CCA joins open shop contractors in opposing $2.8 billion Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus PLA

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has decided to support a campaign initiated by contractors not associated with the major construction trade unions in opposing the Project Labour Agreement (PLA) for construction of the new $2.8 billion Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus.

In an April 24 statement, the CCA says “governments need to roll back (the) unfair procurement approach on this and other projects.”

Unfortunately, the statement says, the PLA “will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions more and leave a majority of Ottawa-area construction workers ineligible to work on the vital project.

The PLA between the hospital and the Unionized Building and Construction Trades of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec prohibits contractors and workers who are not affiliated with these specific unions from bidding on, or even participating in building the campus, the statement says.

The CCA statement sites the same Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) statement referenced by the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) in February, when that group called on the federal Competition Branch to investigate the PLA.

A report by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) finds that The Ottawa Hospital’s restrictive PLA will stifle competition, escalating project costs by between $168 million and $525 million by 2028. The authors of the report find it unacceptable for a public entity to make taxpayers pay more by granting exclusivity to a specific group of affiliated workers, the CCA says.

(The MEI does not disclose the organizations which fund its research, but observes in its disclosure statement that the construction industry gave only about $9,000 of its approximately $2.5 million 2021 budget.

(“Those who accuse us of being in the service of donors do not understand the logic of our funding. We do not take positions on particular subjects because certain companies support us; it’s the other way around, which is to say that companies support us because we defend coherent positions on topics of interest to them,” the MEI says.)

“Not only are a large number of talented workers — many from small and medium-sized firms — barred, but, as the MEI points out, the projects are likely to cost taxpayers more than necessary as a result,”  CCA president Mary Van Buren says in the April statement.

“The Ottawa Hospital project is the latest in a series of concerning examples where public sector procurement is falling short on fair and open practices. Another such example is British Columbia’s Patullo Bridge project.

“Even more concerning, given their national scale, are the labour requirements attached to the newly introduced federal clean tax credits established in Budget 2023, which again exclude non-unionized construction workers,” the CCA statement says.

“The Canadian Construction Association takes issue with these examples and others that either categorically exclude or strongly disadvantage one group of workers,” said Van Buren,  “We would take a similarly forceful position if the reverse had happened and union workers had been excluded or disadvantaged.”

“In every province but Quebec, non-unionized labour makes up the vast majority of the construction industry,” the CCA says. “As such, procurement that excludes non-unionized workers excludes most construction workers in Canada. Rather than introducing labour force restrictions, progressive buyers of construction are exploring collaborative models, with improved risk sharing and communications, and focusing on achieving excellence in project delivery.

“The public procurement process should not give preference to any particular individual, firm, or group. Open and fair competition creates a level and inclusive playing field, which leads to better value for money. This is good for the economy and good for Canadians.”

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