Twenty years ago, the millennium Y2K bug was a no show, Marc Garneau made his third trip into space and the New Jersey Devils won their second Stanley Cup.
The turn of the century also marked the beginning of a new national construction association: the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).
Back then, PCA was a feisty industry disruptor.
Now it has earned its stripes as a strong advocate for fairness and openness; an organization that has succeeded in shaping labour policies at every level of government.
For decades, Canada’s construction industry was characterized by the great divide, an unhealthy split between traditional craft unions and the non-union sector.
Competition in certain jurisdictions was stifled or non-existent, worker choice was limited and governments were forced to make stark binary choices.
That’s when a small group of contractors got together and said “enough.”
They decided to form a national association to advocate for labour law and procurement reforms, and to promote the advantages of progressive construction; a modern labour relations model that represented a major departure. Imagine labour stability, a collaborative bargaining relationship where employers and workers get along, and managed open sites where workers of all trades work in unison to get the job done.
And so, 20 years ago this month, PCA was founded to advocate for the “better way” of doing construction.
A vision for fair and open construction
Formed in Edmonton with six members back in 2000, PCA now represents more than 135 companies of all sizes, many of whom are recognized leaders in Canada’s construction industry. PCA members employ approximately 20,000 skilled construction workers, primarily represented by our labour partner CLAC union.
Our members have built and are building many of Canada’s major energy and infrastructure projects, from the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project and the recently completed Suncor Fort Hills, to roads and bridges, hospitals and water treatment facilities — all built using the progressive labour model.
From the outset, PCA’s vision has been for fair and open construction in Canada.
One of our first major successes was in 2010, when Bill 80 was passed in Saskatchewan, finally legislating the right of construction workers to join the labour union of their choice.
The new law did not destabilize the industry as the Building Trades warned. Instead, the changes afforded businesses and workers a fundamental right: choice. Bill 80 opened the door to construction competition, a first for Saskatchewan, that allowed PCA contractors to bid for work. This was a huge breakthrough for our members.
PCA efforts in Ontario
For the better part of the next decade, PCA was a leading and vocal advocate for fair and open construction tendering in Ontario.
Under a new provincial government, our quest for the “Holy Grail” was achieved last year with the passage of Bill 66, Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act. This was a major achievement for PCA that shut down construction monopolies and opened up a competitive construction market in the vast majority of Ontario municipalities.
Bill 66 isn’t PCA’s only milestone in Ontario. For many years we led the industry crusade to abolish the Ontario College of Trades — a flawed governance structure that hiked licensing fees, fixated on regulatory enforcement and became a polarizing industry distraction. The Doug Ford government made it official in 2018, that the time had come for OCOT to wind down as part of its Making Ontario Open for Business Act. Bill 47 also included a moratorium on trade classifications and a 1:1 journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio — two of PCA’s top priorities over the past decade.
Advocating for change in Alberta
PCA has also driven monumental change in Alberta. The recent passage of Bill 32 is a crowning achievement for our organization. We’ve long been advocates of all-employee bargaining units or the “wall-to-wall” model, which allows companies to bargain with multiple trades as one unit. This model is now the “law of the land” in Alberta; recognition of the value of PCA’s progressive labour model, particularly in the development of the province’s energy sector.
In B.C., PCA played a leading role in turning back the NDP government’s plans to tilt the labour scales on behalf of its Building Trades Union supporters through major revisions to its Labour Code. Amendments to Bill 30 allow the construction industry to move away from disruptive annual open periods to a more sensible cycle of every three years. Another major victory for PCA.
Fast forward to today. PCA has become the recognized champion of a fair, open and competitive construction industry. We’re very proud of our achievements so far in driving out construction monopolies and encouraging more provinces to embrace a modern labour relations model.
Our vision of construction projects that are open and fair hasn’t just extended to better government policies.
Major project owners in the private sector have dramatically embraced increased competition, greater productivity, and a labour supply provided by PCA member contractors operating under the progressive model. And there’s more to come.
PCA has played a leading role in ensuring best practices during COVID-19. We’re working to ensure infrastructure/recovery spending is fair and open to all workers and companies.
In Manitoba we’re pushing to get Bill 28 enacted into law, putting a halt to forced unionization so that companies bidding for major public infrastructure projects, like Manitoba Hydro, can choose their own workforce.
In B.C. we’re fighting the John Horgan government’s flawed Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), and in Ontario and across Canada, we’re working to ensure future CBAs live up to their namesake with real and measurable benefits for communities.
Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.
Paul de Jong is president of the PCA. Send comments and Industry Perspectives op-ed ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.