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Deconstructing the NDP's construction platform

Chris Gardner: Construction was designated an essential service during the pandemic - and yet, the NDP's platform is corrosive for 85% of the industry.
The Pattullo Bridge replacement project is designated under the NDP government’s Project Labour Agreements.

As a second wave of the COVID-19 virus spreads throughout so many communities, government is on hold because the NDP called an election that nobody wants or needs. Today, families across BC are focused on COVID-19 alerts at the school their children are attending, people are worried about their jobs, and businesses are fighting just to survive. The uncertainty, and in some cases fear, is real and being felt by all of us who have been asked to sacrifice so much over the past seven months.

And yet we are in a provincial election campaign, thanks to John Horgan.

No matter how reckless or ill-conceived, Horgan has the election that he wanted and here we are, left to digest the BC NDP platform released yesterday. And, unfortunately, it is full of bad news for open shop contractors – which employs more than 200,000 men and women in BC, some 85% of all construction workers in this province.

1. The NDP platform states that an NDP Government will make sure “every worker has the right to join a union and bargain for fair working conditions.” Every worker in BC has these rights already!

What the NDP really mean is that they will be stripping from workers the right to choose whether or not to join a union through a secret ballot vote in favour of a “card-check” system open to manipulation. The NDP tried to do this in 2019, but the BC Liberals and the Green Party voted together to save the secret ballot and preserve this important right for workers.

2. After cutting 85% of construction workers out of billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded work through their “community benefit agreements” on the Pattullo Bridge and other infrastructure projects, the NDP platform promises even more preferential treatment for the building trades unions: “Wherever possible, we will attach our Community Benefits Agreement to projects launched through the Recovery Investment Fund.” This means more bureaucracy, cost and risk for taxpayers and unfair treatment for open shop contractors.

As we seek to rebuild our economy from the COVID-19 recession, no one should be getting special favours from the government – at ICBA, our ask is simple: all contractors should have a fair shot at working on taxpayer-funded projects.

3. There is no mention (or funding) for key projects such as the new Surrey hospital, a replacement for the Massey Tunnel or a new Taylor Bridge.

4. The NDP platform calls for a compulsory trades system, restricting work on construction sites to registered trades people or those enrolled in a formal apprenticeship program. This was abandoned in BC nearly 20 years ago given the multiple pathways a worker takes to acquire the skills needed to become a journeyperson.

What is too often forgotten is that learning a skill and mastering a craft happens on the job, working side-by-side with colleagues who have more experience and expertise. By far the largest sponsors of apprentices in BC are open shop contractors, who account for 82% of all apprentices in BC.

5. On responsible resource development, Horgan promises “a comprehensive review of oil and natural gas royalty credits.” The energy sector has the potential to play a huge role in Canada’s economic recovery, but it’s on its knees and has been for many years – policies like this will not help restore confidence in the energy sector. Lengthy and shifting approval processes have only served to scare investors, turn away billions of dollars in opportunity, and destroy family supporting jobs for hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

On the heels of last week’s BC Liberal promise to eliminate the PST in 2021, and cut it in half for 2022 and onward (until the COVID-19 recession ended), the NDP’s policy pronouncements raise big concerns for contractors and small business owners alike. Not only would a PST cut leave money in people’s pockets, but also it will help small businesses by reducing needless bureaucracy, lower employers’ taxes by saving on input costs, and it will attract desperately needed investment. That’s something Horgan’s high-profile $1,000 handout won’t do.

Needless to say, we hope the BC Liberal and Green platforms – due to be released next week – are far more supportive of open shop contractors and the families that work for them.

Chris Gardner is President of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association