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Federal budget lacks clarity on future of major B.C. projects

Warren Frey
Federal budget lacks clarity on future of major B.C. projects
SCREEN GRAB FROM PROVINCE OF B.C. MASSEY TUNNEL VIDEO — The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of British Columbia expressed disappointment that the federal budget did not contain clear commitments to several British Columbia projects, including the Massey Tunnel Replacement (pictured in a rendering above), the Broadway Skytrain line, Surrey Light Rail and work along the Trans-Canada Highway.

B.C. construction industry leaders have generally optimistic views of the 2018 federal budget, but highlight some key items related to the province were left out.

Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) president Chris Gardner said the association is disappointed the budget did not contain clear commitments to several British Columbia projects, including the Massey Tunnel Replacement, the Broadway Skytrain line, Surrey Light Rail and work along the Trans-Canada Highway.

“Building and investing in infrastructure is critical to our competitiveness, is imperative for the smooth functioning of Metro Vancouver, Canada’s Asia Pacific Gateway, and is foundational for spurring urban and regional growth, supply chain efficiency, job growth, affordable housing and livability. The absence of clear commitments in this regard is very disappointing,” Gardner said.

The budget did not address Canadian competitiveness in the global market, he added, and didn’t make reference to providing relief for the province’s liquified natural gas (LNG) industry after a Canadian International Trade Tribunal (CITT) decision stated certain fabricated industrial steel components from Asia were being “dumped” on the Canadian market.

“As providers of construction services, ICBA fears that, should these determinations of CITT stand, there will likely be no LNG industry in British Columbia,” Gardner said.

British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison was more sanguine than Gardner, but said he would have preferred further infrastructure investment in capital projects.

“It’s more of the same in regard to infrastructure spending, but the fact that they’re maintaining their commitments is a good sign,” Atchison said.

“It maintains the status quo and reinforces continuity. We would have liked to see an increase in investment, but it’s something.”

Atchison also praised the federal government for their push to involve women and other under-represented segments of the population in the workforce.

“It’s a breath of fresh air to see that leadership from Ottawa. There’s a huge gender imbalance in the industry,” he said.

“Anything that removes barriers to access is a win and will address future workforce shortages.”

BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson echoed support for the push for more women in the trades.

“We’re facing a significant shortage of tradespeople and the only way to fix that is for women to enter the trades,” Sigurdson said.

He added he hoped the British Columbia and federal governments would partner on new light rapid transit in the Lower Mainland and that some highway projects are eligible for federal support.

“There is a place for infrastructure renewal and we need to get on with that,” Sigurdson said.

He also pointed to the continued efforts of labour to emphasize the importance of skills training to the federal government, and said Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s decision to start his speech with a reference to “Joan the Plumber” indicates success on that front.

“It goes to show that we’ve been talking about skills training and we now have a federal and provincial government who are listening,” Sigurdson said.

Vancouver Regional Construction Association president Fiona Famulak had a measured take on the initiatives introduced in the federal budget.

“The federal and provincial budgets rightly include measures to bring underrepresented groups into the workforce in areas such as skilled trades. We’re happy the budgets support training given the labour shortfall our industry faces. We also welcome federal funding for parent supports, gender equality, pay equity and anti-harassment initiatives,” Famulak stated in a blog post on the VRCA website.

She also noted while the federal government has not addressed the overheated Vancouver housing market, it did increase funding of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Housing Construction Initiative, which offers low cost loans to cover housing construction costs.

Famulak also contrasted the recently announced B.C. budget, which commits $15.8 billion over three years to schools, hospitals, roads and bridges, to a federal budget lacking similar measures.

“The federal budget was missing a similar stimulus package. It did not deliver either funding or timelines for replacing Canada’s aging infrastructure. If it had, it would have created jobs in local communities and improved the overall quality of life of residents,” Famulak said.

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