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Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Celebrating 50 years, OSWCA reflects on what has changed and what’s stayed the same

Patrick McManus
Industry Perspectives Op-Ed: Celebrating 50 years, OSWCA reflects on what has changed and what’s stayed the same

The Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association (OSWCA) is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021, and after all these years, it remains the only provincial construction association in the country dedicated to the sewer and watermain construction sector.

It’s amazing the forethought that went into establishing this great organization all those years ago, as the founders understood while the infrastructure they were working on was entirely owned by municipalities, there was a need to join together to help influence broader decisions being made at the federal and provincial levels that were impacting their industry.

This decision has had huge ripple effects across the decades and has resulted in tremendous improvements to municipal infrastructure (e.g. water-metering, improved contract specifications), to investment in the industry (i.e. multibillion-dollar annual investments in water and wastewater infrastructure) and to the operating environment for companies (e.g. substantially improved health and safety records, regulatory reforms, etc.). Without this organization, its dedicated member companies and all of the volunteers over the years, certainly the sewer and watermain construction sector would be in a very different place today.    

When the OSWCA first opened its doors in 1971, the industry and country was in a very different place.

In 1971, the total value of all public infrastructure stock in the country was estimated at $39 billion, the average house price in Toronto was $30,000, and Pierre Trudeau was in his first term as prime minister of Canada.

Now, the total value of all public infrastructure in the country is marching towards $900 billion and the average house price in Toronto has increased to around $1 million.

We still have a Prime Minister Trudeau on Parliament Hill though, because for all that has changed, many things stay anchored in our past.

This holds true for the OSWCA, as it has evolved over the decades, but it still holds onto its founding principles of being a member-focussed organization whose objective is to raise awareness and address issues related to water and wastewater infrastructure in municipalities across the province.  

As we celebrate our past 50 years, we are continuing to follow this model of evolving but holding onto core values.

Much of the credit for this approach has to go to our board members, past and present, for keeping this association relevant and for trying new things to keep our members engaged.

For instance, while we are not able to get together in person to celebrate this 50th year milestone, we are hosting our first ever virtual annual general meeting to keep members informed about what is happening in our industry and what issues the association is working on.

We are also working to update our communications strategy, looking to engage with members on new platforms and through more mediums than ever before – be sure to check out our new YouTube channel.

Conversely, we are keeping a traditional and narrow focus on our provincial and federal lobbying work, ensuring infrastructure funding is in place to keep companies working; addressing the ongoing skills gap in the industry; and focussing on problematic regulatory issues (e.g. One Call, excess soils, Community Benefit Agreements).

We have found tremendous success on this front over the last decade and we are confident this success will continue.

As I approach the end of my first year as executive director and have the opportunity to reflect back on the year that was, as well as on the longer history of this great organization, I am struck by how unified we have been in progressing our mandate. Over this last year we have had to completely rethink how we meet, communicate and organize our industry initiatives; yet we barely missed a beat.

We have found tremendous success in our government advocacy work and are figuring out new ways to communicate and stay relevant to our members, but this does not come as a surprise when you look back at the last 50 years.

Hundreds of companies and people have been actively involved in our organization, helping the industry transition through a tremendous amount of change, and yet the OSWCA has managed to stay both anchored in its past while also adapting to these changing circumstances.

It is a testament to all of the great people involved who have worked together to keep the organization focussed on its members. I am very proud to be part of it all.

Here is to the next 50 years.

Patrick McManus is executive director of the Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association. Send comments and Industry Perspectives op-ed ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

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