Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is There a Business Case for the Maley Drive Extension?

Is there a business case for the Maley Drive extension?  That's not a rhetorical question.  Let me clarify: does a business case for the Maley Drive extension actually exist?  Or is it in the same realm of the transit ticket audit that our Mayor had to announce actually didn't exist, despite the numerous reports to the contrary (see: "Sudbury city hall shocker: No ticket scandal audit," the Sudbury Star, June 24, 2015).

I started thinking about this today, after reading remarks made by Tony Cecutti, Manager of Infrastructure Services, as reported in the Sudbury Star  (see: "No-show irks Sudbury councillors," the Sudbury Star, January 19, 2015).  It's reported that Cecutti said about the status of federal funding that, "because there was no application process, we can't say it was approved."

I confess that I've been under the impression that the City had applied to the Building Canada fund for federal funding for what's now being called "Phase 1" of the Maley Drive extension project.  I was rather surprised to discover that there hasn't been an application.  But in fact, Cecutti is absolutely right: there is no application process to apply for federal funding under Building Canada for projects of this sort.

But Infrastructure Canada does have a process to follow.  For "National and Regional Projects", this is how Infrastructure Canada advises municipalities to apply: "Projects will be jointly identified between Canada and provincial or territorial partners. All projects under the PTIC–NRP must undergo an initial review to ensure that they meet eligibility requirements and are aligned with PTIC program objectives. If deemed eligible, a project business case must be developed to demonstrate how the project meets both the common project criteria, as well category specific outcomes and project criteria." (see: "Infrastructure Canada, New Building Canada Fund: Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component, National and Regional Projects").  There's even a handy link to assist municipalities with developing a business case, and identifies required components of the business case submission.

Regarding the need for a business case, Infrastructure Canada's website is helpful: "Detailed business cases under the PTIC–NRP will only be requested for projects that have been jointly identified by Canada and provincial and territorial partners, and that are deemed eligible under the program terms and conditions."  At Ops committee yesterday, Tony Cecutti confirmed that the project was both eligible and had been recommended by the provincial government.  It would therefore appear that a business case is necessary.

So, there's no application to fill out - but if you want Building Canada money, you undergo an initial review of the project to determine the project's eligibility, and then you develop a business case in circumstances where Canada and Ontario identify the project.

In the case of Maley, which likely does meet the program eligibility requirements, one might think that a business case has been submitted to Infrastructure Canada by now.  Cecutti confirmed to Operations Committee yesterday that Maley "met the criteria for a federal infusion though the Build Canada Fund" (Sudbury Star).

But where is that business case?  In part, the Minutes to the October 20, 2015 Council meeting read as follows: "Councillor Reynolds requested a report regarding the Maley Drive Extension including a business case and economic benefits be brought to Council for discussion and information." At the following meeting, a report was presented, prepared by David Shelsted, Director of Roads and Transportation Services, "In response to Council's request at the October 20, 2015 Council meeting, staff have prepared the attached summary of information related to the Maley Drive Extension and Widening Project."  This report consisted of a number of documents, including the new AECOM Cost/Benefit Analysis (November 2015) and correspondence dating back to 2009 from former Mayor John Rodriguez.  But there is no business case.

Responding to another matter at yesterday's Operations Committee meeting, Councillor Vagnini was quoted as saying, "As everyone is probably aware I have a relationship with Mr. Price so I tried to stay completely out of it and I wasn't involved in setting up the initial presentation, but now it concerns me that we've been here for a year and we've seen the cost benefit analysis but we have not seen the business case on Maley Drive," (see: "Ops committee clashes over questions of transparency," the Northern Life, January 18, 2016).

The Sudbury Star reports, "Cecutti said the agenda for the next meeting of the operations committee has already been laid out, and staff have been busy working on budget presentations, but they would be happy to provide a report on Maley Drive in coming weeks."  Although it's not clear at all whether such a report would include a business case.

This seems incredibly odd to me.  A business case would have already been prepared for the Infrastructure Canada submission back in 2014.  Councillor Reynolds specifically requested to see the business case in October, 2015, but it was not provided in the package of documents made available to Council at the very next meeting.  Now, in January 2016, Councillor Vagnini says that Council still hasn't seen the business case. The excuse given by staff is that they've been busy with the budget - but being busy with the budget certainly didn't stop staff from putting together documents pertaining to Maley for the early November 2015 meeting.

And since a business case would have already been submitted to Infrastructure Canada more than a year earlier, how difficult would it have been to include that business case in the November package to Council? Especially since there was a clear motion that they provide this information.  For that matter, how difficult would it be to simply present it now to Council or Operations Committee, given that it remains outstanding since October?

Which leads one to conclude that maybe there never was a business case.  Which kind of defies logic, given that the submission of a business case is a requirement for Building Canada funding as per Infrastructure Canada, and we've been hearing for months now just how close an announcement from the feds is (we may have had one, save for the early by-election call, followed by a general election, and then a change in government).

And that makes these further remarks yesterday at Ops Committee by Tony Cecutti all the more perplexing. The Star reports Cecutti saying, "There's no indication yet from the federal level of a specific program where there are applications for us to fill out," and that in the meantime, staff are "making sure we have as many projects as we can that are shovel-ready."

Why would the federal government have to provide an indication of a specific program for infrastructure funding, given that Building Canada has - and remains - the program to apply for funding for projects like Maley.  While its true that the new Liberal government may be evaluating that program, there doesn't appear to be any suggestion that projects going through the evaluation process will all have to start a new process from scratch.

Is there a business case for the Maley Drive extension or not?  If there is, why hasn't our Council seen it?  If there's not - given that a business case is a requirement for Building Canada federal funding - well, if there's no business case, just what the heck is going on at City Hall?

(opinions expressed in this blog should not be considered consistent with the policies and positions of the Green Parties of Canada or Ontario)

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