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Note... the opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the SCA.

October 4, 2018

The Future of Safety in Construction


Safety is crucial in construction. For the overwhelming majority of SCA member companies, it is a top priority through every phase of work. The evolution of workplace safety culture and practice over the last decade has been fascinating to watch, and I am equally fascinated by what the next decade might bring. That’s why I’ve invited Ryan Quiring – CEO of SafetyTek – an SCA partner firm, to share some of his thoughts on the future of safety in construction.

However, before I turn the blog over to Ryan, I want to address why we chose to partner with SafetyTek. As you may know, the SCA runs the Advantage Construction Savings Program (ACSP). The ACSP offers SCA members exclusive access to service discounts that are not available anywhere else. Our ACSP partners have been selected because they (1) offer something that our members want and (2) are prepared to do so in a unique bundling of services. Find out more about how ACSP partners can help your business by checking the website.

So, why SafetyTek? I often hear from members that while they highly prioritize safety, they are frustrated by the administrative and regulatory burden that accompanies it. Administration eats time and productivity and the paperwork doesn’t directly contribute to making a safer workplace. That’s where SafetyTek comes in. They offer a digital solution that really works. Not only that, but it is a Made-in-Saskatchewan success story, and it is tailored specifically to the construction industry. It is exactly the type of thing that our members are looking for, and through our ACSP partnership you can get access at pricing that no one else can. I certainly think it’s worth exploring.

With that in mind, I asked Ryan a while ago what he saw for the future of safety, specifically when it comes to construction in Saskatchewan. Here are his thoughts:

Ryan Quiring, CEO, SafetyTek

I was sipping coffee when Mark asked for my thoughts on the future of safety in construction. I considered the question and decided to first establish a starting point to define where we are with safety today. And the unfortunate truth is that safety is often viewed as a necessary evil at the moment.

Many companies are aware that they need to perform safety but struggle to prioritize it or else rank it among the least favourite jobs of the day. Many other companies lack the necessary skills to implement safety in a meaningful way. Of course, everyone means well and has the best intentions, but this all adds up to unsafe work environments.

So how can we implement genuine and practical change without introducing administrative hassle and ‘make work’ projects that employers need to perform in order to be viewed as “safer.” 

This is one of the problems that Craig and I set out to solve with SafetyTek. One of the biggest hurdles for safety is all of the stuff that is required: contractor registries, documentation requirements, COR certification, and auditing. No wonder business owners have had enough of safety. They already spend way too much time trying not to drown keeping up with it all. 

SafetyTek is a workplace safety enforcement platform, built to enable construction companies to implement safety without creating more work. We can model your organization operationally and track your form templates automatically so that you can remove about 80% of the time spent on safety management. That’s just the core feature set.

We are now implementing Spence.AI which is an artificial intelligence safety assistant which will take your safety implementation and automate it completely. By accepting commands over text, you can send a text to Spence and have him perform tasks like setting up a new user, adding that user to a crew, or moving a crew to a new project or site. He can even create an action item for you over text so that you can document it immediately rather than waiting to recall it later. It’s like having your own personal assistant running your SafetyTek portal for you.

Not only that, but Spence will soon be modelling your workers past behaviour, predicting what should happen in the future in order to setup rules. Then, if a rule is broken, Spence will take action immediately by texting the field worker to make sure they stay compliant. That’s really cool in my opinion.

We’ve completed a couple of studies and we found that within a workforce of 15 people, an owner can spend up to 15 hours per week just performing that task alone. 15 hours! There should be no reason for this. With Spence’s small “nudges” that time will be better spent on operating and growing your business.

Something else we plan on doing with Spence is modelling out what an incident looks like so that we will be able to predict when an incident may occur in the future. We currently have hundreds of thousands of form submissions in our database right now and we believe using key leading indicators, such as, weather, overdue action items, expired training certificates, and safety engagement, we will be able to effectively give companies a probability of an accident happening today with recommended actions to take in order to reduce this probability.

This is technology that we really want to expand on going forward.

We are also implementing gamification. This is in the early stages but it should be released later this year. Engaging your workforce to participate in scavenger hunts, first past the line, or streaks will enable a company owner to invest a little bit of cash into an incentive to increase engagement in the safety program. What this ultimately does, if implemented correctly, is create some virility throughout your workforce. It will lead to the retention of top talent and the attraction of excellent employees to your company, which will allow the company to perform more work on larger and larger projects.

The biggest take away for me is that we are putting an entirely new spin on the views of safety in construction. Getting away from the bad taste that contractor registries leave in a contractor’s mouth. Paying for something that provides little to no value is exactly what’s wrong with safety today and it does not promote proper implementation of actual safety. We can solve the contractor management problem and provide value to construction companies of all sizes. This is what I see for the future of safety in construction.


Mark Cooper, President & CEO, SCA & Ryan Quiring, CEO, SafetyTek.

 
September 6, 2018

Community Benefits and the Generosity of

Construction Companies


This month’s blog post is really highlighted by a guest post from Ryan Leech. More on Ryan below, but I just want to say thanks to him for his leadership on this important issue. Before we get to his guest post though, I want to talk quickly about something the SCA and our industry partners across the country are working on, and something you might want to get engaged on.

The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) has recently embarked on a campaign to gather information about the generosity of Canada’s construction industry. This has become more important than ever as there is a public procurement movement sweeping the country. You may have heard of it. It’s called “Community Benefits”. The Community Benefits approach is all about governments leveraging public procurements to force financial and social contributions from contractors working on public sites. This can run a spectrum from requiring mandatory apprenticeship levels on the job site, to requiring a set threshold of underrepresented groups on a job site, to requiring investments in the local community and local charities. As governments seek to offload their responsibilities on to others, construction contractors can become easy targets for a public that doesn’t understand much about construction, or procurement. Community Benefits are something our industry must be vigilant about and must push back against wherever and whenever we can.

In Saskatchewan, we’ve been successful in this battle so far. Together with industry partners, the SCA stood firm a few years ago when the Government of Saskatchewan contemplated adding elements of Community Benefits to their best value procurement approach. While we have been successful to date, we should never rest on this success. The champions of Community Benefits are always pushing their agenda.

I will write more on Community Benefits in the future, but today I want to focus on how the generosity of construction companies basically makes Community Benefits an unnecessary burden on the procurement process. Specifically, I am asking for your support as we, and the CCA, gather information about the generosity of the Canadian construction industry. Please take a few minutes to complete the CCA’s survey, which you can find here. This survey will be open until September 20, 2018. If you use Twitter, please post information about your company’s community efforts using the hashtag #CDNConstructionGives. Or, you can email Megan Jane at meganj@scaonline.ca with the details and we will tweet out your stories.

The construction industry in Saskatchewan is filled with companies and individuals that generously donate money and time, every day, to make their local communities stronger. This is something to be incredibly proud about. Most of you are far too humble to share your own stories, and that is admirable. Maybe, let us tell your stories for you. Not to pump your own tires, but to make sure that no one ever forgets just how generous the Saskatchewan construction industry really is.

With that in mind, please join me in welcoming a guest columnist for the remainder of this blog: Mr. Ryan Leech. Ryan is an owner of Brxton Masonry, Chair of the Industry Advisory Council, President of the Saskatchewan Masonry Institue, and a Director on the Board of the SCA, and those are just the things I know about (and you thought you were busy!) Ryan and I have been talking about the importance of construction companies being involved in their communities for some time. I wanted him to share some of his thoughts, in his own words. That is what follows below. I want to encourage you, to share your stories with us too. Please do.

From Ryan Leech:

Construction companies – suppliers, designers, contractors large and small, affiliated industries like finance, insurance, legal, etc. – have been and continue to be leaders in social responsibility in our province. When someone needs some help, there is a good chance it requires something to be built. If they don’t need something built, you can bet they need some support, financial or otherwise. With our large construction labour force in Saskatchewan, you can often find the needs – supporting the sports teams of the kids of our employees – even within our own companies.

The construction industry in Saskatchewan is always actively supporting: community groups; sporting organizations; religious groups; social support organizations; cultural events and organizations; and a number of unique special interest entities that provide the improved life experience we value here in Saskatchewan so much.

Giving goes hand in hand with our history, through our typically local ownership, strong connection to our employee base, and the true reflection of a partnership mentality within our industry.

As the dropping commodity values began impacting our sector, as early as 2014, combined with the growing public deficit and subsequent austerity budgets, everyone is trying to do the same or even more with considerably less – both personally and on the business side.

Social supports were clawed back or eliminated, municipal transfers were reduced, taxes were raised across different revenue lines, and the labour exemption on PST was eliminated causing an instance 3-4% increase in the cost of getting anything built – whether we’re talking a residential fence, or a potash mine.

The economic downturn in the construction sector has most companies managing with tighter margins, with smaller revenues and opportunities, while also reducing overhead. Our experience these days isn’t growth and prosperity, it’s trying to keep the lights on until we see a sustained positive return for our industry. While all of this is going on, one thing hasn’t changed. The phone calls and visits asking for support haven’t slowed down. If anything, they’ve increased.

When the economy was strong, our industry stood up and did more than its fair share. Construction undertook incredible and generous support for all of the various groups and programs listed above. With the cuts to government budgets, and the increase of costs to most organizations (including non-profits), the needs of many of the organizations we supported are only growing. Unfortunately, this is happening at the same time our generous sector is shrinking – both in volume and in profit.

How does a business owner manage the growing list of ‘asks’ with the shrinking cash flow in the bank or the shrinking bidding opportunities to secure that next project with reduced fee expectation?

In Saskatchewan, we choose to support these needs by setting budgets for social support and continuing to engage even when the right choice fiscally is a regrettable decline. We look to each other as companies and individuals and encourage the continued investment in communities and programs we rely on to enhance and maintain our valued quality of life. It is a difficult choice but throughout the construction industry, community social support leadership encourages the ‘act of giving’ within our teams, improves our connections to our neighbours and enforces the positive rewards of giving – the greatest gift.

 


Mark Cooper, President & CEO, SCA & Ryan Leech, Owner, Brxton Masonry Inc.

 
July 4, 2018

Silver Lining in the Summer Storm Clouds?


There are some troubling indications that Canada may be losing ground, at least in the short-term, as a desired place to work and invest, particularly vis à vis the US.

The Kinder Morgan project, which had passed all the regulatory requirements, was mired in politics, ultimately leading to the Government of Canada taking it over to ensure the steady flow of oil to tidewater.

Trump’s unjustified tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum and Canada’s necessary retaliatory measures will impact the industry’s productivity - potentially delaying vital infrastructure projects and depriving communities of the related benefits.

Finally, the tax situation in Canada, including the changes to small business owner rates - which the CCA lobbied against, is another example of negative pressure on entrepreneurialism.

Taking a longer view, the future is still very bright.

Investing in Canada’s infrastructure is critical for the continued development of the country and keeping pace with world-class economies.

The Government of Canada’s Investing in Canada plan consists of $180B over 10 years.  We are very much supportive of this plan and advocated for it in our pre-budget submission.

Phase I is largely done.  Infrastructure Canada has a great website where the progress of the spending can be tracked.

There has been some slippage in the flow of funds for a variety of reasons: municipalities may not have been project ready; the tendering process may have taken longer than planned; the capacity of the industry is not available or is tied up with other projects. Unfortunately, this means that communities may not benefit as soon as hoped from the economic stimulus or the quality of life improvements that infrastructure investments provide.

A more efficient system of getting infrastructure funding to projects would be helpful and CCA remains committed to working with the federal government and with provincial and local partnerships through our local associations.  The goal is to smooth out the boom and bust of funding, which creates higher costs, labour shortages during the boom, and limited opportunities for apprenticeship training during the busts.
 
We made two proposals as part of our pre-budget submission, which have not yet been adopted. That said, we remain optimistic that we can work with the Government to improve this process over time.

The Phase II framework agreements now in negotiation with the provinces include some aspects that are of concern to CCA: climate lens assessments and community employment benefits.

The industry is very supportive of adopting innovative solutions, applying best practices in building and attracting a diverse and tech savvy workforce.  CCA’s vision is to “build a better Canada.”  In our five-year strategic plan, we have stated our commitment to driving real economic impact in Canada and becoming an employer of choice.
 
CCA will continue to reach out to government, our partner associations and community groups to identify positive ways to advance opportunities for all Canadians who are motivated, trained and available to work in construction.

Together, we can make construction a career of choice and Canada a great place to work and invest.


Mary Van Buren

President
Canadian Construction Association

June 7, 2018

Prompt Payment legislation is coming this

Fall, let's be ready.


On May 29th, the SCA received official confirmation from Minister Don Morgan that the Government of Saskatchewan plans to introduce Prompt Payment legislation during the upcoming Fall 2018 session of the Legislative Assembly. 
 
This is good news for all of us who have been working for the past few years to get this legislation in place. The legislation will be introduced through an amendment to the Builders Lien Act and based on similar legislation already passed in Ontario. 
 
While introduction of legislation is a major step in the right direction, it marks the next phase in this work, not its conclusion.
 
Until legislation is in place, regulations are complete, and contractors have payment enforcement mechanisms available to them, the work is not complete.
 
These next steps will be crucial - introduction of the legislation, public consultations, and debate. Those of us who support the passing of Prompt Payment legislation must be vocal and we must ensure that the arguments in favour of this legislation strongly outweigh those opposed to it.
 
The Legislative Assembly returns on October 24, 2018. Prior to that, the SCA will be reaching out to every MLA to reference Prompt Payment and seek confirmation of their support for the legislation. While we expect both the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP to support the legislation, we don’t want to leave anything to chance.
 
In other jurisdictions, voices in opposition to the legislation often stay in the background. We’re talking mostly here about influential developers and owners that don’t like the idea of being bound to payment terms or schedules. As an industry that values transparency and consistency, we need to ensure these quiet voices are drowned out by our own.
 
To that end, I am asking you, our members, to reach out to your local MLA. Whether they are NDP or SaskParty, it doesn’t really matter. Call them, or send them an email or a letter. Tell them that you support prompt payment legislation and that you expect them to support it too. Tell them why you support the legislation, and what kind of an impact delayed payments have had on your business.
 
In August, the SCA will send out a template letter you can send to your MLAs, along with all of their contact information. I would encourage you to copy the Premier, Ryan Meili the NDP Leader, and Minister Morgan, when you send your letter. Let’s make sure they know how important this really is.
 
Once the legislation is through the legislature, a process that won’t be complete until April or May 2019, we will need to put a big emphasis on education and training. This will be particularly important a we need to train owners, consultants, lawyers, and financiers about the new rules and what they mean. It will be a big task.
 
Thank you to everyone for your patience as we’ve worked hard to build a strong industry consensus in support of Prompt Payment and to achieve the political support we need to see the legislation through. We are close today. Closer than we ever have been before. The work isn’t done yet though. We need to keep pushing.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

May 3, 2018

Why aren't we building more in

Saskatchewan?


There’s a question that’s been haunting me recently. I don’t have an answer. Not a good one anyway.
 
But for the past year we’ve been trying to figure out why Saskatchewan is not seeing greater private sector investment and construction. Without improved private sector investment, the construction sector will remain stuck in first gear. The solution is to get people spending and building again.
 
Last year’s provincial budget didn’t help. Increased PST, including expansion to previously exempt construction services and restaurant meals, drove up costs for companies and consumers at the expense of discretionary spending and confidence. It was an unhelpful policy initiated at the wrong time. Nonetheless, the provincial economy muddled along, experiencing mild growth by year’s end.
 
Additionally, global commodity prices have been hard on Saskatchewan in recent years. This led many private companies to stockpile both inventory and capital while waiting for more favourable demand and price curves for their products. As stockpiles grew, production requirements slowed and layoffs ensued. Positive economic indicators aside, resource concerns have a broad and problematic impact on consumer and business confidence, driving more cautious spending and investment practices.
 
Challenging global and national political environments pose another set of serious problems for Saskatchewan’s international trade based resource economy. Our neighbour to the south is prone to inconsistency and focused on domestic economic stimulus, even at the expense of close trading partners. Meanwhile, our provincial governments are squabbling over petty politics. Combined, it makes Canada a tough place to consider for major, long-term infrastructure investment. For Saskatchewan, this creates unnecessary uncertainty about our ability to deliver products – oil, potash, uranium, crops – to market in a timely manner. Any perceived inability to transport product is a recipe for trade disaster. Investors must have confidence that their product can reach markets.
 
So, the last year-and-a-half has definitely seen our economy encounter some headwinds that have slowed any potential recovery. As construction is at the front end of translating investment into productivity, our companies are highly sensitive to the changing winds of consumer and investor confidence.
 
This year, all economic indicators point to a good year for growth in Saskatchewan. All estimates say we should be second amongst provinces in growth this year, and begin to see a moderate economic rebound. Yet when I talk to our member companies on the ground, the message is different. We continually hear that things are slow. Very slow.
 
Whenever we’re out talking to groups in the province we remind them that now is a perfect time to build in Saskatchewan. Pricing is competitive, labour is abundant, and project scheduling is efficient. If you’ve got any appetite to invest in Saskatchewan over the next decade, you should be building now. People intuitively understand this message, but are still reluctant to commit to spending. What I can’t figure out is why the uncertainty exists.
 
I’m hopeful that the last provincial budget will help. It didn’t bring much good news, but it stayed away from any more bad news, and that was an important step. Essentially, the government chose to stay out of the way of private sector investors while they recover their confidence.
 
I do worry that the interprovincial squabbles and the slow-moving pace of our federal government may be contributing to this uncertainty among investors. I also worry that we, as a whole in Saskatchewan, may not be doing enough to promote the advantages and opportunities that are here for investors.
 
This is something I’d like to see the province take a more vocal and leading role in. How do we attract investment into Saskatchewan while supporting reinvestment for those that are already here? How do we tell the Saskatchewan story more effectively and make sure that we’re delivering the message to a ready audience?
 
Saskatchewan should see growth this year and that should mean some recovery for a construction industry that has been hard hit by slow years. I hate relying on “shoulds” to get us through though. I hope the government and private sector associations (the SCA and others), will take a more active role in encouraging investors to build in Saskatchewan and to build now.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 5, 2018

Celebrating Construction, Celebrating You


This month, from April 11th to April 17th, we will celebrate the second annual Saskatchewan Construction Week. This week, a partnership between the SCA and many other industry associations, is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the many incredible contributions that the construction industry makes to our great province. I am very proud of this initiative and I’m pleased to see it taking off in other jurisdictions in Canada too.

British Columbia will be celebrating Construction and Skilled Trades month this month, an initiative that the BC Construction Association attributes to the example set by Saskatchewan last year. Other provinces are also interested in doing something similar. I look forward to a day when every province has a Construction Week or Month, and we can point to the fact that it all started here, in Saskatchewan.

During Construction Week this year, there are a number of events happening across the province. For a full list, you can visit www.constructionweek.ca, but I thought I would highlight a few of our Signature events here:


  • Youth in Construction Events – This year, in Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon, and Prince Albert, the construction industry will be holding “Think Construction” events to introduce young people to the world of construction and the trades. This is the first time that events will be happening in all four centres during the same week, and it will bring great attention to the importance of attracting the next generation of the construction workforce;
  • Inclusive Day – This day, scheduled to coincide with the 2018 Provincial Skills Competition, will focus on under-represented segments of the population. Specifically, we’ll be providing information to young Indigenous students and young women about opportunities within construction. Teaming them with mentors, they will hear first-hand how construction can be a great place to start and grow a career;
  • Dinner with the Deputy Ministers and Crown Presidents – Construction industry leaders will be sitting down with 20 or so provincial Deputy Ministers and Presidents of Crown Corporations. We’ll be having dinner together and talking about how the provincial government and the construction industry can work collaboratively to build Saskatchewan. This is one event where a limited number of tickets are available for members to purchase. If you’re interested in doing so, you can contact our office at 306-525-0171. The dinner is being held at the Hotel Saskatchewan, in Regina, on Monday, April 16th;
  • Construction Day at the Legislature – On Tuesday, April 17th, we will wrap up Construction Week with a day of lobbying MLAs and Ministers at the Legislative Assembly. More than 20 industry leaders will assemble to communicate to government the priorities of our industry, and in particular how construction is a vital element in growing the provincial economy. The day will include meetings with Ministers, MLAs, the Opposition, and government officials, and will end with a reception for everyone in the Legislature. It will be a great way to wrap up Construction Week!

As well as these signature events, there are events for members in Moose Jaw and Prince Albert where they can connect with their local City Mayors and Council, and several other events throughout the province. As mentioned earlier, you can find all the details on our website: www.constructionweek.ca.

In the end, Construction Week is about raising the profile of the construction industry and celebrating the contributions that your industry makes to Saskatchewan. There are approximately 11,000 construction companies in the province, with about 56,000 employees. Every day, these companies and these employees, are literally doing the work that builds Saskatchewan. Nothings gets done without construction.

I’m fortunate enough to work in a role where I am in service to you, and to this industry, so I am humbled every day by the contributions you make to keep Saskatchewan growing. My hope is that through initiatives like Construction Week, the rest of the people who live in Saskatchewan can see what I do, and can share in the gratitude that I have for your incredible work.

Thank you for everything you do for our province. I invite you to join us in celebrating Saskatchewan Construction Week, and in so doing, to acknowledge and celebrate what you do for Saskatchewan.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
March 1, 2018

The Time for Action is Now


Premier Scott Moe and his Cabinet members are getting ready for the next session of the Saskatchewan Legislature, which begins on Monday, March 12th. As they finalize their agenda and complete the budget planning process, I thought I would take a moment to list the things that we here at the SCA will be looking for from the government in the coming weeks. Our legislative advocacy agenda is based on the priorities of our members. We develop our list based on the challenges you’re facing every day in growing your businesses. What we’ve been hearing from you is that we need to focus on:

Prompt Payment
This is, by far, the top priority of our members. Companies want to get paid promptly for work they’ve completed. In 2017, Ontario passed Prompt Payment legislation, becoming the first Canadian jurisdiction to have these safeguards in place. The SCA and a group of industry partners created a partnership – called Prompt Payment Saskatchewan – to advance this priority. We’ve worked closely with the provincial government. All indications are that the government will introduce legislation to enshrine Prompt Payment during this Spring legislative session. We will be working to ensure this happens.

Procurement Harmonization
Several years ago, the provincial government embarked on a procurement improvement exercise designed to ensure that Saskatchewan suppliers had fair access to compete for publicly funded work in our province. Dubbed “Priority Saskatchewan,” this effort has been both positive and challenging. It has been positive in moving the government strongly toward “best value” procurement. Best value procurement is good in theory, but it requires harmonized procurement practices across ministries and crowns to ensure that you know what to expect when you bid on work.

The government has been slow to move towards harmonized practices across all ministries, and especially within the Crown sector. With new Ministers in place, we will be looking for the government to make changes here. Every time you bid on government work – whether it is for Central Services, Highways, or SaskPower – you should know what to expect, and get what you expect. It’s time the government move more aggressively toward this goal.

Trade Agreements
It is possible that the time has come for Saskatchewan to walk away from the New West Partnership Trade Agreement. Ongoing trade issues with both British Columbia and Alberta seem to highlight that reciprocity and fairness between Western Canadian provinces when it comes to trade may no longer be possible. While the SCA is not advocating for abandonment of the NWPTA, we need to acknowledge that Saskatchewan’s economic success is dependent on international trade, not interprovincial trade. When our provincial neighbours are willing to create protectionist barriers around their borders, we need to consider doing the same for the sake of our businesses and employees. That isn’t something we can do within the NWPTA, so maybe we shouldn’t be members. We’ll be watching to see this government’s plan for interprovincial trade and how they will ensure that Saskatchewan companies have every opportunity to be successful.

Conclusion
Like most Spring sessions of the Legislature, I expect this one to be dominated by the provincial budget. We will see what Premier Moe and his team do to move the province closer to fiscal balance while still advancing their growth agenda. There are no easy answers to the challenges we face. Here at the SCA, we will be working to ensure that prompt payment, procurement harmonization, and interprovincial trade don’t get lost in the budget noise.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

February 1, 2018

 

Why I fear Trump...and why you should too


The Presidency of Donald Trump should be a source of fear for all of us in Saskatchewan but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

The Trump administration is profoundly unconventional and his election and governing style are symptoms of deep divisions in American society. And, while the spectacle of his Presidency is bizarre, I am much more worried about Trump’s potential to succeed in one of his areas of greatest focus: awakening the slumbering giant that is the American economy. My fear is that his success will be our failure – and it will be our own fault.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Trump outlined a multi-step plan to unleash American entrepreneurship. The plan included continued tax and regulatory reductions, quickening the regulatory approval process, massive infrastructure investment, the creation of vocational colleges, and investments in skills development training for the American workforce. It is an impressive and ambitious vision. Precisely what the American economy needs. All I could think about was how nice it would be if our governments in Canada had a similar focused agenda.

True, there is significant space between Trump’s speech and the implementation of his vision. And given the gridlock that dominates the American political landscape, there is no certainty about whether his vision will be implemented. However, the possibility that it might should worry those of us in the business community in Canada, especially in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

While the federal government in the United States seems eager to remove roadblocks to economic development, the opposite seems true in Canada. The Trudeau government seems paralyzed when it comes to pursuing economic development strategies, particularly with respect to the resource sector. Of course, in Canada, it’s not just the federal government that is causing problems – it’s also rogue provincial governments. The most recent example being the government of British Columbia’s decision to restrict the transportation of bitumen – which effectively threatens the viability of the Trans Mountain pipeline and other such projects. Ridiculous, unacceptable, short-sighted, unpatriotic, and perhaps even traitorous are all accurate descriptors of this bizarre decision.

One environmental group in BC, applauding the decision of the BC government, was quoted as saying: “They could build their pipeline, but...they won’t be able to turn the tap on.” Well, thanks for that.
Can you imagine this kind of nonsense being acceptable in Trump’s America?

While the US government is embarking on an aggressive and comprehensive federal program to unleash their economy, empower entrepreneurs, and get Americans working, it seems like Canada’s various levels of government are not just stuck in neutral but actively trying to find ways to drive our economy off the cliff.

Enough is enough.

If Trump and the Republicans can follow through on their plan, their economy will take off, and here in Canada we won’t be in a position to take advantage of that. More frighteningly, we won’t be in a position to be competitive.

Canada’s economic and geo-political position has always been particularly vulnerable to US economic and political fluctuations. We have thrived in part by being nimble enough to adapt to changing situations south of the border, while effectively specializing in economic niches – particularly resource extraction and development.

If our governments are paralyzed by fear – held in place by the tyranny of small-minded special interest groups – we lose our nimbleness. If we erect so many barriers to the extraction and transportation of resources that it becomes too cost prohibitive to invest in Canada, we lose our specialization. In short, we take away the things that enable our success, and set ourselves up for failure.

I never thought I’d catch myself thinking – wow, the US might be lucky to have President Trump after all – and I’m not saying I’m feeling that way yet. However, if he can follow through on his plan, it will be good for America. More worryingly, if we can’t get our act together here in Canada, it will be bad for us. We owe it to each other not to let that happen.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
January 4, 2018

 

2018 to be an Exciting Year


2018 is likely to be a big year for Saskatchewan in general, and for Saskatchewan’s construction industry specifically. In today’s blog post, I will provide an overview of some of the big news stories I expect in this coming year:

Saskatchewan gets a New Premier
On January 27th, the Saskatchewan Party will elect a new leader who will become the province’s next premier. This person will serve until, at least, the next provincial election in 2020. The election of a new Premier will serve as a bit of a reset for a government that has struggled to hold to its pro-growth agenda in recent years. Based on the extensive advocacy of construction associations over the last few months, I’m confident we’ll get a Premier who is interested in genuine engagement and consultation with the industry. It will be interesting to watch as the new premier establishes their identity and leadership style within the government. The SCA will be heavily engaged with the new leadership right from the start.

Prompt Payment Becomes Law
All of the candidates for Premier have committed to advancing Prompt Payment legislation in the coming year. Saskatchewan’s current Minister of Justice, the Honourable Don Morgan, has personally committed to me that the legislation will be introduced in 2018. The Opposition has also publicly stated support for such legislation. We have already been working with officials from Justice, and the legislation will likely closely resemble the Prompt Payment legislation recently passed in Ontario. I have every reason to believe we will see Prompt Payment legislation approved in Saskatchewan in 2018.

Marijuana Becomes Legal
On July 1st, marijuana will become legal in Canada. The implications for workplace safety are still a bit hazy (pun intended), but it is perfectly clear that it will complicate things for both employees and employers. There are at least three major issues that must be resolved in order to assist with ensuring work site safety. First, we need to have a clear definition of what constitutes legal impairment in regard to marijuana. Second, we need reliable and readily available non-invasive methods to measure that impairment. Third, we need to explore more robust testing protocol, in particular for safety sensitive work environments like construction.
Any construction employer that does not have a drug and alcohol policy in place today, should immediately begin developing one. If you do have a policy in place, make sure it is updated to deal with the legalization of marijuana. Our Advantage partner – WellPoint Health – can help you with this. Also, you should consider requiring pre-employment health and drug tests.

PST Might Go Up to 7%
When the new Premier takes office at the end of January, they’ll be faced with the proposition of putting the finishing touches on a provincial budget in a matter of about a month. Most candidates have committed to rolling back the PST on insurance services, all have committed to more spending, and all have committed to balancing the budget – although at different times. With an election a little over two years away, the government needs new revenue and it isn’t likely to find it through economic growth. I would be surprised if the government isn’t seriously considering a further increase of PST in the coming year.

The Riders Win the Grey Cup
Why not? It’s next year already. Go Riders!

What do you expect to be the big news stories in Saskatchewan in the coming year? Let me know at president@scaonline.ca.
I want to extend my sincere wishes to everyone for a safe and productive 2018. May it bring lots of investment and construction activity to our province.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

December 7, 2017

 

What about Lloyd?


Yesterday the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure announced a new policy on license plate requirements for future provincial projects – specifically vehicles with Alberta plates will no longer be allowed on Ministry job sites.
 
The SCA is firmly committed to free trade policies that allow Saskatchewan businesses to grow and compete in other markets, while being treated fairly at home. We also understand that the key to successful trade policy is reciprocity – the willingness of each partner to give and take.
 
Every partner in a trade agreement like the New West Partnership has the right to be treated fairly and to trust that artificial barriers will not be imposed upon them or their business.
 
After all, it is the fair opportunity to compete that brings us to trade negotiating tables in the first place – and we are all better for it.
 
When it comes to the specifics of this policy direction, some concerns have been brought to the attention of the SCA, including: does this policy apply to personal vehicles?; does the policy apply only to Highways and Infrastructure work?; and who will bear the cost of the inspection regime and potential cost overruns associated with violations?
 
These are some of the questions and concerns the SCA has about this policy and we will be seeking answers in the coming days, including in a meeting next week with Minister Marit.
 
In the spirit of both reciprocity and competition, the SCA believes in evidence-based policy and action. There is anecdotal evidence of Saskatchewan contractors facing pushback on Alberta worksites. If thorough investigation demonstrates that such barriers are in place in Alberta and they will not remove them, then conditions like those introduced by the government of Saskatchewan are clearly justified. If however, Alberta is able to demonstrate that such barriers do not exist, we expect the government would revisit this decision at that time.
 
It is also important to remember that although we may sometimes disagree with the government of Alberta and its policies, the people of Alberta are our friends, neighbours and often family. The businesses of Alberta are our partners, suppliers and customers. In many policy matters, Albertans are our closest allies.
 
In many places and instances the distinction between Alberta and Saskatchewan melts away. Take Lloydminster for example: they have countless businesses that operate seamlessly between both provinces. Their construction association represents members from both sides of this policy dispute.
 
None of us wish our friends or neighbours ill will, but we all expect fairness.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

November 2, 2017

 

Has Priority Saskatchewan Failed?


A few weeks back, a prominent leader in our industry asked me that question. To be honest, I was quite surprised. From my way of thinking, Priority Saskatchewan has been one of the signature successes of the SCA and our partners over the last few years. It was created by the government to respond to industry concerns about Saskatchewan contractors being left behind. Mandated to improve government procurement practices, Priority Saskatchewan was tasked with building a grand collaboration between government and industry to execute complicated cultural change across multiple different ministries and crowns.
At the heart of the Priority Saskatchewan mission I recognize three key principles:

  1. Best Value procurement – this recognizes that awarding contracts to the lowest bidder is not always the best way to get value. The goal is to do the work necessary in advance of award to figure out what best value to taxpayers means in the context of each project; and
  2. Harmonization – moving to best value from low price means creating a world in which more flexibility, subjectivity, and judgement enter into contract awards. This necessitates a move towards harmonized documents, procedures, processes, and interpretations. If everyone is doing everything differently, the procurement environment actually gets worse, not better; and
  3. Supplier Development – when the world of procurement changes, we need to train the procurement agents, but we also need to train the suppliers. Vendors must know how to operate in the new world because when they don’t, chaos ensues.
I would say that Priority Saskatchewan has been successful at launching the first principle. Across government there are now efforts underway to procure goods and services using the best value model. While imperfect, the progress made on this principle is considerable and seems to be moving in a positive direction.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the second principle – Harmonization. Harmonization of procurement has been a necessity outlined by the SCA and our partners in the industry for years now. This is not new. Government ministries and crowns cannot move to a best value procurement model unless they do so in a consistent and harmonized fashion. Two examples stand out:

  1. Too many procurement documents go out stating that best value will be applied but not providing details on how elements will be scored and considered. When this happens, vendors are bidding blindly. This wastes time and effort and drives up cost. This must change; and
  2. Some groups have done away with public tender openings, others have moved to a hybrid approach, and still others haven’t changed at all. Vendors must know what to expect and there must be transparency. We have to find the ‘best practice’ approach and it must be implemented government-wide…no exceptions.
I am extremely alarmed by what I perceive as the harmonization principle falling off the rails in government today. Too many different agencies doing things in too many different ways. It is creating confusion for the vendors and it is undermining the credibility of Priority Saskatchewan in the process. It is time that this change.
I believe this change begins with a clear and unequivocal commitment from government to the principle of procurement harmonization. Then it requires a direct mandate to Priority Saskatchewan to set the rules by which procurement shall be done. No longer should the Priority Saskatchewan ideas be couched in the language of recommendations. They must have the authority of edicts. Every organization must fall into line, and now.
If Priority Saskatchewan, and the government, can get the harmonization principle back on track, then the third principle of Supplier Development can also roll-out effectively. We can work together to get our member companies up to speed with the processes, procedures, documents, etc. used by government. Until harmonization is in effect, supplier development has little value to offer to companies trying to sort through the government procurement maze. A starting place for this principle must be the reasonable expectation that when a vendor procures something from one ministry or another crown they can expect the way they are treated, and the process they endure, to be largely if not perfectly similar.
So, has Priority Saskatchewan failed? No, I don’t think it has. In many ways it has been a great success. Today, I view that success as at risk. If government does not re-commit itself to procurement harmonization, then I fear that all our progress to date may have been for naught.
Here at the SCA we will keep working with partners and our allies in Priority Saskatchewan and across government to push for improvements in this area. I have great hope that we will achieve continued success.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

October 5, 2017

 

Energy East Cancelled - A National Failure


Today we learned that TransCanada will not proceed with its proposed Energy East pipeline. The company did not provide specific reasons for the decision, but both continued low commodity prices and a slow, uncertain regulatory process have been cited by thoughtful observers. The approval process was plagued by vocal opposition from the Mayor of Montreal, environmentalists, and others. And it did not help that the federal government and the National Energy Board continually failed to provide clarity or consistency with respect to the regulatory process.
 
While TransCanada made the best business decision they could for their shareholders, they never should have been in this situation in the first place. Strong national support for this project should have been clear and loud from the start. The fact that it wasn’t is a failure we all wear.
 
Too often we allow the vocal minority and the Citizens Against Virtually Everything (CAVE people) to steamroll public discourse, while supportive majorities remain silent. We sit tight – silently waiting for governments to do the right thing – while small groups of people rage against development. It’s time we stop letting the destiny of our industry and our country be held hostage by those who will simply never accept any kind of natural resource development.
 
That’s why, a little under two years ago, the SCA started working on a Canadian Construction Association (CCA) working group to support the development of a guide for supporting projects like Energy East. We wanted to help construction associations across the country by better equipping them to fight in favour of development and growth. Along with our partners from CCA, the BC Construction Association, and the Alberta Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association, we’ve been working on this multi-part guide. It is almost done, and the final version should be available to all construction associations across Canada (and beyond) by the conclusion of the next CCA Annual Conference, in Banff next March.
 
While the guide comes too late to support the fight for Energy East, it was precisely this fight that led to its creation. We cannot and should not be silent any more. It is time for the construction industry as a whole, and our associations in particular, to get into the fight and make sure that we stand for the opportunities that development provides us.
 
In the mean time, if you want to get involved in this fight, I encourage you to join Energy Citizens, a grassroots effort to support energy development in Canada. You can find out more at www.energycitizens.ca. In the coming weeks and months the SCA will be working with this group to grow their reach and support the sharing of their message. Join with us, and let’s keep fighting for Canada.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

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