A conversation with OSSGA's Peter Graham
May 29, 2018 - Peter Graham was recently hired as the new director of municipal relations for the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (OSSGA). Rock to Road sat down with Graham and asked him about his decades of experience in the heavy building materials sector, his goals as OSSGA's newest director, and any advice he might have for companies looking to improve their municipal relationships. Here’s what he had to say.
1. How did you first get involved in the heavy building materials sector?
Soon after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in 1985, I was afforded an opportunity to work with St. Marys Cement (Votorantim Cimentos North America, Inc.) as a technical services engineer. This was a great entry point into the heavy building materials sector, as it provided me with an excellent opportunity to not only gain a thorough understanding of the technical elements of cement, concrete and aggregate, but also to interact with both producers and consumers of these materials.
2. To date, what would you say has been your biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Without a doubt it’s the regulatory framework. The industry must navigate through the complexity of more than 25 pieces of legislation and hundreds of municipal, provincial and federal regulations and policies. When I left the industry for a short time five years ago, the talk was about how to harmonize. I’ve seen on my return that the complexity has in fact increased. Don’t get me wrong, regulation is good, and the industry supports a strong enforcement regime, but over-regulation means that aggregate producers are spending millions of dollars to obtain their licences. Monies that could be better spent on more innovative rehabilitation or community enhancement projects.
3. What aspects of the heavy building materials industry have kept you the most engaged over your 30-plus year career?
Definitely the people. Providing opportunities for growth and ensuring a safe environment has always been a priority. This industry involves many moving parts and heavy machinery that can cost someone their life if not handled with great care. Of the utmost importance to me, and to all those who work in this industry, is that everyone goes home as healthy and engaged as when they arrived!
4. As OSSGA’s new director of municipal relations, what are the top priorities that you feel need to be addressed in the short-term? Long-term?
My primary responsibility is to enhance the aggregate industry’s reputation with municipal politicians and staff. Although there are many municipal representatives that have an awareness of our industry there are some who do not understand the value and importance of having and protecting close-to-market aggregates.
To be clear, much of this work has a longer-term focus. However, in the near-term I will be seeking input and insights from our members and municipal representatives on how our industry can do a better job in helping decision makers at the local level understand the benefits we bring to their respective communities. I will be looking to build upon and leverage the good work our members and association staff have put into marketing and communicating the benefits aggregates bring to Ontarians and how our members are working diligently to be socially and environmentally responsible neighbours in the communities in which they operate.
There are so many great examples of responsible producers out there. I will be helping to get the message to municipal staff and elected councillors, telling the story of how the industry is contributing both to the local economy and to their communities. I will be working with local mayors and councillors to provide them the tools to better communicate these examples and facts of our industry with their constituents. I will also be assisting our members in coordinating tours and information sessions so they can see firsthand the inner workings of an aggregate operation, including mitigation measures and rehabilitation.
5. Having strong municipal relationships is key to having long-term, close-to-market aggregate operations. What pieces of advice would you give to aggregate producers looking to build more positive relationships with their neighbouring municipalities?
My advice would be applicable to any industry looking to build positive relationships within a community. Be prepared to listen and clearly understand the expectations of the community – ensure that you convey to them what you can deliver on. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. Let them know of proposed changes, upcoming events and completed projects. Lastly, but certainly not least, ‘walk the talk’ – follow through and commit to fulfilling your promises. But if you just can’t do it, let them know.
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