Infrastructure minister speaks at OGCA symposium
Ontario Construction Report staff writer
Ontario’s new infrastructure minister Glen Murray says Ontario contractors need to be able to match and compete with international consortia on increasingly large and challenging public-private projects.
Responding to concerns that Infrastructure Ontario is “bundling” projects to such a scale that smaller regional contractors cannot compete for the work, Murray said the challenge is to figure out how to create new opportunities so “we can build the best consortiums that we can beat the world.”
Murray cited successful public-private works examples including his success in defying the odds when he was Winnipeg’s mayor in building the Esplanade Riel, with a restaurant at its centre – a project that Winnipeg’s now believe defines their city.
Much earlier, “we started as a bankrupt colonial government . . . and built a railroad to a small fishing village on the west coast,” he said. “We built our country on a national railway that is a public-private partnership.”
In the international economy, the “new competition is state capitalism,” he said. “In order to beat them (the state-owned enterprises), we need to seek collaboration, friends and allies. I’m looking forward to getting down to business and doing some deals and getting things moving.”
Murray said the changing rules of the game mean that things move much more rapidly than before – and that conventional industrial and resource industries have been replaced by much less labour-intensive businesses.
“In 1957, two thirds of us made stuff for a living,” he said
But things have changed. He said in January, 1983, there were 104 steel mills in Allegheny County” near Pittsburgh. “By 1984, there were zero – 284,000 people lost their jobs. The change was immediate and catastrophic.”
Ontario avoided the worst of the industrial decline by improving its educational system. “We succeeded through (former premier) Bill Davis . . . he built a college system of over 20 colleges,” Murray said. “We created the most skilled workforce in the western world.”
The new skills and changing rules of industrialization have reshaped the workforce. Murray says today Pittsburgh produces “more steel in the world” but “how many people now work in the steel plants?”
“Two, maybe three hundred people, produce more steel in the entire history of the most important steel town in the world,” Murray said.
“We are doing it through robotics and software; it is a high-skilled workforce, with fewer (but) higher-skilled jobs.”
This story is echoed in Ontario’s north, in Sudbury. Earlier, perhaps 2,000 people worked underground at Inco’s minehead. Now there are “maybe 300 underground.”
“Who is creating our jobs today?” Murray asked. About four per cent “of businesses are generating almost 50 per cent of the jobs. Most are less than 10 years old. Most have less than 500 employees (and) most have been started by recent immigrants or middle aged women.
“These innovation companies, or gazelles, have high risk capital. They are also driving industrial and specialized composite material firms, or (making things like) better parts and pieces for autos and planes.” With software and education, the innovators are making all of Ontario’s businesses smarter and more productive,”he said.