What an NDP-Green government could mean for BC construction

Winter of discontent

The winter of discontent, it seems, is finally behind us, and while the rain hasn’t gone away completely, it’s a warmer rain.  The Canucks are happily golfing while other teams vie for the Stanley Cup, and the BC Lions have started training camp. Oh, and BC had an election!

Recently the two parties with most seats have announced an agreement that, should politics follow a usual course, will enable a government to be formed that excludes the BC Liberal party.  Many pundits across the political spectrum see difficulties ahead, whether this refers to trying to pass legislation with a meagre majority of one vote, or the hand-wringing that occurs when one set of political interests displaces another.

If the NDP and Greens proceed to govern, then some in the construction industry may have cause for concern, at least in the short run.  Immediate targets for slowing or stopping construction are the Site C dam and the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  Site C is essentially a government project so I suspect the new government will have the authority to stop construction if it chooses. Approval of the pipeline is different in that it relies on federal authority so it is likely safe from provincial government interference. However, other factors – like second-look environmental reviews, numerous lawsuits filed, and/or plain old market conditions that render the pipeline no longer viable – could bring the project to a halt.

What lies ahead for us?

What might the construction industry and the mechanical sector expect from an NDP/Green government?  If the government makes good on promises regarding affordable housing and sustainable building programs – the retrofitting of buildings – then a lot of construction should occur.

BC has had only two political extremes to choose from for decades. The centrist, free-enterprise elements of the Green Party could have a moderating effect on the often-feared, free-wheeling spending habits of the NDP.  The alliance has publicly declared a wish to transition economic focus to more sustainable industries, rather than relying on BC’s traditional economic sectors.  Employment in the resource sector – oil, gas, forestry and mining – has been in decline for years.

Construction, while always dependent on other industry sectors, remains somewhat stable, employing approximately 211,000 province-wide.  Any attempt to translate political intentions into economic reality is a mug’s game – one where you are more likely to lose than win. Witness the Christy Clark promise of an LNG empire.

Progress is entirely possible

Another possibility with the new government will be for progress on Prompt Payment legislation.  This has been a dead letter item with Liberals since day one.  Individually, over the years, Liberal MLAs have told trade associations like MCABC, “Developers are big contributors to the Liberal Party, so don’t expect an easy win.” During the recent campaign, one incumbent Liberal MLA stated: “Why should the taxpayer support contractors to solve their payment problems?  That’s what the courts are for.”

When, years ago, MCABC approached NDP’s John Horgan on the subject of prompt payment, he was receptive and indicated support because prompt payment legislation would protect workers’ wages and support opportunities for worker training. The Greens, while not committed, are philosophically inclined to support it. Who knows? A new government might also re-visit universal contractor licensing and simplifying municipal permitting.

Prompt Payment still needs your support

On the subject of prompt payment legislation, readers are likely aware that MCA Canada has, through the National Trade Contractors Coalition of Canada (NTCCC), an online campaign asking everyone to send a message to their Member of Parliament to remind them to support the Senate bill, where Parliament’s passage is required to make it into law.

A successful Senate passage has resulted in fast-tracked consideration in the House that, even with the expected reviews, should result in new legislation applicable to federally financed construction projects.  We are on a winning streak on this subject as interest is heightened Canada-wide.  Please visit Prompt Payment Canada and add your voice in support.

This just in…

Ontario legislation has been tabled that seeks to modernize that province’s lien and holdback process. Proposed reforms  include creating new prompt payment rules to give contractors and subcontractors certainty about when to expect payment.

Ontario — yes — but it sets a precedent for what could follow in BC. So let’s keep our momentum going!


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