The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) is concerned the project labour agreement (PLA) between the Ottawa Hospital and the Unionized Building and Construction Trades of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec sets the wrong precedent and is calling on the Competition Bureau to investigate.
PCA says the agreement for the new 2.5-million-square-foot facility, part of hospital’s new $2.8 billion campus development project, is restrictive and prohibits contractors and workers who are not affiliated with specific unions from bidding on and building the hospital. For that reason, PCA filed the complaint.
“This hasn’t been done on any other project,” said Karen Renkema, vice-president, Ontario with PCA.
“All other hospital projects in Ontario have been fairly and openly procured and it doesn’t actually matter the type of union card you carry or the union that you are signatory to.”
Renkema said overall she hopes the Ottawa Hospital can be fairly and openly tendered and that all contractors, regardless of what union they are affiliated with, can work on the project.
“I think the Competition Bureau’s involvement may assist in no further deals being struck like this between the building trades and hospitals and ensuring that all public taxpayer funded projects are done on the principles of fair procurement and that we’re not restricting the marketplace any further,” said Renkema.
The Ottawa Hospital and Infrastructure Ontario have partnered on a Request for Proposals for the construction of the new hospital, reads a statement from The Ottawa Hospital to the Daily Commercial News.
You don’t need a project labour agreement to have a stable workforce, but frankly you are reaching into a very limited pool of workers by limiting the workers that can work on the project,
— Karen Renkema
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
“As part of the construction project, a project labour agreement was reviewed by the Ontario Labour Relations Board and allowed to move ahead,” it reads. “The agreement sets the terms to create consistent safety standards, ensuring all workers onsite are properly trained and certified, and to eliminate risk for work delays and disruptions caused by strikes or lockouts for the duration of the project. The agreement will also create apprenticeship opportunities for populations underrepresented in the construction trades, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, women, and diverse and at-risk youth.
“A first in health care in Ontario, the PLA will create equity and alignment among all workers on the project site. Employment opportunities at the new project are open to all construction workers.”
PCA tried to investigate if the PLA could actually take place under the Ontario Labour Relations Act, spoke to the provincial government and MPPs and the mayor and councillors at the City of Ottawa. They also tried to reach out to the hospital.
“The hospital provided no response,” Renkema said. “We’ll continue to do advocacy with the City of Ottawa, with the provincial government, with Infrastructure Ontario.”
One of the concerns is the decision was made even before the procurement process took place.
“Every other project in the City of Ottawa is openly tendered,” said Renkema. “We think it’s time that the Competition Bureau take a good hard look at what’s happening here – the fact that we’re shutting out thousands of construction workers on a public project that’s being paid for by their tax dollars as well as just the anti-competitive nature of really limiting the number of bidders and subcontractors.”
A Montreal Economic Institute report found the Ottawa Hospital’s PLA will escalate project costs by anywhere from $168 million to $525 million by 2028.
“You don’t need a project labour agreement to have a stable workforce, but frankly you are reaching into a very limited pool of workers by limiting the workers that can work on the project based on the union card they are carrying,” said Renkema, adding it made sense to go the Competition Bureau route because of their mandate.
“There are a couple of things within the Competition Act that really make sense once you start actually putting this project through that lens,” she noted. “(They) promote efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy…can provide consumers with competitive prices, which isn’t happening here, and the other one that’s interesting too is ensuring that small and medium size enterprises all have equitable opportunities to participate in the Canadian economy. This isn’t doing that either.”
The Competition Bureau is interested in examples of exclusive dealing, tied selling and market restrictions, she added.
The building trades have not responded to a request for comment.
In an email to the Daily Commercial News the Competition Bureau confirmed it had received the complaint but emphasized since it is required to conduct work confidentially it couldn’t confirm whether it would be investigating the matter.
“The bureau typically initiates investigations as the result of information it obtains about marketplace practices that may be anti‑competitive. The bureau obtains information from a variety of sources, including marketplace observations by its officers and complaints made by consumers and businesses,” the email reads. “During the typical examination stage, bureau officers identify all available sources of information about the relevant marketplace activity, determine whether any issues are raised under the act and assess whether further investigation is appropriate. They may contact customers or competitors to obtain relevant information.
“In all circumstances, the Bureau must conduct a thorough and complete examination of the facts before reaching any conclusion as to whether the Competition Act has been contravened.”