Doug Ford sails to second majority with approval from 8 construction unions after strikes settled

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Ontario Construction Report staff writers

After collecting endorsements from eight construction trade unions across Ontario, Premier Doug Ford swept to victory on June 3, winning a second majority government.

Ontario Provincial District Council of the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) was the first out of the gate with an endorsement for Ford at the start of the campaign. Since then, seven additional unions endorsed the Premier and his party including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Ontario Pipe Trades Council (OPTC), both of which have supported the NDP in the past. The International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) supported the PCs just days before the election.

With the union endorsements, the Conservative Party managed to win support from both sides of the traditional labour divide, as it retained its traditional backing from employer-led groups.

While unionized workers were originally skeptical of the Conservative government and its decision to abolish the Ontario College of Trades, they discovered that Labour Minister Monte McNaughton respected their interests and avoided other legislative changes to skewer the balance between labour and employers in the construction industry.

The election campaign occurred as the construction labour tensions at least temporarily escalated during the triennial “strike season” when all contracts simultaneously expire.

Negotiations were especially challenging in an environment of rising inflation, where contractors and owners are being squeezed (especially on longer-term fixed price contracts) by rapidly escalating materials costs. Unionized construction workers, meanwhile, saw their incomes eroded by higher fuel and food costs. The unions, with nearly-full employment – had a strong bargaining position.

While members of several unions, including the carpenters, plumbers and operating engineers, went out on strike after the May 1 contract expiry date, they all ratified and settled new agreements and returned to work by Election Day.

Ford and his former ministers travelled the province over the past month, repeatedly pledging support for skilled trades and apprenticeship programs, building infrastructure – highways, hospitals and 1.5 million new homes over the next decade.

Monte McNaughton, the Minister of Labour in Ford’s previous government was also re-elected. Prior to the election call in early May, McNaughton was the face of the PCs ‘Working for Workers’ agenda and had announced an increase to the minimum wage, ‘right to disconnect’ legislation, and strategies to ensure trades unions are overseen by a body that represents them through Skilled Trades Ontario.

“I’m not gonna judge any other party. I’ll tell you, our families, be it my dad or my brother Rob or (nephew) Michael, we’ve supported the hard-working women and men in this province, the union members,” Ford said at a campaign stop at IUPAT’s headquarters.

In 2018, Ford promised Ontario would be “open for business” and that he would usher in an era of “economic growth and prosperity.”

This time around, he focused on the building of new infrastructure including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, in addition to new hospitals and long-term care.

With another majority government elected, plans to build the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413 are expected to go ahead.

The Bradford Bypass is a proposed 16.2-kilometre controlled access freeway connecting Highway 400 and Highway 404 across Simcoe County and York Region.

AECOM Canada Ltd. (AECOM) was contracted to complete a project-specific assessment of environmental impacts for the project.

Brennan Paving and Construction, a subsidiary of the Miller Group, will build a bridge for the Bradford Bypass, the Ontario government announced last week.

The scope of work includes bridge construction, to reroute Yonge Street (County Road 4) to cross the future freeway between the 8th Line and 9th Line and widening County Road 4 from two to four lanes.

Construction is scheduled to start later this year and be completed by late fall.

“Our government is saying ‘yes’ to building the roads, highways and public transit needed to unlock our full economic potential and keep our province moving forward,” Premier Doug Ford said in a news release in April. “As we attract more skilled workers to Ontario, we need to build more roads and highways to keep up with population growth.”

A recent poll commissioned for LiUNA found 57 per cent of people in the Greater Toronto Area supported Highway 413 running 52 kilometres from Highway 400 in Vaughan to Highway 401 near Milton.

On the residential side, the organization representing builders expressed support for the Ford Government after the election.

“The Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) congratulates Premier Doug Ford and the PCs for being re-elected. We would especially like to congratulate Steve Clark and Monte McNaughton, as they have been big supporters of the industry and understand the importance of residential construction and the skilled trades to the economy,” the group said in a statement the day after the election.

“We are looking forward to working with the government on urgent initiatives to boost the supply of housing, modernize the development application process, and move forward with programs to get more people into the voluntary trades,” says RESCON president Richard Lyall. “We were especially pleased at the commitment during the campaign to build 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years.

“Now that the dust has settled, the real work begins. It is critical for government and the residential construction industry to work together to reach that target by cutting red tape and using innovations like off-site panelized and modular housing which will enable homes to be built quicker.”

The PC government has already taken positive steps to address the crisis. The More Homes, More Choice Act was passed in 2019. This past February, a Housing Affordability Task Force came up with 55 recommendations to boost housing supply. And in March, the government introduced the More Homes for Everyone Act which commits to a housing supply action plan every year over four years.

“Ontario’s PCs have played a leadership role in addressing the ongoing housing crisis since taking office,” says Lyall. “They have listened to the concerns of the residential construction industry and have been working towards a solution to the significant housing supply deficit. Ontario’s residential builders are eager and willing to continue working with the PC government to move the needle on housing. Owning a home is the Canadian dream. We must keep that dream alive.”

Robin MacLennan and Mark Buckshon wrote this story, with files from Michael Lewis.

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