CEO head urges provincial government to prioritize infrastructure spending

CEO head Bruce Matthews, P.Eng., met with the premier’s office and other ministries in late July, less than two months after this year’s provincial election, and was encouraged by what he heard. Yet, as Matthews noted in an interview with Engineering Dimensions, it is still too early to grasp the direction of the new government, as ministries are still hiring their staff and performing internal audits. Matthews plans to meet with the minister of infrastructure later this fall.

“Our interest is in what the government is going to do,” Matthews says. “Infrastructure spending and planning [spans] across the political spectrum. Some kind of statement of intent will help our members understand where their businesses will be. The previous government had a plan in place close to two years ago; it may not have been the perfect plan, but it was a plan of intent that coordinated with the federal government.”

The Wynne government had committed to spending $190 billion over 13 years to improve hospitals, schools, public transit, roads and bridges and had developed the province’s first-ever inventory to describe the condition, age and value of provincial infrastructure. The plan also considered climate change considerations and linked infrastructure investments to social policy initiatives.

Matthews, who served as deputy registrar of regulatory compliance at PEO until 2010 before taking on a deputy registrar position at the Real Estate Council of Ontario, took over the head position at CEO this past February (see Engineering Dimensions, March/April 2018, p. 14).

CEO was founded in 1975 to advocate for the business interests of the province’s estimated 200 consulting engineering firms, which employ 20,000 people; nationally, consulting engineering firms annually contribute over $28 billion to the Canadian economy. “There are a lot of things about Ontario being open for business,” Matthews continues, “and from that prospective, if the government’s not going to spend on infrastructure, in terms of transit and water and waste management and the whole nine yards, it’s not going to get the traction to develop growth.”

Matthews encourages the new government to think outside fiscal constraint. “Politicians get nearsighted in [upfront] cost and not the ongoing cost of what it’ll be to maintain the piece of infrastructure,” he says. “If you spend time and effort in your design, in terms of innovation, you’ll have a piece of infrastructure that will reduce the overall maintenance costs by virtue of its engineering. Is it going to cost a little more at the beginning? Yes, but the overall lifecycle savings will be huge.” Matthews would like to see the province and its municipalities shift their requests for tenders from a cost-focused approach to qualifications-based selections (QBS). With QBS, Matthews notes, firms are chosen primarily on qualifications, with cost being negotiated after. If the client and vendor are unable to agree on a price, the client moves on to the next most-qualified candidate. “Our members should be chosen on qualification, not on price,” he says. “If you’re talking about the bulk purchases of road salt, salt is salt. But it’s not the same thing as the knowledge of trained experts like our engineers. Is it scoped correctly? Are you getting fair market prices? QBS assures that.”

Matthews notes that QBS has been widely adapted in the United States, and some Ontario municipalities—notably London and Waterloo—have used it in the past. QBS is far from perfect, though, and the decision can still come down to cost.