BY RICHARD GILBERT - The unexpected victory of the B.C. Liberal Party has been selected by the Journal of Commerce as the 2013 Construction Story of the Year for B.C.
The Liberal Party, led by Christy Clark, won a majority government in British Columbia’s 40th provincial election on May 14.
Clark led the Liberals to a stunning come-from-behind victory, with 44.4 per cent of the popular vote and 50 out of 85 seats in the legislature.
Some B.C. construction leaders were both surprised and ecstatic about the election result.
It was viewed by many people in the industry as a clear sign that there will be stability for public sector investment over the next four years.
The defeat of the New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Adrian Dix was seen as one of the worst collapses in modern provincial political history.
At the beginning of the election campaign, the NDP was expected to form a majority government. The party was leading by a large margin in public opinion polls.
For example, a poll released by Ekos Politics on Feb. 14 estimated that the Liberals had about 27.4 per cent of the provincial vote.
This was almost 12 points behind the NDP, who were estimated to have a 39 per cent share.
In the election, the NDP won 39.5 per cent of the popular vote, which gave the party only 33 seats in the legislature.
This was three seats less than they held before the election.
NDP leader Adrian Dix managed to hang on to his Vancouver–Kingsway seat, but is being forced to step aside as party leader.
A turning point in the election was Dix’s flip-flop on Kinder-Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. For more than a year, Dix said he was neutral on the $5 billion proposal to twin an existing oil pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby.
He said he would wait until the company came out with a final proposal before making up his mind.
Then, Dix suddenly announced he opposed the plan to transform Vancouver into a major oil port.
The change in Dix’s position may have sent chills through the B.C. business community.
The B.C. Liberal Party’s campaign strategy for defeating the NDP was based on Clark’s job creation plan, which is their most important economic policy.
The strategy focused on promoting the benefits of building a new Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry by 2020.
B.C.’s Minister of Energy and Mines Rich Coleman outlined the impact that developing a new LNG industry would have on the B.C. economy to business and construction industry leaders.
As the B.C. Liberal Party’s election campaign chair, Coleman led the effort to win the provincial election, by spreading the word about the progress the government is making in turning the vision into a reality.
Clark predicted the construction industry is on the verge of the next boom, so it was not the right time to change the government.
She said the boom will be driven by private investment in mining and the development of up to five natural gas export facilities in Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
It also involves public sector investment in major infrastructure projects, including the replacement of the George Massey Tunnel and twinning the Trans-Canada Highway from Kamloops to Alberta.
For this reason, Clark said the biggest challenge facing the provincial construction industry is ensuring that a shortage of labour will not constrain the development of the new LNG industry.
In response to this challenge, Clark ordered the new Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training Shirley Bond in June to undertake a review of the role and function of the Industry Training Authority (ITA).
In particular, Bond was directed to work with industry, training organizations and labour to identify areas of apprenticeship reform to improve results and reduce barriers to participation by employers and apprentices.
A few months later in August, Kevin Evans, the chief executive officer (CEO) of the ITA was replaced with an interim leader by the board of directors.
Evans, who was CEO of the ITA for six years, said the board decided there is a need for new leadership with a new skill set.
In addition, Clark invited the B.C. Building Trades to join a committee in September, which will facilitate the supply of skilled labour for the construction of these proposed LNG facilities.
According to Clark, she met with B.C. Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson and president of the B.C. Federation of Labour Jim Sinclair to ensure British Columbians are first in line for the 100,000 jobs that will be created.
The new tri-partite committee will involve equal participation between business, labour and government. Clark led a delegation of more than 120 companies on a trade mission to China, Korea and Japan between Nov. 21 and Dec. 3 to promote foreign investment in key industries, including the development of LNG.