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2016 a transition year on many fronts for B.C. construction

Russell Hixson
2016 a transition year on many fronts for B.C. construction

With such an eventful year, there was little consensus from construction leaders in B.C. on what the biggest construction story of the year was. However, they all concluded that 2016 was just one year in a bigger story arc on various issues.

For Jack Davidson, president of the BC Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association, the biggest story of the year was the wave of leaders retiring from the industry. December 2016 marks the retirement of almost all of B.C.’s Construction association managers, including Phil Hochstein (Independent Contractors and Businesses Association), Manley McLachlan (BC Construction Association), Rosalind Thorn (BC Construction Association – North), Greg Baynton (Vancouver Island Construction Association) William Everitt (Southern Interior Construction Association) and Davidson himself.

Davidson said this is important as these construction industry leaders, among other things, consult, advise and work with governments on strategies to build and strengthen the economy, labour, best practices, productivity and resource utilization.

These leaders are also advocates for public safety and transparent tendering, acting as watch-dogs for public construction projects.

"The job the association leaders perform is vital to an efficient, effective and honest construction industry," said Davidson. "The loss of industry knowledge and leadership will be substantial. To move forward always requires change and the construction industry’s future will now be in the hands of a new younger set of leaders. I wish them the best."

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) said the biggest story of the year was the battle for responsible resource development.

"There are numerous projects in the province that have been stalled for some time," said Catherine Loiacono, ICBA spokesperson.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Nov. 29 that Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project has been approved, along with Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project. Trudeau also announced his rejection of the Northern Gateway pipelines project based on the fact that crude oil tankers would endanger the Great Bear Rainforest.

While Loiacono said these "baby steps toward progress" are encouraging, the ICBA still has deep concerns about getting projects built. She cited threats of lawlessness by activists. Recently Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Green Party, vowed to go to jail to stop the Trans Mountain project. The projects also face threats of legal challenges.

"Even when a project is a ‘yes’ it is not a yes," said Loiacono. "That part is the most concerning. What does it take for a decision to be accepted?"

Part of the ICBA’s method to address this was to launch its "Get to Yes" campaign, designed to spur major project supporters to become more vocal. At the core of the campaign are polls showing that 84 per cent of British Columbians support responsible resource development.

For McLachlan, the story was buried in the numbers that show efforts by the province to promote trades careers are paying off. This is good news as McLachlan and others in the industry have cited a looming labour crunch as one of the major issues facing the construction sector.

"The real story is the fact that the government approach to workforce training and the emphasis that has been placed on promoting trades as a viable career choice is starting to bear fruit," said McLachlan. "We believe it is starting to have a very positive impact."

According to McLachlan’s association’s fall stat pack, in the past four years, the number of B.C. high schoolers entering construction trades programs within a year of graduating has risen 35 per cent. The number of unemployed youth in B.C. has also dropped 14 per cent. The number of construction jobs in B.C. that will be unfilled due to labour shortages by 2025 has plummeted 51 per cent.

"The Skills for Jobs Blueprint is working in a very substantial way," he said.

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