As Ontario’s new minister of infrastructure, Bob Chiarelli is reaping the benefits of being a previous minister of infrastructure.
The veteran MPP for Ottawa West-Nepean and former mayor of Ottawa was given the infrastructure file by Premier Kathleen Wynne in the June 13 cabinet shuffle, marking a return to the post he held from August 2010 to February 2013, when he was named minister of energy. During these periods there were also hybrid ministries which means he was also in charge of municipal affairs, housing and transportation at various times.
All of which will serve him well as he faces infrastructure challenges that are the same yet different from before, he said in a recent interview.
"What's changed dramatically from when I was first minister of infrastructure to today is the imperative of emissions reduction and carbon reduction," said Chiarelli. "If you look at the cap and trade program and you look at the cap and trade action plan, many of the initiatives there are basically infrastructure investments, retrofit programs, different ways of designing buildings.
"It has got a different lens now, infrastructure priorities, in terms of accelerated technology in all types of infrastructure that will eliminate carbon, whether that is in the energy sector and moving to clean generation, or whether it is procurement in terms of going forward."
Otherwise, he said, "The principles have been pretty well the same."
Chiarelli has been sitting around the cabinet table over the past three years while some issues were debated, such as Construction Lien Act (CLA) reform, so he said he is able to speak knowledgably as he is tasked with taking a leadership role on that file, while other responsibilities have evolved since 2013, such as co-ordinating infrastructure projects with the federal government.
Stakeholders in the construction sector are eager to see how cabinet deals with the Reynolds report on CLA reform, submitted in early May. Chiarelli said there are some 102 recommendations to process, many technical in nature, dealing with highly complex subjects such as litigation processes or the certification of project completion dates.
"It is a very, very large technical document that has had a lot of consultation. We're just having some internal discussions right now in terms of what the next step is," Chiarelli said. "Our inclination is to have a major technical briefing and webinar with all the possible stakeholders to release the document to them and explain the document to them."
"We are going to move ahead deliberately, we are not going to rush it through, because we want every stakeholder who participated in the process to have the opportunity to assess and review all of these technical recommendations."
The Ministry of the Attorney General will be taking the lead legislatively on implementing CLA reform, he said, and policy development will probably be "co-led" with Infrastructure taking a dominant role.
Working with the federal government on infrastructure has had an element of catch-up to it, Chiarelli said, as the province aims to access funds promised by the previous Conservative government under such programs as the Building Canada fund.
"Believe it not," infrastructure financing amounting to $2.2 billion has been sitting in that fund since 2007, he said, but that money is coming forward, along with another source of funding that similarly has been inaccessible, he said. Provincial deputy ministers have been working with federal counterparts to meet the federal goal of signing infrastructure deals in the next four or five weeks, he said, with the Trudeau government wanting money flowing by the end of summer.
"So we are accelerating the stuff that has been dragging its heels, and putting on top of that the new announcements that have been made, there will be a lot of dollars flowing before the end of this year," said Chiarelli.
During his previous stint as infrastructure minister, Chiarelli was the architect of Ontario's first 10-year infrastructure plan, billed as Building Together. The last yearly spend of the previous Progressive Conservative government on infrastructure before the Liberals assumed office in 2003 was $2.2 billion, he said; now, he said, as part of the current 12-year, $160-billion plan, the yearly allocation is $12.3 billion. It's a "robust" program with investments in people, infrastructure and business-sector productivity, he said, and continues major focuses on public transit and renewable energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The government is now starting consultations on the next long-term infrastructure plan, Chiarelli said.
"I put the first one out in 2011, so they are recycling me as well as the plan," he joked.
But why is he, as the minister of infrastructure, not in the cabinet's Priorities, Delivery and Growth Committee? Chiarelli did not see it as a handicap.
"The reality is, and I learned this the first time I was minister of infrastructure, the minister of infrastructure is the minister of finance for capital," he said. "We are under the finance umbrella if you will. We do all of the research, the planning, the vetting of capital budgets at budget time with each minister individually...We are very much present through that means at virtually all the committees we have in government."
On other issues, Chiarelli said he hoped to be able to resume Pipeline reports, which he had initiated his first go-round, to offer the construction industry detailed analysis of upcoming projects; that the government had $1 billion allotted for Ring of Fire infrastructure but progress awaited successful negotiations with First Nations and for commodity prices to rise; and that funding for sewers and watermains was "very, very important" for his ministry.