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Decision time Manitoba – have the politicians listened to construction’s needs?

Grant Cameron
Decision time Manitoba – have the politicians listened to construction’s needs?

With Manitoba’s provincial election looming on Sept. 10 construction stakeholders in that province can review the Winnipeg Construction Association’s (WCA) special election website to make sure the politicians they consider are aware of the important issues facing construction.

The association has called on its members, which include more than 800 contractors, suppliers, financial institutions, lawyers, insurance and bonding companies and brokers in the province, to press politicians on four specific policy areas to promote a healthy and attractive business environment in Manitoba.

“We are looking to build an attractive business environment, reduce trade barriers, increase investment in infrastructure, and build a skilled and inclusive workforce,” said Darryl Harrison, manager, policy and research at the WCA.

The WCA launched, a website with information that explains the four policy pillars and priorities in detail. The WCA wants members to familiarize themselves with talking points and bring them up with current representatives as well as candidates, as construction is responsible for more than 52,000 jobs in the province.

During August, the WCA released short videos of industry stakeholders discussing the issues and explaining why they’re important.
Harrison said the website allows candidates to delve further into some of the rationale behind the policies.

“With all these members, we have a tremendous amount of industry knowledge and expertise that can be used to identify ways to improve the industry. Advocacy is an important aspect of what we do, and we want to do it the best we can.”

To create an attractive business environment, the WCA wants all major political parties to commit to delivering prompt payment legislation.

“We are seeing Ontario, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia develop their legislation and it is important for the industry in Manitoba to have legislation here,” said Harrison.

The WCA wants that to happen via a private member’s bill or through amendments to the Builders’ Liens Act.

Harrison said the Manitoba Law Reform Commission proposed many updates to the Act last year, including prompt payment and adjudication, so much of that work has been completed.

“But for the right legislation to be created,” he said, “there is still a need for industry involvement in the development of whichever approach is taken.

The WCA also wants government to reduce the time it takes to get building permits, which add significant costs to a project and create scheduling difficulties for generals and subs.

Recently, the Manitoba Treasury Board Secretariat released a list of 12 recommendations, and one was to establish service standards for permitting and planning. The report also recommended that inspections be more consistent across the province which will ensure that all buildings are built to code.

On investments in infrastructure, the WCA wants more money pumped into schools, hospitals and aged-care facilities.

The Association of Manitoba Municipalities lists the infrastructure deficit in the province at $11 billion and, Harrison said, the federal Parliamentary Budget Office released a report last year which indicated that there was federal money left on the table which could have been used for such types of infrastructure.

To build a skilled workforce, Harrison said the WCA is asking the province to ensure that secondary school graduates have enough math and communication skills to be effective on a construction site as contractors frequently find that students can not do basic match by hand which is invaluable in construction.

“The ability to do math without the assistance of electronics is still very important and we would like to make sure the education system keeps this as a priority.”

With an aging workforce, the WCA also wants some help in promoting construction careers to all Manitobans, said Harrison. The average age of Manitoba’s workforce is 41, with 15 per cent of the workforce over the age of 65. It is expected that 20 per cent of the workforce will be retiring in nine years.

Meanwhile, said Harrison, there is a need to reduce trade barriers by harmonizing legislation and codes with other provinces because Manitoba businesses work in other jurisdictions and differences can make it difficult.

For example, he said, the 2015 National Building Code has not been adopted in Manitoba so firms that design and build in other jurisdictions must make special accommodations because the province is behind.

Manitoba, he noted, also has 30-year ultimate limitation period on actions against companies while it’s 10 to 15 years in other provinces.

“We don’t feel this is striking the right balance between consumers’ and builders’ rights. We would like to see the Manitoba rules like our neighboring provinces.”

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