Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Members of the committee, the Union of Quebec Municipalities eagerly accepted the invitation to participate in your committee's examination of how competition can make infrastructure dollars go further. This is a very important issue and one that we are in fact working on at this time.
The UQM represents municipalities of every size and in every region of Quebec. Its mission is to promote the fundamental role of municipalities in social and economic progress in every part of Quebec and to support its members in building democratic, innovative and competitive communities. Its members represent the voice of nearly six million citizens and over 80% of the territory of Quebec.
In the last year, the UQM has launched an important initiative to optimize the management and planning of municipal infrastructure investments in Quebec. The starting point was the exhaustive study done by Deloitte and E&B Data, which enabled us to assess municipal infrastructure needs. The findings are clear: municipal infrastructure as a whole comprises a substantial body of assets, with a total value of over $200 billion; the municipal infrastructure deficit has grown, and today amounts to $3 billion. This means that the need is significant. To rehabilitate our assets and maintain them in good condition, the three levels of government are going to have to increase their tripartite investments by $3 billion.
There is a diverse range of needs. They relate to roads, public transit, cultural and recreational facilities, municipal buildings, and so on. Ultimately, the municipalities themselves bear an unfair burden. They are responsible for 76% of the net cost of the funding for municipal infrastructure. This analysis demonstrates the full extent of the challenge represented by the renewal of our public infrastructure, in circumstances where the state of public finances makes our decisions all the more difficult.
For that reason, the new Long-term Infrastructure Plan announced in the last budget is an important asset. It will enable us to maintain our efforts and continue the catching up that has been begun in recent years. However, this level of investment does not match the extent of the need. The review clause in the Building Canada plan, which provides for the situation to be reassessed every five years, will be an excellent option when our public finances have improved. But between then and now, we will have to work to maximize our investments and optimize the way we do things, with the goal of doing more with the same resources. The issues being examined today are therefore very timely. The UQM believes that optimizing the way we do things will enable us to get more competitive bids and the best work for the best price.
I will now address question 1, reducing red tape.
For several years, the UQM has been calling for red tape to be reduced and for greater municipal autonomy. This is primarily because municipalities are in the best position to know what the needs and priorities of their communities are, and also because they have the necessary expertise to carry out their projects at the best cost. Making dollars go further must therefore mean that they are able to spend the most possible time on carrying out their projects, by reducing red tape to a minimum.
As well, as we have unfortunately experienced in the past, municipalities have often had to pay the costs of lengthy negotiations between the federal government and the government of Quebec, the effect of which has been to delay the start of the work. The UQM hopes that this mistake will not be repeated in the next Building Canada plan, because it would be taxpayers and the economy that would suffer the consequences.
I will now move on to question 2, the contracting process and increasing the number of bidders for projects funded by the federal government.
For several years, the UQM has been calling for stable and predictable long-term funding, to enable municipalities to plan their investments better and to avoid "overheating" of prices. The new Long-term Infrastructure Plan, spread out over 10 years, will therefore be beneficial.
It offers municipalities an opportunity to plan their investments better and foster a climate of healthy competition.
For a long time, the UQM has also been calling for more flexible infrastructure programs to be set up, covering a wider range of infrastructure types, to meet what are increasingly varied needs and to enable municipalities to diversify their investments, to avoid "overheating" prices.
The announcement in the last budget concerning the expansion of the categories of eligible infrastructure is another measure that encourages better competition. The UQM believes that municipalities have to have the best tools for identifying suspicious situations and properly assessing the cost of the bids received.
For that reason, the UQM is proposing a number of measures, including creating a municipal price evaluation board. The board's mandate would be to collect data about public contracts and produce annual indexes for each region of Quebec. We believe this kind of tool would enable municipalities to identify situations where there were flaws in the competitive process, among other things.
I will move on to question 3, which relates to expanding private sector infrastructure.
The first role of municipalities is to offer essential services to the public and to businesses, in order to improve the productivity of businesses and the quality of life for for families, and to enable municipalities to attract and retain workers. Municipalities' investments in infrastructure are therefore essential for creating an environment that is conducive and attractive to private investment. Those investments come before private investment.
To summarize, given the growing infrastructure needs and the precarious state of public finances, we have to work on improving the way we do things and making businesses more competitive. While the new Long-term Infrastructure Plan is a first step, there are other actions that can still be taken.
In concrete terms, that means there should be Canada-Quebec agreements that do not penalize the municipalities and do not delay the start of work, through programs that cover a broader range of infrastructure that will enable us to diversify our investments better, through investment that reflects the needs of our businesses and our residents, and through a strengthened tripartite federal/provincial/municipal partnership that will enable us to continue our efforts and the catching up we have been doing in recent years, on an ongoing basis.
Thank you for your attention. We are now prepared to answer your questions.