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Associations, Government

Election changed little, say Western Canadian construction leaders

Russell Hixson
Election changed little, say Western Canadian construction leaders
GOVERNMENT OF CANADA — With Justin Trudeau holding on to power, construction leaders voiced that little has changed.

With Justin Trudeau winning another federal election victory with a minority government, construction and provincial leaders in Western Canada see little shakeup in the political landscape.

Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association, said the campaigns had almost no time to drill down into issues that impacted construction.

“It’s a little frustrating that an election was called and $600 million was spent and we are in the exact same place we were before the election.”

Gardner said people were more focused on getting through the disruptions caused by the pandemic and had little appetite to hear from politicians.

“We saw a similar thing during the B.C. provincial election,” said Gardner. “It was always dressed up as people needing to weigh in, but in reality most people are just concerned with getting on with their lives.”

Gardner said the campaigns seemed like a bidding war of who could promise to spend the most to solve the country’s challenges and he was disappointed at the lack of debate opportunities. 

“Canadians deserved more than one opportunity to hear from the leaders of federal parties than one televised English debate,” he said. “That short-changes Canadians. I think the debate commission needs to look at that and revamp how they set up debates. It was quite shocking.”

While Gardner noted there were references to affordability during the campaign, he felt the biggest issue wasn’t addressed. 

“Missing was the fact that we just don’t have enough supply coming into the market,” he said. “And we won’t be able to tax our way to affordable housing.”

He added it can take longer to permit a project than to build it and Canada ranks 64th in the world for project approval and permitting wait times. 

Gardner was also frustrated that one of the top issues facing all industries wasn’t addressed: labour shortages. 

“I don’t think I even saw anyone mention it,” said Gardner.

He would have liked to see more debates, with each focusing on a theme.

“It was a disappointment,” said Gardner. “The positive news is that the election is over and now we can focus on rebuilding our economy and moving forward on getting through the first global pandemic of our lifetime.”

Bill Black, president of the Calgary Construction Association, says things are status quo.

“It doesn’t change where we are at, but we know what we are working with going forward,” he said. “At least we have a known entity for a while and we know it is unlikely there will be a significant change in direction for our industry because COVID and economic recovery is going to dominate the agenda.”

He added it could be an opportunity for the industry to shift focus to engaging more with local governments. 

As for timing, Black said it was bad. Edmonton and Calgary had municipal elections happening and COVID cases were surging.

“There are a lot of distractions and justifiably so,” said Black. “Nevertheless, our industry needs to focus on getting through this cloud and start thinking longer-term. These things will recede and we will still be standing.”

He stated the upside is COVID has helped bring the industry together like never before, making it far stronger. 

“We have learned a lot about ourselves,” he said. “There has been a significant increase in the amount of collaboration around the common issues of COVID. I think that gives us a potential strength we may not have had before.”

Premiers of the western provinces also chimed on in the results.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney affirmed that getting through the fourth wave of the pandemic was top of mind.

“We will get down to work with the Government of Canada and all parties in this minority Parliament on issues that matter to Albertans, which first and foremost means getting through this fourth wave of COVID-19,” he said. “One key lesson of the COVID era is that we must expand the capacity of Canada’s health care system.”

Kenney added the province also intends to continue its fight to reform the federal Equalization and Fiscal Stabilization Programs.

“Economic recovery must include all regions and all sectors of Canada’s economy,” said Kenney. “This is especially important for our energy sector, the country’s largest industrial sector.”

In B.C., Premier John Horgan stated the province would continue to focus on climate change, affordable child care, infrastructure and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“As chair of the Council of the Federation, I look forward to working in collaboration with the other premiers and the prime minister to address the challenges the pandemic has placed on our people, our economy and our health-care system,” said Horgan.

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