Communities at risk

Communities at risk

Aging infrastructure is overwhelming Canada’s cities

Ross Homeniuk

Partner, Advisory, National Leader, Infrastructure Asset & Operations Management

KPMG in Canada


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​Despite recent distractions, the clock is still ticking on Canada's municipal infrastructure. That is, while the country is renowned for world-class communities and its enviable quality of life, stats[1] show that 13% of Canada's core municipal infrastructure assets (e.g., roads, pipes, treatment plants) are in significant decay and considered unreliable or unfit to meet our current needs. And as infrastructure needs and backlogs continue to grow, municipal leaders are challenged to act now or face significant risks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified this issue. The crisis has placed municipalities and their infrastructure under further strain and led to the delay of spending on critical infrastructure maintenance and renewal. The risks of inaction cannot be taken lightly. Aging infrastructure has the potential to make municipal services less reliable, less effective and more costly to deliver.

The impetus for change

Many factors are converging to form a "perfect storm" of asset renewal challenges:

  • Ongoing financial pressures and growing population needs
  • The pandemic is forcing municipalities to squeeze more value from their already strained asset base
  • Environmental conditions, including a surge of extreme weather events and natural disasters that have stressed our existing infrastructure systems
  • Social and demographic factors such as evolving public preferences, pressures and utilization needs as well as demands for more modern, aligned and eco-conscious amenities.

Taking action

With no shortage of needs, targeted investments will be critical to protecting key municipal services now, while positioning to meet the longer-term needs of our communities. Better decisions are possible; however, these will require municipal leaders to think holistically and use data in guiding their next steps. Leaders should keep the following in mind as they look to prioritize projects and investments over the coming months and years:

  1. Set the framework: Introducing rigor and consistency in how needs and priorities are identified and set.
  2. Create alignment: Map relationships between physical infrastructure assets and the frontline services they support.
  3. Be selective: Honestly consider which services are and aren't essential to community safety and wellbeing.
  4. Minding the gap: Understand and use risk to target capital and operating investments where they matter most.
  5. Building resiliency: Give due consideration to how infrastructure and its internal and external drivers will change over time. Planning and building assets for today will leave us ill prepared for tomorrow.

Leading the way

Despite growing concern, there is hope for communities facing aging infrastructure challenges and an opportunity in the wake of the pandemic to develop a plan and strategy for building more resilient cities. Read the full article for a look at how three Canadian cities are addressing their infrastructure needs.

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