Hon. Jill Green
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure
2021-2022 Capital Budget Estimates
Hon. Jill Green
Thank you to the Chair.
As Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, I am pleased to be here today to answer questions about the department’s main estimates for the 2021-22 budget.
Being relatively new to this portfolio, I have been relying on the expertise and knowledge of staff, so I am proud to introduce today:
- Tony Desjardins, Assistant Deputy Minister of Transportation;
- Bob Martin, Assistant Deputy Minister of Buildings;
- Dawn Vincent-Dixon, Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Services;
- erge Gagnon, Executive Director of Engineering Services; and
- Cindy Etheridge, Financial Analyst for Finance and Administrative Services;
I have to admit that I am continuously amazed at the incredible work that this team and their staff are able to accomplish every single day, so I will take this opportunity to thank them for their dedication and for being here today to help me during the main estimates process.
Mister/Madam Chair, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure is responsible for a significant transportation network that includes major highways, rural roads, bridges, culverts and ferries. We also manage an impressive number of vehicles and buildings on behalf of the provincial government and we oversee the trunked mobile radio communication systems, which enable responses to various events and critical emergencies.
We are also the project managers for the rest of the provincial departments infrastructure projects and deliver approximately 85 per cent of the provincial capital program.
So you can certainly understand why I’m excited to be here today, to explain how DTI’s work is contributing to our government’s goal of having vibrant and sustainable communities.
Before we begin to answer questions from my honourable colleagues, allow me to highlight a few items of interest in DTI’s 2021-22 budget.
The department’s total ordinary budget is more than $330 million, which represents an increase of nearly $9 million compared to the previous year.
As I’ve mentioned before when presenting the department’s capital budget last December, we are being fiscally responsible by focusing on maintaining our existing infrastructure.
To do that, we are investing more than $21.5 million in our summer highway maintenance program, which is an increase of almost $700,000 compared to the last fiscal year. This includes pothole repairs and road striping, among many other things. We will also invest $2.2 million in our brush-cutting program.
I’m very proud to report that we are investing nearly $11.8 million in our bridge maintenance program. This increase of about $1 million dollars will help us address issues related to our aging infrastructure.
Our winter maintenance program is also increasing by approximately $600,000: we are investing more than $69.5 million to keep our roads safe next winter. This includes snow removal and ice control for our provincial roads and highways. The increase in budget will allow us to offset commodity price increases, notably for sand and salt.
We will be investing more than $64 million in our buildings, which includes facilities management and construction oversight.
I’m also excited to say that our Buildings Branch will continue to upgrade governmental buildings thanks to the energy retrofit and renewable energy program, which is allowing us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s so awe-inspiring to see the twinkle in the eyes of staff in our buildings group when they talk about how they were able to incorporate green features in existing buildings or build new ones that are using the latest energy-efficiency certifications, technology and codes. I appreciate their passion and collaboration in helping us meet our targets under New Brunswick’s Climate Change Action Plan.
Our budget also includes an investment of more than $9.5 million to manage the department’s radio communications branch. This group offers an essential service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their goal is to offer mission-critical radio communications to provincial, federal and municipal governments, volunteer organizations and agencies. They are a high-performing and responsive organization that provides efficient services and support, with the goal of improving the lives and safety of New Brunswickers. And in fact, I want to take this opportunity to highlight their commitment and resilience along with many of our other departments first responders in times of crisis. We appreciate your work so much.
As a reminder, our capital budget for 2021-22 includes:
- $227 million for bridges and highways;
- $70.7 million for the federal-provincial projects;
- $10 million for the Municipal Designated Highway program;
- $18 million for the Vehicle Management Agency; and
- $62.3 million for public works and infrastructure.
As you can see, Mister/Madam Chair, by continuing to focus on our current infrastructure before tackling new projects, the department will be able to manage our existing assets in a more sustainable way.
And in fact, over the last few years, the department has undergone significant changes to how it plans, monitors, reports and delivers its transportation capital program. Most notably, the department has introduced a formal management system which includes portfolio management, project management, stage gating and emergency management.
The goal of these changes is to ensure that projects are clearly and transparently accounted for.
For example, the new Project Management Office created under the Transportation Division and will track, monitor and troubleshoot issues for a project’s entire life cycle.
We created a Portfolio Management Office to keep better track of what is currently going on, as well as what is expected in the mid term and the long term.
This new office provides a means to identify and prioritize work and rank various risks, among other things.
Stage gating is a phased review process for projects. Breaking the work into stages allows for a clear understanding of a project’s path and enables better financial planning.
The different stage gates are:
- design; and
These are great examples that show how we are continually reviewing our existing service delivery model to maximize everyone’s efforts.
I really have to commend staff for their continued commitment to their work as we implement these changes. I know that this has an impact on how they work, but throughout this process, they have been providing feedback and have been actively engaged, which is a testament to their professionalism.
In addition to these new changes, we also continue to rely on asset management practices to identify projects that are needs and not wants, while also helping to take the politics out of spending.
The department’s environmental unit has now joined the Strategic Services Division as the Environmental Services Branch in order to align the department when addressing environmental requirements and to provide services corporately. In addition, we’ve created a new Emergency Management Branch to align responsibilities and accountability when our infrastructure is impacted during times of crisis. This branch is focused on providing professional, technical and administrative services to prepare, respond, recover and prevent/mitigate emergency situations. The branch also acts as a liaison between DTI and the New Brunswick Emergency Measures Organization.
I’m also proud to report that the department also has a renewed focus on safety. In August 2019, an employee was fatally injured at a DTI worksite in Woodstock. This tragedy highlighted the need for an even greater focus on having a strong health and safety culture in the department. Our goal is to make DTI a place where everyone is comfortable bringing up safety issues with their supervisory and team.
We are making great strides with this: we are providing staff with protective equipment; we are documenting plow driver fatigue; there are written safe work practices; employee orientations when they first start working; hazard assessments and ongoing discussions regarding employees’ safety concerns.
I have personally made safety my priority as minister, but this is a collective effort: we all need to take measures to protect ourselves and our teammates.
These efforts are paying off: the number of claims has gone from 226 in 2017 to 115 in 2020. That means that over the past four years, we have collectively cut the number of injuries by half. That is quite an achievement, but we need to continue to be vigilant.
Mister/Madam Chair, for the past few months, I’ve been hearing comments that our government is not leveraging the federal funding that is available, and I am happy to address this today and set the record straight.
We have been and are using the federal funding that is available. We continue to work with our federal partners on a number of major projects. In fact, we have budgeted approximately $50 million of federal revenue for the 2021-22 fiscal year, which will be recovered through various federal funding programs. This is an increase compared to last year and is due to a new COVID-19 federal funding stream under the Canada-New Brunswick Integrated Bilateral Agreement and relates primarily to building and infrastructure projects.
We will be using federal dollars to upgrade existing infrastructure such as our maintenance depots and garages throughout the province as well as other government buildings such as courtrooms, correctional facilities and even for the legislature here, like the ongoing work at the Departmental Building.
We are also collaborating with the federal government on significant transportation projects like the Coles Island bridges, the Centennial bridge in Miramichi, the Petitcodiac Bridge between Riverview and Moncton, Route 11 and the Fundy Trail Connector, to name a few.
On that note, we’d be happy to take questions from the members here today to further expand on the department’s projects and initiatives.