Business has been brisk on the Ontario government’s Stop the Spread Business Information Line in recent days as constructors and other Ontario citizens looked for clarification of new COVID-19 lockdown rules released Jan. 12.
And the construction sector has also been seeking information on the new rules elsewhere, including the Daily Commercial News. An article listing the essential projects permitted to operate generated numerous questions on specific projects.
The government service, staffed with information specialists, has been in operation since last March. A staff person who responded to a call from the Daily Commercial News indicated there have been numerous inquiries since the list of essential construction projects was posted Jan. 12. Premier Doug Ford announced a state of emergency across the province that day to combat rising COVID-19 rates with non-essential construction projects to be shut down for four weeks.
Construction stakeholders have estimated that most of the sector would remain in operation during that time, given the breadth of the essential projects list.
In response to a request for information on the business line, the government released a brief statement encouraging use of the government’s Stop the Spread web pages or the business information line.
The information officer staffing the hotline revealed he had been asked about every essential project listed on the site.
“Every single rule that’s in there, I’ve been questioned on,” said the officer, who would not divulge his name. “I’ve had questions on construction for food processing plants. I’ve had questions from general contractors on the Jan. 12 date. I’ve had people calling with regards to construction projects that are funded by municipalities, calls on a wide variety of things and I’m able to provide information on all of them.”
Constructors looking for information on what is an essential project are being encouraged to search for Enhancing Public Health and Workplace Safety Measures in the Provincewide Shutdown on the internet. Essential construction projects are outlined on pages 23 and 24 of the pdf found on the government website, with maintenance provisions on page 22 also including construction projects.
The information officer said it there is a grey area, the staffers refer questions to administrators and either the administrators will call the constructor back or the information officer will.
Ontario General Contractors Association president Giovanni Cautillo noted Jan. 14 that many recent calls to his office have inquired about the regulations released by the government to implement the new lockdown rules. Callers have noticed subtle changes from the initial government list to the list contained in the regulations, he said.
“Little changes such as including an ‘and’ between two provisions changes the allowability of a project proceeding,” Cautillo noted.
“We are trying to be of assistance with the interpretation, but we are recommending that each member seeks legal advice based on the individualized circumstances of their contracts and how it meets the new legislation.”
An MOL spokesperson said he would inquire into why the changes were made.
Karen Renkema, Ontario vice-president with the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, identified two changes, one of which she said was of significance.
Whereas initially the government stated that agricultural infrastructure projects would be declared essential if due to be completed before July 2021, the regulations removed the date qualification, meaning all agricultural builds would be permitted, Renkema said.
“Many agricultural projects that are in the beginning stages would be challenged to finish by the arbitrary date of July 2021,’” she said. “In order to continually increase and preserve food supply chains during this time, more flexibility was needed.”
Another project category that was revised deals with affordable and supportive housing projects. The change appears to narrow the types of projects declared essential.
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