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Building Canada Plan among federal stories of the year

Richard Gilbert
Building Canada Plan among federal stories of the year

Canadian construction leaders have differing views of what is the most important federal construction news story of the year, which includes the launch of the new Building Canada Plan, initiatives to address skilled labour shortages and an industry summit.

"First of all, we saw the renewal of the new Building Canada Plan, which is very significant with comparable money to the previous plan and a 10-year commitment," said John Gamble, president of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies Canada (ACEC).

"This is very significant, because it allows both the public and private sectors to allocate human, financial and technical resources, as well as make the kind of long-term decisions they have to deliver infrastructure effectively."

Gamble said the priority the federal government has given to infrastructure through the implementation of the $53-billion Building Canada plan is the construction story of the year.

The 10-year plan was launched in 2014 to build critical infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, subways, commuter rail, that stimulate productivity and economic growth.

The 2014 federal budget tabled in February said $21.8 billion will be allocated through the Gas Tax Fund. In addition, the plan will invest $14 billion for a new Building Canada Fund, which will support major projects.

"Unfortunately, at this time there is no prescribed application process, which created some confusion and caught the stakeholder community off guard," said Gamble.

"This has resulted in delays, as it is left to the provinces and municipalities to cobble together their own application process."

After the presentation of the 2014 federal budget, municipal officials began prioritizing infrastructure projects and preparing proposals, with the expectation they would submit applications to the federal government on April 1. But, they were confused by the lack of information from the federal government.

Edmonton’s Light Rail Transit system expansion was the first project to receive financing of $150 million on May 26.

There are concerns that delays with the new Building Canada Fund resulted in reduced construction activity and employment this year.

For others, the major story is building the Canadian workforce and the skills shortage that confronts the construction industry.

"Certainly, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) re-alignment has been a significant change that our industry has had to adjust to, even though we were hit more lightly than other industries," said Sean Reid, vice-president, federal and Ontario, of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA). "There is a renewed focus on employer-driven training through programs like the Canada Job Grant and also new government initiatives like Canada apprenticeship loan."

The federal government announced in June that it is reforming the TFWP, in order to ensure it is only used to fill acute labour shortages on a temporary basis when qualified Canadians are not available. The Federal Budget 2014 launched a new Canada Job Grant to encourage greater employer participation in skills training and ensure training is better aligned with job opportunities, particularly in sectors facing skills mismatches and labour shortages.

The budget also created the Canada Apprentice Loan, which allocates more than $100 million in interest-free loans to apprentices registered in Red Seal trades.

Reid said the construction industry is calling on the federal government to increase labour mobility. For this reason, he argues the third significant new initiative to address the skills shortage is the express entry system.

The federal government launched a new immigration system in May that offers express entry to immigrants under the Federal Skilled Worker Program, Federal Skilled Trades Program and Canadian Experience Class.

Express Entry is open to skilled immigrants and allows the government to select the best candidates who are most likely to succeed in Canada, rather than those who are first in line.

For the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), the top construction story of the year was their Industry Summit held June 8-9 in Victoria, B.C.

"We assembled some 90 construction leaders from across the country and asked them to identify the top challenges/trends/issues for the construction industry over the next three to five year period," said Michael Atkinson, president of the CCA.

The two-day session identified the following seven themes: business practices; business succession; globalization; government; infrastructure; labour; and technology.

The results provided the foundation for a CCA strategic planning exercise which was held in the fall.

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