National construction associations are applauding the federal government’s plan to introduce a COVID-19 funding stream from an already existing infrastructure program, but the details need to be crystal clear about what projects qualify and how the funding will be rolled out.
According to a Canadian Press article, Ottawa will set aside up to 10 per cent of the $33.5-billion Investing in Canada program, which is delivered through agreements with provinces and territories.
A formal announcement is expected to be made in the next few weeks and it is not clear what projects will be eligible for the funding.
“If confirmed, this is definitely a step in the right direction,” CCA president Mary Van Buren told the Daily Commercial News in an email. “CCA has been asking all levels of government for flexibility in the Invest in Canada infrastructure program and this is a good start. But details are important around how funding is rolled out and how funding commitments will be shared between the federal and provincial and municipal governments.”
A press secretary from the office of Catherine McKenna, minister of infrastructure and communities, stated changes include faster project approvals, with hundreds of projects approved; support for more resilient social infrastructure, like hospitals and schools; and an increased federal share for “shovel-worthy” projects, from building retrofits to new pathways and bike lanes that encourage physical distancing.
We’ve been canvassing our contractors and our associations so we can get shovel-ready jobs going,
— Robert Kucheran
Canada’s Building Trades Unions
Ottawa will cover 80 per cent of the cost of projects and the projects must be completed before the end of the 2021 construction season, the article indicates.
Over the past few months, the ministry has been speaking to the provinces and associations about their needs. The associations report they are waiting for more details and agree it sounds as though it is not part of a broader stimulus package, but rather just a way to get money flowing that was already earmarked for construction.
“We’ve been working with the minister’s office on getting lists of shovel-ready projects. We’ve been canvassing our contractors and our associations so we can get shovel-ready jobs going,” said Robert Kucheran, chair of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU). “When we come out of this we are going to need some work and we’re going to need to stimulate the economy, so the news by the federal government is welcome. It’s just a matter of how these programs and how these infrastructure projects are rolled out.”
Ken Lancastle, chief operating officer for the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada, said the association is supportive of anything that keeps cash flow within the construction industry supply chain.
“To see that the federal government is going to be stepping up and assisting municipalities who are relatively cash strapped as it is right now is going to be a benefit to the industry as a whole,” he said.
“Of interest for us as an industry and sector is there are going to be some measures to ensure that projects are assisting with retrofitting of health care facilities and schools to enhance preparedness for the future. Our suppliers and our members are a key component of that, especially when it comes to the building systems and the built environment, HVAC systems and plumbing systems.
“Any efforts that are being made to ensure that the built environment is one that can protect the health and safety of Canadians is something that our association is very supportive of.”
Kucheran said the CBTU supports community benefits agreements and would encourage the federal government to incorporate those on projects.
“This is a great thing because they are announcing funding to get the economy going but also when it is tied to a community benefits agreement you can really encourage underrepresented groups to not only get a job but start a career,” he said. “We’re excited about that and we think that if the government is going to spend money anywhere across the country local people should be able to benefit from those projects.”
The stakeholders also agreed there are many unanswered questions and said they are hoping for other stimulus programs to support the industry moving forward.
“The question before us now is whether the federal government will step up and support the industry to deliver on current and new projects,” said Van Buren. “The finance minister needs to approve our Emergency COVID-19 Reimbursement Program to share in the costs borne by the industry on federal projects, costs to protect workers, their families and the community. Liquidity moving forward is also an issue and working capital and financial support is needed to restore the confidence the industry needs to remobilize and be able to contribute to economic recovery.”
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