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BC Construction Monitor: The BC Economy – It Starts With What Gets Built

Every morning, nearly 250,000 British Columbians get up and head to work in the construction industry, and their work accounts for nearly a tenth of the entire B.C. economy. This is an ICBA President under-recognized reality in British Columbia, and one that we point out to stakeholders at every opportunity.

Too often, construction somehow fades into the backdrop, with other sectors – from energy and natural resources, to high tech and tourism – enjoying a higher profile and greater cachet.

In fact, building structures and infrastructure is the foundational activity in any economy. And in B.C., with an ongoing influx of new residents and various major industrial and infrastructure projects needing to be built, construction plays an even larger role.

Construction is a key indicator of overall economic health, since it is one of the first activities to shrink when uncertainty takes hold. It is a massive generator of investment and jobs in its own right – so much so that contractors are having growing difficulty finding enough skilled workers. Construction in turn drives large spin-off benefits in every community across the province.

We take stock in this Monitor of construction’s true economic impact, strength and importance in B.C. The numbers underscore the reality that when ICBA advocates for a strong construction sector, we’ve got the best interests of British Columbia and our long-term prosperity very much at heart.

GDP and employment figures are 2018 forecasts (Central 1 Credit Union), weekly wage rates are as of September 2018 (BC Stats).
GDP and employment figures are 2018 forecasts (Central 1 Credit Union), weekly wage rates are as of September 2018 (BC Stats).

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NEWS RELEASE: BC Health Ministry Underfunding Parkinson’s Treatment

Family and friends of a Fort Langley man awaiting important surgery are calling on the B.C. Government to put more resources into Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery for patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

More than 25 years ago, Tom Armour founded Armor Installations, one of B.C.’s top steel erection companies. Under his leadership, hundreds of young, ambitious ironworkers were trained and employed – men and women who have helped build B.C. infrastructure and projects.

Armour was diagnosed several years ago with Parkinson’s Disease and sold his company in order to focus on the fight of his life. Thanks to the care of the UBC Hospital, Armour was approved for Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) surgery, a special procedure that greatly improves the quality of life for Parkinson’s patients.

Unfortunately, Armour has been waiting ever since – for more than two years, and there is still no defined date for his surgery. Read more

New Union-Only Reality for Public Construction Even Worse Than Feared

Chris Gardner, President, ICBA
Chris Gardner, President, ICBA

John Horgan is shamelessly using tens of billions in public construction and infrastructure spending to settle political debts to his allies in the old-school building trades unions, giving these few unions a monopoly on taxpayer-funded work.

A wide cross section of the province’s business and labour community has called on him to back down, and ICBA is leading a large coalition standing up for fairness.

Horgan’s sweetheart ‘deal’ will deliver a cash infusion to the unions, create massive job-site inefficiencies, and deliver far less value for tax dollars than fair procurement practices would.

His so-called ‘Community Benefits Agreement’ will narrow the range of bidders on public projects and, even more troublingly, force member-ship in the highly partisan building trades unions.

The new reality for public construction is this: Successful bidders will have to borrow their workforces from a new government agency that will act as the centrally planned employer. This discriminates against the 85 per cent of B.C. construction workers not represented by the building trades.

Complex and productivity-killing rules about which union has “jurisdiction” over each task – largely abandoned elsewhere in the construction industry – will be in full force. And individual workers will be forced to join an NDP-approved union, with no regard to individual choice and rights.

Horgan’s gift-to-the-building- trades is copied out of the flawed Glen Clark playbook from the 1990s – which drove up labour costs on the Island Highway project by close to 40 per cent.

It’s nearly a quarter-of-a-century later, and the building trades rep-resent even less of the construction industry today than they did then. It simply defies belief that the NDP has nevertheless put us back on that same ruinous road, where worker rights and taxpayer value get thoroughly trampled.

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NEWS RELEASE: ICBA Considering Options After Court Decision

VANCOUVER – The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) is disappointed that the BC Supreme Court was unwilling to press the pause button on holding the referendum on proportional representation. Earlier today, the Court rejected the application by ICBA for an injunction to postpone the referendum before a ruling is issued on its legal challenge. The Courts rarely, if ever, grant such an injunction, and Justice Gropper made that point clearly in her decision today. We understood this likelihood but given the critical importance of this matter and the very short time frame which the NDP government set for the referendum period we decided to pursue this course of action.

Our challenge was delayed because the NDP government said it was not ready to proceed quickly to defend its rules, its regulations and its process. With all the resources and expertise at the disposal of the Ministry of Justice, it is incredibly hard to understand how the NDP government was not ready to defend the referendum it created on a faster timeline.

“British Columbians could be forgiven for thinking that the Government is playing politics on an issue that goes to the core of our democracy and that it is rigging the process to engineer the outcome that it desires,” stated Chris Gardner, President of the ICBA.

The ICBA continues to wait for the NDP government’s formal response to our legal challenge. When the government files its response, the hearing on ICBA’s legal challenge can proceed. Unfortunately, the delay means British Columbians will not have the benefit of a decision until shortly before the closing of the voting period for the referendum.

“British Columbians deserve better than this,” said Gardner. “Changing the way we elect our government deserves more than passing consideration – it requires a fair and open process with a clear question and a reasonable timeline that allows for a robust debate.”  Read more

NEWS RELEASE: ICBA Leads Worker Challenge to NDP Union-Only Hiring Model

The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) has filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court asking that the NDP government’s new building trades union-only hiring model for taxpayer-funded construction projects be struck down.

“John Horgan is attempting to direct more than $25 billion in taxpayer-funded construction to his donors and supporters in the building trades unions,” said Chris Gardner, ICBA President. “It’s simply not fair to discriminate against the 85 per cent of construction workers who are not part of the old-fashioned hiring hall model where unions control who can work where and when. Construction workers in B.C. deserve better from this government – they deserve choice, fairness and a level playing field.”

Under Horgan’s plan, anyone working on a provincial government construction project will be forced to join one of the Government’s NDP-approved building trades unions, the same unions that have donated millions of dollars to the NDP over the past few elections. Gone will be fair, open and transparent procurement on public infrastructure projects.

“The choice of which union to join, if any, should be made by the workers through a secret ballot, and should not be imposed by government,” stated Gardner. “No matter how a construction company organizes its workforce, in this province every construction company should have the right to bid and win work funded by taxpayers.”

The claim from government that building trades union-only hiring will somehow be the answer to increasing training and job opportunities for young people and indigenous communities couldn’t be further from the truth.

“You don’t train more people in construction by cutting backroom deals with the building trades unions and giving them a monopoly on government projects,” said Gardner. “You train more people by being inclusive, by investing in more training spaces, and by working with the private sector who train workers on construction projects in every community across the province every day.”

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena says the union-only model will drive up the cost of the Pattullo project by $100 million. But according to an analysis done by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, with the province planning to spend $25.6 billion on infrastructure over the next three years, the building trades union-only hiring model, could cost taxpayers as much as $4.8 billion more in construction costs – nearly $4,000 for every family in the province. “Competition is the best way to keep costs down and reassures the public that government is being fair and transparent, and not just rewarding friends and insiders,” said Gardner.

Joining the petition are organizations that, along with ICBA, represent the 85 per cent of construction workers in B.C. who are not affiliated with the building trades unions: the British Columbia Construction Association; the Vancouver Regional Construction Association; and the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada.

In addition, two progressive unions representing thousands of construction workers in B.C. who are not affiliated with the building trades unions – the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), and Canada West Construction Union (CWCU) – are supporting the legal challenge.

Also participating are the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Five major contractors have also joined the petition: Eagle West Crane & Rigging; Jacob Bros. Construction; LMS Reinforcing Steel Group; Morgan Construction and Environmental; and, Tybo Contracting. Each is representative of the thousands of construction companies across B.C. whose workers are not affiliated with the building trades unions and which will therefore be excluded from working on projects like the $1.4 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement project, unless their workers join one of the NDP government’s approved unions.

Finally, six construction professionals are participating: Forrest Berry; Brendon Froude; David Fuoco; Thomas MacDonald; Dawn Rebelo; and, Richard Williams. Each faces the stark choice of having to join one of the building trades unions to work on government projects, and, by doing so, discontinue receiving benefits and contributions under their current employer plans and be denied bonus and advancement opportunities that building trades unions typically don’t provide.

“It’s just not right that the NDP Government is creating such a high level of angst and uncertainty for the families of the men and women working in construction in B.C.,” said Gardner.

A 336-page Project Labour Agreement (PLA), released by the provincial government a few weeks ago, was negotiated behind closed doors between the building trades unions and the NDP Government. It includes 32 cents per person-hour in payments to unions for various funds, including 25 cents per person-hour payment for “union administration.”

The agreement also makes it clear building trades unions will decide who works on each part of the project – meaning companies will not have access to their usual employees, thus jeopardizing the safety, efficiency and productivity that comes with working with trusted colleagues who know each other and their company’s systems.

“It really is crazy to imagine that a company will bid a project but will not know which, if any, of its employees will be working on the project – that’s a recipe for bureaucratic inefficiency, delays, increased costs and confusion,” stated Gardner.

The ICBA petition asserts that the building trades union-only hiring model is legally flawed and violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

  • Forced unionization is inconsistent with sections 2(b) and 2(d) of the Charter and unlawfully restricts freedom of association;
  • It discriminates against the approximately 85 per cent of the men and women in construction in B.C. who are not members of a building trades union; and,
  • It is unfair and violates the principles of openness and transparency that British Columbians rightly expect when the government seeks contractors for taxpayer-funded work.

“One year ago, John Horgan promised a new way of doing business in B.C. Sadly, John Horgan has put the interests of his union donors and supporters ahead of what’s best for British Columbians. His policy agenda appears to be more about unfair backroom deals, special favors and discrimination aimed at helping NDP supporters and insiders,” stated Gardner.

For the full text of ICBA’s petition, click here.

TRAINING THURSDAY: Back to School, Back to Training!

Summer is coming to a close, back to school sales are in full swing, and soon it will be September. Time to start planning your training for the remainder of the year? We think so!

ICBA offers hundreds of courses per year through BC, from safety courses such as Occupational First Aid Level 1 to managerial training sessions such as Supervisory and Management Skills or Communication Skills. Our training department brings together high-quality information with skilled and knowledgeable instructors to offer courses that are relevant, up to date and interesting.

Among the new workshops this fall are a variety of breakfast sessions in Burnaby, including Cannabis in the Workplace on September 25, and an Overview of CCDC Contract Documents on October 23.

We are also bringing back some of our popular courses, including How To Be A Better Foreman in Burnaby on November 30, and Trenching and Excavation Safety Workshop on September 24 in Victoria and October 24 in Prince George, among many others!

You can check out our full upcoming course calendar at www.icba.ca/courses. Our courses are open to members and non-members, though members receive a discount. More information about ICBA membership can be found at www.icba.ca/become-a-member.

Union-Only Construction Unfair, Bad Value and a Proven Failure

As it prepares to spend billions on public infrastructure, we are deeply troubled by the NDP government’s determination to force construction workers to join unions, to reward its political allies with public funds, and to deliver less value and higher costs to taxpayers.

All this will result from what the NDP is re-branding as ‘Community Benefit Agreements’, historically known as Project Labour Agreements.

PLAs bind contractors who win public bids to union agreements they never negotiated. They require union memberships for non-union workers, antiquated union-hall hiring, and they deliver windfalls to the favoured unions involved.

PLAs inevitably and dramatically drive up complexity and costs, and override the free choice of 85% of B.C. construction workers who abandoned the traditional building trade unions long ago. And for what? Labour peace that we already have? Employment equity and training opportunities that we know can be more effectively delivered in other ways?

While John Horgan calls it a success story, people who have actually worked under PLAs will tell you they are a miser-able failure and a massive infringement of workers’ rights. Union exclusivity in the B.C. construction industry went extinct decades ago. Today, we respect the choices workers make about workplace representation, and we expect fairness in public procurement and good value for taxpayer money.

Denying opportunity and picking favourites is no way to build a province. The fundamentally unfair and inefficient PLA approach Horgan’s been promoting needs to remain firmly in the past.

The Problem with the NDP’s Project Labour Agreements

 

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

The Island Highway Project under the last NDP government is a prime example of a Project Labour Agreement in action. Today’s NDP is counting on short memories when it claims the project was a success. Already an out-of-date model in the 1990s, there is no economic or social justification for PLAs in B.C. today. Read more

Canadian Steel Tariffs Hurt Construction… and all Canadians

By Chris Gardner, President, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association.
This piece first appeared in the Sunday Province on July 15, 2018, and is available for all media outlets to publish, free-of-charge.

 

Last Halloween, Justin Trudeau launched a thousand photo ops by wearing a Superman costume into the House of Commons. Now it’s time for the Prime Minister to show Canadians what kind of Man of Steel he wants to be.

Canada is in the early stages of a potential all-out trade war with the United States, brought about by the general anti-free trade leaning of the Trump administration and specifically by the new tariffs imposed by Washington on American imports of Canadian steel and aluminum.

In response, Canada levied $16.2 billion in tariffs on U.S. goods entering Canada. The tariffs were strategically chosen to apply to items produced in targeted U.S. congressional districts so that American communities that depend on Canadian markets feel pain. By doing so, Canadian officials hope to apply enough pressure on congressional representatives that the Trump administration reconsiders their ill-advised tariff measures. So far so good.

However, included with Canada’s retaliatory measures is a 25% duty on imported steel products, which will impact B.C., whose sole source of Canadian steel is a relatively small mill in Edmonton that supplies just one-tenth of what B.C. needs. Local demand for steel cannot be met by steel mills in central Canada – the reality we face in B.C. is that nearly all our steel comes from the U.S., Turkey and Asia.

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect more than 25 years ago, the continent’s economy has evolved into a complex, intertwined series of supply chains that help reduce costs by increasing efficiencies and by building mutual competitive advantages. The benefits have been substantial, mutual, and in the best interests of both countries. Read more

NEWS RELEASE: ICBA Applauds LNG Canada’s Step Forward; Calls on NDP to Reverse Stance on Trans Mountain

BURNABY – Today’s news that LNG Canada and the Government of British Columbia have inked a fiscal framework agreement is a positive step forward for the province’s Liquefied Natural Gas industry, says the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA).

“We are thrilled with this big leap forward for LNG,” said Chris Gardner, ICBA President. “LNG Canada’s potential investment in the B.C. would be the largest private sector investment in the history of our province. At more than $40 billion in private capital, it would be one of the largest projects every undertaken in Canada, it would create thousands of construction jobs, and it would generate opportunities and positive economic spinoffs for communities across B.C.”

Gardner pointed out that with the NDP and BC Liberals both on board, a provincial LNG industry has broad political support.  “By unlocking our world class energy asset, B.C.’s LNG industry will play an important role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by helping many Asian countries transition off coal,” said Gardner.

While ICBA is pleased that LNG Canada continues to move forward toward a final investment decision, more can be done by government to encourage the energy and construction industries.

“The NDP have been seen as reluctant – and sometimes hostile – about opportunities to responsibly harness the potential of our natural resources,” said Gardner who pointed out that businesses considering making investments or expanding in B.C. face excessive regulatory hurdles, an unpredictable political environment, and a growing tax burden that is making B.C. a high cost jurisdiction.

“These investments are critical to B.C.’s long-term prosperity,” said Gardner. “We have lost our focus on attracting investment, creating jobs and developing talent, and we are losing opportunities to grow our economy to other countries.”

ICBA has been encouraging the NDP to ‘Get to yes’ and ‘Stick to yes’ on responsible resource development and major infrastructure projects. “Stalled projects, like the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, represent billions of dollars of investment in new technology, training and community development that needs to move forward,” said Gardner.

NEWS RELEASE – NDP Budget Puts Economy on Autopilot, Hikes Taxes: ICBA

VICTORIA – The NDP Government’s first B.C. Budget in 17 years is balanced, but it’s clear far more attention was given to spending taxpayer dollars than to growing the economy, says the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA).

“This budget puts the economy on autopilot – it offers nothing for how to grow prosperity, how to get to yes on major projects, or how to attract investment to B.C. In fact, its tax hikes hinder that effort,” said Jordan Bateman, ICBA Communications Director. “With a razor-thin surplus dependent on a lot of things going right, B.C. taxpayers should be alarmed that the NDP Government has stopped paying attention to growing the economy.”

The Massey Tunnel replacement project has been completely deleted from the Budget, and while the new Pattullo Bridge is funded, there are no line items for Surrey light rail or the Broadway subway.

“The only workforce and industry support mentioned by the Finance Minister were $18 million for arts grants and $29 million for agriculture. There’s another $144 million from the federal government for employment programs, but you can’t help but think Ottawa might be hesitant to cut that cheque right now,” said Bateman. “This won’t do much to grow the economy.”

While there is much to like in the government’s 30-point housing plan – including cracking down on tax cheats – there are some notable omissions. No mention is made of pushing cities to cut red tape on new housing, which is a significant hindrance to supply.

ICBA members should also brace themselves for a new employer health care payroll tax, to replace the Medical Services Premium. Businesses with payrolls over $500,000 will have to pay a new health tax for their employees. The tax’s initial rate is set at 1.95 per cent of payroll.

“The NDP are balancing this budget by hiking taxes on B.C.’s job creators,” said Bateman. “Lost MSP revenue will be $1.74 billion over three years, but the new payroll tax will bring in $3.2 billion during that time. That kind of double dipping is troubling and disingenuous – collecting both the old and new tax at once.”

With last year’s personal income tax hike, the carbon tax increasing by $5 a ton every year, the minimum wage hike, more regulation, a new 2 cent per litre Capital Region gas tax, and the MSP-Employer Health Tax double dip, small businesses – as 90 per cent of ICBA members are – will be stretched thin. In total, the NDP Government is raising taxes by more than $5.5 billion over three years.

The provincial debt will grow by a billion dollars each quarter over the next two years, to $77 billion.