Hard-fought successes on prompt payment, procurement of professional services and enhancing worker training are the 2019 Canadian construction newsmakers, say national construction stakeholders.
Reforms in federal procurement policies were cited by John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada and Mary Van Buren, president of the Canadian Construction Association, as significant achievements for the sector in 2019.
Van Buren lauded the work of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) and in particular Steven MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, in shepherding prompt payment legislation through to royal assent stage in June. Gamble noted that PSPC also launched four pilot projects in which Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) was set to be a key factor in bidding analysis.
“Prompt payment is the most significant initiative that has been achieved from a legislative point of view this year, something that the industry worked very collaboratively on,” Van Buren said.
The federal legislation provides that payment deadlines on all federally procured contracts in the construction chain are triggered by the prime contractor’s delivery of a proper invoice. The owner must pay the contractor for all of the construction work no later than the 28th day after the day on which the proper invoice is received.
“It is good for trades, good for general contractors, good for subcontractors, good for the entire chain,” said Van Buren.
Gamble acknowledged that QBS is an obscure topic for some but for architects and engineers it has been a significant issue for many years. They believe awarding contracts based on price, not on the quality of the professional services that are used to design and develop projects at the front end, results in a lack of innovation and overall value to the owner.
“There are now four projects on the street,” said Gamble of the PSPC pilots. “It’s not one of these programs that captures the public’s imagination but it’s a very important initiative by PSPC. For many years I questioned whether I would ever see the day but it shows a lot of forward thinking by the department.”
Gamble explained that in most cases public procurement is designed to deliver the same project at the lowest price. Even though no two infrastructure projects are the same, procurers try to use a model that is better suited to buying office supplies, he said. When owners assume the lowest price is the best price, it is a signal to bidders to minimally interpret the scope of work and minimize innovation.
Arlene Dunn, director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, selected the body of work undertaken by former federal Labour Minister Patty Hajdu as the story of the year in the sector. In March’s federal budget, the government introduced the Canada Training Benefit, which will offer credits of $250 per year to workers between the ages of 25 and 64 to be put towards skills training, and also announced $46 million in funding over four years for Skills Canada to develop a promotional program to attract young Canadians to the skilled trades. A new apprenticeship strategy with the mandate to address barriers to entry was also launched.
“Minister Hajdu never shied away from rolling up her sleeves and working closely with the construction industry to truly understand the issues that matter to our membership and the sector at large,” said Dunn.
“Her support of skilled trades training and the diversification of the workforce in the construction sector has resulted in significant tangible gains in terms of increasing the number of women in the skilled trades.”
Hajdu’s efforts after she was assigned the post of minister of health after the October election, were also important, noted Dunn.
“Her efforts and success in updating the Federal Labour Code are a testament to her willingness to engage and follow through. She has helped make sure our workplaces are safer,” said Dunn.
Gamble cited the lack of attention paid to infrastructure during the federal campaign as a second major news story for the construction sector in 2019 while Van Buren said continued slow progress on the Trans Mountain pipeline was her second choice.
“Trans Mountain is an important story for Canada and how we move through these projects more effectively going forward,” said Van Buren.