State of the art, effective and reliable infrastructure is a key component of economic competitiveness. Over the last decade governments have shown greater understanding of the strategic nature of investing in infrastructure. However Canada still has to maintain a steady and long-term investment in infrastructure and to develop a better picture of our existing assets. As infrastructure ages, its efficiency falls and maintenance costs rise. The recently released infrastructure report card indicated that approximately 30% of municipal infrastructure is at risk.
To remain competitive, Canada needs to develop a long-term, national infrastructure investment plan that includes strong and diversified funding models and increased private sector involvement.
While governments have to make the best and most responsible use of taxpayers’ money, they must find alternative funding models that will leverage and maximize the potential of other investment streams. While improving our public-private partnership performance is a priority, such programs are not a band-aid solution to Canada’s infrastructure needs.
Infrastructure is also about making Canada more productive and improving the lives of Canadians. Let’s take public transit for example. The total investment in public transit infrastructure from all orders of government ranges around $4 billion per year, however the economic benefits of transit investment average nearly $12 billion annually—a threefold return on investment. In smaller communities, the services provided are often too limited to adequately meet the needs of the local population. In large urban centres it means reducing traffic congestion and increasing Canada’s productivity. This economic benefit results in more competitive cities that attract new investors. Reducing traffic congestion also improves the movement of goods and increases the efficiency of the government’s trade strategies and more particularly the effectiveness of the gateways.
In addition to boosting our productivity, investing in public transit contributes to creating high quality jobs. The industry generates nearly 80,000 direct and indirect jobs within transit systems and the private sector. Moreover, public transit increases employment opportunities for millions of people across the country by linking them to jobs.
Canadians are on board. In a recent national public opinion poll conducted by Harris-Decima, 94% of Canadians said that having access to public transit in their community is “important” or “very important”. This is consistent with the strong and sustained ridership growth that we witness across the country every year. In 2011, Canadians took nearly 2 billion trips on public transit, representing a ridership increase of 4.56% from the previous year. This surge represented the largest single year-over-year ridership increase in the last decade.
To further support and strengthen our economic edge, Canada needs a long-term plan for infrastructure financing that allows for long-term planning. Public transit should be seen as an integral part of the solution. For Canadian cities to compete in a global economy, quality of life and business efficiency is key.