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Ontario aims to sell infrastructure expertise abroad — and boost business at home

Ontario aims to sell infrastructure expertise abroad — and boost business at home
Business
The Ontario government is freeing up its infrastructure agency to try to sell its consulting services outside the province’s borders, a plan the chief executive of the organization says could lead to opportunities for domestic companies with public-private partnership experience.

Legislation passed Wednesday at Queen’s Park by the Progressive Conservative government included amendments permitting Infrastructure Ontario — the Crown agency dedicated to public-works projects — to “provide advice and services to non-Ontario entities,” such as other provinces or foreign governments.

Infrastructure Minister Monte McNaughton announced earlier this year during a trip to Germany that the provincial government had planned on proposing legislation that would allow Infrastructure Ontario to “unlock opportunities and build relationships” for the organization abroad.

Ehren Cory, president and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario Handout

“What we think is that doing so will do two things,” said Ehren Cory, president and CEO of Infrastructure Ontario, during a lunch-hour Canadian Club Toronto speech on Tuesday. “It will help those jurisdictions and help address the infrastructure shortage that the world faces. And it also, we hope, will create a real anchor and an opportunity for Ontario-based companies to be able to participate in other markets, because they have a homegrown advantage having spent the last decade-plus working here.”

Cory, a former partner at global-consulting firm McKinsey & Co, added during a question-and-answer session that they’ve received “ad hoc requests” over the years from numerous jurisdictions looking either to set up similar agencies, create the rule of law or draft documents.

“So earlier this year, the government announced an intention to at least pilot or test the waters of whether we could be providing that service essentially, on a fee basis, taking what we’ve learned and having other jurisdictions come and learn from us,” Cory said.

The opportunities for Canadian businesses that could open up as a result of Ontario’s attempts at exporting its advice would be for those steeped in the public-private partnership (P3) model of building infrastructure, where governments can put out contracts for bidding on projects and companies compete to deliver them. More international markets using the model could mean more contracts to bid on for companies back home.

“As I said, part of the thesis is that it creates value not just for those jurisdictions, but for the Ontario and Canadian-based companies who understand how to work in a P3 environment,” Cory said.

The plan comes amid the “Open for Business” agenda of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, which said Tuesday it was launching a global search to try to find a private-sector partner to develop Ontario Place on Toronto’s waterfront. The government ruled out building homes or casinos on the site.

Infrastructure Ontario would still have to seek approval from the Ministry of Infrastructure before accepting contracts, a spokesperson for the minister said in an email.

“We are expecting to introduce even more reforms in the months ahead,” they said.

Following a history of blown budgets and deadlines, Infrastructure Ontario was incorporated back in 2005 to deliver the province’s big projects using a P3 model. It also offers loans, manages the province’s real-estate portfolio and advises the government on commercial transactions.

Cory, however, said Tuesday Infrastructure Ontario was an example of a “homegrown success story” that has, over the past 15 years, seen 95 per cent of its major projects finished on or under budget and more than two-thirds delivered on or ahead of schedule.

Ontario’s Tory regime is also looking to try to lure in international firms to bid on P3 contracts in the province, with Infrastructure Ontario saying in April it was “rebalancing” its bid-scoring system to put a greater emphasis on innovation and tweaking its qualifications assessments “to give fair weight” to experience from abroad.

“This will encourage international investment and participation in the Ontario market,” the agency said.

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