October 2020 - ICBA

OP/ED: Chris Gardner on What Wasn’t Said During the Debate

The following, by ICBA President Chris Gardner, first appeared on The Orca on October 15, 2020.

Like many British Columbians, I watched Tuesday night’s leadership debate very closely. During the 90 minutes, I was disappointed by how little attention was given to revitalizing and rebuilding the BC economy and the role that investment in infrastructure can play in kick-starting our recovery and improving our quality of life.

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson made a strong case for his plan to eliminate the Provincial Sales Tax for a year, and then keep it at 3% until the economy recovers. The BC Liberals also included in their plan a commitment to remove the 2% income tax on small businesses.

During the debate, Wilkinson compared our economic state to “a war-time economy,” an apt metaphor in the wake of the most far-reaching health and economic crisis in a hundred years. The PST cut would help every British Columbian by saving them hundreds of dollars. It would also help every BC business, local government and non-profit organization by reducing their costs and making investments and expansion plans more attractive.

The NDP has singled out construction for particularly unfair treatment with policies that freeze-out open shop contractors, who employ 85 per cent of construction workers, from major government projects.

Before the debate, the BC Liberals sent out an email quoting government documents showing that the new Cowichan hospital, if constructed under a building trades-only procurement framework, would cost taxpayers $160 million (23%) more than if the hospital was built under a fair and open bidding process.

$160 million goes a long way to building important infrastructure in across BC – a new Taylor Bridge in the north, and new transit, schools and recreational facilities in so many growing communities looking to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Openness, transparency and a fair shot at government-funded projects for open shop contractors should not be too much to ask of any government, especially in the wake of a global pandemic. Hard to imagine that politicians can remain preoccupied with picking winners and losers, rewarding friends and insiders, and wasting tax dollars at a time of such great crisis.

Finally, one of the most important questions that has yet to be answered to anyone’s satisfaction by John Horgan is simply: “A provincial election now? Why?” In the middle of a global pandemic when people are worried about their jobs and their families and with so much uncertainty about what lies ahead, we find government being put on hold for an election that frankly nobody thought necessary.

OP/ED: Chris Gardner on Voting in a Pandemic

This op/ed by ICBA President Chris Gardner first appeared on The Orca on October 22, 2020.

They are six words we all expected, but prayed we would not hear.

On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced, “We are in our second wave.” The number of COVID-19 infections continues to grow in B.C., and the economic aftershocks are rocking virtually every industry, including construction. Since John Horgan called the election four weeks ago, nearly 4,000 B.C. residents have been infected with COVID-19. By the time the votes are counted, the election certified, and a new cabinet is sworn in, that number could be close to 10,000 new cases.

I had the opportunity to be on the Michael Smyth Show on CKNW Wednesday morning. I was there to defend keeping the secret ballot for union certification votes, a democratic right that John Horgan is committed to stripping away from workers. There is absolutely no good reason to take away the secret ballot – to do so is a slap in the face of hard-working men and women in every industry in every part of B.C.

Smyth played a clip of Horgan saying the only thing on his mind right now is the pandemic. Well we know that’s simply not true. Horgan called an election in the middle of this pandemic – an election that was scheduled a year from now!

There are only two things on the minds of British Columbians today – the safety of their families and loved ones; and, whether or not they will have a job next week, next month, or next year. Horgan’s decision to roll the dice and gamble with people’s health is hypocritical and infuriating.

Over the weekend, I went to an advance poll in my neighbourhood. Instead of walking to the usual place at an elementary school a block away, I was directed to the cavernous concourse of BC Place Stadium. An election official waved me halfway around the stadium to the voting stations where election workers sat behind plexiglass barriers.

It is crazy to think that on one hand, we have all been asked to sacrifice so much, to stay apart and physically distant  to get through the pandemic – while on the other hand, John Horgan has thrust us into a provincial election where Elections BC has to use BC Place as a voting station to bring people together safely.

So much of this election campaign has been absurd. The NDP claim to have a plan to build a replacement for the Massey Tunnel, but they have no environmental or Indigenous approvals, and the process has been stalled for years after they cancelled the new bridge already in pre-construction.

John Horgan’s plan to direct taxpayer-funded construction work to his handpicked group of 19 building trades unions under so-called “community benefits agreements” is, in a word, offensive. This plan cuts out 85% of construction workers (and 82% of trades apprentices) from working on big government projects, simply because they are open shop.

In 2018, when the policy was announced with great fanfare, the Times Colonist called on the NDP to “kill this idea before it goes any further”, and former Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver said that “…it strikes of paying back political favours and is very troubling.”

We are coming out of a global health and financial crisis the likes of which we have not seen in a hundred years – this is the time when governments should be bringing people together, not dividing them, when infrastructure spending should be open to all who have the expertise and experience, and not just a favoured few.

Unsurprisingly, the lack of competition and the addition of layers of red tape and administration has driven costs way up: highway projects such as Kicking Horse (34% over budget), Illecillewaet (143% over budget), and Chase Creek Road (31% over budget) are just the start. Newly-released government documents peg the promised Cowichan Hospital would run at least 23% over budget (an extra $164 million!) if built under a CBA versus an open and fair procurement process. That is a lot of taxpayer money to leave on the table, money that could be spent on important projects.

Back to BC Place. I checked in, got my ballot, and voted for the only party that stands up for fairness for all contractors —the BC Liberals.