The Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) is calling on the provincial government to reveal all current and potential construction projects regardless of size as part of its 2021 pre-budget submission.
“There needs to be, in essence, a full transparency,” OGCA president Giovanni Cautillo explained. “We need to know all the way down to the grassroots, which is the contractor, what the federal and provincial governments intend on doing in order to assist infrastructure projects moving forward.”
According to the submission, full transparency would yield valuable quantitative data vital to measure and plan market capacity and the impact of infrastructure investment on short and long-term economic growth.
“Tell us what you have as a government coming down the pipeline so that we can prepare for it,” Cautillo stated.
“Right now, everyone is questioning what is going to happen tomorrow. You don’t want to be in a state of flux. You want to be in a position where you are being definitive about your spending, you are being definitive about how you are going to get people back on track and you are being definitive about the fact that jobs can be obtained in construction. I think it will go a long way to assisting the overall sentiment of the public to know that the government is in control and they have a plan.”
The association made two recommendations to the Ministry of Finance regarding the budget. The first is to “build for recovery” by aggressively investing in infrastructure renewal and provide an updated cross-jurisdictional infrastructure investment plan for 2021 as soon as possible, such as the Safe Restart Agreement announced last year by the federal government.
It also requested the budget support construction contractors when it comes to the economic impacts caused by the pandemic.
“The government asked what can we do to basically ensure a healthy recovery of the economy,” said Cautillo. “Construction is kind of centrally poised to assist in that recovery.”
The submission also states the government needs to further expand investment beyond what was planned pre-crisis so municipalities can continue with capital projects with their 2020 operating deficits covered.
“We have heard the federal government state that we have all this money to be invested in infrastructure to be trickled down to the provinces and the municipalities, but we have yet to see those taps open,” said Cautillo. “Municipalities are not planning capital budgets for 2021 as they were in previous years because they can’t operate with a deficit.”
Cautillo cited several studies done recently have shown infrastructure investment is the most effective way to restart Ontario’s economic recovery, however, general contractors are reporting a decline in bidding opportunities across the province due to projects being deferred or cancelled.
“If you want to recover from the pandemic you need to invest in small, medium and large projects,” he said. “On the infrastructure side, you have to do both short term and long-term things that can initiate job growth.”
Construction can provide opportunities for those who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, but employers need resources for training.
“We’ve also mentioned to the provincial government that for anyone who is currently unemployed construction is a great career choice and is offering retraining,” Cautillo noted. “There is a lot in construction that people can capitalize upon and we can be a main driver, not only in the recovery on the project side, but also for employment opportunities.”
In terms of supporting contractors from the financial impacts of the pandemic, a backstop would reduce the threat of bankruptcy caused by the shutdown, allow contractors to invest in apprenticeship programs and ensure small and medium-sized contractors can remain competitive, Cautillo said.
“You have to ensure that these construction contractors are able to support themselves and that there is a backstop when it comes down to ensuring that they have lines of credit covered from banks and whatnot.
“There have been issues with getting paid for COVID costs and predominately on the public side of the equation. We want to make sure the government backstops contractors so that they can still be viable businesses. The last thing we want is bankruptcies.”
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