The year that was - A strong year that provided cautious optimism for the future
By Andrew Macklin
Is it time to celebrate or time to proceed with caution?
Is it time to celebrate or time to proceed with caution? That’s the question I find myself asking after a year that, on the surface, looked to be strong for the national aggregates and road construction industries.
Without question, both provincial and federal governments finally understand that infrastructure spending is too important to put on the chopping block as they scramble to trim annual expenses and reduce debt. It would have been easy for them to throw infrastructure to the fire instead of other services, but crumbling roads and bridges, and a continued rise in vehicle traffic, has forced governments to keep its commitment to current spending levels or higher in most cases. For a look at what each province and territory is spending on infrastructure, check out our national report on page 14.
Nationally, we saw the renewal of the Building Canada fund, with a 10-year $53-billion funding commitment. Monies from that fund have already helped to build new roads and upgrade current infrastructure across the nation. That money should continue to flow pending the results of October’s federal election. Neither the Liberal party nor the NDP have released their plan for how they might adjust infrastructure spending levels should they be elected.
Provincially, most provinces increased their infrastructure-spending year over year, reaching levels not seen since massive investments were made during the recession.
Infrastructure funding wasn't the only issue that caused industry professionals to be concerned in 2014.
Tragic deaths at our quarries and on our road construction sites in 2014 have brought safety issues to the industry forefront, looking for new techniques and technologies to prevent workplace accidents. In a span of one week across late June and early July, two people were killed in southern Ontario, just 200km apart; one in a road construction accident and another at a gravel quarry. The deaths hammered home the need for a review of safety policies and regulations at jobsites, as well as the need to re-visit safety measures on busy roadways.
In much of Western Canada, the push has been constant for increased driver awareness as distracted and impatient drivers wreak havoc on our roadways. That has now carried into Ontario, where government policy makers continue to look for new ideas to keep our construction sites even safer, either through the introduction of stiffer penalties for drivers, or new regulations forced upon contractors. For quarries, solid safety regulations already exist, but there may be need for a national review in the wake of recent tragedies.
On the corporate side, several interesting stories emerged. None were bigger than the merger of Lafarge and Holcim, the true impact of which is still to be determined. It has been suggested that Holcim will divest its Canadian assets in order to meet competition authorities’ requirements, but that has not been confirmed to this point. However, that asset sale could determine how strong 2015 is for the aggregates markets in several parts of the country.
There are positive signs that 2015 could be a strong year for Canada’s rock to road industry. But with so many moving parts still to impact the industry, approaching the coming year with cautious optimism could be the wisest move.