2016 chair Mark Watson to ‘stay the course’ OCA reaches out to attract members, build consensus and reduce industry conflicts

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STAFF WRITER
– The Ottawa Construction News

New Ottawa Construction Association (OCA) chair Mark Watson says he plans to stay the course as the association’s leader, though when he delves into some of the important issues affecting the industry, there is no doubt that there are many challenges to resolve.

“There’s no huge initiatives, no new directions, or anything earth shattering,” he says. “If anything, the legacy I would like to leave if all goes well by the end of the year, would be that I was a chairman who made a great association a little better by reinforcing our core values and principals.”

It is here that the story becomes less “as boring as it sounds.”

“We want to make the construction environment more co-operative,” Watson says. “There’s been, in recent years, the trend to get more confrontational with new amended contracts and supplemental conditions. It has pitted people against each other rather than finding common solutions.”

Nevertheless, the OCA has thrived in the past year, despite an overall decline in Ottawa’s construction volume. (Building permits were $2.145 billion in 2015, nearly 20 per cent lower than 2014’s nearly $2.7 billion total – this excludes heavy civil work, for which building permits are not required.)

However, the association’s membership levels has defied the trend towards declining participation noticed by other organizations, with an increase in membership to 1,133 at the end of 2015 from 1,175 the previous year, an increase of 42 companies.

Watson says part of this growth can be attributed to a membership campaign to reach out to organizations associated with the construction industry. “We’re looking for people who are not members and have divided them into subcategories by the work they do, for example, engineers, architects, project managers and subtrades, and then are addressing them with letters through direct mailings,” he said.

Watson said he attributes at least 12 of the new members last year to the direct mail marketing campaign. The big news of 2014 – the association’s sale of its 196 Bronson Ave. headquarters to a condo developer – hit something of a snag last year, when a planned deal to purchase land in the Hunt Club/Auriga Dr. area fell through.

But this issue thankfully has also been offset by the decline in the local condo market. The building’s new owner, Lamb Developments, is quite happy to have the OCA remain as a tenant. The annual rent of $139,410 is 100 per cent offset by a vendor take back mortgage – so the OCA can remain in the building effectively without cash cost, while the developer doesn’t need to worry about losing cash from the property as he waits for the market to improve.

Watson says the condo market pause has given the OCA time to search for an ideal location. “What the OCA needs is a building for the next 50 years – and the amount of parking we need for members and training isn’t easy to find in existing buildings,” he said. “We’ve come to the opinion that we may need to build new. We’re looking for land where we can build a state of the art facility.”

The association has looked at several sites but hasn’t found the ideal location yet. It would combine enough space for at least 50 parking spots, with a relatively small 10,000 sq. ft. building. The headquarters’ site also needs to be located where members can access it by road and (for training) by public transit.

On ethical issues and controversies, OCA president John DeVries has been asked by The Ottawa Hospital to recommend names for a “blue ribbon panel” to suggest improvements to the hospital’s construction management and procurement systems in light of a recent scandal, in which the hospital has sued two former employees and several contractors for alleged kickback and bid rigging schemes.

During the year, the association received one formal ethics complaint – a rare event – in which, after review, the association determined the general contractor “did not act within OCA guidelines of the best construction practices” relating to communication and promises about payments to subtrades, Watson said.

“There’s a lot of inquiries made to John DeVries” by members concerned about ethical issues, he said. “They are told that the process must be initiated with a formal level of complaint, detailing what the complaint is.” Almost no one follows through.

Watson says the OCA does not plan to rejoin the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA) even though the issue that led to the OCA’s withdrawal – COCA’s failure to take a strong stand regarding the Ontario College of Trades (OCOT) – has been largely resolved through changes recommended by Tony Dean’s review.

He said the problem with COCA is that its representation and leadership are more connected to the member associations’ administrations, rather than individual business owners and members. The OCA bucked this trend. “We never sent John De- Vries to COCA. While we have so much confidence in (DeVries) and his ability, this (COCA) is an association driven by its members and members should be a part of its leadership.”

Accordingly, the OCA is happy to speak with its own voice on topics such as prompt payment and the Construction Lien Act review. “At this point in time, I don’t know what COCA would have to change to get us back in the fold,” Watson said. “We are respectful with the communication with them” but at present the OCA executive believes the membership dues it would have to send to COCA could be better used elsewhere.

Watson says the OCA will continue its initiatives to support the community with good deeds, based on the work of previous chairs including Paul McCarney “with his strong emphasis on charity work and the fact we have a role to play in society with the less fortunate” and Tony Sottile, who emphasized smaller charities “while growing the membership by creating a more inclusive industry and getting involvement from all the key stakeholders.”

Watson began his career in the propane industry, working for IGC Propane before joining CRS in 2002. His propane experience helped establish him as a specialist in temporary construction heat.

At CRS, he oversees the daily operation of six eastern Ontario locations and is responsible for developing business strategies to improve profitability and efficiency while working closely with the branch managers.

Watson has founded the CRS and Friends Bursary, awarded each year to an Algonquin College student in the building construction technician program who demonstrates strong leadership and exemplifies sound practical skills. This bursary was the first recognized award for the building construction program.

He participates in several associations including the National Capital Heavy Construction Association; the Ottawa, Quinte, and Ontario Home Builders’ Associations; and the Kingston Construction Association. He has been an OCA director since 2008 and served on the standard practices committee and building committee, and chaired the entertainment committee. He also served as a member of the steering committee for the Ottawa Young Construction Leaders.

Watson grew up in Ottawa and lives in the city with his wife and three sons.

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