Why Does Infrastructure Matter?

The photo here shows a downtown Toronto water pipe exploding last winter. The hydro vault around the corner from me caught fire this fall. When dramatic incidents happen, we come to understand, up close, why we should all care about aging infrastructure. Standing in the dark, knee deep in water we say “I get it!”

I remember as a child knowing when we’d crossed the border to the United States because the ride got a lot bumpier. Now it is our highways that are a rough ride. Highways take the brunt of our commuting in cars because of a lack of fast, reliable public transportation.

School buildings are public infrastructure owned by taxpayers and are the hubs that allow us to educate our children and build a strong economy.

Taxpayers want dependable electricity, clean water and excellent education for their children and grandchildren.

But are there even more important reasons why we should care about infrastructure? Yes!

• Poor infrastructure affects our economy. New businesses to Canada want to see a solid infrastructure in place before they’ll invest. According to Dominque Gautier of Roland Berger Canada, the most important role the government can take right now is to incent long-term investors to focus on Canadian infrastructure.

How do we do this? According to Mr. Gautier, some pension funds look to invest in challenges that are long-term and create tomorrow’s industry leaders. Currently Ontario schools are not funded with these challenges in mind; state-of-art is not one of the visions (cheap is). Gautier also advocates for projects with a strong social responsibility component. Let’s call for infrastructure projects that use good governance, green technology and that follow a vision of creating a Canada where excellent education is understood to benefit the country as a whole.

• Poorly maintained infrastructure racks up our tax bill. Maintaining old school buildings and old bridges just costs more. Reactive repairs are always more expensive than proactive maintenance.

In the last generation, shockingly few new schools have been built in Ontario and taxpayers are left with an inventory of old school infrastructure that hasn’t been maintained. Those valuable taxpayer assets are losing value with $15.9 billion in disrepair. In urban school boards, a “new” building is often not a school with state-of-the-art facilities but one built in the 1960’s.

Infrastructure spending is important in Ontario. Let’s call on our government to examine all the options to fund it.