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Editorial: We Win


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October 1, 2015 by JIM BARNES


As I write this, the ultimate result of the upcoming federal election is pretty tough to call. The poll numbers are skewing significantly and the election is still a few weeks away. But that doesn’t matter. I can already tell you who is going to win: the construction industry.

All four federal leaders have hastened to scramble on to the infrastructure bandwagon. No matter who forms the next government, all the current campaign platforms call for major investment in infrastructure.

There is a reason for that (apart from the obvious one that investment in Canadian infrastructure is needed desperately). It is that the voters have finally woken up to the need to get the city’s roads, bridges, institutional buildings and other important assets refurbished and new assets built. They are also becoming aware of the positive effect that investment in infrastructure will have on the national economy. A Nanos Research poll commissioned by CTV News and The Globe and Mail in mid-September found that about 45 per cent of respondents favoured investment in infrastructure over cutting taxes or paying down the national debt as the best way to foster economic growth.

Many researchers concur.

According to one study released by the Centre for Spatial Economics (funded by the Broadbent Institute) investing $10-billion a year in municipal infrastructure between 2015 and 2019 would increase GDP by $1.43 per dollar spent and create 9.4 jobs per million dollars spent. That would add up to more than 81,000 jobs, about half of them in construction.

These benefits could be realized without significant, long-term fiscal consequences to federal or provincial governments, according to the study.

A very quick recap of the four leaders’ basic positions shows that infrastructure has indeed become an important talking point.

In alphabetical order:

CONSERVATIVES: The Conservatives can simply point to its recent record in government. Among other initiatives, the New Building Canada Plan allocates $53 billion over 10 years for infrastructure. In addition $5.8 billion has been allocated over six years to build and renew federal infrastructure assets. The Canada 150 Community Infrastructure Program, announced in Budget 2015, promises to invest $150 million over two years in existing community facilities.

GREENS: Plans include the creation of six municipal “super funds” for community brownfield reclamation, water and waste-treatment facilities, sports, cultural and recreation facilities, mass transit promotion, cycling and pedestrian promotion and community housing. Investments will also be made in the electrical grid, national rail systems, and energy retrofit for civic buildings and low-income housing.

LIBERALS: The current federal infrastructure investment will be doubled to $10 billion per year for each of the next two fiscal years. The base infrastructure spending will be increased each year for the next decade. Ultimately, this means an additional $9.5-billion annual investment, boosting the federal infrastructure investment from about $65 billion to nearly $125 billion. A Canada Infrastructure Bank will be established to provide low-cost financing for infrastructure.

NDP: Municipalities will get another cent from the existing gas tax to pay for roads and other infrastructure, adding up to an additional, $1.5-billion annual investment. A “Better Transit Plan,” developed in collaboration with the provinces, is aimed at improving urban commutes and reducing environmental damage. Another $1.3 billion would be spent annually for 20 years to support public transit funding for municipalities. As well, incentives will be provided for the construction of 10,000 affordable and market rental-housing units.

Admittedly, these are election promises, and you never know what is going to come out of the pipe at the other end. As well, some of these schemes are rather elaborate and I don’t think we’ll be seeing the rubber hit the road for a couple of years yet, apart from programs that are already in place.

Nevertheless, all the potential governing parties seem to be in agreement on the subject of infrastructure, and no matter which way the ball bounces on election eve it looks like a big win for the Canadian construction industry.

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Jim Barnes is On-Site’s interim editor.


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