Construction industry leaders are ready to collaborate with the new provincial cabinet of British Columbia on issues like prompt payment and skilled workforce development.
“We look forward to working with the ministry to continue to evolve our programs and work on things that we can do to build the workforce we’re going to need going forward,” said Chris Atchison, president of the British Columbia Construction Association.
Atchison was keen to hit the ground running with MLA Andrew Mercier, who was appointed to a new cabinet position as minister of state for workforce development.
Mercier was previously the executive director of BC Building Trades.
“I think it’s a natural acknowledgement of where his strengths lie and I think he’ll be good in the role,” said Atchison.
He hopes the spirit of collaboration and stakeholder consultation will be a pillar of the new cabinet.
“We’re there to help steward taxpayer dollars that are being invested by the billions in public projects. We want to make sure that we’re looking out for the public good as much as those elected are.”
Atchison said Selina Robinson, who is now minister of post secondary education and future skills, is an “excellent choice for the portfolio.”
Matt MacInnis, president of the Electrical Contractors Association of BC, said he was disappointed the issue of prompt payment legislation was not noted in any of the cabinet mandate letters, particularly in Attorney General Niki Sharma’s.
“I think that’s an oversight from the government. Associations, whether it be ECA, MCA, the BC Construction Association have been very consistent in our message to government that prompt payment legislation is the single biggest thing that they can do to support the construction industry.”
He said prompt payment may not be on the top of the public’s mind but it has important connections to big portfolio items for the government such as housing affordability as it would “help manage construction costs.”
“There’s a lot of things which are entirely outside of a provincial government’s control, right? Global inflation is not the provincial government’s fault. But prompt legislation is one of those things that the government can do that doesn’t cost dollars out of the taxpayers’ treasury,” he said.
“Time and time again, we hear from contractors that they’re having to put a little bit more into their bids because they don’t know when those dollars will actually flow to them. Cash flow is critical when you have to pay your workers and you have to pay for supplies. Contractors don’t have that ability to tell their supplier, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, we’ll pay you when we get paid from up top in the supply chain.’”
He said the Electrical Contractors Association of BC will be “working with like minded associations for the construction sector to encourage government to make prompt payment a priority for the spring legislative session.”
MacInnis was also supportive of Mercier’s new position.
“Anytime you have members of cabinet who have worked in and understand the construction sector, I think that’s good for the construction industry in general.”
He said the Electrical Contractors Association of BC has highlighted growing the skilled trades workforce as an essential item for the coming year and hopes Mercier will be on board.
“Ensuring that there is a reliable and adequate supply of new apprentices both coming into the system and then moving through the system and ensuring that those people are able to get into class in the years that they need is a top priority,” he said.
Brynn Bourke, executive director of BC Building Trades, was also optimistic about working with Mercier.
“He understands the issues in construction and can bring that crucial experience and knowledge to the table,” Bourke wrote in a statement to the Journal of Commerce.
Bourke said the creation of the minister of state for infrastructure and transit was significant, a role given to Dan Coulter.
The position will help continued focus “on major infrastructure projects including the Highway 1 expansion in the Fraser Valley, the Fraser River Tunnel replacement project and the Surrey-Langley and UBC SkyTrain projects,” she said.
“We’re pleased to see the mix of experienced ministers and new faces in this cabinet.”
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