Western Canadian construction leaders are reacting positively to a new COVID-19-focused funding stream for federal infrastructure programs.
Federal Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna recently alluded to the fact the government will most likely set aside up to 10 per cent of the $33.5-billion Investing In Canada program to fast-track eligible projects such as health facilities, schools and recreational facilities that allow for social distancing such as parks and trails. Projects must be completed by the end of the 2021 construction season.
Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner said there are several areas the government can focus on to accelerate economic recovery.
“There are obvious places to look where the federal government can lead and work with the province and municipalities. Our ports such as the Port of Vancouver, Port of Prince Rupert and other ports around B.C., and our airports, which need to be upgraded,” Gardner said, pointing to hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in Vancouver International Airport put on hold once it could no longer generate fees from airlines and other revenue streams.
Gardner also pointed to smaller but equally important infrastructure projects across the province as a good way to get B.C. workers back on the job.
It’s very generous and it’s aimed at getting projects underway quickly
— Darrel Reid
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada
“When governments tender a project, there’s a sweet spot where you get the greatest number of companies participating in Requests for Proposals in the range of $50 million to $100 million. We shouldn’t be pausing on those projects, we should be accelerating them so contractors across the province can bid on these projects and keep money and jobs here,” he said.
“The federal government should also work with provinces on infrastructure projects they already have. The Broadway Skytrain expansion and the Surrey Skytrain out to Langley, those are in the planning process, so let’s accelerate that and get those dollars flowing.”
During the last financial crisis in 2008 there was an emphasis on finding “shovel-ready” projects, Gardner said, but “what we learned is shovel-ready projects weren’t ready and it took time to start them.”
Money has to flow quickly,” Gardner said.
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) public affairs vice-president Darrel Reid reinforced the need for true shovel-ready projects in order to move forward.
“In 2008 and 2009 ‘shovel-ready’ became a standing joke,” Reid said, but stressed the new initiative seems well considered.
“The federal government is reallocating existing funds with no new money and only applies to 10 per cent of the funding envelope. It doesn’t go a long way considering it’s for all the provinces and territories, however, we’d say it is a good initiative where the federal government has consulted broadly. It appears to maximize flexibility for the provinces.”
“It’s very generous and it’s aimed at getting projects underway quickly. Under the circumstances, it’s something we can support,” he added.
PCA also supports the federal government’s focus on health and projects that improve access, Reid said.
“Broadly speaking we think that’s a good idea that benefits everyone in society, including our workers when they aren’t working,” he said.
“We build most of that stuff, like roads and accesses, and you can expect our members will be bidding on the majority of that work. Our members are already quite busy, so we’ll add this to the pool.”
BC Building Trades executive director Andrew Mercier also praised the federal government’s commitment to getting projects started.
“They looked at where permit approvals were in place and projects are ready to go,” Mercier said. “BC Building Trades is here and ready to help train the province’s workers to get them working again.
“The construction industry will be at the forefront of economic recovery and stimulus and this is a step in the right direction. There are lots of opportunities for retrofitting and hazard abatement investment given there are a lot of empty commercial and government buildings right now,” he added.
Mercier also pointed to an emphasis on health care infrastructure as an “intelligent investment.”
“That won’t just stimulate the economy, but it will also help mitigate risk in the health care system by adding capacity. The provincial government has a significant capital investment in health care,” he said.
Vancouver Regional Construction Association president Fiona Famulak said the funding is good news but more can be done.
“This will help in the short-term, but the announcement comes with some limitations,” Famulak said.
“It’s a narrowly defined group of projects and may or may not be in line with provincial projects. Also the projects identified need to be completed by the end of 2021 which gives a 15 month window but that limits the size and type of project that can be delivered.
“It’s a good start but not the solution. It’s part of a much bigger solution.”