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Associations, Infrastructure, Labour

CCA rebuke of Ottawa Hospital PLA prompts major pushback

Don Wall
CCA rebuke of Ottawa Hospital PLA prompts major pushback
THE OTTAWA HOSPITAL — Recently, the Canadian Construction Association issued a statement criticizing the project labour agreement for the Ottawa Hospital’s $2.8 billion new Civic Campus. That statement has since received pushback from several building trades organizations.

A recent statement from the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) criticizing the Ottawa Hospital for signing a project labour agreement (PLA) with the Eastern Ontario Building Trades has prompted a backlash against the CCA and reopened old grievances between major national construction groups.

In its April 24 release, the CCA said the hospital’s PLA for work on its $2.8-billion Civic Campus “will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions more and leave a majority of Ottawa-area construction workers ineligible to work on the vital project.”

The project is currently in the procurement phase with an RFP issued by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) expected to close in fall 2023.

The PLA was signed in November 2022 and binds the future project team to the terms of the collective agreements the Building Trades signed last spring.

The PLA leaves workers from the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) and non-union workers sidelined alongside members of CLAC’s contractor partner the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).


At 2.5 million square feet, the new Ottawa Hospital campus will be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever in the capital city. Construction on the buildings is scheduled to start in 2024.
THE OTTAWA HOSPITAL — At 2.5 million square feet, the new Ottawa Hospital campus will be one of the largest infrastructure projects ever in the capital city. Construction on the buildings is scheduled to start in 2024.


In issuing its statement, the CCA also called for a rollback of such measures as Ontario’s bargaining loophole that binds the City of Toronto to traditional building trades and also the restrictive labour requirements attached to the new federal green technology tax credits.

The CCA now finds itself aligned with the PCA and CLAC on the issue against IO, the Ottawa Hospital, the Eastern Ontario Building Trades and Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU).

“The Canadian Construction Association takes issue with these examples and others that either categorically exclude or strongly disadvantage one group of workers,” said CCA president Mary Van Buren.

CBTU executive director Sean Strickland dismissed a report from the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) that the PLA will result in an escalation of project costs by between $168 million and $525 million. He said the Ottawa Hospital is a sophisticated project owner that signed an advantageous deal.

“There’s no bona fide research that can back that up,” he said, noting a report refuting the numbers will be released imminently. “I just think it’s disingenuous to quote those kinds of numbers when the cost of labour on a project is no more than 35 per cent.”

The MEI did not respond to requests for comment.

As for the CCA’s involvement, Strickland said, “I think this is a clear departure of the Canadian Construction Association to weigh in on these kinds of commercial matters. They are to represent the union, non-union and alternative union contractors.”

Van Buren responded, “It’s not new territory. We would have the same opinion if the owner decided that it was going to go exclusively to another group.

“Not only are a large number of talented workers, many from small and medium-sized firms, barred, but, as the MEI points out, the projects are likely to cost taxpayers more than necessary as a result.”

Hospital cites benefits

The hospital issued a statement listing the benefits of the PLA including ensuring high safety and training standards for workers, the elimination of risks of work disruptions and significant apprenticeship opportunities, including for underrepresented groups.

“Employment opportunities for construction at the new campus development are open to all construction companies that match the pay rates, training and certification level of unionized bargaining groups. The PLA does not require companies to be unionized,” stated the release.

PCA president Paul de Jong said in practical terms that leaves PCA members and CLAC workers “100 per cent on the outside” because they would have to reject their current agreements and sign deals matching those of the Building Trades.

He said the PCA and CLAC were never given an opportunity to offer alternative terms to the Ottawa Hospital, and when the PCA learned about the deal it contacted the Ottawa Hospital and the Ontario Labour Relations Board, which sanctioned the deal, but “our efforts to gain more understanding, to gain a degree of participation, fell flat.”

De Jong suggested agreements that favour traditional trades are a relic of a bygone era, when the “building trade unions were the only game in town.”

Suggestions the PCA and CLAC can’t handle large projects misrepresent their track record, he said, pointing to large projects in Western Canada where there are 4,000 workers on the job.

De Jong rejected Strickland’s assertion the alternative unions and their contractors “have positioned themselves as the cheaper alternatives to owners, and they’re cheaper because it takes it out on the backs of the workers.”

Strickland also said the Building Trades “deliver quality and we deliver productivity.”

Responded de Jong, “For them to presume that they are the only ones who can carry the torch when it comes to a large project like this is such an antiquated and false and unfair notion, unfair to the taxpayers, unfair to the workers who should have the choice, and unfair to contractors who deserve the right to innovate.”

Hospital wanted guarantees

Richard Hayter, director of community relations with the Eastern Ontario Building Trades, said other benefits of the PLA for the Ottawa Hospital included guaranteed participation of underrepresented groups, a code of excellence, a plan for pre-job conferences to sort out trade jurisdictions and contributions to the Ottawa Hospital Foundation.

Hayter said the Ottawa Hospital wanted to ensure quality and dependability: “They simply wanted some guarantees that the people who were doing that work had the training, the qualifications, experience and the determination to be partners.”

CLAC provincial director Ian DeWaard said the PLA came “out of the blue,” achieves no benefit for taxpayers and cuts off a large swath of competent, available construction workers. The agreement wrings no concessions or efficiencies from the Building Trades and sets a potentially dangerous precedent.

The donation from the Building Trades “commodifies” what they offer, said DeWaard.

“We very much welcome what CCA has to bring and appreciate that they too are seeing this thread woven through a variety of different contexts,” he said.

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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