Closing Infrastructure Gap in Canada’s Northern and Aboriginal Communities

From Conference Board report web site

New Procurement and Financing Approaches Needed to Close Infrastructure Gap in Canada’s Northern and Aboriginal Communities

Ottawa, February 6, 2017—A long list of infrastructure concerns in Canada’s Northern and Aboriginal communities needs to be addressed, from poor access to basic amenities such as clean water, sewage treatment, and waste management systems to transportation and telecommunications. A new report by The Conference Board of Canada suggests that governments should be more open to private sector and Aboriginal participation to help close the infrastructure gap in a timely and efficient way.

“The isolated location of many Aboriginal communities substantially raises the costs and complexity of infrastructure construction projects. Limited transportation links, shorter building seasons, and harsh climate conditions present unique challenges to infrastructure planning, financing, operation and maintenance,” said Christopher Duschenes, Director, Northern and Aboriginal Policy, The Conference Board of Canada. “Closing the infrastructure gap is a huge undertaking and new infrastructure procurement and financing options are needed to help move this critical agenda forward. The public sector will not be in a position to assume full responsibility for the required infrastructure projects to close the gap.”

Highlights

  • Public infrastructure procurement and financing must be more open to private sector and Aboriginal participation to effectively address the issue.
  • Geography will always present important constraints.
  • Aboriginal financial institutions and some of the major banks in Canada have facilities to support Aboriginal participation in major infrastructure projects but these need to be explored in more detail.
  • There is a need for on-going dialogue and coordination around this issue.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) has calculated that the infrastructure gap on First Nation reserves alone is expected to reach $9.7 billion by 2018. This number only addresses existing infrastructure needs, such as power, transport and communications. New infrastructure, including broadband connectivity, renewable energy, and regional transportation corridors that could catalyze greater economic and social development is not factored in.

Re-Thinking Infrastructure Financing for Canada’s Northern and Aboriginal Communities proposes that alternative procurement models are needed and would allow the private sector greater opportunity to take the lead on designing innovative solutions to infrastructure challenges. Alternative modes of transport, such as airships and drones, advances in modular housing design, and the application of smart micro-grid technologies for electricity and connectivity are a few of the creative solutions that could become more readily available under private sector leadership.

The report also suggests that Aboriginal communities and businesses need greater opportunities to invest in and become more involved with infrastructure development. Aboriginal financial institutions have developed programs to encourage Aboriginal participation in procurement and development by assisting businesses and communities to build their portfolios and improve their creditworthiness. Many of Canada’s leading banks also now offer Aboriginal banking services and related infrastructure financing options.

“The goal is to rethink how we pay for infrastructure, and encourage greater involvement from Aboriginal communities and the private sector,” added Duschenes.

The findings in this report are based on a roundtable hosted by The Conference Board of Canada and The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, which brought together experts from the public and private sectors to discuss how new approaches to procurement and financing could help close Canada’s Northern and Aboriginal infrastructure gaps.

An associated Conference Board of Canada report, P3s and Transportation Infrastructure: Experience and Opportunities for Canada’s North, explores the Canadian experience with public-private partnerships for transport infrastructure relevant to Northern contexts.

From Thunder Bay’s Chronicle-Journal

Report backs call for new approach to infrastructure

BY CARL CLUTCHEY NORTH SHORE BUREAU

Private-sector partnerships and a more hands-on approach by First Nations could help address a nearly $10-billion “infrastructure gap” in remote aboriginal communities, says a Conference Board of Canada report.

The approach — which some First Nation advocates have long been calling for — could also finance innovative technologies that could one day make it easier to live in the remote North, such as advancements in modular housing and the use of airships to transport heavy cargo.

“Closing the infrastructure gap is a huge undertaking, and new infrastructure procurement and financing options are needed to help move this critical agenda forward,” the Ottawa-based thinktank said Monday in a news release.

The board cites federal data showing that by 2018, the cost of replacing outdated water treatment and sewage plants and providing transportation and telecommunication infrastructure will grow to $9.7 billion.

“This number only addresses existing infrastructure needs, such as power, transport and communications,” the board says. “New infrastructure, including broadband connectivity, renewable energy, and regional transportation corridors that could catalyze greater economic and social development are not factored in.”

Like First Nation advocacy groups before it, the board argues that these projects could be partially financed by private investors.

“The potential is there, but the (federal) government needs to commit to getting more involved in public-private investment projects,” said Nishnawbe-Aski Development Fund executive-director Brian Davey.

An example of how such investments can work, Davey said, is an existing 270-kilometre hydro transmission line along the James Bay coast between Moosonee and Attawapiskat First Nation.

In that case, said Davey, the government had to be convinced that it made more financial sense to build a transmission line rather than continue to repair outdated diesel generators over the long term.

Many remote infrastructure projects, Davey noted, require a long-term investment spread over a period much longer than five years.