The president of the Fort McMurray Construction Association says Danielle Smith’s victory was the best-case scenario for the construction and energy industries in Alberta, particularly in light of Rachel Notley’s plan to raise corporate income tax and the possible implementation of community benefit agreements.
“Watching Danielle Smith’s speech and the way she challenged Ottawa was quite encouraging. I think there’s been a lot of rhetoric around the industry in Alberta, how the federal government wants to do this transition nonsense,” said Keith Plowman.
“It’s good to have a leader that can stand up and fight for industries and companies in Alberta.”
Smith and the United Conservative Party (UCP) recently won a close victory in the Alberta general election, with the UCP winning 52.59 per cent of the vote next to Notley and the Alberta New Democratic Party’s 44.02 per cent.
Construction industry stakeholders are optimistic about Smith’s victory and say four more years of a UCP government means one thing above all: consistency.
“Before the election, the Alberta Construction Association was making some good progress with the government as far as policies, workforce and programming go. We want to continue to work with them,” said Trevor Doucette, chair of the Alberta Construction Association Board.
“The budget was recently released and if they can now just fulfil those commitments, meet the budget that they put out and continue on with the release of critical infrastructure projects, that’s definitely going to help the construction industry.”
Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, said the UCP win was a positive thing for the construction industry.
“We are pleased with the outcome, not necessarily politically but because of the continuity and predictability this establishes for the industry,” de Jong said.
“Some people have criticized Smith for being unpredictable, but our take on how the UCP have managed themselves in this space for the past several years and for the next four years is one of a tremendous amount of awareness of ensuring that investors, whether banks or corporate institutions, see a pathway to project approvals and completion.”
The UCP has prioritized bringing new workers into the construction industry and de Jong said he hopes to see those efforts continued.
Bill Black, president of the Calgary Construction Association, also lauded the consistency a continuing UCP government brings and singled out Minister of Infrastructure Nathan Neudorf.
“Neudorf was able to retain his seat as minister. At the end of the day that’s a very important individual because he actually has a construction industry background,” Black said.
“I hear this a lot from my colleagues, but across Canada whether in the municipal, provincial or federal levels, there seems to be less understanding of the construction industry and how it works as a business. This creates some real challenges.”
Politicians with no construction experience are liable to impose policy on the industry that simply does not work such as unrealistic risk profiles, said Black.
“Having individuals that understand the industry can realize that when we’re raising a red flag about something it’s not because we’re trying to be difficult.”
Plowman says the oil industry in Alberta needs to be embraced rather than set aside for green technology and advocated for innovating how oil works rather than killing it.
“If and when there’s technology where we don’t need oil and gas anymore than that’s great. But until then, we should be developing and doing things the best we can and not just killing an industry for the sake of getting some brownie points.”
He added Notley’s support of tax increases and prioritizing unions in Alberta may have cost her the election.
De Jong said Smith could support the oil industry while continuing to invest in new green technologies that can create new commercial opportunities in the province.
Doucette said regardless of how Smith handles the federal approach to a green energy transition, the construction industry is bigger than provincial or even national politics.
“Whether or not a sovereignty act remains at the forefront of premier Smith’s priorities is too soon to tell. We’re seeing in the industry in general a big push for reduction in carbon emissions, cleaner construction, more net-zero buildings, more green infrastructure,” he said.
“I think, irrespective of any province’s position, there is a shift globally and nationally for the need to build greener and cleaner. I think the industry is going to adapt to meet the challenges.”
De Jong said he plans on approaching the provincial government about enshrining the right to fair and open project procurement in legislation.
“It’s not a criticism by any stretch. It’s probably more of a shared mind,” de Jong said.
Black said the main things he hopes to see from the new government is commitment to having fulsome consultation with the industry.
“I would really like to see a meaningful sit down between industry and the province to reflect on some of the things that have happened over the last few years and to learn from the challenges and successes,” Black said.
“You can’t deliver health care if you can’t build hospitals. You can’t deliver education if you can’t build schools and you can’t grow communities if you can’t build infrastructure, roads and utilities,” Black said.