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CCA working to ensure construction industry stays on firm footing as pandemic recovery gets underway


May 13, 2020
By David Kennedy

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Question marks continue to hang over the Canadian economy as provinces cautiously set course for a return to normal. Construction has weathered the COVID-19 crisis with fewer disruptions than many other industries, but hasn’t escaped unscathed. Now, as government-mandated business closures begin coming to an end across the country, how quickly investments in new homes, offices, industrial sites and infrastructure projects bounce back, will shape the outlook for the months ahead.

Amid this uncertainty, the Canadian Construction Association is quietly working to shore up the building industry and make sure construction is on strong footing for the slow return to business as usual.

“Our priority is ensuring the industry survives today so we can thrive as we come into economic recovery,” the CCA’s President, Mary Van Buren, said in an interview.

Throughout the challenges of the past two months, the industry has come together on implementing rigorous health and safety measures to guard against COVID-19. It’s also stepped up to donate thousands of masks, gloves and other forms of PPE to frontline health care workers.

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“It really has been quite inspiring to watch how the industry has worked together and focused on the health and safety of workers and the families and the community,” Van Buren said.

Like its members coast to coast, the CCA itself was forced to adapt as coronavirus spread across North America.

To protect delegates and staff, the association cancelled its annual conference, which was planned for San Diego last month. In spite of the setback, the vast majority of the conference’s sponsors have opted to keep their sponsorship in place to support the association as it guides the industry though uncertain times. Travelers Canada, Aon, Borden Ladner Gervais, Intact Insurance, Northbridge Insurance, SMS Equipment, The Guarantee Co., Trisura and Zurich Insurance are among the top sponsors.

Though some construction has been halted over the past six weeks — most notably in Quebec and in some segments of the Ontario market — work on most job sites has continued. To allow construction to go on while keeping workers safe, the CCA released a set of standardized COVID-19 job site protocols last month. With input from local and provincial parters groups, the document advises on everything from pre-screening procedures to job site compartmentalization. It’s now on its fourth version.

The steps are necessary, but don’t come cheap.

“You can imagine, with the cost of sanitation, social distancing, all these things have contributed to higher costs and delays,” Van Buren said, noting the CCA has been in constant contact with governments to ensure contractors and others in the construction supply chain have access to key support programs. To name a few, it’s worked with Ottawa on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Export Development Canada’s COVID-19 programs and has been advocating for the creation of Emergency COVID-19 Construction Cost Relief Program.

As Canada’s economy comes out of lockdown, Van Buren said the CCA will continue collaborating with government groups to ensure there’s enough liquidity in the market.

“The economic stimulus needs to measured out over a period of time,” Van Buren said, pointing out that contractors are beginning to see revenue dry up as they are paid out for jobs completed earlier in the year.

“There’s going to be a period of time where they have no revenue coming in and then, they’re going to start ramping up for new projects,” she said. “With their overhead and lease and payroll and all those other things… they won’t get paid for another two to three months, so it’s really critical that the funding flows over a period of time.”

Ensuring construction is on firm footing will also allow it to quickly respond when federal, provincial and municipal governments begin rolling out infrastructure programs to kick-start the wider economy.

“Investing in infrastructure is a proven stimulus measure,” Van Buren said. “Above and beyond the direct benefits that is brings to communities like clean water or community centres or hospitals, studies have shown that it can generate a return of anywhere from 0.4- to 1.5-times the investment.”

The CCA will be looking for a fresh stream of projects approved under the federal government’s 12-year Investing in Canada plan, but is also hoping for some addition stimulus in areas needing extra support. Van Buren pointed to Alberta as one region that has been particularly hard-hit by the oil crash that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help the economy land on its feet, the CCA and its provincial partners have been urging governments to continue advancing the procurement processes for new infrastructure so projects are shovel-ready as coronavirus restrictions are loosened.

“We need to keep the pump primed… We have to give confidence to an industry of workers that there is a lot of great work to be done and [to] just hold on,” Van Buren said.


David Kennedy is the editor of On-Site magazine.