Over 150 years ago, Canada started to evolve wagon trails into networks of roads, communities developed adjacent to these roads, then communal water and sewage systems were installed. With the age of the automobile, our road quality and network grew rapidly as did our need for new infrastructure. The population explosion after World War II put a 20-year demand on our communities for rapidly expanded infrastructure. Today, as many readers are aware, much of that infrastructure is nearing the end of its service life.
Billions of dollars are spent every year by governments and the private sector building, servicing, operating, rehabilitating and replacing this infrastructure. At the same time, our academic institutions are providing research on new and innovative solutions to many infrastructure issues and techniques.
A large industry, within an important sector of the economy, has evolved-yet we have no real way of communicating effectively with each other.
In 2004, a key recommendation of the report Civil Infrastructure Systems, Technology Road Map (TRM) was “to create a National Round Table on Sustainable Infrastructure (NRTSI) bringing together all the stakeholders to develop a National Infrastructure Action Plan with an expert Advisory Panel of NRTSI to advise on technology issues.”
The three founding partners, under the leadership of Engineers Canada, moved the concept of the National Round Table forward over three years from a small working group of five to the participation and engagement of six provincial governments, Infrastructure Canada and over 50 national associations, industry and communities, representing both public and private sector interests in infrastructure.
This year the leadership of the transition team was transferred to the Canadian Public Works Association and the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering.
During the initial years, a number of working groups evolved and undertook tasks representing organization and finance, innovation, small communities and asset management. The work was published in 2006 in a compendium of completed activities and case studies. Simultaneously, the National Asset Management Working Group (NAMWG) chaired by the Canadian Public Works Association was created to progress issues relevant to asset management as identified in the TRM. This multi-stakeholder group worked for three years and recently published the Asset Management Governance Framework for Canada (available at nrtsi.ca).
At the community level, British Columbia has developed a similar multi-stakeholder working group, chaired by a municipal CAO, Powell River’s Stan Westby. This is a model for the rest of Canada. Similar groups are under consideration in Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario. The National Working Group provides the continuity and linkage for information exchange and technology transfer that the infrastructure community has been missing; a strong national network to advance the concept of sustainable communities.
InfraGuide, which operated from 2001 to 2007 as a partnership between the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the National Research Council (NRC) and Infrastructure Canada, was an excellent example of communities coming together to successfully define and deliver best practices training and education. Its products and training are still heavily used today, not only in Canada, but by other world agencies.
Currently, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is working to produce new training modules and selected best practices. CSA’s ongoing work is linked to NRTSI through its NAMWG membership.
The infrastructure community is waiting to carry out a range of other relevant funded projects. One such project is a technical guide that, as a parallel document to Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) 3150, will provide a national uniform standard for sewer condition assessment.
This past year, NRTSI undertook contracted research funded by Infrastructure Canada and carried out by NRC. Two reports were produced: Framework for the Assessment of the State, Performance and Management of Canada’s CPI, and Indicators for the Assessment of the Performance of Core Public Infrastructure.
The vision of NRTSI is to become the glue for a national network of stakeholders and the voice of a multi-stakeholder infrastructure community, not a policymaking body. However, with the national interest of so many diverse groups represented through NRTSI, no better vehicle exists to assist governments, industry and community to help sort out the merits of policy alternatives, provide valid practical research and ensuring technology and innovation gains wide community acceptance.
The next step is to get a governing council in place and fund the NRTSI. The council would advance TRM objectives; review issues, projects and programs brought forward from government and the infrastructure community stakeholders; and determine NRTSI response in the form of recommendations, approval/endorsement and information. Any inquiries from Infrastructure Canada and other government agencies requesting infrastructure community input, opinions, advice and commentary with respect to specific policy and program proposals and recommendations would go through the council.
The council would also take on the role of communications process and protocols throughout the network of stakeholders and the public, harnessing the full network of each stakeholder for website updates, information news releases and communiqués to specified audiences and creating and managing work groups for specific tasks.
The short-term goal is to appoint the initial governing council of NRTSI and hold the inaugural meeting in Ottawa in May 2010. This will be our infrastructure Olympics.
The long-term goal is to become the voice of infrastructure on a national scale in order to harness the strength and diversity of the infrastructure community to address the major challenges of community sustainability.
To get there, industry has to work together to make NRTSI viable and relevant. At this time, funding to put the core into place is an issue we must continue to address. Many of our provincial and territorial governments, communities, academic institutions, industries and associations have already put in time and resources. You can challenge your association, your municipal government, your provincial government and your MP to support NRTSI. No better vehicle exists to ensure the billions of dollars we are committing to infrastructure are invested wisely for the future of communities and our economy.
Ric Robertshaw, P.Eng., Canadian Public Works Association; Reg Andres, P.Eng., Canadian Society for Civil Engineering; Wally Wells, Wells Infrastructure Group.