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Liberals want to get it right

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by By Grant Cameron last update:Aug 15, 2006

Successive governments have failed to pump enough money into Ontario’s infrastructure and rebuilding the system now presents a formidable challenge, Public Infrastructure Renewal Minister David Caplan told a meeting of construction industry leaders last week.

David Caplan addresses infrastructure challenge

staff writer

Successive governments have failed to pump enough money into Ontario’s infrastructure and rebuilding the system now presents a formidable challenge, Public Infrastructure Renewal Minister David Caplan told a meeting of construction industry leaders last week.

“Rebuilding Ontario’s public infrastructure is a serious challenge for the McGuinty government. In fact, it is one that often overtakes many others.

“If we get this right, many of the other things we hope to accomplish will fall into place. If we do it wrong . . . our ability to provide the services people need and deserve will be seriously impaired.”

Caplan made the comments in a speech at the fifth annual state of the industry and outlook conference in Toronto sponsored by the Ontario Construction Secretariat. About 100 employers, executives, government representatives and labour leaders attended.

Caplan said Ontario must right the wrongs of the past and, with limited resources, rebuild the province’s roads, bridges and sewers.

“The success of our society — and the future we offer our children and their children — depends on our ability to provide modern, effective public infrastructure. Without that infrastructure, the services we rely on — for our health and welfare, for the education of our children, for economic development — will fail.

“So we have to get it right. But in the past, we got a lot of it wrong.”

Results showing

Caplan told the audience that successive governments at all levels — provincial, municipal and federal — didn’t invest enough money in public infrastructure and the results are now showing.

“We didn’t put enough money into public infrastructure to keep it in good condition. A lot of our public facilities now need major repairs.

“Roads and bridges are wearing out. Water and wastewater systems break down. Many of our hospitals and sch- ools are overcrowded and out of date. Our highways are clogged almost all of the time. Our public transit systems are taxed to capacity or in disrepair.”

Caplan said the rapid growth of the economy and population have also been mismanaged.

“We emphasized short-term benefits and piecemeal planning . . . and ignored the unpleasant consequences that follow from making narrow, unco-ordinated decisions about land use and development.

“We had no coherent vision of the future we want and how to achieve it. So what we got was sprawl, gridlock, air pollution, inefficient use of infrastructure and lost green space. We were paving paradise . . . because we needed somewhere to park our cars.”

Caplan stressed that the Liberals are not opposed to growth, but with Ontario poised to welcome more than four million new residents over the next 30 years, planning must be done now to ensure infrastructure is in place while protecting environmental assets.

As part of that effort, the government has introduced the Greenbelt Act and the separate Places to Grow Act in the Legislature, which, if both passed, would dramatically affect land use and development.

Caplan said the Greenbelt Act would shield about 1.8 million hectares of agricultural land and water resources in the Greater Golden Horseshoe from unrestrained growth while the Places to Grow Act would specify areas where growth should occur as well as the public infrastructure needed to accommodate that growth.

“This is a radical departure for Ontario. We have never planned for growth in such comprehensive detail, or over so wide an area. And we have never based our planning so firmly on sound, scientific knowledge and wide consultation with the public and expert stakeholders.”

$100 billion

Caplan said Ontario must plan for the future because financial resources are limited and the province needs to invest at least $100 billion over the next 30 years to maintain and improve infrastructure.

“The capital allocation in the next budget will not be double or triple the allocation in the last one. We have to meet this challenge with more-or-less the resources we have and that means we have to manage those resources better.”

The Liberals have already taken steps to change the way government makes decisions on capital projects, he said, and instead of considering capital requests from individual ministries in isolation, the government is co-ordinating the process across ministries.

“We are developing initiatives to get the best value from the infrastructure we have now . . . by extending its useful life through better asset management, for example, and by using existing infrastructure to accommodate future growth wherever possible.”

last update:Aug 15, 2006

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