BY KELLY LAPOINTE - Ensuring the proper roll out of Canada's long-term infrastructure fund and getting the federal government to understand the severity of the nation's skills shortage have been key issues throughout Frank Rizzardo's year-long term as Canadian Construction Association (CCA) chair.
The CCA had concerns that the funding approach for the New Building Canada Plan would be slow to start and then ramp up over time.
“The old program expires March 31 and the new program starts in April, with the ‘hockey stick’ approach that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was referring to, we had the possibility that there would be no work called for 18 months to two years because the money wouldn’t be there,” said Rizzardo. “The roll out of that program is critical for municipalities and provincial governments to be able to plan their activities and to get work out this season.”
The CCA welcomed the recent release of the details surrounding the New Building Canada Fund., which is a component of the overall 10-year, $53-billion New Building Canada Plan announced in the 2013 budget.
It ensures that applications will be accepted beginning April 1.
Rizzardo called it “the biggest success” on the infrastructure front.
Addressing the skills shortage has been another key focus for the CCA.
Rizzardo said he was pleased with the measures taken in the 2013 federal budget with the introduction of the Canada Job Grant.
After contentious negotiations, the provinces recently agreed to sign an agreement in principle with new flexibility measures put in place.
“Any program that is employer driven will have a better chance of success,” he said.
“You see it all the time, colleges say ‘we change our programs to meet the demands’, but where are they getting the demands from? They’re not talking to us... They’re not talking to the employers that are in the need.”
Rizzardo does not think the industry has won its case yet with Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney on how severe the skills shortage is and the industry’s continued need for temporary foreign workers. He said there is more than $650 billion worth of work being planned for the next 10 years.
“That needs bodies to get it done,” he said.
“When a mine doesn’t go because they don’t have miners or engineers or carpenters, electricians, etc. to build a site, then money isn’t spent and the economy doesn’t move ahead.”
The north will need to attract workers as resource projects come on line and it will also pose another challenge to the industry as changing weather patterns will impact the current construction environment and highlight the need for innovation.
“There is all kinds of knowledge based on construction in and around permafrost, there are lots of oil companies...with lots of experience with construction in permafrost, but a melting permafrost, I can’t make that same assertion,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of opportunities for companies to take the lead and develop processes, methodologies to survive those changing conditions in the north.”
Rizzardo will now move into the role of immediate past chair. While other past chairs have a specific focus for after their tenure, Rizzardo hopes to be of help wherever he can. Though, he does think information sharing is one of his priorities.
“One of the things that makes us stronger is that we don’t hoard information — we share the data,” he said.
Overall, Rizzardo said he had a good experience travelling the country and sharing CCA’s message in his role as chair over the last year.
“Any time you’re able to share at a high level and participate in the process, it is a growth experience.”
Rizzardo hands over the CCA chair reins to Serge Massicotte, president of Massicotte Construction Ltd., at this week’s CCA 96th annual conference in Panama City, Panama. Visit www.journalofcommerce.com for conference updates, blogs and videos and follow the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #CCA96th.