Op-ed: Is B.C. truly “open for business”? A view from the construction sector

BC Op-Ed Nov 2017

Premier Horgan campaigned on good jobs and a sustainable economy. The mantra was clear: “There will be thousands of good jobs with better wages in every corner of B.C. as we build a sustainable economy.” Now, as the minority NDP government settles into office, comes the inevitable question from the local business community and international investors – can the government make good on its promise?

We think there’s a way.

The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) represents a large group of construction employers, many of whom are responsible for building much of the Lower Mainland’s infrastructure over the past two decades. Our member companies are also major players in the energy sector. Chances are good that our member companies will deliver many of the 96,000 construction jobs that Premier Horgan promised in the years ahead. We’re in a good position to see how the government’s rhetoric plays on both sides: with the international investment community on one hand and with workers and their communities on the other. With that in mind, we’d like to offer our perspective on making this government’s promises a reality.

First, boost investor confidence. B.C. needs a climate where investors choose to make long-term economic investments. There was a time when international investors were eager to pump their dollars into B.C. Not any more. The decision by energy giant PETRONAS to cancel its $36 billion Pacific Northwest LNG project, is a troubling sign of the times. The explanation provided is also starting to sound all too familiar. That it was a business decision based on changing economics. The reality is that there is fierce global competition for investment dollars, and that PETRONAS had other places to invest.

Secondly, a fair and transparent regulatory process is essential. Investors will only choose to invest in B.C. and Canada, when they have a clear sense of what it will take to deliver projects and provide value for their shareholders. Up until recently, Canada was known and respected for its responsible regulatory regime. It had a proven track record of reconciling the competing interests of every modern society: economic benefits, environmental concerns, community and social impacts. No longer. As National Energy Board requirements shift, it’s no surprise that TransCanada pulled the plug on the Energy East pipeline for “business reasons.”

The economy and environment should be seen for what they are: related and integrated, not mutually exclusive. Everyone understands that a clean environment is key to sustaining our way of life. Currently, governments too often allow one to be pitted against the other. Instead, a national-leading approach is needed that maximizes the economic and environmental benefits of building important infrastructure, from pipelines to LNG projects.

Third, promoting the skilled trades as a worthwhile, first career choice should be a priority. B.C. has a skilled, safe – and aging – workforce. An economically successful B.C. will require a concerted focus on recruiting, training and mentoring the next generation of skilled workers. Building on B.C.’s diverse workforce is also essential.

Success in the eyes of investors requires a progressive approach to building. The Open Managed Site model, championed at the Site C dam is a good example. It has allowed B.C.’s skilled tradespeople to work on the project based on capability, and establishes a fair and open way of creating competition between different labour models.

Finally, political support that is real and sincere is needed for resource development in B.C. and across Canada; the kind that may have dissuaded PETRONAS from pulling the plug on the Pacific Northwest LNG project, or TransCanada from cancelling the Energy East pipeline. Instead, politics, science and logic seem to be continuously at odds, leaving Alberta and B.C.’s NDP premiers on opposing sides of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and the Green Party suggesting that any notion of B.C. benefiting from LNG exports is like believing in unicorns.

The reality is that rhetoric doesn’t change the facts. Resource development in Canada supports 1.7 million jobs. It generates 16 per cent of Canada’s GDP and 25 billion annually in government revenues. B.C. has one of the world’s strongest construction sectors and it has resources that are in demand around the world. But even with so much going for it, a better future for all British Columbians is not guaranteed. Economic success requires government, industry, national and international investment communities working together. PCA and its members across Canada’s construction industry stand ready to do their part to ensure that B.C. truly is “open for business.”

By Paul de Jong, president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA)