Editorial: Assessing the Drummond Report

A new student residence for Ryerson University will be financed by the private sector. It is an example of what the Drummond Report considers to be the new reality for the delivery of public services in Ontario. IBI Group Architects
A new student residence for Ryerson University will be financed by the private sector. It is an example of what the Drummond Report considers to be the new reality for the delivery of public services in Ontario. IBI Group Architects

The recently published 562-page report entitled the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services–otherwise known as the “Drummond Report”–has already had a significant impact on the ways in which provincial budgets across Canada are being considered. Chaired by Don Drummond, the former Toronto-Dominion Bank chief economist, the report gives an overview of Ontario’s economy and the many threats that are impeding its growth. How might this report impact the ways in which design commissions are awarded to architects by municipal and provincial governments in the future?

Architects might expect to see more retrofit projects in their public sector work. The government of Ontario is the largest owner of buildings and land in the province, with a portfolio worth about $14 billion. Given that the average age of provincially owned buildings is 46 years, it is expensive to maintain the vast majority of Ontario’s real estate holdings. Last year, the province spent $842 million to operate and maintain its realty holdings, most of which are in the form of jails, courts and hospitals. However, the province does own a number of office buildings in which many of the various overlapping ministerial functions can be consolidated, thereby reducing the government’s “realty footprint” while providing revenue streams for itself through sale-leaseback agreements, transferring air rights, or an outright selling off of land. This could provide some interesting work for architects.

Evolving alternative financing and procurement (AFP) methods for capital projects will become increasingly prevalent in public sector work. For example, postsecondary institutions will likely choose the AFP approach for projects that do not qualify for government funding (i.e., student residences). Ryerson University recently announced that its new 500-bed residence will be developed through a public-private partnership with the MPI Group who will handle the construction and development costs while Ryerson will provide a steady stream of student tenants. Other ways in which Drummond sees post-secondary educational facilities improving the management of their operational budgets is through an increased reliance on renewable energy and energy-efficient designs. Hopefully, this will also translate into more work for architects.

The biggest percentage of any provincial budget is allotted to health care. In Ontario, the health-care budget is roughly 40 percent of the total budget and our aging population is estimated to add approximately one percent every year to the cost of running hospitals and community-care facilities. This is an area where architects can provide their expertise. The report cites Denmark as a country that stopped creating new long-term-care beds in the late 1980s to focus on building a wider variety of housing types that can be adapted for the elderly. As a result, over 80 percent of Denmark’s elderly population lives independently while receiving home care and community social support. In this instance, good design has saved precious health-care dollars.

One major public policy gap at all levels of government is in the realm of social and affordable housing–an area of jurisdiction that is the responsibility of Ontario’s municipalities despite the fact that provincial governments are the ones who set the standards for municipalities to follow. In 2011, Ontario signed a three-year agreement with the federal government to allocate $480.6 million (shared evenly between the federal and provincial governments) to fund the creation and repair of roughly 6,000 affordable housing units. With no federal funding commitment beyond the end of this agreement, there will be little long-term financing to spend on building, repairing or operating any more social and affordable housing. This situation will open up opportunities for non-profit and/or private interests to deliver this kind of housing. Architects can also play a pivotal role by helping to organize fledgling partnerships, and to design innovative projects through them.

The Drummond Report can be considered a useful guide for architects as there are many possibilities for our profession to help municipal and provincial governments reform the delivery of effective public services. If we are involved in the process, we might find ourselves working on better projects in the public sector.