Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario

Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario

February 20, 2009 10:14 ET

RCCAO Calls for Reform of Environment Assessment Legislation so That Economic Stimulus Projects Can Move Forward Immediately

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Feb. 20, 2009) - An alliance of management and labour groups in the Ontario construction industry is calling for the streamlining of 'burdensome' environmental assessment (EA) legislation in order to quickly ramp up infrastructure projects needed to stimulate the economy.

These projects can generate a much-needed boost during the current downturn, providing immediate local employment, income and taxes. This investment is required over the longer term as well since the estimated infrastructure deficit in Canada is now an estimated $120 billion.

But while the industry is ready to respond immediately, complex and inefficient EA legislation at the provincial and federal levels is a major stumbling block. "Unless the red tape is eliminated, there will be unacceptable delays of many months and even years for these projects to come on stream," said Andy Manahan, Director of the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO).

"Unless the EA process is reformed, don't expect infrastructure spending to provide a shot in the arm to the economy. We simply won't get shovels into the ground quickly enough to have any meaningful impact on the looming recession."

RCCAO has commissioned a white paper - Environmental Assessment Reform: A Tool for Economic Recovery - which examines the bottlenecks, duplication, and time-consuming demands of existing EA legislation. To facilitate the deployment of public funding to stimulus packages, the paper urges Ontario to immediately initiate a Declaration Order to simplify Environmental Approval requirements - much as it has done for various transit, energy and waste management projects.

At the same time, the province should revise the Class EA process with a view to eliminating requests for formal government review (Part II Order Requests) that are frivolous or vexatious. "All too often, this avenue is used to serve the interests of individuals or an ideology, at the expense of broader public interests," Manahan noted. "There are certainly legitimate concerns raised on many projects, but there must be some limits on blatant abuse and delay tactics where legitimate processes are ignored."

The white paper also calls for greater cooperation between Queen's Park and Ottawa. Currently, projects that have satisfied provincial EA requirements often need to be 'reassessed' under the federal Act - with no apparent additional benefit to the environment or taxpayers.

Another area where red tape needs to be trimmed is the duplication between land use planning and environmental assessment. Calling these 'dueling processes', the white paper makes a case for harmonization - including improving the way land use planning considers alternative solutions, and then allowing the land use planning process to fulfill EA requirements.

"Clearly, there is a public interest in both the rapid deployment of government resources on infrastructure investments and sound environmental scrutiny of these projects. The two objectives do not have to be mutually exclusive," said Manahan.

In another report also commissioned by RCCAO - Benchmarking Infrastructure Funding in Ontario: Towards Sustainable Policies - the Alliance puts forward a number of recommendations that would make government more open and accountable for the proper management of infrastructure assets.

Included in these recommendations are:

- Increasing the responsibility, role and resources of the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure (MEI) to become the Infrastructure Czar for Ontario.

- Creating a multi-stakeholder infrastructure council and think tanks to support the efforts of MEI in taking on this expanded role.

- Establishing long-term funding commitments for infrastructure renewal, and leveraging this funding to encourage municipal adoption of best practices in asset management.

- Comparing Ontario to some of its international counterparts to measure infrastructure performance.

The RCCAO is an alliance composed of management and labour groups in the construction industry. Its goal is to work in cooperation with governments and related stakeholders to offer realistic solutions to a variety of challenges facing the sector.

Contact Information

    Robert Stephens
    (416) 777-0368