Contractors on Ontario infrastructure projects will face new environmental and job-training requirements as the province moves ahead with a $150.3-billion, 13-year infrastructure plan.
Ontario’s plan now adds $23.7-billion to the province’s 2014 infrastructure commitment, rivaling in total dollars even the federal government’s much-touted public-works program unveiled in 2016. Ontario Minister of Infrastructure Bob Chiarelli termed it an “unprecedented investment” that calls for funding an array of projects, with the largest share, about 35%, for rail and transit. “From an infrastructure and construction development perspective, Ontario is very much open for capacity building,” says Richard Wong, construction and infrastructure group chair at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, Toronto.
The program’s new “life-cycle assessment” (LCA) process will consider the “total environmental impact of a project,” from construction to decommissioning, and integrate climate change into infrastructure planning, says a government statement. That will enable contractors and government officials to use “lower-carbon design, materials and construction options for new builds and retrofits,” says a program statement. The plan also includes Ontario’s first-ever inventory of the condition, age and value of provincial infrastructure assets by sector.
Infrastructure officials plan to use the LCA approach on a few large projects in 2018, with a wider rollout in 2019. Ontario may require building-product environmental declarations and spend $20 million on a building-skills initiative to help unions, contractors and universities boost low-carbon training and curriculum.
While the new rules might initially slow a few projects, “as far as we are concerned, it is a good move,” says David Frame, government relations chief for the Ontario General Contractors Association. “It supports better infrastructure planning, which, in the long run, drives more support for infrastructure spending.” But contractors want less government red tape, such as ensuring at least one journeyman carpenter for every five apprentices, which limits trainee numbers, says Frame.
Matti Siemiatycki, a University of Toronto associate professor of planning and geography and an unpaid adviser on the Ontario program, understands the concerns about the added planning and cost of LCAs and other analysis. But he says these measures will ensure the right projects get built. “There is an impetus to push the money out the door as fast as possible,” Siemiatycki says. “But if you are investing in the wrong project, it is going to be a short-lived economic stimulus.” The Insurance Bureau of Canada, which represents 90% of the property and casualty insurance market, supports the new rules.
Some would like to see Ontario expand its infrastructure portfolio to include municipal transit agencies such as the Toronto Transit Commission, as the city Board of Trade proposed last month. Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said he would review its proposal but noted, “We have no plans to consolidate all transit agencies … into one single authority.”