Kim Fowler discusses the challenges facing Canada with the current levels of investment in public infrastructure.

Kim Fowler is a municipal sustainability expert with a proven record of successfully implementing sustainability frameworks and projects in several municipalities. She was the first Director of Sustainability for the City of Victoria and a full member of the Canadian Institute of Planners.  Her design of the Sustainability Initiative for the City of Port Coquitlam integrated 12 land development activities from corporate strategic through budget planning to individual projects and applications. She project managed the development concept and land sale of the Victoria Dockside lands: the resulting Dockside Green project has won over 20 international to local sustainability awards.  Kim has authored over 30 publications and presentations on local government issues for Councils, professionals and the general public.


Kim Fowler began by defining sustainability and emphasising the three fundamental components (or E3) of environment, economy and social equity. Referencing the role of local government across Canada, infrastructure is currently suffering an estimated 35% deficit in the various significant components – potable water supply, wastewater, stormwater, roads, bridges, buildings, sports & recreation and public transit. Part of what makes this $200 billion deficit unsustainable is that 2/3 falls within municipal responsibility yet municipalities collect only 8% of tax revenues. (See
The financial challenge is exacerbated by the capabilities and practices of the municipal level of government – lack of asset management plans, failure to consider land use density as a factor in infrastructure development, lack of project management, lack of financial reporting requirements, no senior oversight (provincial level).
Infrastructure development depends on extended timelines: 30-, 50- or even 80-year horizons. Planning in this environment needs to accommodate lifecycle costs and needs to recover those costs. The question remains: is it known, or possible to know using current financial tools, whether new development is being subsidised by the existing tax base. A further complication is the challenge of climate change, which may (in different locations) demand new or more robust infrastructure in order to protect the municipality (e.g. flood control, wildfire buffer zones, enlarged water storage, coastal defences).
The risk is that this ongoing deficit will give rise to declines in services (police, recreational facilities, libraries, etc.) because municipalities will need to free up the funds to maintain critical infrastructure.
Life-cycle costing – It is possible to estimate future costs by using the appropriate tools and based on matching plans with resources (e.g. maintenance is a cost but extends lifespan)
Are councils competent to supervise major projects – It is important that councils perform their oversight role rather than attempting to perform the direct project management role.
Any examples of good practice – Kim noted the City of Edmonton, Peel Region (Ontario) and City of Calgary.