Building a better Canada

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The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) aspires to strengthen the nation by championing diversity in the workforce, investor confidence, infrastructure planning, and innovation.

One year ago, the Canadian Construction Association’s (CCA) celebrated its centennial anniversary and marked the occasion by presenting its vision to “Build a better Canada”. CCA has since been working diligently to increase our influence with government, enhance member services and become a best-in-class association.

CCA represents more than 20,000 member firms drawn from 63 local and provincial integrated partners. We are the national voice of the construction industry – an industry that generates 7 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 1.5 million Canadians. 

In the lead-up to the 2019 federal election the association launched its own election advocacy website designed to advocate the industry’s issues directly to government by empowering members, staff, friends or family to easily send a pre-written letter to their local member of parliament (MP) and election candidates. 

The website, construction4cdns.ca, and its associated #Construction4CDNs hashtag, champion four main issues of national importance for the construction industry: 

  • Attracting a skilled and diverse workforce;
  • Strengthening investor confidence;
  • Long-term infrastructure planning; and
  • Supporting innovation and technology.

Attracting a skilled and diverse workforce

With 21 per cent of workers set to retire in the next decade, it is imperative that a strategy be developed aimed at recruiting, retaining and retraining a diverse, skilled and tech-savvy workforce in order to keep this important sector healthy and competitive. 

CCA has been doing its part by developing a national strategy with measurable impact to reposition the image of the industry and attract and retain the workforce of tomorrow. The strategy was guided by an advisory working group with expertise in recruitment, retention and research of under-represented segments such as women, youth and Indigenous or new Canadians. 

Individual employers and construction associations have also been working with schools and institutions to spark interest in construction as a viable career opportunity. 

The government has an opportunity to work with industry on re-positioning the image of construction as an inclusive sector with a choice of many rewarding careers, but instead seems focused on legislating community benefits. 

The efforts of our association through #CDNConstructionGives, the numerous charitable initiatives undertaken by our members in their local communities, and CCA’s long-term implementation of a diversity strategy is a signal of our commitment to inclusion and community growth without the need for a formal legislative lens. Specific legislation or regulations have the potential to threaten the fair and competitive bidding process on federal government contracts and tenders. The focus should be on working with industry to develop an inclusive workforce strategy rather than on creating legislation that may expose projects to political interference and costly delays.

Strengthening investor confidence

Investor confidence in Canada continues to be a major concern for the construction industry. International and national businesses continue to have projects in regulatory limbo, preventing them from investing their significant financial resources and potentially chilling the interest of others. 

New policies, such as carbon pricing and community benefits, must take into account the need for Canada to remain competitive in the global economy. Canada must remain a go-to place for corporations to invest in a variety of different types of projects – from bridges and highways to pipelines and water treatment plants. Any policies proposed need to consider the integrity and fairness of the competitive bid system, as well as strengthen investor confidence.

Long-term infrastructure planning

Local infrastructure is critical to the quality of life of Canadians and the competitiveness of our country. We rely on power generation, roadways and transit, water management, hospitals and natural resource development to function personally, socially and economically. 

Much of Canada’s infrastructure was built in the 60s and 70s, and is now aging. The federal government responded appropriately with such initiatives as the Investing in Canada Plan, which commits $180 billion in federal funding for public infrastructure over 12 years, and the Canada Infrastructure Bank, which invests funds into projects while generating revenue through public and private capital.

CCA is concerned that funding levels could change following the 2019 federal election. Also, fluctuations in the delivery of funding to projects has caused inefficiencies across the system, which can contribute to escalating labour costs followed by layoffs. This situation makes it difficult for the industry to retain apprentices, invest in innovation, or even stay afloat during lean years.

Funding must be made steady, reliable and consider long-term infrastructure realities for the construction industry to grow with confidence. This can be addressed by developing a 25-year plan, with a consistent and transparent yearly allocation of infrastructure funding that spells out the commitments of all levels of government. 

Supporting innovation and technology

Compared to international construction firms, Canadian contractors are falling behind on the development and acquisition of cost-saving technologies that fill labour shortages and augment the productivity of their workforce. The adoption of building information modelling (BIM), advanced software, Internet of Things (IoT), 3D printing, and drones will grow over the next five to 10 years.

A key barrier to innovation is the demand for low-margins on projects. Public procurement and the scrutiny on public spending, as well as market competition for private sector projects, tend to force a race to the lowest cost bid, which results in less investment in innovation. Adopting new innovations can increase risk, which is usually downloaded to the contractor and not shared with the owner. Investment is even tougher for smaller and micro firms, who need to be clearly shown the financial benefit.

Project owners and government can assist with innovation by allowing for higher margins and other incentives to promote company re-investment in innovation. The Canadian government can further accelerate progress by earmarking funding to support this area, as well as leveraging Canada’s Infrastructure Bank to structure deals that allow for innovation, without adding this cost to the owner or the contractor. Incentives and support for CCA’s request to fund co-op placements would also impact and strengthen the industry’s capacity.

CCA believes passionately in the sustainability and vitality of Canada’s construction industry and the industry’s pivotal role in building a better Canada. The industry provides jobs, injects socioeconomic opportunities and life into a community, and creates infrastructure critical to keeping the country moving forward. The world is changing, and the industry is changing with it. We are facing new challenges and we need to adapt in order to compete globally. 

Mary Van Buren is the President of the Canadian Construction Association, www.cca-acc.com.

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