Leaders of national construction associations now have a federal government forum to share the challenges they face due to COVID-19 and are united on one goal: to get the industry through the pandemic so they are able to participate in the economic recovery.
Public Services and Procurement Canada recently confirmed it is holding roundtable discussions with industry representatives to explore how the federal government can support the industry through the pandemic and beyond, states an email from a ministry spokesperson to the Daily Commercial News.
“Mostly it’s to have a dialogue to understand is there going to be a stimulus program for construction, what is it going to look like and to have input,” stated Sandra Skivsky, chair of the National Trade Contractors Council of Canada. “The number one thing is to have that communication and to at least understand each others’ concerns and where we can meet to ameliorate those concerns. Otherwise nobody is talking and everybody thinks they are doing the best thing and sometimes it’s not the best thing.”
The roundtable consists of a broad group of industry associations and labour as well as senior government officials and political staff representing various ministries such as Infrastructure Canada and the Department of Labour. The group has established a terms of reference and has met a few times.
They have done a fantastic job in prioritizing health and safety…but that has come at a cost,
— Mary Van Buren
Canadian Construction Association
“One thing we heard around the table from a lot of businesses is money is going to run out in a matter of months, if not weeks, and notwithstanding what we are trying the achieve in the longer term we need to get there first,” said John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada. “The first piece is about how can we retain the knowledge and expertise within the design and construction industry so that we can deliver stimulus. To get there we need to survive right now.”
One of the Canadian Construction Association’s messages is that contractors on federal projects need to be reimbursed now for the cost of COVID-19, said president Mary Van Buren.
“They have done a fantastic job in prioritizing health and safety…but that has come at a cost,” she explained. “We’re asking the federal government to recognize that for federal projects and reimburse those contractors, particularly if we are getting into the ramp up phase and the contractors will be looking for capital to pay for ramp up costs. That is particularly important to our trades and subtrades who often carry the bulk of that ramp up cost.”
Gamble said COVID-19 has impacted so many aspects of federal projects from enhanced health and safety measures to supply chains and there needs to be a unified way to deal with it.
“There needs to be some common understanding of how we’re going to manage the COVID-19 reality as it pertains to the different things we need to do to get projects done and the consequential impact on cost and scheduling,” Gamble pointed out. “If we have a good faith practical way of managing things that is fair to all parties that is going to be important.
“The next part is delivering stimulus so we can rebuild the economy. This is where we need some pragmatism. The federal government should have some flexibility and some pragmatism looking at their existing programs and getting money into communities.”
Van Buren agreed the priority right now needs to be on economic stimulus.
“It’s really important that we are laser focused on economic stimulus. Get people back to work, get businesses healthy again,” she noted.
“We have been advocating that the economic stimulus, the investment in infrastructure, be co-ordinated with government departments, so we believe that all federal departments need to work together in collaboration with provinces and municipalities and this (roundtable) is a step forward.”
Workforce and training is also critical said Skivsky, who is also the director of marketing and business development for the Canada Masonry Centre.
“It’s very hard to say, ‘I didn’t train any first year apprentices in 2020, so I’m going to double up in 2021,’ because they have to be absorbed into the industry. They have to be trained onsite and you can only take on so many to do it well,” Skivsky explained. “Once you stop it you can’t just start it back up again. It takes a couple of years and contractors need to have enough cash flow to be able to take on apprentices. You can’t just flip a switch.”
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