Home » Industry & Business » Advancing Canada's Infrastructure » Collaborative Construction Is Key to Better Canadian Infrastructure

Paul de Jong

President & CEO, Progressive Contractors Association of Canada

To build big, be more competitive, and spend public infrastructure dollars more wisely, Canada needs to adopt a collaborative labour model.

Project delays, rising costs, and regulatory red tape add up. It means that increasingly, Canadians are paying more for less infrastructure, which sends the wrong signal to international investors. This is not how it should be — not when there are more efficient and innovative ways to build the highways, hospitals, and environmental infrastructure that we need.

One major factor in infrastructure construction is labour, which accounts for 30 to 40 per cent of public project costs. As governments look for ways to maximize value for taxpayers, they’re turning to builders who make the most of an innovative labour model — a model used by member companies of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).

Delivering public value

The PCA is a national construction association whose members are building major capital and infrastructure projects using a labour model that’s revolutionizing construction. Our model does what many traditional labour models do not: it provides good value on public construction work through more productive and collaborative construction.

Our medium and large, award-winning contractors have built 40 per cent of all energy and natural resource projects in British Columbia and Alberta. In Ontario, our members are leaders in building water and wastewater facilities, as well as schools and long-term care facilities. These public projects built through the PCA’s collaborative labour model have been recognized by governments for setting high standards in construction.

Construction site at sunset

A labour approach built on collaboration

Our members employ more than 40,000 skilled tradespeople who are organized under a collaborative labour model with the rapidly growing, independent CLAC union. It’s a labour approach that academic research and market-proven experience have shown yields better on time, on budget, and on target results than stale, adversarial, or transactional approaches.

For starters, wall-to-wall certification where all trades are represented by one union allows for flexibility in designing work teams, scheduling shifts, and encouraging multi-skilling. This results in greater collaboration and productivity on the worksite, more time on tools per worker, and zero onsite jurisdictional disputes between rival unions. It’s a more efficient approach to building and the reason that the PCA’s membership has expanded to 140 companies, including some of Canada’s largest builders.

Our collaborative labour model also builds loyalty. Construction employers hire workers directly, not through a hiring hall. When companies build the teams they want, this appeals to a younger, more diverse workforce and leads to higher apprenticeship ratios. These strong working relationships go a long way in keeping workers safe, healthy, and happy at work.

Our model does what many traditional labour models do not: it provides good value on public construction work through more productive and collaborative construction.

Some governments fail to evolve

Despite all of the proven benefits of the PCA’s collaborative labour model, some governments prefer to keep building public infrastructure the old and costly way.

B.C., for example, devised labour rules that only allow select Building Trades Unions (BTU) members to build major public projects. Contractors cannot bid on projects unless they use workers assigned to them by BTU hiring halls, rather than teams they’ve often worked with for decades. As a result, many companies choose not to bid on projects, raising project costs even higher.

Take the Cowichan District Hospital, which is currently a whopping 63 per cent over the original budget. That’s more than half a billion dollars in public funding that could have been better spent.

Missing out on construction savings

A similar exclusive labour agreement was struck between certain BTUs and The Ottawa Hospital to build its new $2.8-billion civic campus.

The Montreal Economic Institute estimates that by excluding many non-BTU companies who prefer the more efficient and collaborative model to build, this anti-competitive labour deal will escalate project costs by anywhere from $168 million to $525 million by 2028.

Collaborative construction is the labour model that supports today’s fiscal reality. It’s the way to support and advance Canada’s infrastructure goals and to ensure that when public projects are built, Canadians get what they want and deserve: their money’s worth.

Learn more at pcac.ca.

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