A united and engaged industry can influence regulations: VRCA CLF

Journal of Commerce | Evan Saunders | May 8, 2023

When it comes to drafting the regulations that govern how construction in British Columbia runs, Dr. David Baspaly and WorkSafeBC’s Don Schouten say the more the industry engages, the more policy can be influenced.

In an interview with the Journal of Commerce (JOC), Baspaly, president of the Council of Construction Associations, said engagement could be better.

“What often happens in our world is some people think somebody’s going to do it for them and the message that we wanted to get across today is that everyone can help shape policy,” Baspaly said.

Baspaly and Schouten, senior manager in the policy regulation and the research department of WorkSafeBC, who also spent 20 years working as a carpenter and running a business, hosted a session at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association’s Construction Leadership Forum (CLF) on May 5 on how regulations are drafted and the importance of industry consultation.

Baspaly said he understands many in the industry just don’t have the time to get deeply involved in regulatory advocacy.

“But maybe it’s as simple as tapping your association leader on the shoulder and saying, ‘Can you help me with this?’ or, ‘this is the way it’s happening in the field and it isn’t working well for us.’”

Early industry engagement is important because all stakeholders can request regulation changes directly to WorkSafeBC, Schouten said.

In Baspaly’s words, if you voice your concerns late in the process, such as when a public hearing is being held, “the cake is baked.”

“If you wait too late and put in a submission at the last minute, by that time so many people have worked on it that there’s a vested interest in just getting it over the finish line,” Baspaly said.

“So, you won’t make the change.”

He said in order to effectively influence regulatory policy, advocates need to form a nuanced understanding of what their problems are with a specific policy and how it is negatively affecting their ability to do business.

“It has to be more than just, ‘We don’t like it.’ It has to have substance behind it,” Baspaly told the crowd at the CLF.

“If you’ve got a regulation out there that’s really got you twisted, start thinking what exactly it is about that regulation you don’t like.”

He said there are basically two approaches to engaging with the government on policy changes: adversarial and position.

Adversarial is straightforward: one side wins, another loses.

“And then there’s position-based negotiations, which are really about my interests, your interests and trying to find common ground; not necessarily at the expense of a good outcome but trying to find a better one.”

He said repetition is a useful tool when drafting a letter or when speaking with policy-makers and comes from knowing exactly what you don’t ― or do ― like about a regulation.

A position-based approach has the benefit of creating a united front as two adversarial sides find common ground on an issue.

“Politicians and regulatory developers and even the premier of this province don’t like having a mixed message. They don’t like it when half the people like it and half the people don’t.

“If you can get solidarity and consensus and you bring that forward to the politicians, you are going to end up with a more favourable outcome. That means you need to sit across from the detractors, from the people you don’t agree with, and try to get them somewhere along the contingent of a better answer.”

Baspaly said the industry needs to be aware of the power of using the media to amplify their concerns.

“The biggest threat the politicians have is the media. They don’t like to be embarrassed, they don’t like to think they don’t have a grasp of the issue,” he said.

But Baspaly said too much media attention can dilute the gravitas of the media “threat.”

The main message is that a construction industry united in its messaging can get more done than disparate elements advocating for conflicting ideas.

“If you pull together and say, ‘We want this,’ to a politician, nine times out of 10 they are going to take that seriously.”

The more the industry engages, the more regulations are informed by the lived experiences of the people who are impacted by them. Baspaly noted Schouten’s history as a member of the industry gives him a unique point of view as a regulator.

“Coming from industry, understanding industry, helps me understand what works,” Schouten told the JOC.

And that extends to who is involved in regulatory advocacy.

“Getting the direct workers involved and the workers that actually work on a site I think is important as well. Those are the ones that do the job every day, so they understand the work and how a regulation can impact it.”