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Construction leaders watch closely as B.C. election campaign ramps up

Warren Frey
Construction leaders watch closely as B.C. election campaign ramps up

British Columbia’s construction leaders are starting to focus on the upcoming provincial election.

In a recent Canadian Press (CP) article, B.C. premier Christy Clark claimed that the Liberals support job creation and that "now in B.C. there is one party that supports employers and supports workers because we support job creation, and there is another that doesn’t support jobs. That’s what will be at stake for us over the next six months."

In an interview with the Journal of Commerce BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson questioned Clark’s job claims.

"The example of Site C comes to mind," Sigurdson said. "Had we built under the existing Allied Hydro agreement, there would be 100 per cent B.C. employment, but we have 80 per cent, so 350 jobs will be done by those outside the province.

"It’s all well and good to say there’s a commitment to jobs, but we had an existing, well-functioning agreement, and BC Hydro and the provincial government decided to change that."

Clark’s opponent, B.C. New Democrat leader John Horgan, said in the CP article "sixteen years these people have been in power, and I’ve been maintaining Christy Clark cares about two things, and you (workers) are not one of them."

Horgan also said that Clark’s Liberals have underfunded education, provided tax breaks to the wealthy and let forestry jobs in rural communities disappear. The NDP have also been strong critics of Clark’s handling of the housing affordability crisis in the Lower Mainland and asked the government to track use of temporary foreign workers in B.C.

Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia (ICBA) vice-president Chris Gardner said the election, regardless of who wins, is an important one for the provincial construction industry, which employs over 100,000 people across the province and is "a big portion of the province’s GDP."

Gardner is optimistic regarding the industry’s prospects in the coming year, regardless of who wins the election in May.

"The Pacific NorthWest LNG project has received approval from all levels of government, and if it goes ahead it will create thousands of jobs and establish British Columbia as a centre of liquefied natural gas (LNG) development," Gardner said.

Sigurdson warned against launching into industry-wide changes without exercising a modicum of caution.

"If we had followed what was committed to by the current government in the 2013 election, with 100,000 jobs in LNG, one million jobs overall and 20 LNG projects, we would have had 10,000 people coming out of apprenticeships with no jobs to go to. We would have lost them forever," Sigurdson said.

"What are the actual needs? Having a politician, irrespective of political stripe, speak to potential is a dangerous thing for those of us in labour supply to do. Show me the contracts and we’ll have the workers. We’ve never been on a project where we haven’t been able to supply (workers)."

Gardner said that Clark’s government has been "on the right track in a number of areas and has moved forward with Site C, and worked very hard to establish the LNG industry."

He also pointed to the Port Mann Bridge, George Massey Tunnel replacement project and other infrastructure initiatives as important to the overall economy.

ICBA president Gord Stewart added while Clark’s record and work with the construction industry is known, "we don’t know the NDP platform yet, but we’ll be listening."

But if there is a change in government, Gardner added, "the message remains the same. For any government, their focus should be ensuring B.C. moves forward in a fiscally important way, allows development of infrastructure projects, and demonstrates commitment to a fair and transparent procurement process."

He added that while the provincial election and subsequent governmental policy is important, other levels of government also have an effect on the economy.

"If you look at B.C., all levels have an impact. City council decisions impact homebuilding, the provincial regulatory framework affects projects across the province, and at the federal level, things like Pacific NorthWest LNG get approved. All those things are important," Gardner said.

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