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Tory talks infrastructure deficit at construction conference

Mayor John Tory
After decades of underinvesting in infrastructure, the City of Toronto is now making up for lost time.

"This city had fallen decades behind in transit, fallen years behind in other kinds of infrastructure and now we're catching up," Mayor John Tory told a group of delegates at the Navacord Construction Conference Nov. 1 in Toronto. "We were building homes, but we weren't keeping up with the investment we had to make in perhaps the less glamourous infrastructure — transit is more glamourous, sewers, water pipes and hydro transformers not so much."

The city now has a transit plan and a "multiplicity" of projects, Tory added.

"It's good news for most of the people in this room because you're going to be busy for the next, as far as I'm concerned, 20 years building transit and doing the things that we should have been doing over the years," Tory explained.

"You simply can't build the buildings we have in downtown and not make adjustments to the sewer and water and things people don't think of because they wake up every morning and the toilet flushes, the water goes on and the hydro turns on. The bottom line is we were stressing those systems out and not making investments we had to make."

The conference was hosted by Petrela, Winter & Associates Insurance Brokers and Bond Consultants and Jones DesLauriers Insurance Management and was attended by members of the contracting, insurance, surety and legal communities.

"What we have to fix is the process — it has to do with procurement, it has to do with administration of these projects," John Tory - Mayor of Toronto

Tory said more people are moving into the city and living in highrise buildings, either by choice or by circumstance.

"What that then carries with it, the change in the way people are living, is a commensurate obligation on the part of the government to make sure we do more to make people have a backyard and a front yard they don't have in a 34-floor condominium," Tory explained, adding more parks, recreation centres and libraries are needed.

He asked those in attendance to help to make the city's processes more efficient.

"What we have to fix is the process — it has to do with procurement, it has to do with administration of these projects, but from your end, you are the people I am counting on to bring innovation so we can do it better, faster and cheaper if we possibly can," he said.

Two roadblocks getting in the way of rehabilitating the city's infrastructure are capacity and funding, Tory explained, adding the provincial and federal governments need to provide more funding.

"There is only so much you can responsibly do at a time," said Tory. "The second biggest obstacle is paying for it...We're going to get that transit built. I am absolutely determined that by the time I leave office it will be so far along that you can't stop it because this needs to be done."

Following his remarks, the mayor answered some questions from the audience, including one about Sidewalk Labs, the new Canadian headquarters for Google. Waterfront Toronto selected Sidewalk Labs from applicants responding to a request for proposals. The project involves a joint effort to design a new neighbourhood called Quayside, a mixed-use community on Toronto's eastern waterfront.

"They will develop on that land, starting with a $50 million investment by them into the research necessary on how they can make this a place that people will come from around the world to see as to it being a prototypical neighbourhood that is driven by all the benefits of technology," explained Tory.

He pointed out the contract is still being worked out with other private sector partners with supervision from the city.

"When they come forward with their development plan, which they said will only be done after a year of public consultations...they are going to go through the same approval process everybody else has to go through," Tory said. "I think it's a sign of confidence in our city but they're going to have to follow the same rules as everybody else."

Tory also fielded a question about the working relationship between the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and contractors. The audience member said some contractors have had negative experiences and asked if anything can be done to get better value, better contractors and better prices on projects. Tory said he has been working closely with the TTC to improve the situation.

"I ask them how come our transit budget seems more expensive than everybody else's?" said Tory. "I'm working with them on that, I'm challenging them. I think Mr. (Andy) Byford (CEO of the TTC) in his heart is absolutely in the right place on this. He knows that this isn't a one-way street where we just do everything contractors want for any price they want. He knows we have to work with them, encourage them to innovate and make them partners."

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