The Alberta government’s move to use increased spending on infrastructure to help spur economic activity after suffering multiple economic blows is being largely met with approval from many in the construction industry.
The Alberta Construction Association (ACA) issued a press release stating that it was pleased with the province’s additional investment which was announced in the budget.
“Capital spending will reach $20.7 billion over three years, an increase of $1.6 billion from the 2020 three-year spending plan,” the statement read. “This type of investment protects families from more economic uncertainty.”
The ACA also applauded the government’s continued investment in training programs and educational opportunities.
“Whether new schools for increased student enrolments, transit projects to reduce congestion and get goods to market, and hospitals to meet health care, the provincial government must continue to invest in infrastructure regardless of economic circumstances,” said the group. “The level of investment needs to keep pace with population growth and inflation”
Darrel Reid, vice-president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA), said he was not surprised by the budget.
“It is no secret that the government is in a very tough spot right now fiscally and there’s a lot of things working against the Alberta economy – particularly the cancellation of Keystone XL and existing challenges on the energy side,” said Reid. “Premier Jason Kenney has been explicit from the beginning that he sees the construction industry as a major engine to get Alberta working again.”
Reid added the PCA is now looking for more support for the energy industry from the federal government and others. He also is eager to see the announced infrastructure spending flowing as soon as possible.
“The real trick now is getting that infrastructure money out, moving projects ahead and getting shovels in the ground so our workers can actually be working,” said Reid.
Pay cuts will not fix the economic problems in Alberta and instead will hurt communities,
— Stephen Hunt
Tyler Bedford, communications director for the Building Trades of Alberta (BTA), also praised the budget.
“The pandemic, coupled with a sluggish economy, has made the past 12 months difficult for BTA members.” said Bedford. “Up to half of our membership in some locals is currently unemployed, so we wanted to see a budget that supports the economy and helps get folks back to work.”
Bedford noted the support for infrastructure and skills development will positively impact BTA members and is eager to see this trend continue in future budgets.
He said the group would also like to see the province move towards social procurement to increase benefits to working people.
“Investment in training and infrastructure is vital to the health and well-being of our communities,” said Bedford. “It will play a big role in post COVID-19 recovery. Support in both areas could help jump-start our economy, but it needs to be a long-term commitment combined with a tendering process that sees the benefits of this spending flow to working Albertans.”
Bedford explained social procurement benefits developers, small business, local communities, workers and the government itself. It sees local workers and underrepresented groups in construction, like women and new Canadians, hired first.
However, some groups, like the United Steelworkers (USW), were less than satisfied with the budget. The steelworkers group stated the budget was a failure for workers.
“What we saw was a budget focused on pay cuts, especially in the health care and the public sector, threatening the lives and livelihoods of many Albertans,” said Stephen Hunt, USW director for Western Canada, in a press release.
Hunt noted the budget reduces spending on public sector wages, salaries and employee benefits by roughly one billion dollars.
“Pay cuts will not fix the economic problems in Alberta and instead will hurt communities. It’s quite simple, if Albertans have less money coming in, they will have less money going out to spend in shopping centres, restaurants, gyms, on personal services and for tourism. These reckless short-sighted cuts will hurt everyone,” said Hunt.
The group vowed to watch Kenney’s promises of capital spending and urged him to adopt “buy Canadian” policies for all infrastructure tendering.
“We can’t afford to have more steel mills closing, and our steel, forestry products and natural resources not being used in Alberta infrastructure projects,” said Hunt. “Last year, Calgary’s Tenaris Prudential steel plant closed after having no orders on their books. Whether it’s rebar, pipe or other products, we need to ensure that Canadian workers are kept working instead of importing these products from overseas.”
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