British Columbia’s volatile political climate is leaving construction industry leaders with many questions and few answers regarding major projects.
The B.C. Liberals presented their speech from the throne on June 23, laying out the policies of the new minority government. But the tenuous position of the party, with only 43 seats in the legislature to the New Democrats 41 and the Greens’ three, leaves the future of the Liberal government in question.
The speech addressed housing, a $1 billion push for 60,000 additional daycare spaces and public matching of federal contributions for public transit as well as removing tolls for the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges and accelerating the replacement of the Pattullo Bridge between New Westminster and Surrey.
“Uncertainty still remains,” said Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner. “It’s a precarious situation, where the B.C. Liberal government is likely to be defeated in a confidence motion.”
The uncertainty about the policies of the new NDP and Green government that will emerge from that non-conf idence motion, Gardner said, will be challenging for the business and construction sectors.
Site C, the large-scale hydro project in northeastern B.C., is a concern, he added, since NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Green leader Andrew Weaver have called for a review of the project.
“Site C has been reviewed by the federal and provincial governments, has been sustained in nine court cases, and billions have been committed to the project. It’s irresponsible at this point to cancel it,” Gardner said.
BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson also voiced his organization’s support for Site C.
“We’ve said there are projects we support; we support Site C and would like to see it continue. It’s one of a number of projects we will be supportive of,” he said.
There is further uncertainty, Gardner added, over the future of liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects, increased transit and the future of the Patullo Bridge.
The NDP previously stated they do not support the Kinder Morgan pipeline project or the George Massey Tunnel replacement.
Sigurdson echoed the need for increased work on transit infrastructure.
“That’s thousands of jobs across the Lower Mainland. Let’s get those underway,” he said.
“These are things that aren’t getting underway because of political selfishness.
“We’ll encourage the NDP-Green Alliance to see things our way, but there’s other projects that need to get shovels in the ground.”
The increased emphasis on social spending, Gardner said, was new in terms of B.C. Liberal policy.
“The context seems to be that the surplus is larger than anticipated,” he said.
“With a surplus you can either pay down debt, reduce taxes or spend it, and there was clearly a sense that the message from many parts of B.C. revolved around affordability.”
But implementation of any of these new policies is not high, Gardner said, given the likelihood of defeat for the B.C. Liberals in the near future.
Sigurdson also voiced concern that, were the B.C. Liberals were to retain power, their track record at administering programs is poor.
“But the likelihood is they won’t have the confidence of the House and we’ll have to see what happens with an NDP-Green supported administration,” Sigurdson stated.