Construction industry weighs in on new B.C. government

Journal of Commerce  |  GOVERNMENT  |  by WARREN FREY 

Political stability has returned to British Columbia…for now. After weeks of uncertainty which resulted from an inconclusive provincial election, British Columbia Lt.-Gov. Judith Guichon declared on June 29 that BC NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver would form the next government.

British Columbia’s construction industry had adopted a wait and see approach to the political climate over the past month, but construction industry leaders are now moving forward.

“We keep building and we work with elected leadership across government on the issues that are important to our sector. This includes skills training, prompt payment and fair and transparent procurement processes on infrastructure projects,” said British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison.

Council of Construction Associations (COCA) president Dave Baspaly said his organization is willing to work with the new NDP and Green alliance.

“We don’t know the priorities or the timetable of the new provincial government but we look forward to building a positive working relationship on COCA’s mandate — developing consensus on construction policy positions, addressing legislative, regulatory, policy and practice issues within the workers’ compensation system in B.C. and assisting individual employers, contractors and associations with their WorkSafeBC concerns,” he said.

BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson said he didn’t see the shift in government changing the temperature of the industry.

“There will no doubt be a change in attitude from the soon-to-be-sworn-in Horgan government but I believe that will be more about developing sustainable economic opportunities instead of cheerleading for projects that are merely conceptual,” Sigurdson said.

“The Clark administration promised LNG development that would lead to 100,000 jobs in the construction industry. We have yet to see 1,000 construction jobs in LNG development. I would hope the Horgan administration will be more realistic in their announcements regarding economic development,” said Sigurdson.

One of the cornerstones of both the NDP and Green platforms was slowing down if not stopping outright Kinder Morgan, Site C and other large-scale projects due to environmental concerns.

But Atchison said it remains to be seen if the new government will act to halt those projects.

“There is some chance, but it feels more likely that we’ll look for ways to improve efficiencies, address accountability issues and reduce environmental impacts rather than halt the projects altogether,” he said.

Sigurdson said while development of Kinder Morgan might be decelerated, Site C would in his view likely proceed, though under the NDP/Green agreement the two parties concurred that the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) would review the Site C project.

“While the Greens want the work to end immediately, the BCUC review has long been the stated position of the NDP and when that review is complete, all British Columbians will be made aware of the status for the project,” he said. “The BCUC should have reviewed the project prior to shovels going into the ground. Unfortunately, the decision to proceed with the project was entirely political and now we are witnessing the consequence of the politics of the decision.”

Kinder Morgan may be subject to a more robust provincial review, Sigurdson said, though the federal government has already approved the project.

“Regardless of the jurisdictional decision there are numerous other factors that are also in play; commodity prices, project financing, skilled labour supply etc., all of which lead to the conclusion that the project at the very least will be delayed, should it proceed at all,” he said.

While pipeline and hydro projects may be mothballed, the NDP pledged during the election campaign to build social infrastructure such as schools and transit projects.

“All three parties want to build, although they disagree about what to build. We also see an important opportunity to work with the Green Party and the NDP on implementing policy around the Capital Asset Management Framework and ramping up procurement training for public employees,” Atchison said.

“As the public sector loses career procurement experts to retirement we’re seeing an expertise gap that’s negatively impacting how infrastructure projects are tendered — omitting best practices increases risk, which increases cost and extends timelines. We think the leadership is open to working with us and we’re excited about that.”

While the construction industry is ready to work with the new provincial government, the distribution of seats for each party in the legislature is such that the possibility of a snap election remains high.

“Every British Columbian is in a wait and see approach — but the business continues, the work continues. The goals are the same: a strong industry, a strong economy, a good life for all British Columbians in communities across the province,” stated Atchison. “The BCCA recognizes that by strengthening our industry we strengthen our province, and we’re ready to work with leadership toward those goals. The good news here is that we don’t have to wait and see about that.”