Day two of the Canadian Council of Public Private Partnerships P3 conference began with a session featuring federal minister of infrastructure and communities Amarjeet Sohi and Toronto mayor John Tory for a deep dive into urban infrastructure needs and challenges. The session was moderated by GE Canada president and CEO Elyse Allan.
Sohi began by praising the P3 market in Canada, and said the P3 approach has become "commonplace" across Canada, citing the Gordie Howe and Champlain bridges as examples.
The government of Canada remains committed to partnering with the private sector to create more infrastructure, Sohi said, and the new Canada Infrastructure Bank is an optional tool to help make this happen. Another innovation, Sohi said, is the Smart Cities Challenge, which will call on communities to work with the private, non-profit and research sector to consult with the public and come up with "bold ideas" to serve those communities.
This summer, Sohi said, he discussed with municipal and provincial counterparts on the next stages of the infrastructure plan, and the takeaway was that those stakeholders want predictability.
Mayor Tory said what's missing in Canada is the ability of governments to work with each other, and he praised Sohi for being collaborative. Tory said the challenge for transit infrastructure in Toronto is the sheer scale of the city compared to other Canadian population centres, and said the government of Canada understands these factors.
Tory also said he thought the Canadian Infrastructure Bank will be "a positive, at least in the way that we can get things done." Tory also singled out the city of Toronto's networked transit plan as something that has not previously been done, and he implored that the focus not be on politics but on getting the project done. Flood protection on the Don River is also vital, he said, and will enable transformative transportation infrastructure.
"We're lucky to have a rapidly growing city...we are seen as an innovation hub and the financial centre of Canada," Tory said, and pointed to how Canadian cities are on the "most livable" lists for the globe. But he said it is important for both government and the private sector to keep momentum in order to stay on those lists.
"It is not possible to change the way in which people live in a global city like Toronto where people are living vertically, without things like parkland and transit and the other things people need to live here," Tory said.
He added Toronto is not adding unsustainable "huge tax incentives" to attract high-tech companies and other investment, but rather the city presents a total livability package.
In the question and answer session, Sohi said since taken office his department has approved close to 4,000 projects worth close to $35 billion. More capacity is being added to public transit, he said and wastewaster systems are being upgraded to ensure communities have safe water to drink. Affordable housing is also a focus, he said, as is facilitating community connections.
Tory said within the network transit plan the waterfront transit, with development of projects in that area, "We're developing the waterfront in a sustainable way, but we're doing it at the moment without public transit." He said he wants transit development to be concurrent with other developments in the area.
"We're waiting for some level of government to step up, but maybe people in the private sector in this room can do it as well," Tory said.
The Smart Cities Challenge, Sohi elaborated, concerns using technology and data together to solve problems. Part of that is consultation with American cities who have initiated similar initiatives, and the minister said there is much potential to use this data to improve people's lives.
Action should happen at the local level, Sohi said, but the challenge can provide seed money to ensure new ideas are given room to grow.
"TO foster innovation, sometimes you have to remove financial barriers," Sohi added.
Sidewalk Labs, Tory said, is about "building a neighbourhood from the internet up," and the objective for everyone is to make Canada an example for innovation. But he stressed it is an isolated in one area of land as a demonstration area for cities of the future.
Smart cities aren't just about how people live their lives, it's also how the government serves those people, Tory added.
Sohi said the government is making historic investments in infrastructure, but despite all those investments, there will still be an infrastructure deficit, and it is necessary to bring the public and private sector together to solve that problem. The Canadian Infrastructure Bank creates that connection, he said, and it has to be an organization that is arm's length from the government, and it will be a crown corporation.
Without the involvement of the private sector, Sohi warned, we might have to wait another 20 to 30 years to address our infrastructure concerns.
Tory also stressed the importance of financial instruments like pension funds being used for Canadian projects, rather than for international projects as is common presently.
Sohi finished up by saying the government finances projects, but the people in the room are the ones who build those projects. Tory also said that different levels of government are working well together on Toronto's transit plans, which hasn't been seen in quite some time. "But we need the ingenuity of the private sector," Tory said.