The province’s approach to large construction projects in B.C.’s north has some local unions feeling forgotten.
Work recently began on the $622 million Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace, the largest direct government construction investment in the north ever. Northern Health has signed an agreement with PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. to design and construct the project. Absent is one of the NDP’s biggest policies, a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).
“This would have been the perfect place for it,” said Mike Jensen, president of Local 1735 of the Construction Maintenance and Allied Workers Canada. “Every government funded project should be using that model.”
Currently, the government has committed to using the CBA to build the Broadway Subway, Pattullo Bridge replacement, Cowichan District Hospital Replacement, and the Highway 1 – Kamloops to Alberta four-laning project.
“It’s hard to explain why the government would come out with this model and apply it on the Cowichan hospital but not Terrace’s,” said Jensen, noting B.C. has also chosen not to use the model for the Stuart Lake Hospital replacement project near Fort St. James either.
Jensen explained the CBA would have been a win-win. He said local workers would have been prioritized, carpenters would have made $10 more per hour and the province would have saved millions not having to fly in crews or build camp accommodations. Jensen has asked the province why it didn’t use a CBA.
“There have been a lot of non-answers or answers that don’t make sense,” he said, noting the project’s history has been rocky.
The project started at $447.5 million but has now ballooned to $622 million.
The new Mills Memorial Hospital will serve as the northwest region’s level-three trauma and inpatient surgery centre. Currently, the hospital is a level-four trauma centre, meaning many patients are stabilized on site but then must be transported elsewhere.
The new hospital will be built at the north end of the current hospital grounds and officials expect it to be ready for patients in 2025. Demolition of the existing facility will follow to make way for more parking.
“The CBA helps people work closer to home,” said Jensen. “It is a long trip to any major industrial centres in the north. Even folks that live in Terrace and work in Kitimat would prefer to work here. I don’t think the government put any effort into looking into how it could fill jobs with locals.”
Jensen added that the union expected the job to be built with the CBA policy and was prepared to supply all the carpenters.
“We have members in damn near every town in the province. Had it gone CBA that would have been great. Lots of people would work closer to home and the government would have saved a pile of money.”
According to the Finance Ministry, timing was the problem.
“The Community Benefits Agreement does not apply to Mills Memorial Hospital due to the timing of the approval of the project,” said officials in a statement. “Business planning was already well underway for the Mills Memorial Hospital project when the CBA policy came into effect in July 2018.”
However, the province explained aspects of the Community Benefits Framework will be included, such as opportunities for local people to have jobs, or apprenticeships, as well as skills training opportunities. There will also be job opportunities for Indigenous people and other under-represented groups.
B.C. officials stated the contractor is expecting to hire local workers wherever possible and there is a financial incentive for the contractor to use local labour.
The province stated when considering the application of the CBA, project timing, location, size, scope, labour requirements and contractor capacity are all factors taken into consideration and a decision is made by cabinet on a case-by-case basis.
Officials added it also using other models to achieve community benefits on major projects like language through procurement and contract terms that aim to support apprenticeship and skills training opportunities for underrepresented groups.
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