Building Infrastructure for Economic Growth

Ian McLean, President & CEO

Ian McLean, President & CEO

The local, provincial and national business sectors all recognize the importance of infrastructure and infrastructure planning as critical for future economic growth and prosperity.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce 2015 Top Ten Barriers to Competitiveness notes that public investment into infrastructure has not maintained an adequate pace with economic growth to the point that domestic requirements now exceed available public funding. Bringing infrastructure in Canada back to the level needed to support prosperity will require an on-going commitment by all levels of government, an active engagement with the private sector and a greater appreciation by government on the importance of public infrastructure for competing in global markets.

All issues considered, local infrastructure is proceeding at a relatively strong pace. The 2015 Regional Economic Outlook for Waterloo Region-Guelph-Barrie compiled by the Credit Unions of Ontario and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce indicates that construction across this region remains very active in both the residential and non-residential sectors. Residential building permits were up 12 percent in 2014 while non-residential permits increased by an impressive 35 percent. The major projects driving construction in Waterloo Region are the Cambridge Memorial Hospital expansion and Light Rail Transit (LRT).

The LRT and the start of construction on a new Highway 7 are vitally important infrastructure developments for the Waterloo Region. As recent media reports have indicated, many businesses have been impacted by construction however I can assure the Chamber membership that we as an organization are strongly committed to working with all levels of government and our many community partners on minimizing these effects.

Recent reports also indicate that construction on Highway 7 will begin this summer and the provincial Ministry of Transportation estimates that the project will consume five seasons to complete. Arriving at this point has been a lengthy process for our Chamber and all local municipalities, however as we have emphasized in submissions to the province the new highway not only serves as a vital link between two growing regional economies but also an important connection for moving product and people eastward into the expanding western GTA region.

Progress is also evident in broad-based community efforts to secure new and additional GO train service into Waterloo Region through both downtown Kitchener and Cambridge. In March of last year, at a joint Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers of Commerce event, Premier Wynne announced the government’s formal plans to bring full-day, two-way GO Train service between our region and Toronto Union Station. The specific commitments include two additional morning trips by 2016 and the construction of a new train layover facility.

This past winter our Chamber, the Guelph Chamber and Brampton Board of Trade issued a media release supporting expanded GO train service based on a report from municipal staff of the three cities indicating a technology ecosystem of 12,800 companies could be created with over 200,000 employees by simply connecting Union Station, Pearson Airport, Brampton, Guelph and Kitchener. A 2009 Environmental Assessment estimated capital cost improvements at $396 million, an amount that could easily be covered by increased personal income taxes of individuals working at the aforementioned new enterprises.

The City of Cambridge is also actively pursuing GO train service to Union Station through Milton. A 2014 study from city staff indicated that service could be provided for considerably less than previous estimates. The demand for transit and transportation infrastructure across the region is extensive and our Chamber has urged the province to look at all options for reducing highway congestion on the 401.

A growing economy such as Waterloo Region requires heavy investments however at the same time we require commitments from all levels of government to ensure the most effective and efficient return is created from limited financial resources.

Article originally published in the May|June edition of the Advocate