Hundreds of billions worth of construction projects are on the drawing board in B.C. As a result, most construction contractors geared up for even more work this year, despite an already intense pace. This will keep the industry’s GDP and employment contributions growing at the same pace as the provincial economy.
Union-only public contracting for major hydroelectric projects in B.C. dates back to the Social Credit era. But the world and the B.C. construction sector have moved on in the half-century since then. Virtually all construction (except single-family homes) was done union in the 1970s, but today only a small and shrinking fraction is. Unions long since ceased to be the main trainers of construction workers, and labour peace and stability has been in place for decades.
Workers’ Rights Violated and Unions Unjustly Enriched
Non-union workers on the 1990s Island Highway Project had to join unions against their wishes, but often didn’t work union long enough to qualify for the pension contributions theoretically made on their behalf.
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.
Kerry and Jordan discuss the new Construction Contracts – Choosing the Right Contract and Key Provisions (Webinar), our virtual town hall with Premier Jason Kenney, and the neverending rain in southwest BC.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will kick off this exciting conversation with an overview of his government’s plans for renewing and revitalizing the Alberta economy in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Premier Kenney will also provide his perspective on the role the energy sector can play in Canada’s economic recovery.
Following the Premier’s remarks, there will be a panel discussion with some of the leading voices in Canada’s energy industry:
• Trevor Haynes, the Chairman and CEO of the Black Diamond Group, a leading provider of modular space and workforce accommodation solutions in Canada, the United States and Australia;
• Tim McMillan, the President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the strongest voice for growing Canada’s prosperity by enabling responsible growth of Canada’s upstream oil and natural gas industry; and,
• Sean Surerus, President of Surerus Pipeline, one of Canada’s largest independent pipeline contractors and who through Surerus Murphy, is building one section of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project and two sections of the Coastal GasLink LNG Pipeline.
The discussion will revolve around 4 general themes:
1. Canada’s Covid-19 response, both Government and the energy sector;
2. The challenges facing Canada’s energy sector pre-Covid-19;
3. The opportunities for the energy sector to play a key role in rebuilding and renewing our economy; and,
4. What it will take to restore confidence in Canada’s energy sector, attract investment and get people working again.
Maclean and Jordan discuss the first two days of the Legislature’s pandemic sitting, ponder why John Horgan won’t follow Justin Trudeau’s lead and extend EI, the BC legislature report, election timing, Jordan admires a speech, and much more.
Vancouver, B.C. – Business organizations representing almost all of British Columbia’s 500,000 businesses are frustrated by Labour Minister Harry Bains’ refusal to appreciate the severity of current business challenges. At issue specifically is the potential for bankruptcy and insolvency for thousands of small and medium sized businesses and not -for-profits as they are forced to payout severance costs due to the unforeseen circumstances brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Minister has it within his power to provide a Ministerial Order to extend the temporary lay-off time limits under the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to provide employers with the “breathing room” needed to survive, recover, and facilitate return-to-work for laid-off employees as possible.
All Canadian provinces face unprecedented challenges due to the economic fallout from COVID-19. Few business owners could plan for or have the cash-on-hand to terminate all or a significant portion of their workforce at once during the best of times. BC employers will be faced with “regulated chaos” as the clock ticks down to deadlines beginning in early July forcing many businesses – by law – to terminate laid-off employees and payout severance. This will occur as many of the province’s 500,000 business and not-for-profits are partially open under the provincial government’s health and emergency orders. Many of these employers are losing money, while others are still not permitted to open. These one-time severance payments to temporarily laid-off employees due to COVID-19 will mean businesses caught in this legal jeopardy will use all or most of their operating cash or lines-of-credit forcing them into bankruptcy, insolvency and/or permanent closure. If the Minister acts now, this can all be avoided.
In a letter to BC’s leading business organizations dated June 18, Minister Bains refuses to extend the temporary lay-off time limits. The letter was issued the day after Premier Horgan’s pledge to listen to and get input from British Columbians on rebuilding our province – together. The Minister’s lack of appreciation for the dire situation facing thousands of small businesses and not-for-profits calls into question the sincerity of the government’s overture to listen to British Columbians.
The business community is extremely disappointed and calls upon Minister Bains to immediately revisit his decision and to extend the temporary layoff time limits to August 31, 2020. This would bring BC into line with the federal government’s recent Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) extension and temporary layoff time limit amendments made recently in other provinces to facilitate recovery from COVID-19. Business leaders have also called upon Minister Bains to provide an additional six weeks once emergency orders are lifted to help facilitate a smooth restart for businesses partially operating or closed due to COVID-19.
“During the greatest health and financial calamity in 100 years, the refrain from public health officials has rightly been that “we all in this together.” As we start to reopen, it is incumbent upon the NDP government to ensure that “we are all in the recovery together”. As entrepreneurs, small businesses and investors seek ways to renew and to revitalize our economy, the ask from government is simply to apply equal amounts of common sense and fairness as businesses struggle to recover. In denying the request to extend the temporary layoff time limits for job creators during a global pandemic, the provincial government is demonstrating a callous disregard to those whose success we are all counting on to get our people and communities back to work.” – Chris Gardner, President, Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of BC
“The BC Government has a leadership opportunity to help businesses, especially our small and medium sized businesses, the driving economic engine of not only Surrey, but also British Columbia. The Surrey Board of Trade demands that the BC Ministry of Labour revisit their recent negative response to the business community. Take action. Extend the temporary layoff provision for at least a further 13-week period through to August 31, 2020 to provide employers with certainty during this tenuous economic recovery period. Employers have been hit hard by COVID-19. Severance payments will be significant and, in many cases, will lead to bankruptcy and/or insolvency. Is that what the BC Government wants?” – Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade
“Our pulse surveys have shown that businesses want to reopen and bring back their teams – but they just need more time. By not extending the temporary layoff period we’re knowingly hampering the business community’s earnest attempts at restart. A simple solution that works for everyone, if enacted today, could change BC’s recovery trajectory for the long term. We urge the minister to embrace a decision that gets BC’s economy moving, one that supports workers and businesses.” – Val Litwin, President and CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce
“While many small businesses are able to reopen their doors now, business is not as usual. Nearly half of SMEs are operating at partial capacity due to provincial restrictions putting many employment positions still on hold. Extending the temporary layoff period is the right decision to help protect jobs and prevent businesses from being pushed over the edge. We need the Minister of Labour to reverse his decision now.” – Samantha Howard, Senior Director, BC, Canadian Federation of Independent Business
“Since the beginning of the health pandemic and economic crisis it has been imperative that government and business work together to address these unprecedented challenges. Now is not the time for the government to turn their back on businesses that are scrambling to survive. This change is integral to ensure economic recovery.” – Bridgitte Anderson, President and CEO, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade
“We have all had our lives and rights constrained during COVID-19. Working together, governments, businesses and individuals have had to respond to many challenges in this once in a century health and economic pandemic. Now is not the time to pit people against each other. It is a time for the Minister to act with urgency to prevent even more harm, unemployment and personal financial tragedy and, in doing so, support the businesses and their employees who will be required to rebuild B.C.” – Greg D’Avignon, President and CEO, Business Council of British Columbia
Recent labour force data indicates that 353,000 people in BC are out of work in the worst economic downturn in decades. The general unemployment rate stands at 13 percent, and a staggering 30 percent for youth. The Minister’s failure to act has cascading consequences for temporarily shuttered businesses, suppliers, landlords, less fortunate people, communities, government revenues, and long-serving employees who don’t want a forced end to their family-supporting job.
Business Organizations’ previous correspondence to Minister Bains acknowledged and expressed appreciation for the government’s modest 3-week extension of the temporary layoff time limits from 13 to 16 weeks through Order in Council (OIC), No. 219, dated May 4, 2020. This change brought B.C. temporarily into line with CERB and other provinces. The business community proposals in the most recent June 7 letter to the Minister were discussed in early May with government officials who acknowledged that a further extension would likely be required. The business community’s June 7 letter to the Minister provided sufficient lead-time for the government to process an OIC extending the timeframe in advance of early July when the 16-week statutory timeframe expires, setting in motion mass terminations and severance payouts.
The Minister references in his letter the option of using Section 72 of the ESA to determine case-by-case temporary layoff time limit extensions for individual businesses. This is an unworkable and hollow offer given the current backlog in the Employment Standards Branch, and the potential for up to 30,000 businesses filing at once for a variance in early July.
CALGARY – The recent acquisition of Calgary-based Nexgen Advisory Group is another significant step forward in ICBA Benefit Services Ltd.’s plan to grow its benefits brokerage and third-party administration business and expand in markets outside of British Columbia.
The acquisition enhances ICBA Benefits’ product and service offerings, expands its client base in Alberta, and adds significant talent to ICBA’s business development team.
“ICBA Benefits has long been one of the largest independent providers of group health and retirement benefits in BC and now we are taking that successful formula in a more deliberate way to markets outside of BC,” said Chris Gardner, ICBA president. “Our third-party administration business recently landed significant blocks of business in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia, and we are excited to add Nexgen and Alberta to our team.”
“Joining with ICBA Benefits gives our Nexgen clients a whole new level of service and value,” said David Harstrom, Nexgen senior partner. “I am pleased we are joining a company with a great history of supporting their clients and partners and finding innovative ways to meet their group health and retirement benefits needs.”
ICBA Benefits plans to keep the Nexgen brand and grow the Calgary office, with Nexgen’s David Harstrom taking on the role of ICBA Benefits’ Vice President, Underwriting and Consulting. David will work closely with ICBA’s underwriting, operations and account management teams as the company rolls out new products and services and grows business in key markets. Nexgen will continue to give their current and prospective clients the service and value they are well respected for.
“We are thrilled to have David and his team join ICBA Benefits, bringing their experience, knowledge, insight and passionate commitment to serving their clients,” said Mark Spence, ICBA Senior Vice President, Group Health and Retirement Benefits. “David’s reputation of caring for clients and working hard to give them superior service, reliable and stable benefit solutions, and the best overall value possible, meshes perfectly with our philosophy at ICBA.”
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The Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (“ICBA”) represents more than 2,300 members and clients in construction and responsible resource development and trains more than 4,000 construction professionals every year. ICBA Benefits Services Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of ICBA, is one of the leading third-party providers of group health and retirement benefits in B.C. Since its formation in 2006, ICBA Benefits has met the unique health and benefit insurance needs of its customers and is one of the fastest-growing third party administrators in Canada.
A new nationwide poll commissioned by Merit Canada and the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) shows strong support for open bidding on government infrastructure projects.
When asked if governments should give all construction companies a “fair chance to bid on this taxpayer-funded work, not just those with unionized employees,” 83 per cent of B.C. respondents agreed. Nationally, 88 per cent agreed.
Chris Gardner, ICBA president, explained the sentiment by Canadians runs completely counter to the B.C. government’s Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) policy being used to build large infrastructure projects like the Pattullo Bridge.
“The policy is wrong,” said Gardner. “It is unfair and discriminates against 85 per cent of the men and women in construction by denying them an equal opportunity to work on government-funded projects.”
The poll comes on the heels of a different poll by the BC Building Trades that showed strong support from British Columbians for CBAs as a way to help the economy recover from COVID-19 and provide opportunities to marginalized groups.
“Hard to imagine anyone disagreeing with these policies,” said Gardner. “However, what the building trades left out is that the current NDP CBA model restricts work on government-funded projects only to those workers who are members of a building trades union.”
Gardner said only 15 per cent of the 250,000 construction workers in the province are part of a Building Trades union.
He added the ICBA’s industry surveys show the number one issue facing construction contractors over the past four years has been the shortage of workers in construction.
“As a result, contractors have been increasing wages and benefits, investing more in training their workforce, hiring locally and recruiting as many young workers, women and people from Indigenous communities as they can find,” he said. “Further, construction contractors are entering into partnership agreements with Indigenous communities and working more closely with high schools and vocational colleges to encourage young people to pursue a career in the trades.”
Gardner also criticized the first wave of CBA projects, which he said have been characterized by fewer bidders, reduced scopes of work and higher costs.
“As a result, the stated goals of the government are simply not being met,” he said. “For good reason, you cannot expect to train more construction workers, hiring locally and recruit more young workers, women and people from Indigenous communities by freezing out 85 per cent of construction workers. “The CBA framework that the NDP government has put in place adds more complication and complexity to construction projects – the government has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to set up a new Crown corporation to administer a program that is not working. It does not make any sense and is a complete waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The province’s CBA policy will face its next challenge on July 16 and 17, when the ICBA, all the major construction associations in B.C. and several progressive unions will ask the B.C. Court of Appeal to strike the policy down.
“The poll confirms that Canadians in overwhelming numbers simply want what’s right: a bidding process for public projects that’s fair and open,” said Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA), one of the groups that will join with the ICBA in the court case. “For the Building Trades Unions to suggest that taxpayers somehow support red tape, out of control construction costs, stifled competition and shutting qualified workers out of projects, is just plain ludicrous.”
The latest #BCPOLI Hotstove has our Jordan Bateman and The Orca’s Maclean Kay pondering the NDP’s massive, ongoing Massey blunder; ICBC Monopoly and more. Plus a closing rant by Jordan asking the Province to move faster to reopen places of worship.
(For an audio podcast version, search for ‘The Orca’ on your favourite podcast app)
BURNABY—A new poll released by Merit Canada and the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association shows that 83% of British Columbians surveyed support giving all construction companies a fair chance to land taxpayer-funded work, regardless of how their workforce is organized. Canada-wide, support for fair bidding hits 88%.
“The building trades unions represent fewer than 15% of B.C. construction workers, yet they are given preferential treatment by the NDP Government,” said ICBA president Chris Gardner. “While British Columbians overwhelmingly support giving all construction companies in B.C. a fair chance at taxpayer-funded work, the province has effectively cut a special deal with their long-term supporters at the expense of B.C.’s construction workers and taxpayers.”
In the poll, not a single age group, gender, education level, or income bracket supported directing work to unions and cutting out open shop contractors.
ICBA and several other business associations, progressive unions, construction contractors and workers will be in front of the B.C. Court of Appeal July 16-17 challenging this policy.
“British Columbians understand that fair, open bidding – a level playing field for government work – is the best way to keep costs down and deliver the infrastructure we need in B.C. to keep our economy strong and improve our quality of life,” said Gardner.
The basis of the legal challenge is the significant consequence and inherent unfairness of the NDP Government’s decision to exclude the 85% of the 250,000 men and women in construction who do not belong to a building trades union from working on government projects.
“Through the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve heard repeatedly – and we agree – that we are all in this together,” said Gardner. “So, it follows that we all need to be together in the recovery too – no one should be left behind in the middle of a global pandemic. Every construction worker in B.C. deserves a fair shot at taxpayer-funded work. No one is asking for a special favour, just a fair shot and a level playing field.”
The stated goal of the NDP Government’s policy is to hire locally and hire more young workers, more women and more people from Indigenous communities, but the ICBA says that construction contractors are already doing just that. “You do not hire more people seeking jobs in construction by restricting work on government projects to just the 15% of construction workers represented by the building trades – it makes no sense. The only thing the government has done is to drive construction costs dramatically up as a result of red tape, inefficient practices, and far fewer bids on projects,” said Gardner.
“Every taxpayer dollar wasted on imposing this unfair policy is a dollar that is not going to important infrastructure projects or to our health care system or to our schools,” said Gardner. “If there ever was a time to course correct and reverse a policy decision, it’s now as we all try and work ourselves out of the greatest health and economic crisis in a hundred years.”
The poll result, including sample size and other details, is available HERE.