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OP/ED: Chris Gardner on What Wasn’t Said During the Debate

The following, by ICBA President Chris Gardner, first appeared on The Orca on October 15, 2020.

Like many British Columbians, I watched Tuesday night’s leadership debate very closely. During the 90 minutes, I was disappointed by how little attention was given to revitalizing and rebuilding the BC economy and the role that investment in infrastructure can play in kick-starting our recovery and improving our quality of life.

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson made a strong case for his plan to eliminate the Provincial Sales Tax for a year, and then keep it at 3% until the economy recovers. The BC Liberals also included in their plan a commitment to remove the 2% income tax on small businesses.

During the debate, Wilkinson compared our economic state to “a war-time economy,” an apt metaphor in the wake of the most far-reaching health and economic crisis in a hundred years. The PST cut would help every British Columbian by saving them hundreds of dollars. It would also help every BC business, local government and non-profit organization by reducing their costs and making investments and expansion plans more attractive.

The NDP has singled out construction for particularly unfair treatment with policies that freeze-out open shop contractors, who employ 85 per cent of construction workers, from major government projects.

Before the debate, the BC Liberals sent out an email quoting government documents showing that the new Cowichan hospital, if constructed under a building trades-only procurement framework, would cost taxpayers $160 million (23%) more than if the hospital was built under a fair and open bidding process.

$160 million goes a long way to building important infrastructure in across BC – a new Taylor Bridge in the north, and new transit, schools and recreational facilities in so many growing communities looking to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Openness, transparency and a fair shot at government-funded projects for open shop contractors should not be too much to ask of any government, especially in the wake of a global pandemic. Hard to imagine that politicians can remain preoccupied with picking winners and losers, rewarding friends and insiders, and wasting tax dollars at a time of such great crisis.

Finally, one of the most important questions that has yet to be answered to anyone’s satisfaction by John Horgan is simply: “A provincial election now? Why?” In the middle of a global pandemic when people are worried about their jobs and their families and with so much uncertainty about what lies ahead, we find government being put on hold for an election that frankly nobody thought necessary.

TRAINING THURSDAY: Roller Compacted Concrete

Kerry and Jordan talk about an upcoming webinar on Roller Compacted Concrete construction… (Roller compacted concrete is a modified blend of concrete materials such as fly ash, Portland cement, water, sand, aggregates and additives that contains much less water than conventional Portland cement concrete.)
Thursday, Oct. 22 | 11:30 AM to 1 PM
All ICBA Training courses at icba.ca/training

OP/ED: Deconstructing the NDP’s Construction Platform

The following op-ed by ICBA President Chris Gardner first appeared on The Orca on October 8, 2020.

As a second wave of the COVID-19 virus spreads throughout so many communities, government is on hold because the NDP called an election that nobody wants or needs. Today, families across BC are focused on COVID-19 alerts at the school their children are attending, people are worried about their jobs, and businesses are fighting just to survive. The uncertainty, and in some cases fear, is real and being felt by all of us who have been asked to sacrifice so much over the past seven months.

And yet we are in a provincial election campaign, thanks to John Horgan.

No matter how reckless or ill-conceived, Horgan has the election that he wanted and here we are, left to digest the BC NDP platform released yesterday. And, unfortunately, it is full of bad news for open shop contractors – which employs more than 200,000 men and women in BC, some 85% of all construction workers in this province.

  1. The NDP platform states that an NDP Government will make sure “every worker has the right to join a union and bargain for fair working conditions.” Every worker in BC has these rights already! What the NDP really mean is that they will be stripping from workers the right to choose whether or not to join a union through a secret ballot vote in favour of a “card-check” system open to manipulation. The NDP tried to do this in 2019, but the BC Liberals and the Green Party voted together to save the secret ballot and preserve this important right for workers.
  2. After cutting 85% of construction workers out of billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded work through their “community benefit agreements” on the Pattullo Bridge and other infrastructure projects, the NDP platform promises even more preferential treatment for the building trades unions: “Wherever possible, we will attach our Community Benefits Agreement to projects launched through the Recovery Investment Fund.” This means more bureaucracy, cost and risk for taxpayers and unfair treatment for open shop contractors.
  3. As we seek to rebuild our economy from the COVID-19 recession, no one should be getting special favours from the government – at ICBA, our ask is simple: all contractors should have a fair shot at working on taxpayer-funded projects.
  4. There is no mention (or funding) for key projects such as the new Surrey hospital, a replacement for the Massey Tunnel or a new Taylor Bridge.
  5. The NDP platform calls for a compulsory trades system, restricting work on construction sites to registered tradespeople or those enrolled in a formal apprenticeship program. This was abandoned in BC nearly 20 years ago given the multiple pathways a worker takes to acquire the skills needed to become a journeyperson. What is too often forgotten is that learning a skill and mastering a craft happens on the job, working side-by-side with colleagues who have more experience and expertise. By far the largest sponsors of apprentices in BC are open shop contractors, who account for 82% of all apprentices in BC.
  6. On responsible resource development, Horgan promises “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits.” The energy sector has the potential to play a huge role in Canada’s economic recovery, but it’s on its knees and has been for many years – policies like this will not help restore confidence in the energy sector. Lengthy and shifting approval processes have only served to scare investors, turn away billions of dollars in opportunity, and destroy family-supporting jobs for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

On the heels of last week’s BC Liberal promise to eliminate the PST in 2021, and cut it in half for 2022 and onward (until the COVID-19 recession ended), the NDP’s policy pronouncements raise big concerns for contractors and small business owners alike. Not only would a PST cut leave money in people’s pockets, but also it will help small businesses by reducing needless bureaucracy, lower employers’ taxes by saving on input costs, and it will attract desperately needed investment. That’s something Horgan’s high-profile $1,000 handout won’t do.

Needless to say, we hope the BC Liberal and Green platforms – due to be released next week – are far more supportive of open shop contractors and the families that work for them.