Ontario Continues to Raise the Bar for Municipal Asset Management Maturity

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Canada is increasingly recognized internationally as a leader in municipal asset management – see the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s recently published report “FEDERAL REAL PROPERTY ASSET MANAGEMENT: Agencies Could Benefit from Additional Information on Leading Practices.” Within Canada, each provincial jurisdiction is taking its own approach to meeting the Federal Government’s Gas Tax Funding requirements related to advancing municipal asset management capacity. Arguably, Ontario has taken some of the boldest steps to raise the level of asset management maturity at the local level. From the support provided through the formula-based funding stream of the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF), to the implementation of O. Reg. 588/17 Asset Management Planning for Municipal Infrastructure, Ontario continues to push local governments along the path to asset management maturity.

At the 2018 Annual General Meeting of Asset Management Ontario (AMONTario), it was evident that Ontario is becoming a focal point of municipal asset management innovation, both within Canada and internationally. AMONTario, a multi-disciplinary community of practice for Ontario’s public infrastructure stewards, hosted asset management practitioners from across the province during its two-day conference and AGM. Beginning with two concurrent workshops, AMONTario delegates discussed strategies for introducing or improving risk assessment, levels of service, and lifecycle costing as part of their respective asset management programs. Working collaboratively with participants with both finance and engineering backgrounds, delegates were tasked with exploring asset management principles and challenges from a holistic perspective.

On the second day of the conference, a series of keynotes and panel discussions presented delegates with the latest best practices, innovations, policy updates, and funding opportunities related to municipal asset management in Ontario. Grant Osborne, the Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure and Finance Division, for the Ministry of Infrastructure, started the day by providing an update from Ontario’s new government. Osborne reaffirmed the province’s commitment to continue supporting municipal asset management capacity building in Ontario. “Every sector deals with an infrastructure gap and you can never bridge it. It’s about how you manage that gap – that’s asset management” said Osborne. Pointing to the City of Burlington, Osborne discussed the role an asset management plan should play in driving corporate decision-making. Burlington used it’s 2016 asset management plan to help support the case for establishing a dedicated infrastructure levy, allowing the city to maintain adequate levels of service. Osborne also referenced the Municipality of Wawa, a community that partnered with its neighbouring municipalities to access FCM grant funding in order to a hire an Asset Management Coordinator cost-shared with nearby municipalities.

Despite the progress municipalities in Ontario are making with asset management capacity building, the work required to become compliant with upcoming O. Reg. 588/17 deadlines remains daunting for many. The first deadline of July 1, 2019 will require that all Ontario municipalities have a strategic asset management policy in place to shape the governance of asset management programs. In order to assist municipalities with regulatory compliance, ADM Osborne announced that the Ontario Government will be partnering with AMONTario to launch a Training Assistance Fund in 2019. The fund is meant to help small and mid-sized Ontario municipalities overcome barriers to accessing asset management training and support. The Training Assistance Fund will require eligible municipalities to submit an application. The Government of Ontario and Asset Management Ontario (AMONTario) are planning to announce the full details of the fund and application process in the coming weeks. In addition to the formula-based component of OCIF and the Federal Gas Tax Fund, Ontario’s municipalities will soon have the opportunity to access another source of funding to support continued asset management capacity development.

Following the provincial update, Lucy Opsitnik, Data Manager with Infrastructure Canada, provided an overview of the results from Canada’s Core Public Infrastructure (CCPI) Survey. The Federal Government launched the CCPI in July 2017 to address the data gap that exists in Canada regarding the state of public infrastructure, as well as to provide a consistent, standardized approach to infrastructure data collection. Quality data is at the core of proper asset management planning. Without consistent data collection methods at all levels of government, sound infrastructure decision-making is in jeopardy. Statistics Canada – engaged by Infrastructure Canada to complete the survey – achieved a final response rate of 91.5 percent across Canada’s core public infrastructure owners. The survey collected data on the age and condition of owned assets, as well as the prevalence of asset management plans among respondents.

Overall, the inaugural CCPI survey found that asset age could be a determining factor in terms of asset condition; age might be a determining factor in terms of accessibility; and that a greater proportion of asset owners in Ontario report having an asset management plan compared to the national results. Opsitnik explained that Infrastructure Canada will be looking to reduce the response burden on municipalities for future surveys, improve standardization, and explore ways to integrate alternate data sources. When asked about the Federal Government’s plans to continue supporting asset management capacity at the local level, Infrastructure Canada responded: “We have made it a priority to support asset management as it promotes evidence-based decision making in regards to meeting infrastructure priorities across Canada. The Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP), delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, is yielding great benefits and will continue to receive funding until 2021.” Direct grant funding to municipalities through the MAMP program has been exhausted, but training and other support programs continue to roll out across the country in partnership with other communities of practice. “This program is further complemented by the Federal Gas Tax Fund which invests over $2 billion a year available to communities across the country who use this fund to develop approximately 4,000 projects per year” added Infrastructure Canada. “The GTF allows municipalities to use their funding allocation for expenditures related to asset management including capital investment plans, life-cycle cost assessments, software acquisition and training directly related to asset management planning.”

As the asset management industry continues to mature in Ontario and across Canada, messages emerging from the conference included the standardization of training according to industry-wide best practices and the alignment of provincial regulations with international standards, such as ISO 55000, which Dharmen Dhaliah from the Town of Halton Hills spoke about. As asset management grows in recognition as a required component of municipal corporate strategy and operations, new positions are being created to coordinate or manage the asset management portfolio. The question emerging is what skill sets and experience are required to fill the role successfully? More mature areas of practice have well established educational programs and designations to indicate to hiring organizations that an applicant with the designation has learned the established skills or has the standard knowledge required for the role.

Ruth Wallsgrove, AMCL Global Lead Trainer, explained that most jurisdictions in the world still lack undergraduate programs in asset management, and even those with master’s degree programs tend to focus on the technical rather than strategic components of asset management. The good news, according to Wallsgrove, is that organizations are increasingly recognizing the role of the asset manager, even with a dearth of related academic programs. Meanwhile, the Institute of Asset Management (IAM) – a UK-based not-for-profit – is supporting the professionalization of asset management through its asset management certificate and diploma. The IAM-endorsed training scheme was launched in 2010, providing a process to endorse training organizations around the world. Today, municipalities across Canada are getting staff from across departments IAM certified. How can asset management be further professionalized in Ontario? According to Wallsgrove, the asset management community should engage universities to develop new programs and apprenticeships to build competencies, as is more common in the UK. At the local level, municipalities can introduce rotations for staff between finance and public works departments to build cross-disciplinary skills and experience that are essential to asset management. Finally, Wallsgrove recommends networking opportunities like the AMONTario conference to continue to build the asset management community in Ontario.

To close the 2018 conference, a panel of representatives from national and provincial organizations discussed the impact of O. Reg. 588 implementation on Ontario’s municipalities. This was the first conference in Ontario that featured all three levels of government – federal, provincial, and municipal – emphasizing a similar message around the vital importance of asset management. Chris VanDooren, Gas Tax Manager with the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), explained that with Federal Gas Tax requirements having already been in place for a number of years, nearly every Ontario municipality now reports having an asset management plan in place – a good foundation to continue towards regulatory compliance.

Dan Cowan, retiring Executive Director of the Municipal Finance Officers’ Association (MFOA), described how the AMP It Up program will continue to provide small municipalities across Ontario with support from asset management experts to identify gaps in asset management maturity. Anthony Boland, Manager of the Municipal Infrastructure Policy Unit with Ontario’s Ministry of Infrastructure, discussed the changes that were made to the draft O. Reg. 588 after hearing from more than 330 municipalities. Changes included the removal of the requirement for a P.Eng. to sign-off on asset management plans, the introduction of differing requirements based on population size, and the lengthening of the phase-in period from four years to six. “We’re at a point now where we’re looking to build on our success [in Ontario], building greater standardization for asset management plans and using AMPs for addressing infrastructure challenges collaboratively” stated Boland.

From left to right: Dharmen Dhaliah, Stephen Bacchus, Chris Chen, Mike Hausser, Leanne Brannigan, Sam Sidawi, Vanessa Chau, Shawn Boast, & Curtis Ching

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