New CCA president speaks to the GCAO : Mary Van Buren outlines national industry advocacy priorities

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Ottawa Construction News staff writer

Mary Van Buren, the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) new president, says she is getting down to work in representing and advocating for the industry.

Speaking to the General Contractors’ Association of Ottawa (GCAO)’s annual general meeting on Jan. 24, Van Buren says she has been learning about the industry since moving to the CCA in October from her previous responsibilities as the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) vice-president of marketing and technology.

Her presentation to the GCAO is the third since she joined the CCA, representing an industry that contributes seven per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employs 1.4 million people.

She said she realized that assuming the CCA leadership role is a great opportunity because “I could see how the industry is undergoing a transformation” with technological change and new business practices.”

Van Buren said one of the CCA’s main roles is advocacy, especially at the federal government level. The government is a client, an investor, and “they make the rules.”

While she said direct federal government work overall involves about two per cent of construction nation-wide, the story is different in Ottawa, because about one-third of the government’s federal assets are here.

The story is different nationally when it comes to investment. “They (the government agencies) are huge,” she said. “They are putting $180 billion to the economy in the next 12 years.”

As well, the Infrastructure Bank of Canada will provide another $35 billion, which will be leveraged to “attract new projects with the money.”

The third aspect of CCA/federal government relations relates to the rule making process. “They make the rules,” she said. “Sometimes they want to go really fast but not in the ideal direction, and sometimes they go really slow.”

“That’s the part about advocacy, because sometimes it can take years.”

Van Buren says her goals include increasing “the profile of the construction industry with the government.”

“We have a really strong voice. If we are able to get not a dozen letters but a thousand letters to the government, you can imagine the impact it has. At the end of the day, it is you the voter they want to hear.”

Accordingly she is working on encouraging direct membership participation in a November “Member’s Day” on Parliament Hill.

Priority advocacy issue includes supporting S-224’s “spirit and intent” – this is the Senate introduced prompt payment legislation which characteristics similar to Ontario’s recently proclaimed new Construction Act.

The CCA also will advocate for small business tax issues. “We want to make sure the money stays in your pocket.” Marijuana legislation is also a top priority, including “how do you deal with employees that is fair and respectful, and how do you protect the public.”

Other CCA priorities include helping the industry understand and adapt to technology and improving best practices (such as promoting Gold Seal designations and improving online documentation).

“The bottom line is we are here to deliver more value to you,” she said. “We work very closely with the local construction associations on seeing what the services they need to help deliver more value to you.”

After her presentation, some members raised issues that challenge their businesses, notably the increasing problems in obtaining security clearances. The problems are compounded by new requirements for higher-level clearances, and the fact that a security clearance for one department/project doesn’t carry forward to another.

Outgoing GCAO president Tim Pruner said the problem is at the Treasury Board level because the central agency doesn’t allow departments “to share documents.”

This is creating problems for departments such as Public Works and Government Services Canada because they “can’t get anyone to do work for them.”

“We can add this to the list of things we discuss with them (the Treasury Board),” Van Buren said. “The government is very interested in attracting underprivileged and at-risk youth. If the industry is bringing people in, and they are not passing security clearance, the policies are at odds with each other.”

Another GCAO member raised the question about reprisals, when a contractor litigating against a public agency is denied further work with the agency because of the litigation. Van Buren said the CCA was an intervenor in a British Columbia case, where the “judge agreed that there were merits to the construction industry point of view.” This case will be argued in the spring, she believes.

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