Publisher’s viewpoint: Travel, cycling, and The Ottawa Hospital’s PLA

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By Mark Buckshon

I’m writing this note as my wife and I prepare for our first overseas travel in three years. In March, 2020, we returned from a South Pacific cruise with time in New Zealand and Australia, about 10 days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut-down. Now we are preparing for a journey we had originally planned for May, 2020 – about three weeks in Spain, including a week (for me) on a bicycle in Andalusia.

None of this has much to do with Ottawa’s construction industry, with one important personal exception. More than a decade ago, Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. Encouraged me to participate in The Ride, an approximately 100 km cycling fundraiser for The Ottawa Hospital. I dug out an ancient 10 speed (purchased used for $50 when I first arrived in Ottawa in 1981), and managed to complete the course, although certainly not at the greatest speed.

The experience hooked me on cycling. Gradually I improved and I graduated to a $700 functional bicycle a few years later, as I gained confidence on longer rides. By 2019 I was ready to take the next step to carbon fibre and conventional cycling gear (including the misnamed clipless pedals).

Last year, I went all the way, spending almost $10,000 on a bicycle that, while not the highest-end machine on the market, certainly is outside the range of most cyclists. However, even if the bike is perhaps price-wise relatively equivalent to a luxury car, where can you buy a top-of-the-line car for that price where fuel costs are simply a carbohydrate-enriched diet?

Now, as my seventieth birthday approaches, I’ll be pedalling up some rather steep hills/mountains, adjourning each day for some cultural experiences with Vivian. Once we’re done with the tour, we’ll spend some extra time in Seville and Toledo (near Madrid), soaking up more Spanish culture and history, before returning home near the end of the month.

As I climb the Spanish hills, contractors are working on the foundation of the $2.8 billion Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus. There’s controversy about the Project Labour Agreement (PLA) for this massive project. Despite protests from the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) and open shop advocates, I don’t see the PLA as unreasonable. Union contractors have traditionally had pre-eminence in large Canadian construction projects.

Orderly PLA arrangements that assure required labour is available where needed without strikes strikes or job disruptions, allow the work to proceed reliably and within budget. Possibly the work could be done for less money if there was competition from non-union bidders, but I’m wary of think tank assertions from organizations that don’t disclose their actual funding sources, such as the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI). There’s often an ideological bias behind the think tank assertions. I don’t object to that bias; but really want to know the foundations behind the economic assertions.

That said, I’ll leave the editorializing to this column. Hopefully, our news-section reporting ur reporting about the hospital PLA debate/controversy is balanced and reflects different perspectives.

Mark Buckshon is the president of the Construction News and Report Group of Companies, which publishes Ottawa Construction News. He can be reached by email at buckshon@cnrgp.com.

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