Ontario’s construction business climate is ripe for change, said Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of think tank Cardus, at a lunchtime Economic Club of Canada gathering in Toronto on Feb. 26.
“Ontario is not an island,” said Pennings during his keynote address. “And in an era that is driven by global capital decisions for investment, even a perception that Ontario has become a relatively expensive place to build things can be detrimental to the investment climate.”
Pennings told executives, union leaders, and others gathered for a luncheon and panel discussion that passage of Bill 66 in Ontario would eliminate outdated labour laws that restrict bidding on public construction projects. Those restrictions add an estimated $370 million to construction costs.
“Freeing municipalities, school boards, and quasi-public entities like Ontario Power Generation to engage with the entire marketplace is a long-overdue first step towards Ontario construction competitiveness,” said Pennings.
He also noted that in Ontario:
- Apprenticeship and training programs need to allow creative arrangements for hiring workers;
- An updated construction industry safety regime would allow more flexibility and innovation;
- Modern labour relations rules would allow workers to meaningfully choose to join, leave, or change unions, and let new contractors into the market; and
- Construction industry data collection needs to reflect the true diversity of the workforce by not focusing solely on a binary union/non-union environment.
“Ontario has not made the adaptations that the rest of the country has,” said Pennings.
“The infrastructure governing construction labour in Ontario remains centralized, organized to control rather than respond to market drivers or new modes of worker organizing. Add to that the fact that our skilled construction labour force faces demographic pressures and the outlook for Ontario’s construction industry is not as rosy as we’d wish.”