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January 13, 2014

Industry looking for more details about Building Canada Plan in 2014

Though the construction industry was pleased to see the introduction of the new 10-year Building Canada Plan, industry leaders are looking forward to the release of the plan's details in 2014.

Association of Consulting Engineering Companies-Canada (ACEC) president John Gamble said the plan is expected to start slow before it ramps up, though he hopes it won’t start off too slowly.

Denis Lebel, minister of Infrastructure, Communities, and Intergovernmental Affairs, has confirmed that the outstanding parameters for the $53 billion plan are currently under development and will be announced as soon as possible to ensure project proposals can be considered in 2014.

“That’s going to be critical because right now the municipal sector is unlikely to commit significant funds for large scale projects until they have a better picture of what the application process looks like,” said Gamble.

“It would be a shame to stumble out of the gate.”

Moving forward, Robert Blakely, chief operating officer of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, would like to see a national energy policy.

“It’s really about saying if we’re producing fossil fuel in the west and doing great things in the centre with hydroelectric, what do we do with our overall greenhouse gas foot print,” he said.

“We need to have some kind of national picture on where the world is going to be.”

One of the most important things, for Blakely, to come out of a national energy policy would be a national workforce strategy with strong labour market information about the demand in the short, medium and long term.

Labour market information could also identify training capacity around the country.

“We’re talking a couple of hundred thousand people in the apprenticeship system at any given time, maybe we could increase throughput by making use of a number of places that either sit idle or currently aren’t in among those chosen to do training,” he said.

>The Construction Sector Council, now BuildForce Canada, had developed a labour market capacity that was “second to none,” said Blakely.

In the wake of the elimination of the government’s funding for sector councils, the organization is waiting to see if it can get more funding.

“We still haven’t got a response on where we’re at with a go forward,” he said.

“I suspect, if we don’t hear anything right away, we’re going to end up having to say to all of the labour market economists and the teams that we put together that we have no guarantee of being able to keep you going, so that capacity is going to have to go and be rebuilt. That’s dreadful.”

In 2014, details are expected to be released about the Canadian-European Union free trade pact and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, among other free trade agreements.

ACEC will be watching closely to see the implications for professional services.

The organization’s experience has not been positive with the New West Partnership Trade Agreement, an accord between the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, that creates the nation’s largest barrier-free interprovincial market.

“In principle we probably support 90 per cent of it. But language in there has led to price based competition and cattle calls on relatively low value assignments,” explained Gamble.

“We have no issue with free trade and open markets in principle, we can compete with anyone, but we have to remember Canadian engineering has been successful in the export market not because it’s cheap but because it’s good.”

The Charbonneau Inquiry examining corruption in Quebec’s construction sector is another matter Gamble is going to keep an eye on.

“By the time Madamme Charbonneau comes out with her recommendations, I think the whole sector will probably already have implemented comparable recommendations, in some cases, their own policies and procedures that go even farther than what Madamme Charbonneau will likely recommend.”

The probe will continue studying organized crime in the construction industry in January and then switch to other topics of interest.

An interim report to give the government ideas on how to proceed with laws and policy is due Jan. 31, 2014.

Canadian Construction Association president Michael Atkinson said it will be interesting to see what happens with the world economy in 2014.

“There’s a lot of people that are now believing that the U.S. economy is starting to finally show some signs of a sustainable or sustained recovery,” he said.

“I think that’s extremely good news for Canada. If we start to see real signs of that in 2014, that’s going to paint even more of an optimistic picture of the Canadian economy going forward.

“Particularly if our exports continue to increase. If the U.S. recovery starts to pull some of the risks to the global economy back into the black, that’s going to be good as well for Canada.”

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