Canadian Government Executive - Volume 24 - Issue 02

36 / Canadian Government Executive // March/April 2018 infrastructure G ood infrastructure decisions can serve us well for decades. But imprudent or shortsighted infrastructure decisions bur- den our children and grandchildren. With billions promised for infrastructure spending, will societal trends and new technologies render some infrastructure obsolescent, or open the door to different solutions? Public infrastructure doesn’t just re- spond to today’s needs – it creates a better future. We must both build the right infra- structure and build it right. Innovative in- frastructure planning pays dividends. Built in 1918, Toronto’s monumental Bloor Viaduct included infrastructure for a transit line that was then only a dream. Nearly 50 years later, the Bloor subway was completed sooner and at far less ex- pense because of that foresight. The lessons: Today’s infrastructure seems expensive, but yesterday’s infra- structure seems like a prudent invest- ment. And foresight, not just current de- mands, should guide our decision-making. The Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) is an industry organization representing both manage- ment and labour, with an interest in infra- structure design, finance and construction issues. In 2016, it commissioned an inde- pendent research report — Megatrends — looking at the trends affecting the future infrastructure. (Available from ). Citing that Megatrends report, the Daily Commercial News outlined the challenges: “As governments prepare to spend $175 billion on Ontario infrastructure in the next 10 years, the winds of change are blowing furiously, says one of Ontario’s most respected policy analysts and futur- ists… “ ‘Don’t resist the winds of change and work against them, but get out in front of them,’ said Fenn. ‘Find ways to use the power of the economy and the focus and the momentum from these trends to do the kinds of things that we want. I guess part of the message in this paper is, if we get out in front of these trends, we can make them work for us, we can give ourselves a com- petitive advantage.’ ” It is equally true for all provinces and territories. ‘Megatrends’ will shape our future, so our decisions should anticipate their impacts. Local responses to global forces — like climate change and popula- tion migration — must overcome short- term political and business considerations to enable success in Canada. New techniques and technologies can help us meet both today’s and tomorrow’s needs, including their wider economic im- pacts. Mobile wireless infrastructure can revolutionize the economies of rural Can- ada. Replacing expressway bridges within several days won awards in Ottawa and Hamilton: innovation can overcome the pro- ductivity drag of construction congestion. The Megatrends report distilled six ma- jor trends affecting infrastructure: techno- logical change and the accelerating pace of that change; urbanization, globalization and connectivity; social and demographic; economic and workforce; environmental and energy; and political and fiscal. Their impacts? Scale, distances, elapsed times and margins will all shrink; individ- ual customization will be expected from governments; and, consumer choices will drive urban designs. Climate change de- mands more resilient infrastructure. Infra- structure will join the Internet of Things (IoT), with greater connectivity, including nano-sensors and embedded RFID chips. 5 But do we ask what our communities will look like – demographically, geo- graphically, economically, socially, tech- nologically, environmentally – when today’s proposed infrastructure projects reach ‘middle age’? Some governments do; many others do not. With the convergence of miniaturiza- tion, reconstructed components and new- age design processes, the infrastructure of tomorrow can benefit from rapid construc- tion techniques, more light flexible infra- structure and new, cost-effective, sustain- able building materials. When embraced, they could make infrastructure quicker, easier and cheaper to build and maintain – and then to adapt it, repurpose it and re- finance it, when needs change or to drive some economic or social objective. Good infrastructure planning should also drive more timely environmental assessment processes and sound fiscal choices. Canadian visionary Elon Musk has lift- ed the veil on the future of transportation. Megatrends impacts may give us faster and less congested trips, economical long- distance commuting, and dependable logistics. Broad-based acceptance of inno- vations will revolutionize Canada’s trans- portation and transit systems, and have huge impacts on patterns of urban (and rural) development and housing costs. The Public Policy Forum’s interim re- port on infrastructure 7 said this about the Megatrends report: “…[G]reater connectivity may remain the key to ensuring the long-term sus- tainability of public services, especially in high-cost sectors such as health care, where fax machines stubbornly remain a key communications tool… “In others, such as in the health care and educational sectors, brick-and-mortar so- lutions will become less necessary; others will take on light, adaptable forms.” For water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, climate change and con- vergence will demand new designs, great- er capacity and resiliency, while linking financial and environmental sustainabil- ity. From big cities to remote First Nations communities, future-oriented water infra- structure must be regional, a robust com- mercial utility or watershed-based. A promising future is not guaranteed to Canadians. To capitalize on infrastructure’s potential, governments and society must be foresighted, pragmatic, and evidence- guided.Megatrends tell Canadians to recall the practical advice Walter Gretzky gave to to his son: “Don’t skate to the puck. Skate to where the puck is going to be.” Megatrends and Canada’s infrastructure decisions by Michael Fenn