Toronto, ON — A majority of Canadians (64 per cent) remain supportive of public-private partnerships (P3s) to build much-needed infrastructure, suggests a new Nanos Research survey.
Public-private partnerships are responsible for 281 projects across Canada with those already in operation or under construction valued at $136.9 billion including hospitals, courthouses, highways and bridges, and transit. In Canada, P3s are a delivery mechanism for large-scale public infrastructure assets that are financed wholly or partially by the private sector yet remain publicly owned and controlled.
The survey probed views on a wide range of hot-button infrastructure issues such as who is responsible for budget overruns, foreign companies bidding on Canadian projects and whether governments have a balanced consultation and approvals process between the interests of business and environmental and Indigenous concerns.
The objective of the poll was to gauge whether Canadian infrastructure delivery could become vulnerable to an angry, populist wave as seen in other countries where trust in government, media, big business and institutions have dipped to all-time lows.
“Overall, the survey suggests Canadians continue to support public-private partnerships, but the infrastructure sector is not immune to voter rage,” said Nik Nanos, executive chairman of Nanos Research. “It’s reassuring to see that despite a tumultuous last few years in global politics, Canadians are largely moderate in their views on these issues although there are some significant differences among men and women, the regions and even age groups that bear watching.”
“Given the long-range planning, significant investment and public goodwill needed to bring critical infrastructure to life, it is a sector that is especially vulnerable to changes that favour ideology over sound public policy,” said Mark Romoff, president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships.
“We know this uncertainty drives project risk, leads to reduced competition during procurement and reduces the desire to innovate, which negatively impacts taxpayers and the private sector,” he said. “From previous research conducted by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis, we also know delaying or cancelling projects has a significant impact on the Canadian economy and reduces a project’s value significantly over time.”
Infrastructure Approvals Process
Close to four in 10 Canadians polled said they believe the approval process for infrastructure projects is tilted in favour of environmentalists and Indigenous communities, with the highest numbers found on the Prairies (58 per cent) and British Columbia (45 per cent). This view was also highest among men (46 per cent) and Canadians aged 55 and older (42 per cent).
On the flip side, 27 per cent of Canadians said they felt it was too easy to build infrastructure without considering the impacts on the environment and Indigenous communities, with this view highest in Quebec (42 per cent). Almost twice as many female respondents (34 per cent) agreed with this statement versus males (20 per cent).
An additional 27 per cent of Canadians straddled the middle ground and said they thought the country has struck a good balance between economic interests and those of the environmental and Indigenous communities.
When it comes to who is viewed as responsible for budget overruns on public infrastructure projects, Canadians pointed the finger at the private sector, with 38 per cent of respondents saying companies are charging too much. This view was most prevalent in Quebec at 51 per cent.
29 per cent of Canadians said budget problems arise because of governments changing things in the project — with the highest levels of government-associated problems in the Prairies at 33 per cent. An additional 14 per cent attributed budget increases to “too much unionized labour.”
Older Canadians and men polled tended to see government more at fault than respondents who were younger and female.
Infrastructure Procurement Rules
Almost half of Canadians (49 per cent) oppose foreign companies bidding on Canadian infrastructure projects, while 41 per cent support a competitive procurement process that may lead to lower prices, broader project experience and better outcomes
The Prairies and Atlantic Canada were the most opposed to foreign bidders at 56 per cent and 55 per cent respectively, while British Columbia (47 per cent) and Quebec (44 per cent) were evenly split.
Community Benefit Agreements
Canadians were almost evenly split on this issue. Forty-six per cent of those surveyed said they feel it is important local communities benefit from and participate in the development of infrastructure projects in their neighbourhoods, while 43 per cent said they see public infrastructure getting built as already a benefit to the community.
Community benefits, which some governments have made mandatory for major infrastructure projects, can include everything from creating apprenticeship programs for local workers to providing compensation for businesses impacted by construction to investing in local community projects and programs.
Support for community benefits was lowest on the Prairies (40 per cent) and highest in British Columbia (52 per cent) and Atlantic Canada (50 per cent).
The observations are based on a random telephone survey of 1,000 Canadians, 18 years or older, between September 29 and October 4, 2018. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.