble during a post-budget media interview. As design work required for major projects takes place at least a year before shovels break ground, the need for details regarding how and when the $60 billion promised in Phase 2 will flow will continue to be the primary message ACEC-Canada delivers to Government in the coming weeks and months.
The budget did, however, commit to a timeline for the Canada Infrastructure Bank, first announced in the Fall Economic Statement. The government has given itself an end of year deadline for this new tool that will support large scale infrastructure projects. It is noteworthy that the Infrastructure Bank’s mandate will include data collection to improve knowledge on the state of municipal and provincial infrastructure; it is applauded by ACEC as a sound practice to identify infrastructure needs and measure effectiveness. The National Trade Corridor Fund is another initiative, along with the infrastructure bank, that was a welcome announcement from the fall assessment as it is the type of venture that stimulates the economy through the creation of more jobs and helps Canada be competitive with the US and internationally. It is also the type of investment that helps fund softer infrastructure projects such as community centres and social housing, which are also necessary for healthy vibrant communities. ACEC-Canada looks forward to further details on the fund in the coming months. Another area that was vague in this year’s budget was the carbon tax. In order for business to make informed decisions, clarity around the intent of the carbon tax is critical to Canada’s competitiveness.
On balance, and with some patience, it appears this could be a positive budget for most of the consulting engineering sector. To this end, ACEC will continue to work with the government on operational aspects of the budget to ensure that its successful implementation is effective, efficient and timely for ACEC members, their clients and Canadians.
Click here to view the ACEC-Canada budget day analysis, with a summary of selected highlights from the budget documents provided by Finance Canada.