B.C. needs Ministry of the Built Environment to manage construction issues

It’s hard to think the construction sector is in trouble this summer, when everywhere across the province you see tall cranes, seas of hard hats, and traffic cones — all outward signs of a prosperous B.C. economy of which construction is a beneficiary.

While the B.C. government’s new community benefits agreements and Crown corporation have stirred up partisan controversy this week, they are but the latest pages in a growing catalogue of urgent issues squeezing B.C.’s industrial, commercial and institutional construction industry.

From tariffs to skilled workforce shortages to community benefit agreements that favour union-only labour and the lack of prompt payment legislation, many issues are pressing on construction owners to do more with less. The collective impact is exponentially threatening to the future productivity and resilience of our industry.

Construction is B.C.’s most vital industry, yet it is homeless in government. Here’s a snapshot of six major construction issues with six separate ministries managing them.

  • Community Benefit Agreements — Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation.
    The government is focusing on inclusivity through support for Indigenous and local communities, women and apprentices. But British Columbians may not benefit when 80 per cent of the construction workforce — which is non-union — could face potential barriers to participate in multi-billion dollar public projects.
     
  • Tariffs on U.S. steel and aluminum — Bruce Ralston, Minister of Jobs, Trade & Technology
    These tariffs will increase the cost of construction and drive up prices on most projects.
     
  • Skilled worker shortages — Melanie Mark, Minister of Advanced Education, Skills & Training
    With a projected shortage of 14,000 skilled tradespeople over the next eight years, the government’s recent announcement aims to boost opportunities for apprenticeship training. Yet this also translates to increased costs.
     
  • Prompt payment legislation — Attorney General David Eby
    When contractors don’t get paid on time it places a financial burden on small businesses and blocks cash flow in the economy. The estimated cost to B.C.’s construction sector is $4 billion.
     
  • Tax increases on small business — Carole James, Minister of Finance
    Most construction companies are small, with 20 employees or less. B.C.’s new tax laws will make it harder to afford important career development supports like training for workers.
     
  • Construction procurement processes — Jinny Sims, Minister of Citizen’s Services
    Construction procurement is uniquely complex, the outdated B.C. Bid system needs replacing and the public service is facing a shortage of career experts due to retirement.

As the provincial voice of the industrial, commercial and institutional construction sector, the British Columbia Construction Association serves over 10,000 union and open shop companies through membership, skilled workforce programs, and procurement services. We work closely with sector stakeholders as a cohesive group. But the fragmented approach in government handicaps the sector’s advancement.

Construction owners are stoic. They are a quiet force in our economy. They get on with it. They’ll manage these issues and we will assist them — but at what cost and to whom?

B.C. needs a Ministry of the Built Environment. Construction is 8.6 per cent of our GDP and the largest employer in our goods sector. At just shy of $20 billion annually, construction generates $5 billion more GDP than forestry, mining, fishing/hunting and agriculture combined. We employ nearly 250,000 British Columbians at our core and probably double that through the extension of manufacturers, suppliers, and professional services.

Let’s address the complex catalogue of inter-related challenges and opportunities with a long-term public commitment to supporting the vital industry that builds our homes, offices, recreation centres, hospitals, schools, roads and bridges.

Let’s give construction the home it needs. The Ministry of the Built Environment would drive solutions that benefit all B.C. communities, and ensure that ministers working hard across our government can serve British Columbia to the fullest extent of their abilities.

It’s an idea we can’t afford to ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

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