Statscan launches infrastructure census to solve data gaps as government plans $186.7 billion in spending

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Federal, provincial and municipal politicians pose for a photo op at a local Ottawa sewer and water project funded by all three levels of government

Statistics Canada has launched an initiative to gather detailed data about the state of the country’s roads, bridges, water pipes and transit systems.

The agency quietly launched a national survey late last month to get an unprecedented level of granular detail on the state of infrastructure at the provincial and municipal level, The Canadian Press reports.

Officials expect to have the first survey results ready by next summer, following a November deadline for Urban and rural municipalities to respond to the questionnaire,

The Liberal government wants to ensure that $186.7-billion in planned federal infrastructure spending over the next 12 years targets large projects that drive growth regionally or nationally and not smaller, local projects with no widespread impact.

The published report says Statistics Canada plans to use the data from the survey, and expand the national information it currently collects about infrastructure value and spending to determine the effects on the economy, productivity and jobs and the government’s fiscal outlook.

The Canadian Press says it has obtained pages of briefing notes and presentations under the Access to Information Act, which lay out how these efforts have taken shape in the last year, and outline the challenge in obtaining data commensurate with the overall size of the federal investment.

A briefing note for Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi for a Feb. 14 meeting says that achieving federal goals will depend on provinces, territories and cities putting forward projects for funding that meet the stated goals. The meeting was with Michael Barber, the “deliverology” expert hired to help the Liberals on their promise for evidence-based policy making.

Nation-wide, cities, provinces and territories own about 95 per cent of Canada’s public infrastructure in Canada with about 90 per cent of overall public infrastructure spending. “The Liberals have vowed to give as much flexibility to cities and provinces in how they use federal funds, causing a point of friction between national interests and local demands,” the CP report says.

“Infrastructure is not an area of ‘shared’ jurisdiction like immigration; in this case, the government can influence by using its convening power and by enforcing its authority through program requirements,” the briefing note says. “The latter can be challenging because it can leave provinces, territories and municipalities with little flexibility and risk unintended consequences.”

The government has budgeted $1-million for the survey, although the documents suggest that figure will change. Brook Simpson, a spokesman for Sohi, said any additional costs will be absorbed by Infrastructure Canada’s operating budget.

Simpson said the survey can lead to more informed decisions on infrastructure investments across the country.

“It will inform all levels of government when making strategic investment decisions in infrastructure, helping sustain the quality of life Canadians are accustomed to, as well as continuing to strengthen communities.”

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