When was the last time that you saw a politician at a ribbon cutting ceremony for new infrastructure? By contrast, when was the last time that you saw a politician at a “pothole filling” or other ceremony?
Politicians love it because when they are present, they get a great deal of media attention and it gives the appearance of them getting a lot of actions done for the benefit of society. In practice, we should be skeptical when politicians show up for such events because:
- In many cases, said politicians were not responsible for starting the project. The credit goes to their predecessors. Infrastructure takes many years to build at times, and it requires a lot of long-term planning.
- In other cases, they may have opposed the construction of the infrastructure in question.
- Perhaps most of all, the actual work was done by the engineers, construction workers, and all of the support staff.
That is not to say that we should not give politicians credit for their actions. Many do fight for the benefit of society and for the well-being of their constituents.
By contrast, we do not see politicians showing up at the routine maintenance work. It is not nearly as high profile, does not nearly seem as “sexy”, and is not a vote booster for elected officials.
Canada is currently facing a massive infrastructure shortfall:
Canada’s infrastructure deficit has gained prominence in recent years as catastrophic events have increased in frequency and magnitude because of aging infrastructure and global climate change. Canada’s municipal infrastructure deficit alone has been estimated at $123 billion for required upgrades and maintenance of existing infrastructure and $115 billion needed for new infrastructure. Provincial and federal infrastructure deficits are also in the hundreds of billions.
The article goes on to call for a crown corporation infrastructure bank that would act as an infrastructure development across all Canadian jurisdictions by offering long-term loans. When people think of financing, I would like to emphasize that it is not just building new infrastructure, but keeping existing infrastructure well maintained. Note in the quote above that the costs for maintenance of existing infrastructure exceed the costs estimated for required new infrastructure.
I think that we should go ahead with this bank idea, and perhaps even give it a larger pool of funding right away specifically for maintaining existing infrastructure.
As citizens, we should demand that our politicians and our society put every bit as much priority on maintaining existing infrastructure as we do new infrastructure. We should also go out of our way to reward politicians and other key figures in the public service who choose to make maintaining existing infrastructure with our political support.
Most citizens do not think about maintaining infrastructure until they see that pothole. In reality there are much bigger dangers. Bridges can collapse, particularly as they age and are not well maintained. Even if they do not collapse, there is also the matter of reduced productivity, in the form of increased automotive maintenance for potholes, increased traffic problems, and the problem that society does not reach its productivity potential unless sufficient investment is made in infrastructure.
In conclusion, I think that our society under-invests in infrastructure. We do so at our own peril and at the expense of future productivity. Culturally, we need to change. We need to make construction of new infrastructure and especially maintaining what we already have sexy.