With 2022 coming to an end, it brings an opportunity to reflect on everything our ACEC team was able to achieve on behalf of our member firms and the consulting engineering industry in Canada. Over the past year, our effective engagement with the federal government meant we were able to ensure your voice was heard when it mattered most, while driving important policy changes for our industry.
A Strong Advocacy Push Ahead of Budget 2022
ACEC kicked off the new year by amplifying our recommendations to the federal government ahead of Budget 2022. We focused on how long-term, strategic funding in infrastructure is essential for a thriving economy, particularly after the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. We highlighted this theme during ACEC’s Parliament Hill Day, held virtually. This annual advocacy event is incredibly valuable in helping us to develop relationships with Members of Parliament (MPs), reinforce the priorities of consulting engineering firm, and shape public policy affecting our industry. Throughout the week of February 15th, ACEC members held over 25 meetings with MPs from across the four major federal parties. Members outlined the many benefits of the consulting engineering industry to our economy and Canadians and discussed how we can build stronger communities while achieving our sustainability goals. The meetings resulted in every parliamentarian expressing a willingness to work with our industry.
With our strong advocacy push in the leadup to its release in April, Budget 2022 set out a policy roadmap that was well-aligned with ACEC’s core priorities. In addition to reducing the size of the annual deficit, the Budget contained many commitments that will benefit the consulting engineering industry. The document mentioned infrastructure 90 separate times and expanded eligibility for projects funded by the Canada Infrastructure Bank. It dedicated over $10 billion to construction, retrofits and maintenance, and tax changes to encourage more housing construction. It also had a strong focus on developing supply chains for critical minerals, as well as renewable electricity and grid modernization projects. Overall, these funding commitments have made government officials more enthusiastic about the delivery of major infrastructure projects, and ACEC continues to work with them to ensure our industry’s voice is heard.
New Evidence Strengthens Case for QBS
2022 was an exciting time for advocates of Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS). After the University of Alberta released a long-awaited study in late 2021 that evaluated and confirmed the benefits of QBS, two more studies were released earlier this past year: one by the Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario, and the other by ACEC-US and the American Public Works Association. They provided solid evidence that the best qualifications – not the lowest price – lead to better financial, environmental, and social outcomes. Together, these studies serve as excellent reinforcement to our ongoing advocacy to advance much-needed procurement reform in Canada. You can read more about their findings in ACEC’s executive summary.
Shaping the National Infrastructure Assessment
The National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) will be a crucial tool in building strong and resilient communities for this generation of Canadians and the next. As a follow up to ACEC’s official submission to the government’s NIA consultations in 2021, we continue our advocacy in shaping the development, scope, and mandate of this important institution, while pushing for its swift implementation. To make the NIA a success, we believe it should include a thorough review of the current state of Canada’s infrastructure, a vision for the next 30 years of infrastructure, and a clear roadmap to evaluate and make progress along the way.
In February 2022, ACEC held a meeting with key government officials, including Assistant Deputy Minister at Infrastructure Canada, Gerard Peets, and Director General for the NIA, Robert Judge, to reinforce our recommendations. They were very receptive and expressed interest in continuing to work with us as they develop the NIA.
The following month, ACEC met with the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy (IFSD), which conducts research about the NIA on behalf of Infrastructure Canada. It was a productive meeting to discuss how best to assess labour market and capacity constraints so that we can encourage infrastructure investment in Canada. It was clear from the discussion that we were well aligned on the scope of the NIA, and we agreed to ongoing engagement with IFSD.
In May, we met with Nathan Bessner, then Policy Advisor to Infrastructure Minister Dominic LeBlanc, where he affirmed that the NIA remains a priority for the government and the Minister himself. He noted its potential to help the government achieve their goals of building more sustainable communities while fostering economic growth.
ACEC will be exploring the potential synergies and possible coordination and cooperation between the proposed NIA and the existing Canadian Infrastructure Report Card (CIRC), of which ACEC is a member. Their priorities are certainly aligned, given that the CIRC assesses the current state of municipal infrastructure – which represents the majority of public infrastructure, and which receives significant investments from federal programs.
Promoting an Environmentally Sustainable Future through the NIA and QBS
ACEC has been actively calling for procurement reform and the development of the National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA) as effective tools to boost economic growth and build environmentally sustainable communities simultaneously.
In May, ACEC submitted recommendations to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources for their study on how to create an equitable energy transformation. We also met with the Committee Chair, MP John Aldag, to discuss our recommendations, which included a push for QBS as the most efficient and effective procurement process, and for the NIA to be implemented as quickly as possible so that we can fulfill our infrastructure needs as a country. Our discussion made it clear that consulting engineering firms have an important role to play in the transition towards to a low-carbon future.
This past spring, the Senate Standing Committee on Transportation and Communications undertook a study on the effects of climate change on critical infrastructure and how we can adapt to ensure more resilience in the industry. This was the perfect opportunity for ACEC to highlight the benefits of the NIA and QBS, so we met with one of the committee members, Senator Jim Quinn (New Brunswick) in June. Senator Quinn was very open to ACEC’s perspective on the importance of the NIA to understanding the state of Canada’s infrastructure. This led to a positive discussion on the need for procurement reform. ACEC plans to continue working with Senator Quinn to encourage a separate study on infrastructure procurement, which would give more profile to the benefits of QBS and how it will encourage better outcomes and more sustainable infrastructure.
ACEC made the same case for procurement reform during the government’s consultations for the Canada Green Buildings Strategy. The government committed to developing this Strategy in Budget 2022, with the aim to create a climate-resilient buildings sector with net-zero emissions by 2050. In addition to emphasizing how the NIA would deliver better information about Canada’s infrastructure and support sound decision-making, our recommendations highlighted that QBS was necessary to make the Canada Green Buildings Strategy a success, given that it would help ensure higher quality, more durable, and longer-lasting infrastructure. We have engaged directly with the office of the Natural Resources Minister on this.
ACEC continues to engage with the Office of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to make this case for procurement reform. We affirmed that because QBS considers the entire lifecycle of projects, unlike price-based procurement, it is better suited for achieving government’s policy objectives such as sustainability, GHG reductions and climate change resilience. This is in addition to the well-documents improvements in project outcomes that include cost and schedule savings achieved by QBS.
In October, ACEC President and CEO John Gamble and Intervia President Caterina Milioto represented ACEC at the Transportation Association of Canada’s Annual Conference. During the event, John Gamble participated in a panel focused on “Green Procurement,” where he was able to make the case for QBS as the best way to achieve Canada’s sustainability goals. He offered the perspective that climate change is a lifecycle challenge that requires a procurement method that promotes long-term resilience and rewards innovation, suggesting that QBS is the most effective procurement method to do just that.
Capacity Building for our Infrastructure Needs
Over the past year, another focal point of our advocacy work has been encouraging the government to invest in capacity building by creating tools and resources that will help industry and their clients deliver the infrastructure Canada needs. The government has done this successfully in the past by with the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure. Known as InfraGuide, it was a collection of tools and best practices to help municipalities build resilient infrastructure. We strongly believe reviving and updating InfraGuide, or creating a similar program, would be an effective way to build capacity in communities across the country to address longstanding and emerging infrastructure needs.
In October, ACEC brought together officials from the National Research Council and Infrastructure Canada to talk about how capacity building at the municipal level can help the government get better value for their investments in infrastructure, while also helping to advance their goals in combatting climate change and mitigating its effects. ACEC underscored the past success of InfraGuide and its potential to address new challenges.
In June, ACEC welcomed the opportunity to submit recommendations as part of Public Safety’s consultation on critical infrastructure – specifically, how to make it more resilient in the face of environmental dangers, security threats, and economic risks. This was another opportunity to advocate for strategic infrastructure investments through the NIA, procurement reform through QBS, and capacity building through InfraGuide. We made the case that the NIA would ensure that we have the best data for decision-making, that reforming procurement to implement QBS would improve long-term project outcomes, and that InfraGuide would give municipalities the resources they need to build capacity and respond to emergencies. Together, these tools would allow for the successful planning, building, and maintaining of critical infrastructure over the long-term.
The InfraGuide program is strongly supported by numerous other stakeholders, including the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). That’s why ACEC continues to collaborate with FCM on shared priorities in our respective pre-budget submissions. We agreed to continue our partnership as organizations committed to supporting capacity building for municipalities, improving procurement processes, and building stronger communities.
Calling for More Flexible and Predictable Infrastructure Investments
This past June, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities released a report entitled, “Targeted Infrastructure Investments to Influence Social, Economic and Environmental Outcomes.” ACEC President and CEO John Gamble gave testimony in 2021 about the value of flexibility, scalability, and predictability in infrastructure funding. He emphasized that programming criteria should be proportional to both the size and nature of the project and should focus on positive outcomes. His advice was heavily featured throughout the report, which made concrete recommendations to advance targeted infrastructure investments in Canada in a way that benefits our communities, the environment, and the economy.
Defending Your Opportunity to Participate in Federal Procurement
Earlier this spring, the federal government released a new procurement policy that requires all engineering documents to be in both official languages, regardless of location or demand. Based on a directive from the Official Languages Commissioner, ACEC understands that the purpose of this new policy is to allow firms to participate in federal procurement opportunities in their language of choice. While we support the intent of this new policy, we are concerned about its unintended consequences – notably, precluding hundreds of consulting engineering and architecture firms from participating in federal procurement. We are also concerned that, for the firms that can participate, it will lead to higher project costs, extended delivery delays, and significant increases in both commercial and professional liability.
ACEC responded quickly to this new policy and reached out to the federal government outlining these serious issues. We have since put forth pragmatic recommendations along with our provincial member organizations to ensure our member firms have the opportunity to participate in federal procurement. In turn, Public Services and Procurement Canada has expressed openness to our recommendations, committing to working closely with ACEC and our industry on this matter.
Partnering with Industry Leaders at the Construction Industry Roundtable
ACEC partners with a wide range of fellow industry leaders to drive the policy changes our members want to see. The Construction Industry Roundtable, led by Public Services and Procurement Canada, is a great example of this. The Roundtable brings together a select group of government officials and stakeholders, including ACEC, to develop a comprehensive, economic recovery agenda for the construction industry following COVID-19. These regular meetings are excellent opportunities for ACEC to provide advice to the government when it comes to key challenges facing our members.
Over successive meetings, chaired by Anthony Housefather, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, industry leaders discussed the challenges facing the construction industry amidst persistent pandemic uncertainty, including safety protocols and contracting concerns. Government officials also shared information on topics such as prompt payment, trade, Indigenous business opportunities, infrastructure funding, skilled trades, and new procurement tools being considered by PSPC to improve construction project delivery.
Celebrating the Achievements of our Members and our Industry
In the fall, we hosted ACEC’s national leadership conference where we heard from many private and public sector stakeholders and experts, including the Deputy Chief Economist of CIBC World Markets Benjamin Tal and Rebecca Zofnass, Managing Partner at Environmental Financial Consulting Group (EFCG) . The topics of the presentations and panels covered a wide range of policy priorities for the consulting engineering sector – from [ESG, the potential for an integrated environmental and economic vision for Canada, how to achieve net-zero policy and navigating new and emerging risks].
At the end of the Conference, the Canadian Consulting Engineering (CCE) Awards took place at the Ottawa Art Gallery on November 3rd, an annual event to celebrate our industry’s exciting accomplishments and incredible contributions to Canada. During the event, 20 Awards of Excellence were awarded for projects that strengthen communities, improve safety, and enhance quality of life for people in Canada and around the world. In the days that followed, our #20DaysofExcellence social media campaign shone a light on the award-winning projects from the CCE Awards for 20 straight weekdays, highlighting the positive impact they have on our communities across the country.
Looking Ahead to 2023
2023 brings us one year closer to a potential federal election. Between now and 2025, the government will likely present three more Budgets – every one of them is an opportunity for us to push hard for a strong, integrated economic and environmental vision for Canada, and for smart policies that benefit our industry.
We are well-positioned ahead of Budget 2023. As we do each year, ACEC participated in the government’s pre-budget consultations and submitted our official recommendations in early October, titled “Building Capacity: Infrastructure Investments to Help Communities, Businesses and Families Thrive.” We also had a meeting with the office of Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, to discuss how our recommendations would benefit our economy, our communities, and all Canadians. ACEC will be requesting a committee appearance at the Finance Committee so that we can further amplify our industry’s priorities.
It is also crucial that we continue advocating on both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons. To that end, we look forward to hosting our cornerstone government relations event, Parliament Hill Day, in the fall. This is an excellent chance for you to speak with Members of Parliament from all the major parties, brief them on key issues, and make your voices heard.
We also look forward to bringing the industry together to celebrate excellence in the consulting engineering industry when we host the 2023 CCE Awards.
As always, we want to hear from you. If you’d like to share your thoughts and perspectives about how we can best advocate on behalf of your firm and the consulting engineering industry, we encourage you to reach out to your ACEC-Canada Board representative.