2021 Year in Review

It was another busy year for the ACEC team and our government relations partner Impact Public Affairs. Our team worked hard to ensure the voice of our industry was heard by elected officials and senior bureaucrats of the federal government. Below is a recap of our activities and efforts over the past year on behalf of our industry and your firm.

Timelier and Focused Infrastructure Investments
We continued to work with Building for Recovery, a coalition of industry associations, to strengthen our industry’s voice on this important issue. In the early months of 2021, the group actively engaged government with a shared message that investing in infrastructure will help Canada emerge from the pandemic stronger than before and ensure we are ready to tackle the societal and environmental challenges of the future. We engaged a grass-roots approach with an electronic letter writing campaign to MPs by our members to pressure the government and the opposition parties to get construction projects started and remove delays to infrastructure investments. The coalition also offered solutions and recommendations directly to the Minister of Infrastructure to address the concerns around investment lag, namely the acceleration of program funding through a rapid response stream for all types of projects introduced under the Investing in Canada plan. These activities were further enhanced with a national op-ed highlighting Building for Recovery’s topline messages and a full page ad in The Hill Times, a publication widely read by Members of Parliament and senior political and government staff. Our efforts garnered attention from Infrastructure Canada and the Minister’s office; ACEC met with the Minister’s Office and Assistant Deputy Minister to discuss data and reporting of infrastructure funding commitments and projects approvals. The development of stronger and more open communication with the department was a successful outcome of the coalition’s efforts that ACEC plans to build on with the new Minister of Infrastructure and Communities and his team in the next Parliament session.

ACEC also had the opportunity to meet directly with then Minister of Infrastructure Catherine McKenna and senior members of her team on several occasions to reiterate the need for focused investment on core infrastructure to generate the economic capacity for some of the government’s more transformative infrastructure goals. These meetings also allowed us to offer our expertise and support to help her achieve key aspects of her mandate, whether by providing input on the National Infrastructure Assessment Consultation or sharing best practices and industry expertise on tools for developing sustainable infrastructure that delivers social, economic, and environmental benefits to Canadians. 

National Infrastructure Assessment Consultation
In the spring and early summer, our focus turned to preparing submission for the government’s consultation process on the National Infrastructure Assessment, the first ever such consultation in Canada. With the support of a Working Group and following feedback from the Association of Consultancy and Engineering in the UK where a similar Assessment was implemented, the main message of our submission focused on developing an integrated environmental and economic vision to guide the Assessment and provided considerations related to its governance, the mandate and scope, and stakeholder engagement. These recommendations included the following: 

  • Establishing a permanent, independent, and arms-length National Infrastructure Agency that would house and support the Assessment. This model would benefit not only the Assessment but could also serve as a larger repository of best practices and industry expertise. This Agency should also be provided with a mandate that outlines clear responsibilities to the National Infrastructure Assessment. These responsibilities should be ongoing on a cyclical basis to include development, regular updates, monitoring, and progress reports on the Assessment.
  • Understanding a shared goal of the Assessment to map out the Canada we want to build in 2050, it is certain that this initiative will require a carefully considered scope. To support the Agency in fulfilling their mandate, the scope of the Assessment should include a vision for the next 30 years of infrastructure, a review of the current state of Canada’s infrastructure, a clear roadmap forward for the next 10 years, and a consistent cycle of evaluation and improvement to ensure that the Assessment continues to support Canada’s infrastructure goals for 2050 and beyond.
  • Developing this long-term vision and plan for Canada’s infrastructure will require broad stakeholder engagement with involvement from industry, municipalities, Indigenous communities and civil society. Part of this engagement would be achieved through the composition of the National Infrastructure Agency however, ensuring the involvement and participation of those who are not on the Agency itself will also be critical to ensuring that all the appropriate stakeholders are engaged in the Assessment.

Read our full submission, Strong Governance to Achieve Canada's Vision: ACEC Submission to the National Infrastructure Assessment Consultation.

ACEC President and CEO John Gamble also participated in a roundtable discussion with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities in late April to discuss the National Infrastructure Assessment and the ongoing consultation process. This demonstrated how ACEC is already being viewed as a key stakeholder in this initiative, while allowing ACEC to share some of our initial feedback on the National Infrastructure Assessment.

On July 29, the federal government responded to the feedback they received from stakeholders with a paper titled, Building Pathways to 2050: Moving Forward on the National Infrastructure Assessment, that summarizes and responds to the 310 submissions received by Infrastructure Canada for this consultation. The recommendations which were particularly aligned with our submission included: 

  • That the Government of Canada create an independent advisory body to carry out the Assessment and provide the Government with impartial, expert and evidence-based advice. 
  • That a long-term vision and clear mandate be established for the independent advisory body. 
  • That the independent advisory body leverage global best practices and consult and work closely with all levels of government, Indigenous communities, investors, experts, stakeholders, industry, and Canadians more broadly to define key gaps and areas of historical underinvestment.
  • The Assessment should include a clear set of investment recommendations, including proposed timelines, and an infrastructure investment roadmap for Canada that is based on the results of the independent advisory body’s work and a clear understanding of the collective investment capacity.

The close alignment of these recommendations with our submission is indicative of how our feedback and recommendations were heard and considered in this initial process. Since the election was called a few weeks after the response’s publication, a key post-election priority for ACEC will be reigniting advocacy on the National Infrastructure Assessment and remaining a core partner in the next steps of developing the Assessment. Our aim will be to ensure that this initiative moves forward according to plan and with support across party lines. 

Adoption of Climate Change Position
Consulting engineering firms are leaders in climate change adaptation and mitigation. The work of our member organizations and member firms is of critical importance to the development of a more sustainable world. The design life of infrastructure is inherently long. Service requirements for buildings, roads and bridges, sewage and water treatment and other engineered infrastructure are typically decades. Decisions we make as engineering firms today will be felt for years.

This led the Board to develop and release a position on climate change and the work of our member organizations and member firms play to the development of a more sustainable world.

Construction Sector Roundtable
ACEC is proud to have continued to engage with the Construction Sector Roundtable and with government at large, in collaboration with industry partners, to develop a comprehensive, economic recovery agenda for the construction industry. The Roundtable, led by Public Services and Procurement Canada, is comprised of a select group of industry partners including ACEC and provides relevant data, advice, and recommendations to the government as part of its recovery efforts. The Roundtable’s participants also include Parliamentary Secretaries from Employment and Social Development Canada, Infrastructure Canada, and Labour. During these meetings, industry and government representatives have discussed a host of topics, including the Investing in Canada Plan, the consultation on the National Infrastructure Assessment, funding opportunities for the skilled trades with Employment and Social Development Canada, supply chain disruption, and the need for further discussion on prompt payment. 

Pre-Budget Consultations 
As the Standing Committee on Finance was developing their report on pre-budget consultations, our team met with several committee members to brief them on our pre-budget recommendations that were submitted in August 2020. We also participated in a new pre-budget consultation process launched by the Minister of Finance for this year which occurred in addition to the usual parliamentary process at the Finance Committee. The federal government held virtual roundtables and invited organizations and individual Canadians to submit their feedback on the budget through written briefs and an online questionnaire. 

In the rapidly changing environment of the pandemic, this additional budget consultation process allowed us to revise and update our August 2020 submission to the Finance Committee. In this updated submission, three key recommendations were emphasized for Budget 2021: 

  • Prioritizing investments that will close the infrastructure deficit and enable economic prosperity, productivity and a stable recovery.
  • Adopting best practices that achieve sustainability, innovation and life cycle savings from infrastructure investments. 
  • Reinstating and reenergizing the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure.

View our full ACEC Pre-Budget Submssion 2021 to the Minister of Finance.

ACEC President John Gamble and Vice-Present Martine Proulx followed up ACEC’s submission with a series of virtual meetings with both government and opposition members of the House of Commons Finance Committee to outline our recommendations and respond to any questions the members may have had.

The Minister of Finance tabled Budget 2021 on April 19th. While infrastructure was not a centerpiece of the Liberal’s proposed fiscal plan, there were many investments included to spur national infrastructure development across Canada. They include funding to support the first National Infrastructure Assessment, a one-time investment to address infrastructure priorities in municipalities and First Nations communities through the federal Gas Tax Fund, and a doubling of the federal government’s regular funding for municipalities and First Nations communities in 2020-21 through the Gas Tax Fund to be renamed the Canada Community-Building Fund. The federal government also proposes recapitalizing the National Trade Corridors Fund over the next four years to develop transport-related projects. These projects lent hope to the possibility of a national right-of-way to enhance both domestic and international trade. 

Presentation at the Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities
In the spring, ACEC President John Gamble also appeared before the House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities as a witness during their study on targeted infrastructure investments. The purpose of the study was to look at the ability of targeted infrastructure investment to influence social economic and environmental outcomes and improve the lives of Canadians – particularly those underserved in vulnerable communities. The Committee was also studying the socio-economic profile of where infrastructure funding has flowed historically and best practices both in Canada and abroad for ensuring infrastructure investments reach the communities that are most in need.

The remarks Mr. Gamble delivered highlighted how targeted infrastructure investments based on asset management planning provide the most value to communities and how targeting investments are most effective when we help communities to develop, grow their capacity and make best practices available to them. This appearance offered ACEC the opportunity to highlight the following key recommendations to the Committee on targeted infrastructure investments: 

  • That the federal government strike a balanced approach between investing in the strong core infrastructure in order to provide the capacity to invest in transformative projects.
  • That the federal government create a suite of infrastructure programs that serve the varied needs of communities across Canada with programs that are flexible and scalable. ACEC recommended that this be done, in part, by ensuring that the
    eligibility criteria focus on the outcomes of the project and that project screening is appropriate and proportional to both the size and nature of the project.
  • That the federal government consider providing support for the implementation of robust and well-considered asset management plans that outline the strategic infrastructure goals and local needs of municipalities and First Nations communities, rather than having them constantly re-apply on a project-by-project basis.
  • That the federal government support the growth of community capacity by reinstating and updating the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure, also known as InfraGuide, as highlighted in ACEC’s pre-budget submission. 

The recording of ACEC’s appearance at the Committee is available here

Federal Election
During the federal election, another major advocacy activity for ACEC in 2021 was the launch of Infrastructure: Prosperity by Design, an engagement campaign to promote to the major parties and candidates across the country the need for a strong integrated economic and environmental vision for Canada’s recovery. Through the microsite Invest in Infrastructure, the campaign shared ACEC’s key messages and election priorities with all parties, provided members with tailored information about the party platforms, and generated awareness among candidates and stakeholders on our priorities through social media and grassroots digital engagement. The microsite included detailed information about ACEC priorities and policy recommendations, key facts on the benefits of infrastructure investment, party platform analyses, responses to the questionnaire that was distributed to all parties, a candidate contact tool which allowed members to write to their local candidates in support of our recommendations, and more information on ACEC’s government and media engagement. During the campaign period, a total of 46 letters were sent to local candidates and there were 478 visits to the website. 

Creating awareness about our association and our priorities at the local level with an avenue for members to engage with their candidates, ensured that the impact that our members have in communities across the country was heard at a grassroots and party level throughout this election. This proactive engagement during the election provides a strong foundation for our advocacy in the next Parliament. Creating awareness about our association and our priorities at the local level with an avenue for members to engage with their candidates, ensured that the impact that our members have in communities across the country was heard at a grassroots and party level throughout this election.

With Parliament now back in session, we are turning our government relations strategy towards ensuring that those newly placed in key decision-making roles post-election are briefed on ACEC and our priorities. This includes reaching out to and securing meetings with the new Ministers, Shadow Cabinet Ministers, and Members of Parliament sitting on relevant committees.

Changes to Contract Security Program Screening Process Successfully Delayed
In June, Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) announced changes to its Contract Security Program. While the intent of the changes was to improve the process for federal securities and reduce the current backlog of applications, the new rules would have potentially made it difficult for smaller consultants and contractors to participate on government projects. In collaboration with our industry partners the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), National Trade Contractors Council of Canada (NTCCC) and the Facilities Operations & Maintenance Association of Canada (FOMAC), ACEC acted immediately upon learning of the proposed changes. We reached out directly to the Minister of PSPC to express concern not only over the impact of the proposed changes to industry but also with the lack of consultation with impacted stakeholders and the insufficient time for industry to prepare for these changes. Our intervention with the Minister led to a roundtable discussion between industry experts from ACEC, CCA, NTCCC and FOMAC and senior government officials during which a one-month implementation delay was secured. Additionally, PSPC agreed to continue to meet with industry associations and proposed a phased implementation approach to allow for possible adjustments to address industry concerns. Information of the proposed changes and the new timeline can be found here

Promoting Qualifications Based Selection (QBS)
We also continued to actively promote the use of QBS to private and public-sector clients as the procurement method of choice for consulting services. 
Along with our stakeholder partners, we successfully convinced Public Services and Procurement Canada to use QBS in a pilot program. To date, they have procured five projects using QBS. We hope that this will lead to the expanded use of QBS by the federal government. In partnership with Consulting Engineers of Alberta, we are also financing a national study by the University of Alberta that will capture important data that we strongly believe will quantify the benefits of QBS and thus encourage more jurisdictions to follow suit. The final study is expected in early 2022 and will be shared with ACEC members via our website and newsletter.

Looking Ahead
With the current Parliament being another minority government, advocating on both sides of the aisle of the House of Commons will be more important than ever. Our government relations strategy will continue to promote and support sound policy that benefits a strong, integrated economic and environmental vision for Canada. We encourage you to support our efforts by taking part in a virtual Parliament Hill Day we are planning for February 2022; your participation will help us brief as many Members of Parliament as possible on key issues in advance of Budget 2022. We hope to also give you the opportunity to engage directly with the new Minister of Infrastructure and Communities in the coming months with a virtual Town Hall style event. Finally, we invite you to play an active part in charting our direction forward by sharing with us how we can best benefit your firms and our industry; reach out to us directly or through your ACEC-Canada Board representatives.