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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.

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

September 7, 2017


Choosing a Premier - A Unique Opportunity

In a few short months Saskatchewan will have a new Premier. With the recent announcement by Premier Brad Wall that he will be stepping aside from a decade of leading our province, the Saskatchewan political-verse was set a twitter. A new leader for the Saskatchewan Party and a new Premier for our province. This doesn’t happen too often and it really is a big deal.
For the price of a membership into the Saskatchewan Party, any eligible resident of Saskatchewan will have the opportunity to vote in this coming election.
Here at the SCA we see this leadership race as a great opportunity. We will be spending time getting to know the candidates and their positions on things that matter to you. We will be providing you with information on them and the things they believe. We will give you opportunities to interact with the candidates, and we’ll make sure to fight for the issues that matter most to our member companies. We also hope to take some time to pay tribute to Premier Wall and the incredible contributions he has made to Saskatchewan over the past decade and beyond.
In the coming days and weeks, you will see more information from the SCA on the leadership race and the work we will be doing, including with partners, to profile the construction industry and ensure Saskatchewan gets a Premier that will best advance a pro-growth agenda. This process will begin with a survey we will send out to members next week. In that survey, you will be asked to share your thoughts on the issues that matter the most. We want to know what keeps you up at night, and what you think should be the government’s top priorities in order to ensure a successful construction industry and a growing Saskatchewan. Please take the time to fill this survey out and share your thoughts with us.
If you have ideas for how we should be engaging the leadership candidates during this campaign, please share them with me at president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
August 3, 2017


Buy Local and Build Relationships

This week I was contacted by a member company being excluded from the opportunity to bid on a large-scale private project for a national grocery chain. The member was being excluded because they hadn’t been made aware of the project by an owner with no connection to the local construction market. The owner’s use of a pre-qualification system that didn’t (at least at last report) provide the member company with enough time to register, get qualified, and then submit pricing meant that by the time the member learned of the project the opportunity was already lost.

I wrote to the owner expressing our support for the member and encouraging them to give the member time to get qualified and submit pricing. My argument was simple and familiar to my readers: the more companies that bid, the more competitive your pricing will be. At the same time, using local contractors builds local brand strength for the owner, while controlling labour and transportation costs during the construction phase.
I haven’t heard back from the owner yet and I’m not sure I will. But the whole episode raised a couple of important points that I’ve been thinking about for a while now:

  1. We as a construction industry have clout to wield, but only if we do so together; and
  2. We as an association need to do a better job of building relationships with private-sector owners.
Construction Industry Clout

There are more than 50,000 Saskatchewan residents that work in construction right now. If you factor in families, we’re probably talking more than 120,000 people in Saskatchewan that depend on construction for income. That’s not to mention the rest of population that relies on the construction industry to build the things that let them earn a living. Just looking at those directly employed in construction and their families, we’re talking about more than 10% of our population. That’s enough to create real shift in the economy.
What if people involved in construction didn’t shop at grocery stores or shops that didn’t engage local contractors in construction, repairs, maintenance, renovations, etc.? What might that do to the equation that owners and their consultants use when determining which contractors to engage?

That’s precisely what our member company planned to do. Letting their employees know which stores support local contractors, and which don’t. Now, one member company might not be able to shift the behaviour of large corporations, but what if more member companies banded together on issues like this?

We often talk the talk that owners should buy local when it comes to construction services. Perhaps we should walk the walk by doing the same ourselves? Not just buying from local vendors – which is a critical element in supporting local businesses – but only supporting stores that support local business. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the construction industry in Saskatchewan started buying local too.

I don’t have a plan for this, but I’d be interested in getting your feedback. What role do you think the construction industry can have in shaping the behaviour of the people that should be buying our services? Let me know your thoughts at president@scaonline.ca

Building Relationships with Private Owners

The incident above is also a perfect example of why the SCA and our partner associations need to keep building relationships with private sector owners, especially large-scale owners. Frankly about 80% of all construction activity in the province is private-sector work, and yet we spend almost no time building relationships with the people who spend that money. That needs to change.

I’ve been hearing about this from members as I meet with them – that while the SCA is doing good work in improving the way the province procures construction services, too many private-sector owners are not following best practices. Way too much work going out of province with not enough opportunity to compete for that work.

This is a space that we have never been active in, but that is going to change. Starting this fall, I want the SCA to begin building relationships with private sector owners and investors. I would like your thoughts on how best to do this. Please let me know by sending me an email at president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

July 6, 2017

Building History

Construction is vital to the health of any economy. It enables delivery of the growth and opportunity that sustains societies. Today, these contributions include better infrastructure, public spaces, commercial development, and a skilled workforce that represents 9% of the province’s total employment.
The construction industry in Saskatchewan is the third largest employer behind only healthcare and retail services. This makes it the second largest private sector employer and, because construction pays better wages than retail on average, a significant share of the provincial tax base and consumer spending.
The notion that construction is a fallback career or less dignified than other professions is outright nonsense. Some of the most stable and successful companies in Saskatchewan are construction businesses – from general contracting, mechanical and electrical companies to flooring, roofing and contracting supply businesses. The fact is, construction facilitates every success we have as people; from children’s hospitals to restaurant renovations and from new homes to manufacturing facilities – construction is always the first step in changing the world.
This has always been true. It was true when Canada built a railway across the nation and it was true when the Panama Canal was built. Major projects say something about those with the will and determination to undertake them. They often say things that neighbouring cultures and communities take note of. Sometimes history itself takes notice.
This has always been true. In the hills of southern Anatolia, in modern Turkey, 12,000 years ago a group of people came together and undertook humanity’s first major construction project. With crude stone and wood tools, they built a 300-meter series of circles out of massive stone pillars up to 6 meters high and weighing up to 40 tons each. They decorated the place with pictograms of animals and mythical creatures. History has long forgotten these people and we don’t know why they built the place, but they did. And I’m writing about it 12,000 years later.
About 5,000 years later Stonehenge was constructed. Around this time cultures we recognize today would begin to emerge in the Indus Valley, Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia and China. Progress was slow but steady with the Great Pyramids at Giza and many South American pyramids constructed over the next 2,500 years.
In the next 2,000 years the Bronze Age came and went. The Greek city states built the Acropolis and other monuments. A thousand years later Rome would become ascendant and build infrastructure unparalleled before or for hundreds of years afterwards – including roadways, aqueducts and the Colosseum.
In Medieval times civilizations competed to build larger domes, cathedrals and other monuments to demonstrate their superior engineering and craftsmanship. By the beginning of the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution construction projects were meant to celebrate civilizations and deliver infrastructure previously unimaginable. These projects ranged from iconic like the Eiffel Tower and the Champs de Elysee in Paris to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam in America.
These things have always mattered, even if only as symbols. One way or another, what we build defines who we are as a people.
With so many Saskatchewan citizens making a living in construction it makes sense to pause for a moment and reflect on what they actually do. You likely know someone who works in the field – even if you don’t think of the business owner or the skilled tradesperson as a “construction worker.” I assure you they are. And they should be proud of it.
These people built the Empire State Building. They built the CN Tower. They built an unnamed monument in southern Anatolia 12,000 years ago. Seven thousand years later they built the Great Pyramids. They built cathedrals and domes in the middle ages. And they are still building the world today. They build our stadiums, bridges, homes and workplaces. Their contribution to our economy and quality of life is critical.
We owe them a debt of gratitude for that and for the contribution they make to our economy and our lives every single day.

John Lax, MA

Saskatchewan Construction Association
June 1, 2017

Getting Paid for Work - It's Time for Prompt


Yesterday, May 31st, the province of Ontario introduced a bill that, when passed, will assist Ontario construction companies in getting paid for work they’ve completed. When this bill becomes law, it will be the first of its kind in Canada. Unlike every other Western nation, Canada does not ensure through law, in any jurisdiction, that construction companies get paid in a reasonable timeframe.

It’s past time that we fixed this problem, and I think Saskatchewan can actually lead the way.
Unlike other industries, it is very common for construction companies to complete work and then wait for lengthy periods of time to get paid for that work. In fact, the AVERAGE payment time in Canada is 72 days. Imagine dealing with that in your personal finances…waiting on average, more than two months to get paid for something you do today. Crazy.

I tried this in the grocery store a few weeks back. I got to the till with a bunch of groceries and I asked the clerk if I could pay them in two months. She of course said no. I tried it at a car dealership. Also no. I tried it at a restaurant and at a hotel. Neither went over well.

That being said, I do have the option – if I’m lucky enough to have credit – of putting these expenses on a credit card and paying them off in future months. That is one potential solution…but only if I can get credit and pay significant interest penalties for doing so.

Construction companies rarely have any choice in the matter. The power in a contractual relationship rests with the party that is offering the contract. Owners often leverage this power to force payment terms that force companies to wait for months on-end, with little recourse. They, like you and I, can finance these delays on credit, but that means they end up paying for the “privilege” of getting paid for work. Ridiculous.
It is time for all of Canada to join the modern world in ensuring that construction companies get paid promptly for completed work. In the day and age of electronic payments and processing, no one should have to wait more than 30 days to be paid for their work.

Over the last several months, the SCA has been working together with a number of industry association partners to develop a legislative plan for resolving this issue in Saskatchewan. The group, called Prompt Pay Saskatchewan, has developed a cohesive legislative strategy that would allow for the Government of Saskatchewan to introduce a new bill as early as the Fall of 2017.

I believe we have the chance for Saskatchewan to leapfrog Ontario and become the first province to introduce legislation to solve this problem. All indications are that we have a provincial government that is open to a legislative solution, and we do have a workable solution. In the coming weeks, the challenge we have is to identify individuals, groups, companies, associations, etc that either support or oppose a prompt payment legislated solution. If you have thoughts on this issue, or if you know of groups that we should be talking to about this, please email us details at johnl@scaonline.ca. John Lax, our policy Manager, is leading this file for the SCA.

I hope that next year when I get to the annual SCA Summer Meeting in Elk Ridge (where I am as I write this), we will be able to celebrate a new world for Saskatchewan construction companies. A world in which they get paid for work in a timely manner. A world where, finally, a construction company will be treated like any other company. I think it’s time.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
May 4, 2017

Getting the Tax Rules Right - A Call to Action

The new PST on construction services has been in place for 34 days now. The government is still trying to sort out how and when the tax applies, and companies are scrambling to sort out contractual and financial obligations. It’s a mess for our industry, and no one is happy about it.

Your associations and government officials continue to work together to update information and provide clarity around the implementation of new tax rules. While the associations, including the SCA, do not support the changes we are trying to make as much sense of them as possible for you – our members.

To that end, we’ve partnered with MNP – tax and audit specialists – to provide members with as much information as we can on what changes are finalized and what they mean. Together, we held a webinar in April during Saskatchewan Construction Week and, this past week, we partnered on in-person question and answer sessions for contractors. The first half of the session offered a presentation by MNP on the latest PST updates, followed by break out sessions.

Contractors and suppliers were able to grill Ministry of Finance officials on the ins and outs of the PST changes. The sessions sometimes got a bit heated, and lots of tough questions were asked. I hope most attendees found the sessions to be helpful. I also want to express my gratitude to the officials from the Ministry of Finance who attended these sessions. They’re in a tough spot, left trying to figure out how to implement a tax they didn’t get any notice about either. I don’t feel sorry for them, but I do empathize with their challenge, and I know they’re doing their best.

While we’re working, for the most part, to help members understand the changes, we are not done fighting them yet. Specifically, we, and other associations, oppose the government’s arbitrary decision to impose a 10% change order limit for projects contracted pre-April 1. The rule, as currently written, says that if a project is approved on the pre-April 1 registry, the pre-April 1 tax rules apply…UNLESS that project experiences cumulative change orders in excess of 10%. Everything over the 10% is taxed according to the new rules, including the entirety of the change order that pushes the total past that threshold.

This is an arbitrary and unfair percentage, chosen only to grow the revenue pie for the government with no consideration or understanding to the impact on the industry. This rule must change. The coalition of industry partners has written a formal letter to Brad Wall, asking the government to scrap the 10% rule and instead establish a three-year completion window for projects under the old rules. You can read more information in other parts of the SCA’s newsletter this month on this issue and on other parts of the PST issue.

What we know today is that the only way this change will happen is if we have the political support of the government. We need to let our MLAs and Cabinet Ministers know why this rule needs to go. To do that, we need your help!

We want our members to write to your local MLAs, and other MLAs you know. Send a letter or an email to them, call their offices. Get in touch with Minister Kevin Doherty (Minister of Finance) and tell him what you think. If we really want this rule to change, we need to let them know, and you have a part to play. In our newsletter this month we include a template letter, and information on how you can contact your MLAs.

Complaining about the rules is one thing, doing something about them is another. At the SCA we will keep fighting hard to get these rules changed. Join us in this fight, and together, let’s get it done.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 6, 2017

Best Week Ever; Worst Week Ever

Charles Dickens’ literary classic, A Tale of Two Cities, opens with the line: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I have felt that sentiment stronger than ever this past week.
On one hand, we had the first ever Saskatchewan Construction Week – an opportunity to celebrate the phenomenal work that construction companies do to build and grow our province. On the other hand, our members are dealing with the frustration and challenge of implementing a new tax we didn’t want and our economy doesn’t need.
There’s a lot to address, so I’ll start with the bad and end with the good.
I’m mad. Really mad. Becoming the first jurisdiction in western Canada to fully tax construction services was a bad decision. It was one that our industry was fully united in opposing. Our opposition wasn’t because the tax would be bad for construction companies (although it is). We were opposed to the tax because it is bad for Saskatchewan’s economy. When we increase the cost of investment we run the risk of slowing growth. When we are taxed while our neighbours are not, we hurt Saskatchewan’s competitiveness. So, I’m angry that the government decided to tax construction services.
I’m also troubled about the way it was done. The construction industry, and our supply chain, are remarkably complex. Nine days to implement a brand-new tax was far too short a timeline. We are a week past when this tax came into effect and our members are still struggling to understand the nuances and rules of a tax they’ve never dealt with before. Our members are not struggling for lack of trying, they are hamstrung because the rules themselves are unclear and, in many cases, not even determined yet.
Once the government made the decision to apply the PST, it should have provided a sufficient notice period and extensive consultation on the complexity of the construction industry prior to implementation.
While I am both mad about the decision and disappointed in the way it was implemented, I will say that officials from the Ministry of Finance have been very helpful and engaging in assisting companies in navigating the issues. Together, we have formed an industry-government committee to work on this issue and ensure that changes are made and communicated in a fast and effective manner. We are trying to make the best of a bad situation for you.
If you have any questions or concerns about the PST, please send us an email at sca@scaonline.ca or call our office at 306-525-0171. We will be happy to help you.
Ok, that’s enough about PST and our worst week. Let’s talk  about our best week.
April 3 to 7 was officially proclaimed the first-ever Saskatchewan Construction Week. This week is all about acknowledging the incredible contributions the construction industry makes to Saskatchewan. Here are a few facts:
  • Construction is the third largest employer in Saskatchewan behind only the retail  and health sectors.
  • 51,000 people work in construction in Saskatchewan. This represents about 9% of the total workforce in the province.
  • There are at least 8,000 construction businesses in Saskatchewan (some estimates are as high as 13,500).
  • Of these companies, fewer than 500 have more than 20 employees. This means construction companies are often very small businesses.
  • Construction has a payroll of about $3 Billion. That represents about 14% of the total payroll in the province.
  • Construction jobs pay, on average, 30% more than jobs in other industries.
  • Construction represents a direct contribution to provincial GDP of about 8%, making us the 3rd largest contributor to the economy.
Construction really matters in Saskatchewan, so it makes sense that we have at least one week to celebrate the work that you do every day. And it was a full week of successful events and activities.
It has been so much fun to reconnect with old friends, meet new ones, and together talk about the role and importance of construction. If you’d like to find out more about the things that have happened during Construction Week, I encourage you to visit www.constructionweek.ca or check out the SCA Facebook page or Twitter feed. On Twitter, a search of the hashtag #SKConstructionWeek will provide lots of event pictures.
So, sometimes a week can be both terrible and wonderful. This week has been one of those. I’m sorry we all have to deal with this PST mess, but I’m so glad we have this week to celebrate your remarkable work. I hope you’ve had the chance to participate in at least one of the Construction Week events. I think the week has been successful enough that we will try it again next year. If you have ideas for how we can celebrate next year, please let us know!
Here’s hoping the coming weeks and months see many more peaks than valleys.
Happy Construction Week everyone!

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
March 2, 2017

Government Procurement Issues? Call the SCA


If you have issues with government procurement (including with Crowns), please contact the SCA as soon as possible. It may be possible to change active tenders, to ensure they are compliant with Priority Saskatchewan’s Best Value procurement methodologies. The SCA will assist you in getting this done. We’ve done it for others and we can help you too – but you need to contact us quickly because once a tender closes no changes are possible.

Priority Saskatchewan continues doing an excellent job of reforming provincial government procurement and the SCA is lending its full support by helping assess and direct procurement concerns from our sector. We’re here to help our members navigate provincial procurement and to support Priority Saskatchewan in ensuring that all government procurement – including Crown procurement – is done the right way.

Is there a specification that doesn’t make sense? Is there a specific department or agency that isn’t meeting expectations? Do the same issues occur repeatedly?

By flowing procurement concerns through the SCA there is a dedicated, construction-focused partner paying attention to patterns and themes which allows us, our members, the industry and Priority Saskatchewan to be proactive in addressing issues.

The key points for companies to recognize today are:

  • Tender requirements – Ministries and Crown agencies are required to form tenders in such a way that if Saskatchewan companies can compete, they are able to do so under the terms of the tender. This can relate to wording, timing, notice, specs, etc.
  • To illustrate, we are aware of tenders that Priority Saskatchewan has had rewritten so that the specifications did not demand, inadvertently or otherwise, specific brands, materials or service models from other jurisdictions when perfectly suitable alternatives were available locally.
  • Tenders should align to business needs, not preconceived solutions. The easiest way to recognize this is when viable options are excluded by overly prescriptive specifications.
  • Bid Results – Please request a debriefing, as it is your right. Priority Saskatchewan recommends going through the formal debrief process whether your bid is successful or not so you benefit from feedback about where your bid was strong and where it could be improved. Early reactions to debriefings have been very positive.

Priority Saskatchewan is harmonizing provincial ministry and Crown procurement practices using a Best Value model developed in Saskatchewan and for Saskatchewan. Best Value realigns procurement to enable procuring agencies to be more thoughtful and considerate in their evaluation of bids.

While Best Value is still tied to price, its focus is on total life cycle cost rather than initial price. Priority Saskatchewan is working to change the culture of procurement for the benefit of tax payers, the government and the private sector through their new Procurement Guide.

Of course, change means adjusting expectations and behaviors. As both the government and the private sector go through this transition there will be hiccups and, likely, mistakes. But there will also be opportunities and those opportunities are significant enough that the SCA has adopted a formal policy in support of the work of Priority Saskatchewan.

To discuss procurement issues, please contact John Lax at johnl@scaonline.ca.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
February 2, 2017

Deficit is the Right Call

Saskatchewan’s provincial government faces challenging decisions in the upcoming budget. Revenue lines are shrinking or flat-lined, and expenses are tough to control. Without the revenue to offset expenses, the government faces a significant deficit and growing debt.

For a Saskatchewan Party government that prides itself on fiscal responsibility, this is a frustrating position. Debt, deficit, and growing expenditures must really irk our elected leaders. That’s likely why Premier Wall has directed the Treasury Board to return the province to a balanced budget this year. In a province that hasn’t yet forgotten the last time we ran consecutive years of large deficits, mandating a return to balance must seem like the right call. The problem is, it isn’t. Not this time.

Saskatchewan isn’t the same province it was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago. We are a province on the rise. Despite challenges, our economy continues to grow, as does our population. Both our economic and population growth are at risk if we can’t continue to build the infrastructure and invest in the services our province needs.

I’ve spent the last three months traveling across the province to talk to people about transformational change. Everywhere I go, they all say the same thing: Deficits are fine if there is a plan in place. They look at the challenges we face not with fear but with real hope and optimism. They believe that Saskatchewan’s better days are still ahead. They know that building the future we want in Saskatchewan won’t come cheap, and they’re prepared to invest in that future.

In all my conversations not one person suggested the government should follow an austere slash and burn approach to the budget. Likewise, not one person suggested adding on growth-killing taxes. Instead, the consistent narrative was about responsible deficit planning.

Responsible deficit planning means having a clear vision for the future, understanding the areas of investment we need, communicating the plan effectively, and executing that plan consistently. People are ready for responsible deficit planning because they want to invest in Saskatchewan.

No one likes deficits. They feel like kicking the can down the road and avoiding tough decisions; but sometimes they’re not. If the government is going to keep optimism alive, it must keep investing. Right now, this means running deficits. The message from Saskatchewan people couldn’t be clearer - a responsible deficit plan is the right call.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

January 5, 2017

April 3-7, 2017, proclaimed first-ever

Saskatchewan Construction Week

Five-thousand individual businesses. Close to eight per cent of the province’s gross domestic product. More than 50,000 employees — equivalent to manufacturing, forestry, mining, and oil and gas combined.
These are more than just numbers. They tell the story of a construction sector at the forefront of Saskatchewan’s economy.
Now, there is no doubt that 2016 took its toll on the industry. Although the data for the final three months of the year has not yet been released, the value of non-residential building permits is on pace to drop 42 per cent over 2015, led by a 47 per cent decline in commercial construction.
But the building blocks (no pun intended) for long-term growth and sustainability are there. Compared to this time even a decade ago, and despite ongoing softness in commodity prices, the province’s construction workforce has expanded by 20,000 people. Average weekly earnings have increased by 49 per cent. And we are entering a time of unprecedented infrastructure renewal.
There is good reason for optimism; and there is good reason to take stock of the important role construction plays in weaving Saskatchewan’s economic and social fabric.
That is why we at the SCA are very proud to be joining forces with the provincial government to proclaim April 3-7, 2017, the first-ever Saskatchewan Construction Week — a celebration of the sector’s noteworthy achievements and a call-to-action to nurture the next generation of shared prosperity.
This is not a week only for the SCA. We want everyone in the province, including our members, other associations, elected officials, municipalities, suppliers, and educational institutions to come together for five full days of special activities and dialogue. The week will culminate with the 2017 Skills Canada Saskatchewan Provincial Competition, April 6-7 in Saskatoon.
Become a sponsor. Host an event. Reach out to your local MLA or mayor. Go for a site tour. Check out the latest in construction innovation. Give us a call at (306) 525-0171 or e-mail derekl@scaonline.ca to discuss how you would like to become involved! A full calendar of events will be released in the coming weeks.
You may view the official proclamation document from The Hon. Jeremy Harrison, Minister of the Economy, by clicking here.
Together, let’s build Saskatchewan!

Derek Lothian

Senior Advisor to the President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
December 1, 2016

Proposed PST Tax Grab Will Harm Provincial


The provincial government is projecting a $1 billion-plus deficit in the current fiscal year. Facing this challenging economic reality, the government is seeking opportunities to reduce expenditures and grow revenues. Recently our finance minister, the Honourable Kevin Doherty, implied that the removal of the PST exemption for construction labour costs is under consideration. This move would devastate an already fragile provincial economy and harm Saskatchewan’s competitive position. Just as Premier Wall rightly says that “now is not the time” for a carbon tax, now is not the time to push investors away from Saskatchewan.

The SCA will be active in encouraging the provincial government to keep Saskatchewan growing by maintaining a competitive and attractive investment environment. To this end, we are working with a broad multi-industry and labour coalition to make the case that taxing construction labour will shrink investment, drive business to neighbouring provinces, cost Saskatchewan jobs, and reduce provincial revenue. In short, this plan will hurt the province and its economy.

If the province proceeds to tax construction labour, it will have an irrevocably negative impact on the Saskatchewan economy. Here’s why:

  • None of our New West Partnership provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba) tax construction labour. This will automatically create a competitive disadvantage for Saskatchewan in attracting investment;
  • Saskatchewan construction companies will see overhead and administrative costs increase as they will be forced to register as PST collectors;
  • Increasing the cost of construction will dampen the likelihood of investors spending money now. The Saskatchewan economy is already operating at reduced capacity and investors are holding on to cash rather than investing. This is despite an economic environment that is very attractive for investment. This tax increase would certainly make things worse;
  • It will cost Saskatchewan construction jobs. Construction is Saskatchewan’s second largest private employer, after the retail sector. In the last eighteen months, our province has lost more than 5,000 construction jobs. We can’t afford to lose more;
  • It makes the cost of housing less affordable, which will slow the housing market and depress local economies. This comes on the heels of multiple changes at the federal level that have already made housing less affordable. We need to reverse this trend;
  • When construction gets taxed, it harms the construction industry but, more importantly, it hurts everyone else. As a service industry, construction flows its costs through to those who purchase construction services. Increased taxes make every investment decision more expensive (and more difficult) for everyone, so the effect on the economy will be widespread and negative;
  • The things potentially not being built — residences, commercial and industrial facilities, and major renovations of commercial spaces — not only require investment, but drive future growth. These are the facilities that create jobs, stimulate consumer spending and enable businesses to grow and hire – contributing to a broader tax base;
  • As jobs are lost, investment falls and business slows, the province will lose income tax revenue and sales tax revenue. Any perceived gain from adding a construction labour tax will undoubtedly be offset by the lost revenue the government will give up, and the economic opportunities that will be lost.

The SCA will work with our partners, both within the construction industry and outside, to convince the provincial government that adding a tax on labour is a self-destructive policy. We’re going to ask our members to help as well. If you believe that taxing construction labour is a bad idea, then we need you to meet with your MLA and tell them so. Send me an email (president@scaonline.ca) or give me a call (306-527-6854) and let me know that you’re interested in helping stop this tax. If we don’t act, we may end up with a terrible tax that will set our whole province back. We can’t let that happen.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

The Times They Are a-Changin'

Downturn. Sluggish. Slowdown.
These are all terms used to describe the provincial economy in the past 24 months. They are not wrong but they paint an incomplete picture. Things are starting to look up.
Saskatchewan’s economy is still fundamentally strong and relatively well positioned in the global market. The fact of the matter is the world is changing or, more accurately, it’s already changed and it’s starting to settle down. And once everyone recognizes this “new normal,” projects and facilities are likely to start up again.
Saskatchewan is a resource economy in a world that’s changed. But we still produce the food, fuel and fertilizer the world needs. This was true ten years ago, it’s true today and it will be true ten years from now. For example, even if renewable energy supplanted oil tomorrow, oil is still crucial for plastics manufacturing and industrial lubrication.
So what we have is a downturn created by declining resource prices but sustained by the perception that, as an investment, what we produce is less valuable today than it was yesterday.
Again, there is some truth to this. Oil dropped 70% in price and has not recovered even half of that loss. Oil does not appear poised to make significant gains in the near future based on geopolitics, accessible reserves, competition and replacement technologies. Potash is down and there is reason to believe that long term oversupply to China will depress prices for an extended period. Uranium dropped after the 2011 Fukushima reactor disaster in Japan and shows few signs of strengthening.
But if the picture seems bleak, it shouldn’t. Saskatchewan has become a global leader in pulse crops. Both the public and private sectors are scrambling to find efficiencies and opportunities in every conceivable corner. And there is still considerable value in our resources – even below record market prices. That value will still be there a generation from now. What we lack now is the confidence to invest.
Every job lost is a tragedy for the individual or family effected. But this was the worst economic slowdown in a generation and we seem to have found the trough – numbers have been consistently poor for several months. But they are not getting worse. If this is the bottom, it means the downturn has brought the Saskatchewan economy back to 2011-12 levels of activity.
We had to land somewhere and 2011-12 is not a bad place. It’s a significantly stronger position than 2006 or 2000. All of the numbers demonstrate 2011-12 activity except for one: private investment dropped well below 2011-12 levels. However, as it becomes clear that we’ve found a new baseline, activity in the 2011-12 range will prove every bit as attractive for investment as it did at the time. Once investment returns, the economy will stabilize and people will get back to work. Our growth and return rates won’t be as red hot – but they don’t need to be for Saskatchewan to be successful.
There is still money to be made. We’re just waiting for investors and capital to adjust to a new normal.
There are already some very promising signs that this is starting to happen. Recently, Calgary’s Precision Drilling announced they were hiring 1,000 new oilfield workers. Both Suncor and Husky have posted strong profits – even at $50 per barrel. Cameco’s sales are up. Investment in US shale gas is up. Potash investments are still ongoing even at reduced rates. Canada’s political stability is in sharp positive contrast to the political unease and violent conflicts through much of the world. At the same time, the US – Canada’s largest trading partner and the world’s second largest economy – is quickly picking up economic steam. Canada also just signed a free trade agreement with the world’s largest economy, the European Union.
Anecdote is not singular for data, but if all of these seemingly unrelated factors are the early signs of a trend that investors have recognized it’s safe to resume pursuing opportunities, then we’re likely looking at the start of a real and sustained recovery.
There may be more hiccups to come, but the pendulum seems ready to swing back in Saskatchewan’s favour.


John Lax, MA

Saskatchewan Construction Association
October 6, 2016

A Carbon Tax is a Terrible Idea

On Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the federal government would impose a minimum carbon tax on all provinces and territories, beginning in 2018. The minimum tax will rise from $10 per tonne in 2018 to $50 per tonne in 2022. It will levy a fee on the production, distribution, and use of fossil fuels. The tax is designed to support a drop in carbon emissions by altering corporate and consumer behaviour. Tragically, not only will this tax fail to achieve its objectives, but it will do a lot of damage in the process. A carbon tax is a terrible idea.
Let me first say that opposing the carbon tax is not the same as ignoring climate change. Climate change is real and the human impact on climate is undeniable. We must take considerable steps to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and we must do it quickly. Saskatchewan in particular, as an energy-producing province, should be a leader in developing the technology and the processes to reduce emissions. We should then outsource that leadership and help other jurisdictions. I don’t oppose a carbon tax because I’m a climate change denier. I oppose a carbon tax because it won’t help the environment.
Now, let’s talk about why the carbon tax won’t work. The goal is to reduce GHG emissions, and it wields a tax tool to alter consumer and corporate behaviour in order to achieve that goal. Let’s look at the consumer side first.
At its highest level - $50 per tonne – that would lead to something like an 11 cent per litre extra tax on fuel. For most consumers, an 11 cent increase in fuel cost will not result in any kind of behavioral change. We see 11 cent increases from week-to-week in fuel costs, and people still keep filling up. It might reduce our disposable income, or our spending on other products, but we’ll keep fueling our vehicles. So we’ll keep consuming fossil fuels and not reduce GHG emissions at all. In the meantime, individuals with limited incomes will now be spending more of it on fuel, leaving less for clothing, housing and other necessities. No reduction in GHG, and a negative impact on individuals and families. Sounds like a terrible idea.
Now, let’s look at the corporate side.
Companies that produce, distribute or use fossil fuels will be subject to a new tax. These companies will pass these new costs along to their customers. Ultimately these costs will end up with the end users, typically individuals, families, and small businesses. Think electricity and heating bills. Who will pay for these increases? Small businesses, home owners, and renters. Companies have no incentive to change behaviour since the tax is a flow-through cost, and the cost ends up resting with those who have the least capacity to pay. No environmental improvement and higher costs for people. Still a terrible idea.
A carbon tax is a terrible idea for everyone, because it won’t reduce GHGs and it will punish our most vulnerable. However, a carbon tax is an even more punitive and ill-informed policy for Saskatchewan.
Our economy is built on exports. We export more per capita than any other province in Canada. We extract, grow, or manufacture goods that we then ship around the world to sell. We can’t transport these goods to market without using fossil fuels…well, actually, we could if we supported pipelines…but that’s another story.  We can’t get crops from the farm yard to the market without some kind of transportation. A carbon tax will force an increase in the cost of transportation, which will get passed back to producers and forward to end consumers. Both scenarios threaten to create real competitive disadvantages for Saskatchewan producers.
The impact of the carbon tax will be felt more significantly by residents in Saskatchewan, than say in BC or Ontario, especially for our residents in northern and remote communities. Saskatchewan has a population less than half the size of the City of Paris, with a geography larger than the country of France. Even our largest cities are small in the Canadian and global context. We have poorly developed or non-existent transit systems. We rely on our vehicles to get us from place to place, and there is no viable alternative, especially for inter-community travel. It isn’t practical to expect Saskatchewan residents to make different choices when it comes to transportation, unlike residents living in Vancouver or Toronto, or even Calgary.
Meanwhile, Sixty-five per cent of Canada’s population lives at a latitude that places them south of Seattle, Washington. Almost none of Saskatchewan’s population lives that far south. In fact, almost all of Saskatchewan’s population lives further north than more than seventy per cent of Canada’s population. We’re a northern province. Get every federal MP to spend a winter in Saskatoon and I bet they’d feel differently about taxing consumer heating bills. We need to burn fuel in order to stay warm. There are undoubtedly more efficient ways to do so, but let’s not penalize individuals and families just for staying warm while we figure it out. 
A carbon tax will not produce meaningful reductions in GHG emissions and it hurt our economy by hurting small businesses, individuals, and families. It will be particularly damaging to our northern and remote communities, many of which struggle now. We must find ways to address climate change, we must do so meaningfully, and we must do so swiftly. Saskatchewan should be a leader in this field, and we can be. A carbon tax, and in particular an imposed one, is not the right solution.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 26, 2016

#TransformSK: We want your ideas on the future of


On June 1, The Hon. Kevin Doherty delivered the 2016-17 provincial budget — his first as Minister of Finance. Anchored by sluggish commodity prices and a projected deficit of $434 million, the theme of the budget shifted towards the need for transformational change — finding new fundamental approaches to balance the books, stimulate growth, and improve the quality of life for all Saskatchewan residents. It’s time we look towards tomorrow. 
That’s why, earlier this summer, the Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA), along with the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Saskatchewan Mining Association, Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council, and Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, proudly launched #TransformSK — the largest pan-industry consultation in our province’s history, mandated to develop the collective vision and action plan necessary to shape the next generation of economic and social prosperity.
Together, we will be fanning out across the province in the coming months to explore the best and most innovative ideas for transforming government, the economy, infrastructure, and education. Our findings will then culminate in a final set of recommendations, to be tabled with the Premier at a special launch event in early 2017. But we cannot do this on our own. We need your help, your ideas, and your input in this process. There are four ways for SCA members to contribute:
1. Video submission: Visit www.TransformSK.ca to share your ideas on the future of Saskatchewan. You can record a short video directly through the website in a matter of minutes. Click here to see an example from SCA President & CEO Mark Cooper.

2. Written submission: Prefer to jot down your thoughts instead? Send us your ideas in letter format. Full details and guidelines are available online at www.TransformSK.ca.

3. General consultations: In-person consultations will be held in several Saskatchewan communities this fall, including Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert, Swift Current, Yorkton, North Battleford, Estevan, Weyburn, Moose Jaw, La Ronge, and Humboldt. Keep connected to www.TransformSK.ca for announcements regarding dates and times.

4. Give us a call: We’re always happy to connect with you one-on-one to listen to your thoughts and ideas. Call us at (306) 525-0171 to schedule a private meeting with SCA staff.
Thank you in advance for your participation! We look forward to having you a part of this important dialogue.

Derek Lothian

Senior Advisor to the President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 4, 2016

The Husky Oil Spill is Messy Political Business

In last month’s blog post, I wrote about the importance of building pipelines and other infrastructure projects of national importance as a way of keeping Canada strong and unified. Given the spectre of political chaos for our neighbours to the south, the ongoing upheaval and threat of upheaval in most oil producing countries, and the continuing emergence of economies in Asia and Africa, there has never been a more important time for Canada to be energy independent and able to export our energy around the world. As we approach our 150th anniversary as a nation, we must seize this opportunity and present ourselves as the global energy superpower that we are capable of becoming.

That said, the July 20th spill of more than 50,000 gallons of oil and diluent into the North Saskatchewan river from a Husky Energy pipeline, should be a warning to us all. The ecological damage and the risk to human and animal life in this particular case appears to be minimal, but minimizing damage is not good enough when accidents of this kind are entirely preventable. Accidents like this signal both a failure of Quality Assurance for Husky, and a failure of government to appropriately regulate and inspect. Both failures are unacceptable and must be addressed.

Those of us in favour of resource development, and in particular of ensuring we can move our energy to global markets, must take the safety of that transportation system seriously. One look at social media in Saskatchewan in the last two weeks will show that this accident has only strengthened the vigour of the vocal minority who argue against resource development. It’s hard to argue with them when presented with the brutal facts of systems that failed to ensure safe transport.

While the investigation is ongoing, there are clearly three lessons that can be drawn from this accident, and I’d like to quickly address all three. First though, a note about something that is NOT a lesson from this accident. There are those – the CAVE people – who will argue that this spill proves that pipelines are not safe. This narrative will, and has, picked up speed in the past two weeks. Pipeline spills are unacceptable and completely avoidable. While they signal a failure of the system, they do not necessarily invalidate that form of transportation. Precisely because they are avoidable, it means that a well-functioning system of pipelines would ensure safe transport. We need to keep promoting pipeline use.

The first lesson coming out of this spill should be for Husky. Get it together. If you’re going to be in the oil extraction and transport business, you’d better make sure you’re doing it safely. Those in construction will remember the days when all job sites were filled with numerous hazards. A continuing focus on building safety cultures and increasing transparency led to today when most sites are safe and injury-free. Husky and other companies must enhance their internal rules around construction, maintenance, and monitoring of pipelines if they intend to keep operating. Anything less than the best from them is unacceptable. Error-free oil transportation is possible and should be the norm.

The second lesson is for governments. Regulation and inspection are not dirty words. No business likes government oversight, but some oversight is necessary, particularly with respect to safety. Government must establish rigorous standards and then must ensure those standards are met through regular and unannounced inspections. While reducing the size and cost of government is a laudable objective, there are some functions where such reduction actually harms the public good and undermines the larger economic objectives we have. Let’s make sure that we have enough inspectors doing the right work in the right way at the right time.

The final lesson is for all of us who support the building of pipelines and the expansion of our economic opportunities. We should all be cautious that our desire for growth never outpaces our passion for safety and a better life. That’s why the SCA’s vision statement balances the two. Our vision calls for “…a prosperous construction industry AND a better quality of life for the people of Saskatchewan.” We need to see pipelines built, and we need our economy to grow, but never at the expense of the quality of life we hold so dear. If we’re going to push for pipelines across Canada, we’d better be sure they’re safe.

We can all do better. We owe it to ourselves, and future generations, to make sure we do.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

Nation Building Infrastructure in the 21st Century

When Canada was born in 1867, it was founded in part as a mechanism of self-preservation by the existing colonies of British North America. In short, these colonies were concerned about the growing American influence, and the potential risk this posed to their individual sovereignty. By banding together as one nation in an 82-year-long project called Confederation, these colonies pledged common cause to one another, a pledge which endures into 2016, even with a few bumps along the way.

What many people don’t know, is that one of the factors that drove confederation was the desire to pursue economic development and enhance trade and transportation with the building of a transcontinental railroad, which allows provinces to quickly move goods and people from coast to coast, enabling the true expansion of, and settlement in, Western Canada.

Connections within Canada Enhance Economic Development

The Trans-Canada Highway is another example of transcontinental infrastructure that was built to better connect Canada and enhance economic development and trade. The network of highways is essential for the transportation of goods across provincial lines. The construction, maintenance, and expansion over these highways falls within provincial jurisdiction (unlike railways) but is recognized as a national priority and supported by all.
Canada as a nation is only possible because of our network of public and private infrastructure that connects people and places and moves our goods to market. Whether we’re talking railways, highways, airports, communications infrastructure, data centres, the internet, our ports, or our border crossings, this infrastructure is essential and should be of national priority.

With growing markets in Africa and in Asia, Canadian goods must be able to quickly move from coast to coast through a networked infrastructure that likely involves roads, rails, air and water. Just like the construction of a transcontinental railway and highway system was a priority for Canada in the past, so we must make construction and maintenance of an integrated transportation network a vital national priority as we move forward.

Next Year Canada Will Be 150 Years Old

There is no better time for us to reflect on the work that has been done to build our nation and to look forward to the work that yet must be done. In coming blog posts I will talk about some of things our industry must focus on as our country moves towards this important milestone next year. At a basic level, I see that our focus must have three components:

  1. I believe that we must become strong advocates for the nation-building infrastructure that our country and our economy needs in order to continue to unleash prosperity. This includes the construction of pipelines, railways, ports, highways, and resource extraction sites;
  2. We must push back against those CAVE (citizens against virtually everything) people that will resist resource extraction, development and progress without proposing reasonable alternatives; and
  3. We must be fierce advocates for the promotion of safety and efficiency within our industry, and for the protection of our natural environment. Only by being able to convince the average person that the things we build are safe will we ever be able to achieve breakthrough success in moving projects like pipelines forward.

As we move into 2017 and Canada’s 150th anniversary, the SCA will be looking for ways to refine and advance this agenda, including working with our counterparts across the country. I would love to get your feedback on this. As always, you can send me an email at president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

May 31, 2016 

A Billion Reasons to Cry, One Reason Not to Worry

Saskatchewan’s provincial budget was announced this week, presented by the government on Wednesday. At the time of writing of this blog (Tuesday), I don’t yet know what the budget will hold, but all indications are that it will be a tough budget. Minister Kevin Doherty has bought new shoes – because like the budget they’re a “little tight” – and the shoes are brown (he normally wears black) to signal the “transformational change” government must go through.

This week the Premier indicated that government revenue was a Billion short of expectations. A Billion is a happy number when written in black, and a terrifying one when found in red. It is a clear indication of the challenging economic times we face in Saskatchewan today.

The April 2016 issue of Sask Trends Monitor paints an equally dismal portrait of what 2016 is shaping up to be. From a high of $20 Billion in 2014, capital investment in Saskatchewan is expected to sink to $13.6 Billion in 2016, a 32% drop in two years. If capital investments in machinery and equipment are factored out, we’re looking at a 40% drop in construction investment in just two years.

Almost all of this decrease is a result of a drop-off in private sector mining and oil/gas investment. Public sector investment has been very steady over the last two years, and Wednesday’s budget will be telling in terms of the province’s commitment to infrastructure investment.

While the $13.6 Billion is consistent with where we were in 2010, it is still a shock to the 
system, and one that is being felt across our industry. Building permit values are 42% lower in the first quarter of 2016 than in the same time period in 2015. Construction employment was at just over 50,000 in April 2016, more than 7% lower than in 2015.

Ok, so there are lots of reasons to be concerned, especially when looking at 2016 through the lens of the last few years. 2015 was tight for our industry, and 2016 will be worse. However, don’t despair, for all is not lost.

Saskatchewan is an economy that is heavily dependent on our diversified commodity-base. We produce the food, the fertilizer, and the fuel that the world needs to keep the engine of economic growth turning. The need for our products is most acute in the developing world
 especially in Asia. The underlying fundamentals of our economy remain strong, especially in our oil, uranium, potash, and pulse crop commodities.

As the global markets shift and stabilize, we will see this commodity cycle bounce back and will again experience strong growth in our province. This will mean a return to heavy demand for the construction industry. Between now and then, we, both as an industry and as a province, have lots to do in order to be ready for growth.

This weekend, at Elk Ridge, the SCA is hosting our annual Summer Meeting. 200 delegates from across Saskatchewan will be learning about emerging issues and trends, and finding out what the future holds for Saskatchewan. Attendees will be getting the critical competitive advantage they need – knowledge – to get ready for the next growth cycle. If you’re not attending the Summer Meeting in 2016, you will lose out on this unique opportunity. I hope you’ll be with us!

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

May 5, 2016

WCB has your cash, let's get it back

As I write this, I am sitting in one of the WCB Annual General Meetings in Regina listening to WCB officials talk about the organization’s performance in this last year. Many of you will know by now that WCB is sitting on $466 Million of employer money as a result of excess contributions collected from employers ($281 Million) and unrealized investment gains ($185 Million). This is money that should be returned to employers by way of refund cheques, and it should be done today. Yet here I am, sitting in another meeting, having to join my business association colleagues in justifying why employer money should be returned to employers. Today we asked the question of when the money would be returned, and the answer we received was that the Board would be going through consultation and discussion, and we could anticipate an answer sometime in June, but that no refund was guaranteed.
Enough is Enough…
Last year, after a great deal of lobbying and public pressure from groups like the SCA, WCB did the right thing and refunded most of the money that was owed to employers. I am grateful to the WCB Board members who took action. The $141 Million refund was the right thing to do, and it assisted many companies in Saskatchewan as they managed through the economic downturn last year. Imagine what $466 Million in economic stimulus would mean this year.
The Government of Saskatchewan is in a challenging budget situation, one which will see a deficit of several hundred million dollars. Although I don’t have specific budget numbers yet, I can say that it is reasonable to assume that at least $100 Million of that $466 Million would likely be refunded to government ministries, crowns, and third-party funded agencies. If I’m a member of the government caucus, I’m wondering today why WCB hasn’t already cut those cheques. This kind of windfall returned to government coffers is exactly what all taxpayers should be demanding.
In the construction industry, we know that we build things for other people. Investors that experience a windfall return of funding – money that is rightly theirs anyway – are much more likely to reinvest that funding into their business. Maybe they will hire new people, delay laying off some, or choose to renovate or begin new construction. When they choose to renovate or build new, that creates jobs for them and for our industry too.
There are those in Saskatchewan, especially the organized labour movement, that resist any idea of surplus refunds. They want your money to be held by WCB to be used by that group. At the SCA, we believe that your money is best left in your company to reinvest in our province. When others oppose that view, we must be diligent in advancing our case. We will have this opportunity in the coming month, and we must take advantage of it. There are literally hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.  
To get the outcome we want, which is your money returned to you, we might need your help. Stay tuned in the next few days as we may reach out to you to ask you to contact WCB and your local MLAs to push this issue. We shouldn’t have to fight this hard to get you your own money, but if experience is any indication, this outcome won’t come easily.
The SCA will always advocate for the best interests of construction employers. We will stand strong in demanding that employer money be returned to you quickly and without debate. We believe that you are in the best position to use those funds to grow your business, and therefore grow our economy. We will not settle for less.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 7, 2016

Saskatchewan Votes to Stay the Course

The people of Saskatchewan resoundingly voted for the status quo both through their assent and through their silence in the election of 2016. The 28-day campaign, which was moved from last fall to spring on account of the 2015 federal election, will likely amount to a placeholder election in the history of the province. For the construction industry, this means that anticipated budget practices, existing relationships with ministries, and infrastructure spending plans will proceed as anticipated.
The Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly added 3 new seats in 2016 for a total of 61. Going in, the Saskatchewan Party held a majority of 49 seats to the New Democratic Party’s 9 seats. No third party has managed to win a seat in the legislature this century. So it was unsurprising that this was a two-way race between the Sask Party and the NDP from day one.
When the votes were counted, Brad Wall was re-elected Premier with 62.6% of the popular vote and a 51 seat majority in the Legislative Assembly. Albeit a 1.6% decline in popular support, the Sask Party’s margin of victory over the NDP grew slightly as the NDP also continued to slide in popular support. The NDP captured 30.4% of the vote and 10 seats, improving only one seat from their 2011 performance. No third party pulled more than the Liberal’s 3.61%.
Voting is a critical act in democracies and elections have consequences. In this election those who voted and those who didn’t
sent a clear message: We’re fine the way things are going. The result of the 2016 Saskatchewan Election will be continuity – of both practice and perspective.
The Sask Party had already committed to running budget deficits to keep the economy moving as resource prices even out and governments,
consumers and the private sector adjust to the “new normal,” whatever that may be. This approach seems reasonable given historically
low interest rates, an economy with strong fundamentals and a population that has grown and continues to need infrastructure and services.
Specifically, the Saskatchewan Party’s platform identifies their Highways 2020 Plan to invest $2.7 billion in highways and transportation infrastructure over the next four years, in addition to
construction of the Regina Bypass. The plan also includes their intention to provide a one-time increase in funding for highway repair and maintenance of $70 million, over the next three years.
It is also highly likely the government will continue working closely with municipalities on infrastructure development, revenue sharing with municipalities at current rates and improving Crown infrastructure. The work of Priority Saskatchewan will also continue, ensuring a level playing field for Saskatchewan-based businesses contracting with provincial government ministries and Crowns. The process is intended to provide fair, transparent procurement for business while enabling taxpayers to get the best possible long-term value.
In short, it seems likely that the industry will see more of the same: a government working towards solutions; spending on infrastructure where necessary; and working towards a provincial business climate oriented towards growth, including Crown and service development improvements to meet public demand.
Over the longer 
term the Saskatchewan Party government may need to consider cutting services, increasing taxes or some combination thereof. But with a strong mandate in successive elections, it’s clear the people of Saskatchewan have entrusted the authority to make those decisions to Premier Brad Wall and his team. And for the foreseeable future, they have chosen to continue down the path of development.
It’s a prudent decision that meets the needs of the public while keeping industry moving.

The SCA congratulates and wishes the best in their roles to all newly and re-elected MLA’s in both the government and the opposition. We appreciate your service and look forward to working with you to keep building Saskatchewan.

John Lax, MA

Saskatchewan Construction Association
February 29, 2016

Mr. Hunchak Goes to Ottawa and the

Importance of Voting

SCA Board Chair Corey Hunchak and I joined a delegation of Saskatchewan business associations to participate in a lobby day in Ottawa on February 17 and 18. Fifteen people representing nine organizations attended the event. The groups included the Saskatchewan Manufacturing Council, Saskatchewan Mining Association, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, Merit Contractors, Saskatchewan Trade and Export Partnership, the Saskatoon and Regina Economic Development groups, along with the Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute.

We were there to meet with the new federal government and talk to them about the importance of Saskatchewan and the issues that are critical to our provincial well-being. We wanted them to know that Saskatchewan is open for business, and that the business community is eager to work with the federal government to ensure continued growth and prosperity.

We went there to talk about the importance of federal programs that support the recruitment of people and the training of skills. We spoke about how the government needs to foster innovation. We identified the essential importance of supporting resource development, investing in infrastructure, and allowing easy access to markets for Saskatchewan products.

In one day of meetings, we met with eleven different government departments. We also met with Rona Ambrose the Leader of the Official Opposition, with representatives from the Privy Council Office (the Cabinet Office), with many of our Saskatchewan MPs, with representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, and with Saskatchewan’s own Minister Ralph Goodale. So a total of about sixteen meetings throughout the day. It was a full and productive day.

Overall, what we found is that the federal government is very receptive to hearing what Saskatchewan business has to say about the future of our province and our country. In particular, there was strong interest in talking about skills training, aboriginal engagement, infrastructure investment, and innovation. It is very likely that the Saskatchewan business community will find this government to be a solid ally on these issues.

The business coalition that was pulled together for this trip will be talking again as a group about how we can follow up with those we met, and how we can keep the dialogue going with the federal government. It was a useful trip in terms of building the foundation for a strong relationship with the government, but it was also helpful in forging stronger bonds between Saskatchewan’s business groups. We will continue to find ways to work together to ensure that our members prosper.

In other news, the provincial election is fast approaching. Voters will go to the polls on Monday, April 4th, to elect the government that will lead our province for the next four years. While it certainly seems likely that the Saskatchewan Party, under the leadership of Premier Brad Wall, will be re-elected to a third term, nothing in politics is certain. I want to take this time to encourage every member of the SCA to encourage all of your employees to take the time to get out and vote. Picking our next government is important for everyone, but it is critical for the construction industry.

Our industry depends on government choices with respect to infrastructure investment, funding to municipalities, labour laws, taxation, and a whole range of other issues. A good government for the construction industry is one that will promote investment in Saskatchewan, will invest in the necessary infrastructure to keep our province growing, and will ensure that there are no legal or tax barriers to business prosperity.

Encourage your employees to review party platforms and assess which party and candidates are in the best position to deliver on those priorities. Regardless of how they vote, everyone should vote. In our industry, government may literally mean the difference between working and not working, so let’s make sure we all weigh in and have our say.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

February 4, 2016

Pipelines and Public License

As the economic reality of a potentially prolonged slump in oil prices begins to hit home in Saskatchewan and Alberta, a serious conversation has centred on the importance of approving the construction and rehabilitation of pipelines. In a land-locked commodity based province, we are dependent on reliable infrastructure to move our products to market. Whether goods are moving south to the United States, west to the BC coast, or east to the Maritimes, Saskatchewan needs highways, rail lines, and pipelines to keep our resources moving. Now, more than ever, is the time for all levels of government to invest in transportation infrastructure and to ensure that a small but vocal minority cannot hold the regional economy hostage.
Albeit sad, it seems to be the case that those who oppose pipelines will only be satisfied if we leave the commodities in the ground. This rationale is disconnected from reality. Extraction creates jobs and generates wealth while satisfying both domestic and international demands that are not going away any time in the immediate future. However, the wealth generated can be reinvested to create cleaner and more efficient methods of extraction and energy creation. Pipeline opponents would sacrifice the well-being and quality of life for their neighbours with no regard for the real and personal damage their views cause.
I agree with the idea that securing public license on projects is important. The public should be reasonably assured that economic growth comes with as minimal a risk as possible. It is foolish and naïve to think it is possible to achieve growth without risk though. Anyone who has spent any time in the real world knows that the possibility of return is always counterbalanced with risk. It is therefore incumbent on governments and corporations to do whatever can be done to mitigate that risk. Safe pipelines, with appropriate regulations in place, are the best way to do that. This is inarguable.
Here at the SCA, I believe we have three responsibilities that tie into this issue:
1) Representing Saskatchewan construction companies, we want to ensure the government, corporations, and the public that when our companies build things – pipelines, stadiums, roads, schools, hospitals, etc. – they do it safely and responsibly;
2) As residents of Saskatchewan, we want to see our commodities moved to market so our neighbours, friends, and family can be working and earn the quality of life they have come to expect in this great province; and
3) As concerned global citizens we want to make sure that our commodity extraction minimizes impact on our environment and leads to more efficient and safer practices in the future.
I don’t believe these responsibilities are contradictory or mutually exclusive. I believe Saskatchewan companies can ensure safe and responsible extraction and transportation of commodities. I think most people, being reasonable, believe this too. As our governments weigh regulatory, legislative and investment decisions around commodity extraction, they should not lose sight of the fact that just because some people shout louder than others doesn’t make them right.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
December 3, 2015

Face to Face

Business with a Human Touch

In September of this year I wrote a blog post entitled “Bringing Friendly Back.” There I considered how I’d been hearing from members that hectic schedules, over-reliance on technology, and an influx of new competitors and faces has led to an environment in our industry where personal connections have largely been lost. Members reflected this in terms of lost trust, higher levels of conflict between contractors, and project schedule and budget issues. Everyone seemed to agree that it was time to “Bring Friendly Back” to the construction industry.
Taking that message to heart, and modeling the efforts of the General Contractors Association, the SCA collaborated with the Regina Construction Association to co-host an industry dialogue session on the quality of construction documents. We wanted to test the dialogue session format to determine if we could employ it as a model to assist members in re-engaging with each other face-to-face. Although I’m a bit biased, I think it’s fair to call the event very successful and I think we may have found one way the SCA and our partners can help “Bring Friendly Back.”
The quality of construction documents session included individuals representing companies in the following sectors:

  • Owners;
  • Architects;
  • Engineers;
  • General Contractors;
  • Trade Contractors; and
  • Suppliers.
We had a panel of individuals representing each group provide initial thoughts on the issue. We then broke into groups by sector to define the problems and identify solutions.
Afterwards, the panel was reconvened to reflect on the work that had been done in groups and discuss options for moving forward as an industry. I believe all participants found the discussion and the session to be valuable.
The industry dialogue session model presents and
great opportunity for construction leaders to engage face-to-face with one another away from the potential conflict of specific projects or job sites. That face-to-face engagement is not only useful for companies as a networking tool, but also great as a problem-solving tool for the industry-wide issues. Successfully using this model in other areas and for other issues likely requires a few key elements:

  • There must be a real issue to tackle – something that matters to people;
  • There must be a broad cross-section of various industry groups;
  • There must NOT be an atmosphere of blame;
  • Different groups need to intermingle; and
  • It needs to lead to something tangible.
With respect to quality of construction documents, the SCA is planning to work with our other local partners to deliver a similar session in Prince Albert, Regina, and perhaps Moose Jaw in the coming months. The intent is to take the feedback from all of these sessions and through our Industry Advisory Council, develop a series of recommendations on how all parts of the industry can work together to enhance document quality. We’ll then work with everyone in the industry to begin implementing those recommendations – showing tangible progress on this issue.
So, stay tuned for more details on future industry dialogue sessions. If the rest of the quality of construction documents sessions go well, we will look to replicate this model for other issues as we all work to restore more face-to-face dialogue in our industry and “Bring Friendly Back.”

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

November 4, 2015

Giving and Receiving - A Lesson from Prince

I believe that our world is constructed around some basic universal laws. One such law is that what you give is what you receive. This law, also known as the law of sowing and reaping, states that whatever you sow into this world is what you shall reap.

I was reminded of this law while visiting some SCA members in Prince Albert. While in town, I heard an advertisement for the Victoria Hospital Foundation. The Foundation was promoting a fundraising campaign for the hospital’s intensive care unit. Through the efforts of the Foundation over the years, many millions have been raised within the community to support the life-saving work of the hospital.

Supporting community health care is an important and worthy cause. The local construction industry in Prince Albert has been a strong supporter of its health region in general, and of the Victoria Hospital specifically. Whether we’re talking construction
companies, or the many people who work for them, the support has been steady and strong. If you know anything about Prince Albert, you know that people there are loyal and resilient. They know the importance of supporting one another.

That’s why it was disappointing this year to see the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region (PAPHR) choose not to consider local companies when it tendered a construction project at the hospital. Let me be clear, I do not expect local companies to get contracts just because they’re local. That wouldn’t be fair.

Of course it also isn’t fair to exclude local companies from bidding by creating specifications so limited that local competition was impossible. Local companies should have been given the opportunity to compete for the work, and win or lose in a fair competition. The PAPHR never gave them that chance.

That’s what made me so mad when I heard about the fundraising campaign. The local construction industry has poured money into the coffers of the Foundation to support the Victoria Hospital. While the Foundation is separate from the
PAPHR, its work supports the mandate of the health region. It is therefore perfectly reasonable for them to expect a chance to compete for work when tendered by the PAPHR. Instead, they got nothing. Not only did they not get a chance to bid, but frankly their concerns have been repeatedly disrespected by the PAPHR.

PAPHR doesn’t have any trouble taking money from the local construction industry…but it doesn’t seem to care whether that same industry gets a chance to compete for PAPHR work. It seems that the
PAPHR has forgotten the universal law of sowing and reaping. They’ve forgotten that local companies won’t have money to invest in the community if they don’t have work to do. If the PAPHR doesn’t sow loyalty, they shouldn’t reap it either. Maybe the annual fundraising campaign is a time for companies and employees to remind them of that. I know if it were me, I wouldn’t take out my cheque book this year.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

October 23, 2015

Employing and Working with Generation Y

As a twenty-something British-Canadian woman, I am Generation Y through and through. But what exactly are the characteristics of a Generation Y employee? How can you as an employer adapt to the mindset of a Generation Y employee?

I recently read Jeanne Martinson’s article in Business & Industry Saskatchewan discussing the best practices for a successful
leadership-relationship between employers and with what she refers to as “Gen Ys”, or employees that were born between the 1980s to the early 2000s.

Martinson breaks down her solutions to leading and managing Gen Ys into three strategies - firstly, hire the right person and lead tough, secondly, be authentic, and finally, give real, frequent, effective feedback.

I plan to respond to Martinson’s comments, as well as add a couple opinions of my own, because – well – I’m Generation Y and I say what I think. It’s not a phase.

What exactly is a Gen Y? According to Martinson, the average Gen Y is an urban, only child of middle-class-Western-European parents “who worked for others rather than for themselves.” This may be true to an extent.

I suppose many of my peers are a little self-entitled and a lot opinionated, but I believe Canada is becoming more and more of a melting pot of different cultures each day. Martinson suggests that atypical Gen Ys like myself, who have a rural upbringing, immigrant backgrounds, and enough siblings to start our own football team, are a rare oddity. Perhaps we are, for now, but today’s employers are receiving a huge variety of job applicants from all kinds of cultural and social backgrounds.

Strategy One: Hire Smart or Lead Tough

Martinson believes that Gen Ys and Boomers have different mind sets during the interview process. She states that Gen Ys are born negotiators; “they negotiated sleep times and privileges with their parents” and so an interviewer must be clear when using phrases such as “flexible hours” so as to avoid misunderstandings, for example interpreting “flexible hours” as rolling in to work at 11:00 a.m. Even if there is some freedom in the position, it might be worth setting some kind of boundary.

I agree with Martinson that the importance of loyalty is an issue with my generation. Not many of us have a single job in mind that we intend to do for the rest of our lives. For instance, we may struggle to comprehend how a person can work at a post office for 50 years. Martinson suggests that employers should highlight the opportunities for growth and change within the company to counteract this.

Martinson notes that Gen Ys are far more ambitious and independent than ever before, and need to feel like they play a part in making the rules, or they will feel trapped and leave. By showing your employee that they can advance and achieve within the company, they are in a sense changing their position from time to time without leaving your company.

Strategy Two: Be Authentic

While Boomers value existing relationships, and Gen Xs value competency, Gen Ys value integrity. In a nutshell? A leader that we respect and like is one we will stick with. Martinson indicates that an employer who will follow through on his or her commitments, shoulders the blame rather than dishes it out, and celebrates successes leading to “consistent, predictable leadership that appeals to Gen Ys.”

I cannot stress how much I agree with this; young whippersnapper that I am, I would much rather stay with a company where my employer is someone I can count on as a team player, rather than be a sheep in a dictatorship. Gen Ys will thrive in an environment in which they get to collaborate, feel connected, and know that their work matters.

Strategy Three: Give Real, Frequent, Effective Feedback

There is no greater feeling than knowing we are on the right track – so why do so many employers only tell their employees this at scheduled meetings? The knowledge that we are doing a job well done, and that we are appreciated, is like rocket fuel to the system – it makes us proud and encourages us to keep going.

If a task is being carried out the wrong way, we are quick to point it out. This should also be true if a task is completed particularly well.

Martinson says that Gen Ys “have less appreciation for earning their stripes” or climbing the proverbial ladder. She suggests Gen Ys are uninterested in appreciation banquets or commemorative plaques. I am not entirely sure I agree with this.

I think a plaque that shows dedication and hard work to the organization can be inspiring. It acts as physical proof that they are making real contributions, which leads to empowerment, which leads to added productivity.

Martinson finishes her piece with criticism of the “feedback sandwich” in which the blow of negative feedback is softened by sandwiching it between two positive comments. She suggests that Gen Y employees then only focus on the positive, or assume that overall they are doing fine. She blames this on her view that Gen Ys are not used to being responsible for their own mistakes. Those darn kids!

All jokes aside, I am not sure there is any real reason to spare one’s feelings either. Tell us how it is, and tell us how to do better, so that we may receive that “You are great!” next time.

“[B]y giving confusing feedback or no feedback at all, the manager is setting up the employee for failure.”

Why is this important to you?

Because we are your future. Boomers are looking at retiring in the not too distant future. According to BuildForce Canada, “[o]f the more than one million skilled tradespeople directly involved in construction and maintenance, nearly one-quarter will retire in the next 10 years.” Your company needs young professionals to adequately learn how to one day fill the shoes of approximately 330,000 workers. If you dropped dead tomorrow, would someone at your organization know what steps to take in order to keep the company going until you were replaced? Or would the whole thing simply collapse?

I have heard individuals in the construction industry highlight the fact that many beginning trades’ workers have unrealistic expectations upon starting their work. Perhaps this is due to our individualistic view of ourselves. In the words of Matt Monge, President of Mojo Company and
specialist in organizational culture, “[t]hey need to see that what they do, both individually and organizationally, matters in the grand scheme of things.”


Although just one generation apart, employers and employees could be light years apart in the way that we think.

Misconceptions about Generation Y include that we have poor work ethic, are easily distracted, and that we have unrealistic expectations. In reality, I see Gen Y as hard-working (1 in 7 of us are working 50+ hours per week), connected (63% are on LinkedIn to connect with industries), and ambitious (56% expect to be in a managerial role within 3 years of beginning employment). Use those traits to create a valuable employee.

Jeanne Martinson’s 3 management strategies will help guide you to hire the right person, collaborate with them, prove that your company is worth staying in, and provide feedback to shape the perfect employee that may well be responsible for the way things are run 20 years from now.  

Jeanne Martinson is a Managing Partner of her own firm, delivers workshops and keynote addresses to over 10,000 people in
government,associations and the private sector. She specializes in leadership and diversity.

You can read her article Three Key Strategies for Leading “Generation Y” Employees in the 2015 spring edition of Business & Industry Saskatchewan, Vol. 4, Issue 1, pp. 10-12.

Any questions or comments are welcomed and encouraged, feel free to contact me at meganj@scaonline.ca or 306-525-0171. 

Megan Jane, BA

Executive Coordinator
Saskatchewan Construction Association

September 29, 2015

Fixing WCB, Improving Procurement, and

Tackling Prompt Payment

Fixing problems at WCB, making provincial procurement work for you, and working within the industry to address payment issues are three of the big issues the SCA is engaged in right now on behalf of our members. I’d like to take a moment to provide an update on each of these items.

Fixing WCB

Over the Summer, the provincial government changed the members of the WCB Board of Directors. The new employer representative is Mr. Larry Flowers. Larry and I have met several times already, and he will be meeting with the Industry Advisory Council in a few weeks. He will be a strong and effective representative for employers. I’ve also met with Garry Hamblin, the new labour representative, and he strikes me as a thoughtful, precise, and fair individual. Larry has told me that he welcomes contact from employers. You can reach him by email at lflowers@wcbsask.com or by phone at 306-787-4381.

In the coming weeks, the WCB Committee of Review is hosting public hearings around the province. These hearings are an opportunity for citizens to attend and provide feedback on how WCB can be improved. The SCA will be speaking at one of these hearings, and will be working with other construction organizations and groups from other industries to deliver a clear message on the need for change at WCB. I’d like to encourage every SCA member to plan on attending one of the hearings and letting your voice be heard. Please go and share your concerns with WCB. You can access information about the public hearings here. If you plan on attending a session, please let me know by emailing me at president@scaonline.ca

Improving Procurement

In September you hopefully heard the exciting news that now Saskatchewan Crown Corporations are providing preferential treatment to companies based in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. This is a tangible sign of the provincial government’s ongoing commitment to do whatever is possible to support the development and inclusion of Saskatchewan-based companies. This kind of outcome was possible because of the ongoing efforts of the SCA and other industry associations working directly with the province to make the case for Saskatchewan businesses.

Over the last month, the SCA and other industry associations have been engaged in a review of the work that Priority Saskatchewan has been doing to transform procurement practices across the provincial government. This review has included numerous opportunities to provide direct feedback and to see that feedback influence the policy language. I fully expect we will see more good news for Saskatchewan businesses soon, as the specifics of what Priority Saskatchewan intends become public. The government has really taken to heart our call for true industry engagement, and they deserve our thanks for that.

Tackling Prompt Payment

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months meeting one-on-one with SCA members. Over the course of those meetings I frequently heard from members about the increased issues companies are having in getting paid promptly for completed work. Working with other partners in the industry, the SCA is going to take a serious look at how to address this problem over the next few months.

Prompt payment is an issue that has been tackled in a variety of ways in a number of other provinces in Canada. The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) is leading a national dialogue on this topic. Just this week I attended a national Industry Summit where prompt payment was the primary topic of discussion. We heard about the U.S. experience and had engaged discussion on how to tackle this issue in Canada.

The Industry Advisory Council has created a working group to consider how prompt payment can be secured here in Saskatchewan. More details on what they plan to do should be available early in October. If you’d like to share your thoughts on the prompt payment issue, let me know by email at president@scaonline.ca

My initial perspective is that legislation is one tool to address cash flow and payment issues within our industry, but it cannot be the only tool. As we move forward in defining a Saskatchewan solution, we need to consider all options and find a made-in-Saskatchewan choice that meets the needs of all partners.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
September 3, 2015

Bringing Friendly Back

I’ve spent a good portion of my Summer out meeting with members one-one-one. The meetings have gone very well, and truly have been the best part of my job. I’ve been able to share the things that the SCA is working on, but far more importantly, I’ve heard from members about the opportunities and challenges they face. It’s been a very educational experience.

One thing is clear, there is a lot of concern in the construction industry today about increased competition, out-of-province contractors, and the state of relationships. This blog post is about the last one – the state of relationships in the construction industry today. However, before I move on to that, I just want to say something about the other two concerns. I know that SCA members have been very concerned about the increased presence of out-of-province contractors and the unbalanced nature of competition today. The SCA has been VERY active in the last year on the issue of ensuring that Saskatchewan-based companies have a fair and equal opportunity to compete for procurement opportunities in Saskatchewan. We’ve made some very good progress, and I expect that we will see some big announcements soon.

Ok, on to relationships!

I’m told that in the good old days of like 8 years ago, business in Saskatchewan could easily be conducted by a handshake, or over a bottle of whiskey, or a golf game, or possibly all three. Trust was the key factor in facilitating that kind of business, and a commitment to solid relationships was an essential foundation. Unfortunately, from all accounts, things aren’t what they used to be.

It used to be that Saskatchewan’s construction industry was small enough that everyone tried to treat others with respect. You didn’t try to put the screws to
someone, because you knew you’d see them at hockey practice on Friday, or in the mall on Saturday. When problems arose, they were resolved through a face-to-face or a phone call, not an email or a text. Business was personal.

Today, business is business…and it’s not good for business. A hectic schedule, the uber-convenience of technology, and an influx of new competitors and new people have all led to an environment that is more hostile. Trust between companies and people is low, and
consequently unresolved conflicts are up. The results include slower payments, poorer documents, higher costs, more errors, and weakened collaboration.

Earlier this week I had the chance to attend a great session in Elbow. The General Contractors Association invited a wide-ranging group of Architects, Engineers, and Owners, to come and talk about issues with respect to the quality of construction documents. The session was facilitated by our partner, the Canadian Construction Association.

At this session, the consensus was that better communication is the key to greater success in the construction industry. We need to talk to each other more. Of course, it makes it easier to talk to each other when we trust each other, and it makes it easier to trust each other when we know each other.

So, the moral of the story…let’s make sure to spend some time being friendly with the people and companies that we do business with. By building relationships, not only will people be happier at work, but our work lives will be easier and more effective. It’s time to bring friendly back to the construction industry.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 6, 2015

Priority Saskatchewan - Who Evaluates the

Evaluators? Part Two

Several weeks ago, I wrote the first part of a blog post providing the construction industry’s thoughts on what Priority Saskatchewan should be focused on as it develops the 13-point action plan. In that first part I focused on the first seven action items. In this part, I will discuss the remaining six:

  • Enhance the SaskTenders portal;
  • Common Procurement Templates;
  • A formal debrief process;
  • Corporate Citizenship in procurement;
  • Conflict of interest for former government employees; and
  • Define “Saskatchewan business”.

Before I provide thoughts on thosesix however, I want to give a brief update on what’s going on with Priority Saskatchewan today.

Many of you know that Lionel Labelle, the former head of Priority Saskatchewan, left government at the conclusion of his term. Lionel never planned on staying any longer than he did. He deserves a great deal of credit and praise for bringing Priority Saskatchewan to where it is today. He may have been the only person capable of pushing
government to embrace transformative change as rapidly as it did. His departure certainly leaves a significant hole to fill. On a temporary basis, the government has appointed two long-term procurement specialists from the civil service – Colleen Huber from SaskEnergy, and Greg Lusk from Central Services – to lead Priority Saskatchewan.

In addition to the change of leadership, Priority Saskatchewan has been making efforts to better communicate the specifics of its work to industry partners. The SCA is part of a strong coalition of industry groups that includes: the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association; the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters; the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies; the North Saskatoon Business Association; and the Saskatchewan Industrial and Mining Suppliers Association. This group has been vocal about needing to be more directly engaged in helping
government develop solutions to procurement challenges. This week, the group wrote to Minister Gord Wyant (responsible for Priority Saskatchewan) asking him to direct Priority Saskatchewan to include industry representation in their 13 working groups. I’m optimistic that the government is really seeking a solution that works for everyone – and this is the best way to ensure they get that solution.

Okay, now onto the feedback on the remaining six action plan items…

Enhance the SaskTenders portal
The government is looking to develop a single window for all government Crown, and potentially third-party procurement. They’re looking for a solution that supports e-bidding. The government has issued an RFI seeking potential market solutions to their one-portal goal. The
buildsask hub, with our new Infinite Source service provider, is in an ideal position to provide a low cost solution to the government’s problem. Working with our buildsask partners, the SCA will be encouraging government to pursue a partnership with buildsask.

Common Procurement Templates
The government wants to see consistent and user-friendly templates used for procurement across the public sector.

The SCA and our industry and government partners have already done a considerable amount of work on this file through the Saskatchewan Construction Panel (SCP). The SCP completed an implementation plan that would see the government achieve harmonized procurement policies, procedures, and documents within a two-year time frame. The SCP plan views harmonized templates as an outcome from a harmonized policy environment, recognizing that these templates will only successfully work long-term if the underlying policies and procedures are similarly coordinated. The SCP final report has been submitted to Priority Saskatchewan for consideration.

In our joint letter to Priority Saskatchewan, the SCA and the SHCA strongly recommended that Priority Saskatchewan
use the implementation plan developed by the SCP. Any other process is likely to meet with industry resistance and the likelihood of failure is significantly increased.

A Formal Debrief Process
The government wants to use a standard model for debriefing where both government and vendors can learn from the experience. This is intended to be applied to the procurement phase – so unsuccessful bidders can learn more consistently about why they were not successful.

The construction industry is strongly supportive of this plan and has three specific recommendations to the government that we believe will strengthen the outcomes:

  • That in addition to having a common debrief process during procurement, the government do the same thing at project completion to identify and capture lessons learned at the end of a project;
  • That the debrief mechanism ensure that all information is communicated clearly to all participants to ensure continuous improvement; and
  • That the debrief mechanism include feedback from bidders on the work of the procurement agents and the agency. This should ensure that the government processes are subject to continuous improvement as well.

Corporate Citizenship in Procurement
The government’s intent here is to ensure that a vendor’s record of corporate citizenship – i.e. their commitment to community involvement – is considered as part of the bidding process. However, the government has made it clear that they do not intend to
favour companies that show commitment to local communities over those that support communities in other jurisdictions.

While the idea of encouraging bidders to be engaged in supporting their communities is laudable, the SCA believes this should focus on support to Saskatchewan-based communities. This does not exclude or prejudice out-of-province companies from participating in competitions here in Saskatchewan, rather it encourages them to engage in the local community before doing so. This is a good thing not only for their
business, but also for our communities.

The SCA does not support the idea of considering corporate citizenship in procurement unless it is restricted to investments in Saskatchewan communities. We believe that doing anything else sends the wrong message to companies and also will be virtually impossible to monitor and verify.

Conflict of Interest for Former Government Employees
The government is concerned about former employees being hired by companies and then immediately being used to provide
advantage to that company in securing government contracts. The goal is to ensure that that the hiring of former employees does not provide an unfair advantage to bidders.

The SCA and SHCA support the notion of fair, open and transparent competition and have no issue with the government securing a Code of Conduct that addresses how former government employees can or cannot be involved in procurement. So long as the rules are clear, communicated effectively, and enforced consistently, this is a good plan.

Define “Saskatchewan Business”
The government wants to get a handle on how to actually define the idea of a Saskatchewan business. For instance, does an international company, say headquartered in Europe, with a branch office in Saskatchewan

Defining the term “Saskatchewan business” will allow the government to monitor the extent to which Saskatchewan businesses are successful in bidding for and receiving procurement opportunities. This can be measured both in terms of Saskatchewan opportunities and also potentially for opportunities in other jurisdictions.

The SCA and SHCA are supportive of having a clear and consistent definition of this term and had no specific recommendations to the government on how to do so.

So, the government certainly has its work cut out for it. Trying to completely transform public procurement is a noble objective. The government’s 13 action items are definitely on the right track. The progress Priority Saskatchewan has made to date is both impressive and ground-breaking. It is of critical importance that as they transition from theory to policy and then to practice that the process not
get bogged down.

For that reason, the SCA and our industry partners have strongly advocated for direct industry engagement in the development of policy and process. If
government wants to get this right the first time, the only way they can ensure doing so is with direct engagement of industry partners. We don’t want to slow them down or misdirect them. In fact, our members have more invested in government getting this right than the government does. We will do whatever is required to assist
government in transforming procurement to truly create fair, transparent and open competition.

I will keep members informed of the progress that is being made on this file as it happens. Stay tuned to the blog space, to our newsletter, and to the We Build magazine for more details. In the meantime, if you’ve got questions or want to give us feedback, email me
at: president@scaonline.ca.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

June 30, 2015

Construction Productivity 101: Thinking Outside

the Box 

Requests from session speakers are usually about the same - pens, paper, water on the tables, but I have never been asked to supply a cardboard box before! I hoped the speaker didn’t intend to leap out of the box and surprise the attendees. This was my first year at an SCA Summer Meeting in Elk Ridge, and I could not afford to look silly before I had even begun. In fact, Kevin Erickson specifically asks for a box as part of his Construction Productivity 101 session, in which he encourages the audience to see from one another’s perspective. In other words, Kevin gets his audience thinking outside of the box

The 2015 SCA Annual Summer Meeting held at Elk Ridge Resort in Waskesiu provided members with spectacular networking opportunities. We offered valuable education sessions in the mornings, and leisure activities in the afternoon. Construction Productivity 101 took place on the morning of Saturday, June 6th and the session was well attended with 27 delegates.

Construction Productivity 101 offers a different, innovative method to meet construction site and project management goals. Kevin states that the session “should challenge people to think a bit differently about how construction activities are completed, from the overall management of the project to activities completed at the trade level.” Kevin provides improvement concepts and discusses and demonstrates how those concepts can play out in the construction environment.

The feedback from this session was overwhelmingly positive. Several of our members requested copies of the presentation. In a survey conducted post-event, we found that 84.2 per cent of the respondents were happy with the amount of learning opportunities and sessions we had this year. “I was immediately encouraged by the number of questions and conversations that we had during breaks and immediately following the workshop” Kevin tells us, “I wish I had had time to stick around a little longer.”

I asked Randy 
Jeworski - from Miller Thomson Lawyers - for his thoughts on the session; “Its team building…it’s phenomenal!” Mr. Jeworski explained that the main goal of the cardboard box exercise (which I won’t spoil by giving away all the details!) revolved around collaboration, but what most captured his attention was Kevin “explaining lean from a different perspective,” and that “Lean helps us see waste, and that’s a hard thing, I think, in today’s business world to want to say.”

So then, Kevin sparks conversation about an awkward topic, but a very important one. I agree with Mr. Jeworski, if money and resources are so tight, should productivity not be our key element? 

Another important statistic to note is that 92.3 per cent  of the respondents concluded that networking with other leaders in the industry is the primary reason they attend SCA Summer Meetings. That being said, what better way to connect with others than to participate in an interactive session that involves taking other team mates perspectives into consideration?

Construction Productivity 101 reminds attendees that leadership should not always come from the top, but rather, as Mr. Jeworski puts it, “leadership drives from the bottom up, [and] this changes the way things happen…trust from superiors enables and empowers the people.” 

The session was also driven by passion. When asked what motivates Kevin during these sessions, he responded with “I enjoy challenging current mindsets. If I can present different ideas and ask questions that cause people to reconsider their current understandings, I feel I’ve played an important role in helping the industry progress.”

So there are people actively seeking ways to enhance the execution of projects, and to come out on top in the competition, and to not get stuck inside that box. Innovative thinking is the future. 

Part of the reason I am writing this blog today is not just to acknowledge how the session went, but also to let you know that it is not too late! The SCA has decided to make this session available once again. We are offering Construction Productivity 101 in Regina and Saskatoon at the following times:

Date: Tuesday, September 
15 2015
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location: Training Room, Regina Construction Association, 1935 Elphinstone Street, Regina.
Download a registration form here.

Date: Wednesday, September 
16 2015
Time: 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Location: Board Room, Saskatoon Construction Association, 532 2nd Avenue North, Saskatoon.
Download a registration form here.

Tickets will be $40 for members, $60 for non-members, plus GST. Get your forms in quick, there are only 30 spots available per location! 

GO Productivity strives to assist Canadian construction companies maximize their productivity, and reach their full profit-potential. Go ahead, break the daily routine and do something productive!

Megan Jane, BA

Executive Coordinator
Saskatchewan Construction Association

June 1, 2015

President's Blog - Priority Saskatchewan: Who

Evaluates the Evaluators? Part One

Far too much of my life is spent asking and answering questions like the one in the title of this blog post. Who evaluates the evaluators? Questions like this make my head hurt. I like asking them even less than I like answering them, because I know the kind of work I’m really asking someone to do when I ask them questions like this. That being said, it is a critically important question, and I’m not the only person asking it.

As you know from previous posts, Priority Saskatchewan has launched a 13-point action plan to improve provincial procurement. When fully implemented, Saskatchewan will be leading the way nationally in terms of fair, open, transparent and accountable procurement. At the SCA, we’re active in supporting the work of Priority Saskatchewan because we know how much this could mean to you, our members.

In this post, I’d like to comment on the first seven action items and provide some basic thoughts for each one. Before I do though, I need to give credit to my colleague Shantel Lipp – President of the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association – and several Board members from each of our Boards (Corey Hunchak, Jason Duke, Laird Ritchie, Ron Smith, Ross Fraser, Allan Barilla, and David Paslawski) for much of what follows. We got together as a group a few weeks back to sketch out these ideas and make sure our industry was more or less on the same page.

The seven action items I’ll discuss briefly today include:

  • New employee procurement code of conduct
  • Consistent application of best value as the basis of government procurement
  • Vendor performance evaluation
  • Multi-staged and outcomes-based procurement
  • Crown Corporations to maximize all opportunities available within the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT)
  • Address the knowledge gap
  • Collaborative capital forecasting

Provincial Employee Code of Conduct
The government intends to create a clear statement of its professional procurement practices. This document should essentially be an effective guide by which provincial employees can evaluate their priorities and their conduct.
In general, this is a good idea and makes sense. Definitely something we’re supportive of. The one thing the government should be mindful of here is that successful sustainability of a conduct code requires accountability. Government should be asking how individuals will be held responsible for the decisions they make with respect to procurement and the manner in which they make them.
Another question worth asking is – will there be a complaints mechanism, whereby a vendor who believes the code is being violated can report on that?

Best Value Procurement
I’ve written lots on best value in previous posts. It is an important concept that will be monumentally challenging to consistently and fairly measure and apply. Right now, we are told the government has more than 20 potential best value criteria under consideration, but we haven’t seen that list and don’t know what is included or not included. With that in mind, we’re recommending a few things:

  1. That Priority Saskatchewan share their list of best value criteria with industry right away;
  2. That they work directly with industry to determine how “best value” will be calculated and scored consistently and fairly; and
  3. That provincial tax revenue and local employment be calculated into the net benefit considerations for a vendor when determining “best value”.
We’re also concerned that the complexity of evaluating “best value” might delay procurement unnecessarily. The government seems mindful of this, and I think we can work with them on it. The timing of procurement is particularly concerning for our roadbuilder members who deal with a shortened construction season to begin with.
There is also concern here with how this will effectively be applied to sub-contractors. Government has indicated an intention for certain major subs to be included, but how this will happen without some kind of pre-qualification requirements remains unclear. We’ll need to continue working with them on this front.

Vendor Performance Evaluation
The intent here is for government to have a consistent model for vendor performance evaluation so that results can be considered when awarding future competitions. This is something that our industry has been calling for, and it is a welcome addition to the action plan. As with most things, however, the implementation plan may be considerably trickier than the idea itself.
As a starting point, we have a few recommendations we’d like to see the government follow with this action item:

  1. Ensure no vendor is ever subject to any kind of penalty, real or imagined, as a result of providing feedback;
  2. Make sure that any evaluation process also includes an evaluation of the work of the procuring agents and agency (make it a two-way street);
  3. Consult directly with industry to define what “poor performance” means and what the consequences of it are; and
  4. Ensure that procuring agencies have evaluators with sufficient expertise, experience, and specialization to be able to wisely and appropriately evaluate vendors.
Evaluating the evaluators becomes very important here. In our industry, we’ve experienced many times where the procuring agent does not have the expertise or specialization necessary to make effective decisions within the procurement process. How then can we expect these same individuals to provide reasonable and effective evaluations of vendors?

The government appears to be aware of this issue, and I think we can work with them to make sure that evaluators have the guidance and support they need to be effective, but this is something that will always need to be monitored and addressed. By ensuring a process whereby the vendors evaluate the procuring agency and the agents (without consequence or fear of reprisal), government should be able to grow its capacity in time.

This is another area where the applicability to sub-contractors will be interesting. Anyone who has experience problems on a project knows that every vendor on that project may have a different opinion about who is responsible. You can’t do a thorough evaluation of performance without engaging in a 360-degree analysis, but the more complex the analysis the more difficult it will be to evaluate fairly.

Multi-staged procurement
Multi-staged procurement can be a valuable tool in limiting the number of vendors that have to invest time and money unsuccessfully pursuing procurement opportunities.  This approach makes sense and should be part of the consideration for every project, not just for large projects. It’s not that the government should use this approach in every case, but it shouldn’t limit its use to only projects of certain sizes. Likewise, the government shouldn’t require that projects above a certain threshold use this approach to procurement. The multi-stage tool should be available for use on all projects and only used for those projects where its use is appropriate.

Agreement on Internal Trade
The provincial government has made it clear that AIT no longer meets the needs of a modern pan-Canadian economy. The agreement needs to be scrapped and replaced by a national trade agreement built on the template of the New West Partnership. We support the government in this effort. In the meantime, we support the plan for Crown Corporations to maximize their flexibility within the constraints of the AIT.

Address the Knowledge Gap
The government acknowledges that they need to enhance the skills and expertise of its employees in order to drive consistency and performance across government. We know the importance of making sure that government procurement staff have the expertise and specialization they need to properly evaluate solicitation submissions – it’s back to the who is going to evaluate the evaluators question. This is something the government definitely needs to address, not only in the short-term, but over the long-term as well.

In addition to training and expertise-development for its staff, government should also be mindful of the importance of ensuring the expertise of the consultants it uses to support design and engineering, and project management, components of construction procurement.

That’s why we’re making the following recommendations to Priority Saskatchewan:

  1. That the government ensures that policies and procedures are understood and implemented consistently across the province – so no matter who manages a project, or where it is managed in the province – it will be done the same way;
  2. That efforts to address the knowledge gap include support for addressing this gap with design and engineering consultants; and
  3. That efforts focus on supporting the government to ensure that procurement leaders have sufficient expertise, experience, and specialization.
Collaborative Capital Forecasting
We support the government’s effort to forecast its long-term capital expenditures plan and to share that plan, as much as possible, with industry. The more that government can share about its intentions, the better prepared industry can be with the capacity and business models necessary to respond and deliver. The government has taken a good step in this direction with the roll-out this year of the Saskatchewan Builds Capital Plan.
So those are some of our thoughts on the first seven action items in Priority Saskatchewan’s Action Plan. We will be working with our industry partners and the government to advance these thoughts as Priority Saskatchewan rolls the next phase of its work out. In my next blog post, I’ll share our thoughts on the last six action items.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

May 7, 2015

President's Blog - The Winds of Change:

Positive Momentum through Priority


It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post, and part of the reason is how quickly things have been changing on the largest policy file we’re dealing with these days. I’m talking about procurement. In my last post I started making the case for moving away from low price awards. At the SCA, we’ve been making the case that government should adopt a “best value” approach to awarding contracts. My plan was to do a series of posts on this topic…and then the world changed.
On March 27, in Saskatoon, Priority Saskatchewan put out a 13-point action plan for improvement of procurement. One of those items included a commitment to shift from “low price” awards to “best value” awards. This is very exciting news for our
industry, and shows that government has really been listening to the concerns being expressed by construction employers.
Priority Saskatchewan is tasked with implementing the 13-point action plan (to see the whole plan, click here). I won’t address all 13 points here today, but I will make comments on each of them in future posts. In this post, I want to share my thoughts about the overall process of provincial procurement improvement going forward.
I mentioned to the SCA Board recently that we’re facing a very unusual confluence of forces that point to a high degree of likelihood that we will be successful in driving change in provincial procurement. First, there is both clear and strong political support from the provincial government. Cabinet has empowered Priority Saskatchewan to drive this
change, and has indicated the importance of all ministries and crowns participating in the process. The political support is complemented by a deep and seemingly consistent buy-in and momentum from the bureaucracy.
Officials from across government are buying into the idea of improving provincial procurement, and moving to adopt global best practices. This buy-in has led to a strong commitment across government to seeing these improvements through. Meanwhile, the third force creating a positive push for change is the common voice
with which industry is speaking.
Working with our many partner associations in the industry Advisory Council, and with partner associations from other industries (manufacturing, business lobby groups, architects, and engineers), the SCA has been a vocal and present leader in advancing industry’s agenda. The effectiveness of our work is primarily a result of ensuring that we’re delivering the same message to
government as our many members are, and in working with a strong multi-industry coalition. Industry groups and employers are all on the same page, which is unusual but extremely helpful.
So, we’ve got political will, bureaucratic momentum, and industry support. It’s like lightning in a bottle. Everything is aligned for real change. Assuming Priority Saskatchewan can navigate a small number of process challenges, we should be able to deliver a much more effective and efficient procurement process for the province. I see three challenges that Priority Saskatchewan may face in moving forward: (1) resourcing the work; (2) maintaining the momentum while taking the time to get it
right; and (3) engaging industry effectively.

Resourcing the Work
In 2014-15 the provincial government expects to spend just under $2.9 Billion on capital projects. Enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of this spend, and driving enhanced value derived from this spend, requires an investment of dollars and people to execute properly. As a portion of the total capital costs, the required investment should be fairly minimal – likely something in the magnitude of one tenth of 1% or 0.1% of the total.
The initial work completed by Priority Saskatchewan to date has been accomplished by a small team led by Lionel Labelle. The team has done phenomenal work in identifying the opportunities for improvement. The execution of that plan will necessitate, however, a greater commitment of resources. If procurement leaders across government are asked to execute a comprehensive program of procurement improvements off the corners of their desks, this program is much less likely to conclude successfully.
Our industry should encourage the government to commit the dollars and staff necessary to see this program through. If they do, there is no reason to believe we cannot achieve real success and complete the implementation of improvements within the next two years.

Maintaining the Momentum while Getting it Right
When you have the confluence of forces I outlined above, you want to keep the momentum going for sure. Sometimes the best way to do that is to keep pushing changes through, and moving as quickly as possible. While moving quickly is important, it is also important that policies be rolled out correctly the first time so as to minimize the creation of confusion or the need for constant revisions. After all, nothing kills momentum faster than having to do the same work more than once.
A comprehensive change to provincial procurement will not be complete in six months. In fact, it will be an ongoing process requiring continuous improvement. The first phase of program improvement – getting to a place of having fully implemented the Priority Saskatchewan action items and their recommendations – will likely take about two years of time. That’s ok. If we pursue quick wins when we can, and maintain a focus on the end goal, we can maintain the momentum and drive real change. This will be even more likely achieved with an appropriate plan to engage industry throughout the work.

Engaging Industry Effectively
To date, Priority Saskatchewan has been very effective at meeting with industry stakeholders, and the result has been a very good start to the procurement improvement program. Going forward, it will be important for Priority Saskatchewan to shift from meeting with industry, to engaging with industry. In other words, industry should be part of the policy creation process. By engaging industry in policy creation, the likelihood of implementing policy that can actually work will increase dramatically. It will also significantly enhance industry buy-in and compliance with policy, while simultaneously enhancing the understanding that government bureaucrats have of the industries they interact with. Finally, effective engagement with industry is likely to shorten the timeline and decrease the cost of policy creation by ensuring that things are developed and implemented in the right way the first time.
The work of Priority Saskatchewan may be one of the most significant transformational changes in Saskatchewan’s government in years. When fully implemented, it will position our province as a global leader in effective procurement. It should lead to mutually beneficial relationships between government and industry. From the SCA’s perspective, it should make life much simpler for our members when engaging with the government. Getting to this end state won’t be easy, but the provincial government is on the right track, and we’re working closely with them. As we move forward, making sure that the initiative is resourced appropriately, has reasonable timelines, and is effectively engaging industry will all be important elements of success.
If you’ve got any questions about the work of Priority Saskatchewan, or what the SCA is doing to advance the interests of non-residential construction companies, then don’t hesitate to contact me
any time at (306) 525-0171 or president@scaonline.ca.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 30, 2015

Think Construction Career Snapshot - Moose

Jaw, Saskatchewan

In late April, the Saskatchewan Construction Association was part of an exciting new event- the Think Construction Career Snapshot, organized by the Prairie South School Division in partnership with the SCA, TradeUp Saskatchewan, C&S Builders, Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA), and Moose Jaw Construction Association. The aim of this event was to provide grades ten to twelve students with a practical learning experience in careers in the construction skilled trades such as masonry, carpentry and electrical work. This hands-on learning experience was provided through concurrent interactive sessions where students were able to build a brick veneer wall, construct a garden shed, learn about construction safety apparatus, and so on.

Mitch Walchuk, from Walchuk Masonry, was onsite to show the students various masonry tools, and teach them to lay and butter bricks. Following this pre-training exercise, students were able to build a brick veneer wall on their own.

On the electrical side, students were shown the proper plumbing and heating requirements, conduit bending basics, and were able to use an underground cable locator to find buried cables outside the learning facility. According to Rob Kerr from L&I Electric Ltd., using such tools to locate underground cables is important to avoid construction hazards that could lead to drastic injuries.

The SCA’s Industry Workforce Development (IWD) team was in attendance and spoke to the students about career opportunities in the construction skilled trades. The goal of the IWD presentation was to enable the students to personally evaluate their attitude, academics and aptitude to determine whether a career in the construction trades is right for them.

Sam Shaw, President of C&S Builders, spoke to the students about his growth in the construction industry from the age of 15. He offered professional
advice, and indicated mentorship support for students who were interested in pursuing a career in construction after graduation. 

SCSA’s Roger Berriault was also in attendance to demonstrate proper usage of safety equipment on the job site. He showed the students the importance of using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as hard hats, safety
glasses and ear protection.

The highlight of the event for most students was where they built a garden shed from scratch. This session was supervised and guided by carpentry apprentices from C&S Builders, and Justin
Hoyes from All N All Construction. The students were provided with a blue print which they were able to interpret (with
guidance), and then proceeded to assemble their tools and construct the shed.

The students were delighted to have been given the opportunity to participate in the sessions. Tristin Walters from Assiniboia Composite High School mentioned that he had tried his hands on carpentry prior to attending the Think Construction event, “however, I have always wanted to try the bricklaying as well, so I was excited to see that one,” he added.

For others, it was their first time trying out the trades. Michelle Buck, a student from Mortlach School had never tried any of the skilled trades before attending the event. At the end of the sessions, she said, “I liked being able to get that hands-on experience, being able to physically hammer in the nails as opposed to just watching someone else do it.”

Overall, the event was very well organized and gave the students exposure to the trades to help them decide if they will pursue a career in the construction industry. The students indicated that they enjoyed receiving the practical experience from the sessions as opposed to a theoretical learning experience.

The Saskatchewan Construction Association would like to thank the Prairie South School Division and Cypress Paving for hosting an excellent event.

Uju Nweze

Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 13, 2015

Ireland - Poland Job Fair 

In March I had the opportunity to attend, on behalf of the SCA, job fairs in Ireland and Poland. The job fairs were held in Dublin and Cork Ireland as well as Warsaw Poland and organized through a company called WORKING ABROAD NEWCOMERS NETWORK (WANN). Saskatchewan’s Immigration Services – with the Ministry of the Economy – organized the Saskatchewan delegation and attended to lead and offer immigration support for new hires of Saskatchewan companies.

A total of nine companies from Saskatchewan attended the job fairs. Some attended all five fairs and others only attended one or two events.

The events were well organized and well attended by people looking for work. These job fairs weren’t specific to the construction industry, so attendees included individuals as varied as labourers and medical doctors. This was the second time I’ve been to Ireland for job fairs, and one thing I noticed is that there appeared to be fewer construction workers coming through the job fairs this time around. I did notice a lot more construction activity in Ireland this time, so it may be that with the Irish economy is on the rebound again, so fewer workers need to come to Canada.

All Saskatchewan companies that attended were able to find qualified candidates and offer positions to individuals that will help meet their work force needs. While they all found some workers to hire, most did not fill all of the positions they were looking for. In my experience this isn’t uncommon for these job fairs.
The companies that attended the overseas jobs fairs felt that they were able to find qualified and experienced workers that can make immediate contributions to their company. The Saskatchewan Immigration personnel that attended really make things so much easier for companies, and their future employees, that have to navigate the immigration process. Being able to screen candidates, hold an interview in person, and make a job offer in person really adds value for the hiring companies. Then, the immigration team is there to start the immigration paperwork to get the individual into Canada and working. The average time and success rate of getting the workers into Canada and working is significantly reduced by their on-site efforts.

Overall from my observations of the mission it was a positive experience for all companies and many of the attending companies will consider heading back again when they have the need for more qualified and experienced workers.


Erwin Klempner

Saskatchewan Construction Association

March 30, 2015

Implementing Innovation in Organizations

Marlys Wasylyniuk, the SCA’s Manager of Workforce Development, attended a one-hour workshop session on Implementing Innovation in Organizations on March 25, 2015. This thought-provoking and forward thinking session was put on by an organization called InnovationOne.

Here are her thoughts and highlights from the event:

What does innovation mean? Often when people hear the word innovation they think of companies such as Google… Apple… or Netflix. These examples may be the first thing that comes to mind, but they don’t actually define innovation. These are companies that are products of innovative thinking, not innovation itself. It is a difficult word to define. In today’s world, the word innovation gets thrown around so easily and loosely that few can define it - but everyone wants it.

To reframe the question above, what does innovation mean to YOU as it relates to your company and the work you do? My assumption is that your answer would differ from how you answered the question in the paragraph above. Instead of instantly thinking of cutting edge and forward thinking companies like Google, you might start to consider the risk involved, the fear of the unknown, or the amount of time, manpower, and money it would take to be innovative. Being innovative might seem like a nice idea, but it is something that you will get to on another day when you have some spare time, which in reality, is likely never! The amount of barriers to being an innovative company are endless. Many organizations are too focused on getting through their day-to-day operations to really embed innovative activities.

To reframe the same question one last time, what does innovation mean to you as it relates to your company if you were the last in the industry to implement innovation? That is a scary thought. The answer that would probably come to mind is that you would lose customers and your company could go broke! By the time you realize you have to change, make innovation a priority, and grow with your industry, it can be too late. The example of Blockbuster can be used very easily in this case. Blockbuster was so focused on their day-to-day operations and their current business model that they forgot to look around them and see that there was a big shift happening. Anyone you ask will readily say that the reason Blockbuster failed is because people now watch movies through the internet. Hence, why Netflix would be a popular answer when the thought of innovation arises. Netflix capitalized on the shift of watching movies on a cassette or DVD to online. By the time Blockbuster had realized they needed to take a look at innovation, the change in industry had already happened and their product was void and irrelevant. Although innovation may be risky, isn’t the riskiest thing a company can do is stay status quo?
While this briefly just scratches the surface of innovation, the point is to start thinking and talking about innovation, and to start doing it sooner rather than later. 

In conclusion, here are three things you can start doing within your company to generate innovation, whether you have a staff of 5 or 500:

  1. Set aside time for innovative moments. Make it part of the staff schedule that there is a time allocated to think about innovation, generate ideas, think outside of the box, and attempt to predict what the future of your industry might be. In terms of the construction industry, an example could be what will the workforce look like in ten years? Even if this occurs once a month or just once a quarter, it is a step in the right direction in making innovation a priority before it is too late.
  1. Include all levels of the hierarchy. Often there is great discrepancy in what the top leaders in management think innovation is versus the employees who are on-site doing the work. The best ideas are often born from minds of the people who are working at the front lines. Value their opinion!
  1. Look into facilitators, workshops (sometimes they are even free, like this one was!), or consultants that will foster and guide the conversation of innovation within your company. It might just be the best investment you make in terms of the future of your company. The organization, InnovationOne, is an example of a company that can help you with this.

Marlys Wasylyniuk, BComm

Manager of Workforce Development
Saskatchewan Construction Association

March 05, 2015

Low Price is not Low Cost 

Low price selection is the default position for the procurement of most construction services today. However, research and experience both show that low price does not always mean best value. In terms of delivering the best outcome for investors, we need to work to shift the focus of vendor selection from low price to best value. Over the next few posts, I hope to provide more information about why the best value approach is usually the best choice.

Low price selection considers only the pricing submitted by the vendors and awards to the lowest bidder. This is problematic for a few reasons:

  1. It encourages vendors to sacrifice other important components in pursuit of low price – on the surface this may sound like a good thing, but if you consider that quality, schedule, scope and safety are the things that may be sacrificed…it should give owners pause. The result in these cases often leads to a situation where the initial quoted price is low, but the real cost is considerably higher;
  2. It doesn’t consider past vendor experience – lowest price is only lowest cost if it is a reliable price. Evaluating past performance of a vendor may result in their disqualification or penalization for bad performance, but it can reduce the likelihood of cost overruns. Failure to consider performance puts too much emphasis on quoted price, and not on real costs;
  3. It reduces opportunities for innovation – In the pursuit of low price, many owners turn a blind eye to the potential innovations that exist. As a result, innovative solutions that might raise the initial price but would deliver better outcomes or produce cost savings over the asset lifecycle never get considered. Once again, initial quoted price is the determining factor, while the real costs of the project are unknown – especially with respect to opportunity costs; and
  4. It doesn’t consider indirect costs and benefits – local companies, sourcing material locally and employing a local workforce, produce significant tax revenue, economic activity, and community/charitable support. This has indirect, but real, benefit that should be accounted for. Conversely, for companies paying taxes elsewhere and sourcing material and labour elsewhere, that produces a cost locally that must be borne by the local tax base. If these factors are considered, the balance between low price and best value shifts heavily in favour of best value. 

If instead of looking just at low price, owners looked more frequently for best value, it would usually result in the following:

  1. Support for policy objectives – Most governments have some common policy objectives they seek. These might include: an employed and engaged workforce; thriving local industry; and rising government revenues. The procurement of construction services is a significant opportunity for governments to positively influence all three of those policy outcomes. Low price selection doesn’t consider the potential for better policy outcomes, while best value procurement does take the preferred policy outcomes into consideration. These outcomes have a quantifiable value that can and should be considered when selecting vendors for construction;
  2. Better contract performance – If low price isn’t the only consideration for procurement, vendors will be better able to address issues such as quality, schedule, safety, and scope, and the owner will get better results. At the same time, by considering past vendor performance, the owner is more likely to get the results they expect. Best value procurement will deliver better contract performance; and
  3. Lower real cost – Perhaps more importantly, I believe best value procurement can actually deliver lower cost procurement too. When the real costs, and the real benefits, are factored in, the best value model will outperform the low price more often than not.

When you consider the problems with low price selection, and the advantages ofa best value approach, it becomes clear fairly quickly that the Return on Investment for the owner can be higher more consistently with best value procurement. The SCA, working with our many partners on the Advisory Council, is advancing the idea of best value procurement in Saskatchewan. We’ve got a lot of work to do with respect to education and awareness on this issue. If you have suggestions or thoughts for how we can advance this issue, please let me know at president@scaonline.ca.

In my next blog post, I will talk about some of the challenges that are presented when an owner moves to best value procurement, and we’ll look at some strategies for overcoming those challenges.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
February 05, 2015

Hey Saskatchewan...RELAX

Fifty-three percent of Saskatchewan people are wrong. At least that’s what a recent survey from Mainstreet Technologies, reported on in the Leader-Post, would have us believe. Mainstreet surveyed Saskatchewan residents about the extent of their optimism with respect to the provincial economy. Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated they believe Saskatchewan is entering a recession. They are wrong.

Technically speaking, a recession only occurs after two consecutive quarters of a decline in GDP. There is every reason to believe that Saskatchewan’s GDP will continue to see moderate growth throughout the coming year, and beyond. Given the strong fundamentals of our provincial economy, it is highly unlikely that we will see any decrease in GDP in 2015.

The truth is Saskatchewan is a thriving and vibrant place, filled with a new sense of identity and purpose. Its people, in particular so many of its new people, dive into life
withvigour, energy, and an idea that it is possible to build a better life here. The vibrancy of this place and its people, are based on a solid economic foundation that sees Saskatchewan producing the things that the people of the world need. This foundation is as solid as it has ever been.

While our economy is commodity based, the nature of our commodity-centred economy is diverse. We have a strong and growing manufacturing sector that is creating value-added benefit for commodity producers and extractors. The construction industry is busy building value through the creation of transportation infrastructure and productive capacity. Saskatchewan’s retail sector, our province’s largest employer, is diverse and growing. Oil extraction is slowing down, but agriculture and potash remain strong and are getting stronger.

The low cost of borrowing and the current exchange rates create great opportunities for making and expanding investment in Saskatchewan.
Lowerlabour and fuel costs, and a minor slowdown in work, should result in more competitive pricing for construction services, further reducing the investment costs for financiers. In fact, the mix of commodities in Saskatchewan and the existing global conditions, create superb conditions for growth and investment.

Long-term projections should also be positive. Low fuel costs will drive consumer wealth and consumption in countries like Indonesia, where greater consumption means greater demand for Saskatchewan products such as pulse crops and potash.

While the details show good economic strength, the opinions of individuals consumers really do matter. Frank Hebert once wrote “…fear is the mind-killer…”, and it is also true that fear is the economy deflator. If people believe that our economy is in trouble, then they make choices that hurt the economy, and their prophecies risk becoming self-fulfilling.

So, to the fifty-three
percent of Saskatchewan residents who falsely believe the province is headed into a recession, I say this…just relax. Take a deep breath. Then go spend some money in a locally-owned shop, and look for opportunities to invest in the future of Saskatchewan. Our province will continue to grow, our economy will stay strong, and when oil prices rebound we’ll be ready to take advantage of the opportunities thatpresents us.

Let me know your thoughts on this and other issues anytime by emailing president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

January 08, 2015


A New Year's Resolution for Construction

In my last blog post of 2014, I wrote about how the construction industry effectively serves as a pipeline for converting investment into productivity. I noted that construction could function as either an enabler or inhibitor of growth as a result. The obvious importance of enabling growth is that it keeps the province moving forward and it keeps our industry busy, thriving, and profitable.

These days, Saskatchewan’s economy is growing at a reduced rate from the rather dizzying pace of three years ago. A slower growth rate, along with the artificially low price of oil, can have the effect of discouraging potential investors, even if, as is the case here in Saskatchewan, our economy remains strong. Investors considering large capital outlays need to believe that the future will be as good or better than the present in order to justify the risk involved.

The construction industry can encourage investors to take on the risk of capital outlays by ensuring that the construction process is as efficient as possible – both in terms of time and cost, and as effective as possible in terms of scope and quality. Our industry’s ability to deliver
projectsin scope, on budget, and on time, reduces the risk faced by investors and enhances the likelihood that they will feel confident enough to make investments to keep Saskatchewan growing.

As 2014 turns into 2015, it is time to consider our resolutions for the coming year. Although technically speaking there is nothing special about January 1, it does provide an opportunity to reflect on life, confirm (or reconfirm) priorities, and set out a course of action that ensures that life will be congruent with those priorities. This process can be just as important for organizations, companies, and industries as it is for individuals.

So, in 2015, what should we be striving to achieve as the non-residential construction industry in Saskatchewan?

I think this year we should make sure that we’re doing everything we can to enhance our productivity, both in terms of efficiency and effectiveness. If we want your companies to continue to grow in profitability, we need to encourage investors to keep building in Saskatchewan. If those investors are going to keep building, they need to manage their risk. We can help them manage that risk by enhancing our productivity. If doing that means greater profitability for your companies, it would be a good investment.

Productivity enhancement in construction will require a renewed focus on the incorporation of technology, the exploration of new management principles and processes, and continued support for employee training and retention. Here at the SCA, we’re going to figure out what we can do to support you in identifying and executing productivity enhancements. Stay tuned for news soon on this front.

The SCA’s vision is for a prosperous construction industry that contributes to better quality of life for everyone in Saskatchewan. Enhancing the productivity of the construction industry in 2015 will go a long way to realizing that vision. Let’s resolve together to become even more productive in 2015 than we were in 2014.

Let me know your thoughts on this and other issues anytime by emailing president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

December 19, 2014


The Construction Pipeline: Enabling Growth

In Saskatchewan, the construction industry is the third largest employer (with 52,000 people in November) after only the retail sector and health care. Our industry is the fourth largest contributor to GDP in the province ($4.3 billion). By any measure, the construction industry is an important force in the employment, economic, and population growth of the new Saskatchewan. We’re important, but maybe not as important as we sometimes think.

The construction industry is not an economic driver. We do not create growth. These statements might seem controversial, and they’re certainly a change in message, but the comments stem from a different way of understanding and looking at the importance of our industry. Let me explain.

The construction industry does not build things for itself. The overwhelming majority of the work we do is constructing facilities for other segments of the economy. Our industry is reliant for growth on the investment decisions of other sectors. Therefore construction cannot be a growth driver. We are in fact a growth enabler – or we can be.

In essence, construction acts as a pipeline for growth. Growth driving sectors like manufacturing, mining, oil
andgas, and agriculture choose to make investments. These investments are targeted to achieve particular business objectives related to productivity and profitability. In order to transform these investments into productivity and profitability, every investment must pass through some component of construction. So while the construction industry is entirely reliant on other sectors to drive growth, that growth cannot be achieved without our industry.

This interdependent relationship can be either mutually beneficial or mutually destructive. Our role as a growth enabler is to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure it is mutually beneficial. In other words, the construction pipeline through which all investments must flow can either restrict or enable the transformation of those investments into productivity. If our industry is going to keep growing, we need to make sure that we’re enabling the flow of investment, not restricting it.

This past summer, the SCA undertook a review of non-residential construction cost drivers in partnership with the Ministry of Economy. The report was done by KPMG. The findings of the report were generally consistent with what we already knew. While construction costs in Saskatchewan have gone up considerably in the last five years, our pricing is not out of line with pricing in other jurisdictions in the west. One finding in the report got
ourattention though. The report indicated that workforce productivity might be slipping.

If it is true that our workforce is less productive today than it was yesterday, or that it might be less productive tomorrow than it is today, we need to be concerned about this.
Productivity of the construction workforce is one key element that governs whether construction is a restrictor or enabler of growth. For that reason, the SCA is going to be working with our partners in 2015 to take a good luck at construction productivity. We’ll be holding seminars promoting productivity enhancing strategies, and will be doing research to verify the existence of and extent of the issue.

The SCA strategic plan has us focused on creating extraordinary value for members through investment attraction and the creation of business opportunities. Understanding that construction can be either an enabler of or restrictor of growth is an important start. Now that we understand that investment flows through the construction pipeline, we can be sure that we tune up that pipeline so that we can maximize the flow. The more efficient and effective we make the transition of investment to productivity, the more that investors will seek to do business here and with our member companies. The more they do that, the more prosperous our members will be, and the more prosperous our members are, the better the quality of life is for the people of Saskatchewan. It’s really a win-win-win outcome, and it starts by knowing what we are, and what we’re not.

Let me know your thoughts on this and other issues anytime by emailing president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

November 6, 2014


Liquor Privatization and the Construction


This week the government launched a broad-based public consultation to understand what Saskatchewan residents expect with respect to the future of liquor retailing in the province. This consultative process includes a five-minute online survey that members of the public can complete to voice their opinion. You can access the survey here: http://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/have-your-say/future-options-for-liquor-retailing-in-saskatchewan/how-you-can-provide-input
I completed the survey myself on Wednesday night. Some of the questions are a little confusing, but it took me about five minutes to complete. The survey asks some good questions, and I’d encourage all members to take a few minutes and complete it before the deadline on January 30, 2015.
Opinions on the wisdom of privatizing liquor retail sales may differ, but my take on it is fairly simple. Opening retail sales to private investors means that Saskatchewan will see an increase in construction and renovation work in the commercial space to accommodate demand for local liquor stores. More construction and renovation work means more business for SCA members. More work for SCA members means more and better jobs for the people of Saskatchewan. From my perspective it is a win-win-win.
In addition to providing for growth in construction and renovation, privatizing liquor retail sales fosters entrepreneurship and investment. The ethos of the new Saskatchewan is built on the idea that the private sector drives economic growth and innovation. If that’s true, and I believe it is, then moving forward with greater privatization of liquor sales is an important step forward.
At the SCA, we have a mandate to encourage public and private investment in Saskatchewan. Greater levels of investment directly correlate to higher levels of construction activity. If you believe that privatizing liquor sales will increase private investment, as I do, then you should take five minutes in the next three months and complete the government’s survey. You might also want to get on the phone with your local MLA and share your thoughts with them.

Let me know your thoughts on this and other issues anytime by emailing president@scaonline.ca

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association
October 31, 2014

Thoughts on Terrorism, Canada, and the

impact on Inf

This blog post is a bit of a departure from some of my others. Normally I talk about all of the great things we’re trying to do here at the SCA, or our advocacy work, or the important issues of our industry. Today however, I want to take a moment to talk about how grateful I am to be Canadian, how terror attacks don’t change that, and how our industry may need to be ready to adapt as Canadians continue to think differently about infrastructure and safety.

First, my thoughts and prayers to the family members of Corporal Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. The men and women who wear our nation’s uniform deserve our highest respect and admiration. The risks they take abroad should not be faced here at home, and the tragic demise of these two soldiers is a reminder to us all to be vigilant.

As a Canadian, I have been very proud of the reaction of fellow Canadians to these attacks, and to
theway we seemed to react in the moment. In what seems to me to be very quintessential Canadian fashion, we kept calm and carried on. I was particular touched by the reaction of the Cold Lake community to the defacing of the local mosque – people just showed up, cleaned up the mess, left positive messages in their wake, and went home. How very Canadian.

Our nation’s shock turned to mourning, and now our mourning must turn to deliberate and reasoned action. Here, I’m specifically talking about how we, as a nation, make sure to build and secure our infrastructure to protect against the potential of future attacks. There will come a reasonable expectation from citizens that our public buildings be secured against breach, but in a way that does not unnecessarily infringe on our freedoms.

Who better to answer the call on how to do this than the men and women who build this country every day – those of you in the construction industry. From tackling the question of how to secure a
200 year old building against
assault, to understanding future security risks and building new buildings to mitigate those risks, experts in the construction industry can find, invent, and deliver the answers.

As Canadians rightly ask what is being done to provide for their security and safety, it provides an opportunity for construction leaders to be recognized for their expertise in building and renovating secure facilities. When it comes to building public spaces that are both secure and free, I’d put my money on Canadian builders any day.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

October 1, 2014

Safety Leadership is No Joke

This week I was a student in the Leadership for Safety Excellence course offered by our good partner, the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association (SCSA). This two-day course is part of the COR safety training that I’m taking in order to better understand our industry, the people who work in it, and the work they do.
Anyone who has ever taken a course with me knows that I think I’m really funny. I spend a lot of time in class cracking jokes. I always have. I’m not the class clown, but maybe I’m the class observational humourist – that’s a thing, right?
In this course I was more restrained than usual. This was mostly because I quickly developed a deep respect for my fellow students, and for the seriousness with which they take the subject of safety. The LSE course was filled with young men and women from a variety of companies in our industry, or servicing our industry. These people have seen things in the workplace that I simply can’t imagine. Whether it’s a supervisor choosing to prioritize perceived productivity over safety, or fellow employees suffering serious injury or death due to complacency or distraction. My fellow students are here because they believe in safety, have had direct experience with incidents, and want to make sure that they and their colleagues get home safely every day.
I’ve never worked in construction. I’ve spent my professional life working in an office setting. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to work mistake-free or risk my own safety or those of others. After two days of this course, I’ve got a new appreciation for the risks that workers in our industry face, and the kind of character it can build.
The construction industry has a public reputation as being an unsafe industry to work in. When the SCA did basic public polling last year, we discovered that the primary reason people would not recommend pursuing a career in construction is because of safety concerns. Statistically speaking, our industry is safer today than it has ever been. Perception-wise, though, we still struggle.
As an industry we can deal with public perception by continuing our strong commitment to safety. This means investing in safety in our companies, encouraging project owners to require strong safety records, educating our workers in safety, and putting competitive pressure on poor safety performers too either force behaviour changes or drive them out of the marketplace.
If the public had the chance to meet the people I was in class with this week, they wouldn’t have the same kind of concerns about our industry that they do now. They, like me, would believe that the next generation of construction leaders have been brought up by their managers to prioritize safety, and to understand and address workplace risks. These people are smart, capable, cautious, and emerging risk managers. Spending two days with them made me confident in the future of our industry. In my role as SCA President, I’m going to start thinking about how we can share their stories with the public, because I’m sure that’s how we can change public perception.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

September 3, 2014

Turning Talk to Action on


There is a lot of chatter these days in provincial government circles about the political pressure they’re facing to improve procurement practices, in particular when it comes to construction procurement. This is a result of a months-long effort by leaders in the industry, and in particular leaders in the steel fabrication business – most notably Ross Fraser from Supreme Steel – to raise the issue of subsidized companies from other provinces distorting the competitive marketplace in Saskatchewan. All of this effort led to an announcement in June from the Premier that the government was creating Priority Saskatchewan as an initiative designed to ensure that Saskatchewan based companies had fair access to opportunities to pursue procurement in the province.

The announcement of Priority Saskatchewan, and the appointment of Roger Parent as Legislative Secretary for this initiative, was a welcome one. MLA Parent has been a steadfast supporter of our industry, and was talking about the importance of this issue when no one else would listen. Since the announcement in June, we’ve been waiting to see what Priority Saskatchewan would end up achieving. As Summer now begins to turn to Fall, we’re expecting that all of the talk about procurement will start to turn to action.

At the time of writing this article (August 23), there are at least four distinct procurement improvement efforts that are ongoing within the provincial government. SaskBuilds is coordinating the work of Priority Saskatchewan, although this work has yet to take shape. Government Services is engaged in procurement standardization and improvement discussions. The Crowns sector is in discussion about how Crowns can engage local companies in procurement. Finally, the Saskatchewan Construction Panel (SCP) which is co-chaired by Warren Michelson (MLA for Moose Jaw North) and myself, is leading work on a project to standardize procurement processes and documents across government.

Some would say that four heads are better than one, but in my experience, four government initiatives trying to work on similar outcomes is likely to take a long time to end up nowhere. That’s not what our industry wants or needs right now, and all indications are that this isn’t what government wants either. Fortunately, there is a better way, and there are three keys to success.

First off, with the exception of the SCP initiative, none of the other initiatives has any industry engagement at all – yet. It will be nearly impossible for the government to develop processes and plans that work, and that engage local contractors, without actually engaging local contractors. For that reason, we’ve been recommending that the government work through the Advisory Council, which includes more than 23 groups from across our industry, to engage directly with industry leaders. So far, government officials seem very open to this approach, and I’m optimistic we’ll start seeing direct industry engagement in procurement improvement processes going forward. In the meantime, we’ll stay on them about this issue until we do.

Industry engagement is one key to success, and a second key is streamlining the number of ongoing processes. From my perspective, we can accomplish everything we need to with two concurrent working groups. One working group would focus on executive government (the ministry), while the second would focus on the Crowns sector. You could argue that you could do both with one working group, but I think the relative sophistication of the Crowns when it comes to procurement, and their internal expertise, means they can move at their own faster pace. Both working groups should include direct industry engagement, through appointments from the Advisory Council, and both should report to a joint government-industry steering group – like the SCP.

So with direct industry engagement and a streamlining of processes, the final key to success in this area is a clear mandate. Right now, I think it makes sense for both working groups to be focused on the following three outcomes:

  • Ensuring that procurement processes provide Saskatchewan-based companies with fair access to competition through use of net benefit calculations in awarding projects;
  • Supporting the inclusion of Saskatchewan-based companies as partners in procurement with the policy objective of enhancing the capacity of the local industry; and
  • Moving to a standardization of procurement processes and documents across ministries and crowns.

If we follow this approach, with direct industry engagement, streamlined processes, and a clear mandate, we can turn chatter and talk about procurement into action in a short period of time. From everything I can tell, this is an objective our industry shares with government. We just need a common path forward. This is the path I recommend.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 28, 2014

A Valuable Investment

Part Three: The Plan and What it

Means for You

In Part One of this blog I outlined the work we’ve done to ensure the SCA mission can deliver real value to you. In Part Two I outlined the specifics of how this revised mission can eventually be achieved. In Part Three, I will discuss the plan for executing the mission and what this plans means for you, and for your business.

Let’s take one more look at the revised SCA mission statement we considered in Part One of this blog.
The SCA exists to create extraordinary value for members through:

  • Securing the employees members need, with the skills they require, to do the work they need to do;
  • Providing programs and services that give our members a competitive advantage in the marketplace;
  • Encouraging investors to build in Saskatchewan;
  • Growing business opportunities for members by profiling the great work being done by members across Saskatchewan; and
  • Advocating for the interests of members to government and the public.

This mission statement is the means by which we achieve our vision to “Provide collaborative and trusted leadership that sustains a prosperous construction industry and a better quality of life for the people of Saskatchewan.”

Our current strategic plan runs until the end of
September, 2019. We have a little more than five years to achieve that vision. The revised mission statement includes the elements necessary both to achieve the vision and to create extraordinary value for members in the process. So, the question is, over the next five years, how will the SCA fully realize its mission.

I don’t have all of the answers yet. Sometimes it feels like I have more questions than I do answers. However, I’m confident that we’re building the right foundation for success, and our openness to recognizing that we don’t have all of the answers forces us to work in partnership with others – something that 
will in the end, I believe, bring us to our goal.

I’m not sure yet what years 2-5 of this plan will look like exactly, and I don’t want to be too rigid in our planning, as we need to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. I do however have a good sense of what year one is going to look like, and a bit of a sense of what we should look like as an association at the end of five years.

Here’s what I’m thinking…
In this coming year, member fees will represent approximately 54% of all SCA revenue ($510,450 in fees on $939,215 in total revenue.) This means, in my opinion, that the SCA is too reliant on your member fees to sustain our association. We need to diversify.

By the end of year five of the plan, I’d like to see membership fees fall to only 33% of total SCA revenue. This will be achieved through seeing strong growth in our existing non-fee based revenue streams, and creating new revenue streams that don’t rely on membership fees.
Our existing or planned non-fee revenue streams include:

  • Sponsorship;
  • Advertising;
  • Affinity Program fees;
  • Service contracts;
  • Conferences, job fairs, and event revenue; and
  • Campaign specific funding.

Most of the enhanced revenue over the next five years will come from supplier companies investing in advertising or sponsorship in order to be regularly in front of SCA members, and from SCA members choosing to participate in programs and events, and purchase services that provide you with a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

For each one of the revenue streams identified above, the SCA has developed a plan for growth over the next five years. Year one will see small growth in each area as we launch new initiatives and try new things. Member 
participation, and member feedback will be essential to ensuring we do the things that best serve your needs. By the end of year five, I expect these revenue streams to be generating at least 66% of all SCA revenue.

I am particularly excited about the potential of the Affinity Program. This program will be designed to partner with select vendors to provide members only with access to 
below market goods and services that you want and need. In addition to providing you access to essential goods and services at below market pricing, the program will provide the SCA with a small commission for the opportunity. I expect that this program will generate moderate revenue for the SCA, but I’m mostly excited about it because it will help us fulfill the mission of offering programs and services that provide you with a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

The new revenue generated from these non-fee based streams will be reinvested into the association to ensure that we can shape provincial policy in ways that will benefit your 
companies, and that we are attracting to Saskatchewan the kind of capital investment that will keep lots of projects being built in the province for many years to come. Meanwhile we will be busy advancing issues that you (our members) have identified as important priorities. Here are some examples of priorities we are tackling now and will be tackling throughout year one of the plan:

In the early years of the plan, especially in this first year, one area we’re going to focus on is improving the culture at WCB. Today, too many of our members feel that WCB treats them like the “bad guys”. WCB should be treating 
employers as real partners. After all, employers pay 100% of the WCB budget. We’re going to invest in changing the culture at WCB by changing its governance structure. This is going to mean working with provincial politicians to get their support for legislative changes, working with other employer groups from other industries to build coalitions, doing research to make sure that government can have the political cover it needs from those who would oppose these
changes, and communicating these messages to key audiences and the public. If we’re successful, the net result will be lower premiums for construction employers, and safer workplaces. It’s going to take time, strategic effort, and money. In the end though, if it saves you money and enhances the productivity of your workforce, I imagine you’ll agree it was a worthwhile investment.

Improving government procurement
While we’re working on WCB, we’re also going to be working on improving the procurement practices of governments and public agencies. Specifically, we’re going to be pushing all government ministries, crowns, health regions, school boards, post-secondary institutes, and municipalities to adopt the CCDC standard for procurement documents. We’ve heard regularly from members about the frustrations you experience dealing with different ministries and crowns and the lack of sophistication and standardization of processes and documents. We’re going to change that. We’ve got strong political support from the government to move forward on this, but they will be relying on the SCA and our members to lead this work. Being successful here will take time, effort, and money. Again though, if we can deliver for you, we will save you money, increase your productivity, and make your life easier.

Addressing construction workforce challenges
The SCA has been a strong leader in identifying and tackling the workforce challenges faced by our industry over the last six years. We’re active in most high schools in the province, engaging directly with students and their educators. We’re involved with SIAST, the regional colleges, SIIT, Gabriel Dumont, the SATCC and others to ensure that training issues are resolved. We were instrumental in the creation of the Regina and Saskatoon Trades and Skills Centres, and continue our leadership in those organizations. We’re key players in the Regina and District Industry Education Council, and we’re directly engaged with Skills Canada.

In addition to that work, we run multiple employment programs each year, mostly in the southern part of the province. Our programs include Skills 
Link, and Summer Employment. Our team also created the HR manual and HR forms that members can access online to provide guidance and support in addressing common HR issues.

100% of the work being done in the area of workforce development has been funded by either the provincial or federal government. Until this last year, the SCA did not directly dedicate any funding to this work, other than through in-kind contributions. Last year we began providing 
very minor funding (about $15,000 of a total expenditure of nearly $300,000).

As we move forward, governments are increasingly looking to industry to share in the cost of workforce program delivery. Governments are mostly interested in 
funding employment programs, but our workforce development work needs to extend beyond this – to areas of career promotion. We need to focus on attracting the best and brightest high school graduates to choose to enter construction as their preferred career choice.

Starting in year one of this plan, we will be launching an initiative to encourage the industry to invest in career promotion work. We’ll be asking the provincial and federal government to match or better industry contributions, and all of those dollars will be invested in making sure that we attract the best and the brightest, provide them with the skills they need to be 
successful, and connect them with employment opportunities with member companies. In this way, we’ll be addressing your needs, and meeting our mission.

We’ll also be working to gather better data on the workforce needs of the industry, and the preferences of potential workers. In year one we’ll work with the province to establish mandatory exit surveying of all high school graduates, so we know what their career intentions are. Over the course of the 
five year
plan we’ll be focused on driving up the percentage of graduates who pick construction as their first choice.

Telling your stories
The SCA needs to get really good at telling your stories in order to:
  • get the best and brightest high school graduates to pursue careers in construction;
  • attract strong and consistent capital investment in Saskatchewan,
  • build up an effective bank of public support and credibility for our industry; and
  • influence government and the public toward policies that are favourable to our industry.

You don’t have to look very hard on social media, in traditional media, or in conversations with the public to find people who are willing to demonize the private sector. A common refrain in discussions about public-private partnerships is that the public can’t trust the private sector. When you look at public perception surveys about the construction industry, people commonly say that the work is too difficult, that it’s too dangerous, or that it’s seasonal and unstable. They view it as a job, not a career. While they view our industry as a lucrative one, they don’t view it as a preferred choice.

We, as an industry, need to push back against these perceptions. We need to establish that construction is one of the best career choices a person can make, and we need to show that Saskatchewan’ construction industry can be trusted. The SCA is in a perfect position to carry this message to the public.
Each year, SCA member companies in Saskatchewan donate many millions to charities and non-profits in the province, helping to build the communities in which they work. These are stories that people need to hear.

Each year in Saskatchewan, SCA member companies use new and innovative approaches to 
build infrastructure and create better public and private spaces. We need to tell the positive stories of our industry and the work you do.

We need to provide information to prospective investors so that they know why investing in building in Saskatchewan is the right choice for their business. This will require the SCA to be better engaged in understanding economic and market data, and working more closely with other business groups to identify and connect with potential investors. When we do connect with them, we need to be able to tell the stories that show why they should work with SCA member companies.

Story-telling will require us to engage with each member more closely, to better understand your business, and to be able to communicate about the great things you’re doing every day. We’re going to need to invest in greater market intelligence, more member engagement, and stronger communication.
In year one, we’re going to develop the capacity to tell stories by learning more about our members, by improving our communications, by surveying to set benchmarks for public perceptions, and by putting in place the partnerships we need for success. By year five, I expect that anyone surveyed in Saskatchewan will have positive perceptions about the construction industry, that we’ll be attracting new investors to the province, and that your company’s brand value will be enhanced because you’re a member of the SCA.

What all of this means for you…
The SCA will not be a passive association any longer. We are going to aggressively pursue the creation of real value for our members. We’ll do this in partnership with you and with our integrated partners, so that the work benefits all parts of our industry.

I hope you can tell from the four blog posts I’ve written on this topic, that we have a real plan, and that this plan will deliver value to you and your company over the next five years. I hope that you’re excited by the vision and mission we share as a provincial industry. I hope that you can see the role for your company in achieving the vision, and you can see the benefit that will come to you through the mission.
Although we’ve got a lot of work to do over the next five years, we’re lucky that we’re starting with a solid foundation. The SCA has a great reputation with the provincial government, with our partners in other industries, and with our workforce development partners. We’ve rebuilt relationships with our integrated partner 
associations, and within our industry.

The membership fee increases over the next two years will enable the SCA to get a jumpstart on the 
five year plan. With your investment we will be able to more quickly produce returns for you and for your company. In year one of the plan, you will pay $425 in membership fees to support this work. In years two and beyond, you will pay $500. For companies that fully engage with the SCA, I suspect your membership in the association will be making you money by the time we reach year five.

The success of your association and this plan will require three things from you:

  1. Your continued membership and support;
  2. Your patience – we’ve got a five year plan. We’re going to make progress each year, and it will be tangible, but we’re not going to get all the way to the finish line immediately; and
  3. Your engagement – if we’re going to tell your stories, you’ll need to share them with us. If we’re going to offer you a competitive advantage in the marketplace, you’ll need to help us figure out what you need the most. If we’re going to make adjustments to the plan in order to better serve you, you’ll need to speak up.
If you commit to these things, I will commit to you that we will listen to you, engage with you, respond to your needs and deliver on our commitment to creating value for you. Together, we can achieve our shared vision of a prosperous construction industry and better quality of life for all people in Saskatchewan.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 20, 2014

A Valuable Investment

Part Two: From Purpose to Impact

Purpose without action is pointless. The best vision or mission statement is useless unless someone is doing the work to achieve it. The SCA can want to create value for members all we want…but if we don’t do it…

Of course we’re not just trying to create value, we’re trying to create value you want. Value you want to invest in. Value that generates real return for your company.

Let’s start with the revised SCA mission I presented in “Part One: A Clear Purpose”:

The SCA exists to create extraordinary value for members through:

  • Securing the employees members need, with the skills they require, to do the work they need to do;
  • Providing programs and services that give our members a competitive advantage in the marketplace;
  • Encouraging investors to build in Saskatchewan;
  • Growing business opportunities for members by profiling the great work being done by members across Saskatchewan; and
  • Advocating for the interests of members to government and the public.

In thinking about how we’re going to do this, five words come to mind: facts, focus, money, relationships and stories. In this post I want to explain what I mean with these five words, and how they can help transform a great mission into value you really want.

The logic of the revised mission, and the plan that comes with it, is based on a few basic facts. We’ve tested these against a lot of different people, and everyone agrees that these are inescapable facts:

  1. Nothing happens anywhere that isn’t impacted by the construction industry either directly or through the value chain. In other words, everybody needs the construction industry.
  2. Our industry is almost entirely reliant on the capital investment of others for work. In other words, the construction industry needs everybody else.
  3. Capital investment, whether by an individual or a company, is frequently the biggest financial risk undertaken, and it is rarely taken lightly.
  4. People and companies don’t take big financial risks unless they feel reasonably confident about the future.
These four facts lead to a couple of important deductions:
  1. The construction industry has an interdependent and symbiotic relationship with other industries. They need us, and we need them.
  2. The construction industry needs people and companies to invest in capital expenditures, which means we need them to feel good about the future.
Those deductions lead to a simple conclusion:

  • If people and companies feel good about the future in Saskatchewan, they’ll invest here. If they invest here, our industry will prosper. If our industry prospers, everyone in Saskatchewan benefits.

So, if we’re going to achieve the SCA vision of a sustainably prosperous construction industry and better quality of life for people in Saskatchewan, we need to make sure that people and companies feel good about the future here.

The scope of the revised mission is quite tremendous. Frankly, it’s well beyond the present capacity of the SCA to achieve. That’s not unusual. It’s no fun to achieve a mission that is easy.

One strategy that will be necessary if we’re going to achieve it 
is real operational focus. We can’t spend time, money, or effort doing things that don’t directly contribute to the mission. We simply don’t have the capacity to spare.

This means we will need to stop doing some things. It also means we will need to start doing some other things, but we won’t be able to start everything all at once. So, how will we make decisions about what to stop and what to start? By asking a few simple questions:

  1. What are we doing today that does not 100% align with the mission? How do we change it or get rid of it?
  2. What new opportunities deliver the greatest advancement of the mission with the least investment of time, energy, and money?
With this focus we will always be sure we are adding the greatest possible value we can, as we slowly increase our capacity to eventually be able to achieve the full mission.

No mission can be achieved without funding. The decision by the Board to increase member fees from $300 to $500 over the next two years is an important step in this direction, but we won’t be relying on member fees alone to bring in the kind of revenue we need. Achieving the mission outlined in these blog posts will require considerable funding from other sources. Here’s why…

The SCA has just under 1,100 “full” members. A “full” member is a company that is a construction company, or construction service company, that has joined through one of our five integrated partner associations. In two years when the $500 fee is in place, this will produce a total of approximately $550,000 in revenue.

This $550,000 is just enough to cover SCA staff wages, contract staff, office space leasing, service contracts, and most of the cost of SCA travel for meetings and events with members. Membership fees, even with the planned increases, do not provide enough revenue to allow the SCA to achieve its mission. From 
my perspective though, that’s not a bad thing. It forces our association to find non-fee based ways to resource the work we’re tasked with accomplishing.

Our future non-fee revenue sources will include:

  • Advertising revenue for advertising sold to construction suppliers in things like our We Build magazine, our monthly newsletter, and our website.
  • Non-fee revenue will also include sponsorship, sold primarily to construction suppliers who want to purchase profile and presence at SCA events.
  • Offering programs and services to members – programs and services that offer you a competitive advantage in the marketplace – through creation of a suite of affinity programs. These affinity programs will generate non-fee revenue, and deliver real, and direct, value to you.

There are several other sources of non-fee revenue that we will explore in the coming months. The addition of any new non-fee revenue source must meet two tests: (1) it must deliver value for our members; and (2) it must reduce the SCA dependence on member fees as a revenue source. Developing all of these non-fee based revenue sources will be critical if the SCA is going to be able to accomplish its mission. We cannot rely on member fees alone. It isn’t sustainable, and it is reasonable for you to expect us to diversify.

If we’re going to convince investors to build here in Saskatchewan, they need to know who we are. We need to build relationships with existing and potential construction owners in this province. They need to view our association, and you our members, as trusted advisors in the capital investment process.
Relationship building with government officials will continue to be an important part of the SCA’s role in the province. We want 
government to view us as a critical source of advice and guidance when it comes to matters of capital investment and economic policy. Our goal in building and sustaining relationships with government officials, at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, is to ensure that the political, legislative, regulatory, and taxation regimes are supportive of a prosperous construction industry.

If we’re going to convince investors to build with SCA member companies, they need to know why you’re the best choice. This means telling stories about how your companies build and support local communities through corporate and individual donations of time, money, and support for charities and non-profit groups. It means telling stories about the innovative practices SCA members are pioneering to improve the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency of their construction.

Storytelling may seem like an odd way to describe our communications, but it is an important way of thinking about our role as an association. We have multiple communications vehicles – our We Build magazine, our newsletter, our website, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tradeupsask.ca, and others. Packaging great facts about our industry as a whole, and member companies
individually, provides an opportunity to communicate those facts in different ways across all of these vehicles.

In addition to supporting member business through encouraging construction owners to invest, storytelling will also help in dealing with an emerging challenge with respect to construction projects in Canada. The challenge is known as “public license”. This is the idea that, increasingly, broad public support is needed for many projects to proceed. This can clearly be seen in Saskatchewan projects like the Regina wastewater treatment plant or the stadium. You can look at other Canadian projects like the Keystone pipeline or the Northern Gateway pipeline. Public opposition nearly derailed the first two, and still might derail the last two.

By telling the stories about how SCA member companies are building communities, being innovative, and acting as responsible corporate citizens in our province and country, we can establish a strong stream of public support that can be banked for future withdrawal during consideration and development of potentially controversial projects. If the public trusts SCA members, if they know how responsible and reliable you are, they will place their faith in you when it matters most.

I believe that if we do a good job of gathering and sharing your stories, your company will prosper, and our industry will prosper. I believe that these stories will help us to attract the best and brightest of Saskatchewan’s young people to work in our industry. I believe the power of your stories will ensure that governments at any level do not get in the way of your innovation or your prosperity.

The decision to increase SCA member fees over the next two years was made because the Board knew we couldn’t accomplish these things without the infusion of new resources the fee increase provides. The new revenue from this increase won’t be enough, but it will be all we need from the membership fee source. I’m betting that in five years from now, when we look back at the work I outline here, you will agree your membership fee was money well spent.

In Part Three of this blog, I will outline the specifics of “the plan” and what it might mean for you as a member of the SCA.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 14, 2014

A Valuable Investment

Part One: A Clear Purpose

Everything begins with purpose. Mark Twain said, “The two most important days of your life are the day you’re born, and the day you realize why.” He was referring of course to the idea that life truly begins when you understand your real purpose. This is true for individuals, but it is also true for companies.
The SCA has a clear purpose. It is articulated in the mission statement. The SCA exists to create value for members. That’s why we’re here.

The mission statement goes on to articulate most of the ways in which we try to create that value for you:

  • Programs and services;
  • Collaboration within our industry;
  • Advocacy to government; and
  • Providing the industry’s most effective public voice.

The mission statement is fine. When I talk about what we do to others, usually I just focus on the fact that we work to create value for members. I mention that we use government dollars to invest in industry workforce development, and that we advocate on behalf of the industry to the provincial government. Lately I’ve been struggling with all of this though. I’ve literally had restless nights as I’ve wrestled with the question of why this association exists, and how we can truly deliver real value to you and to your business.

It’s great for us to say that we create value, and at the SCA 
office we truly believe that we do. Every day we try to find new and better ways to serve you. While our intentions are great, if you, as a member, cannot see how we’re creating value for you, then all the good intentions don’t matter.

As a member, you need to understand how the SCA creates value, and it needs to result in tangible benefits for you and for your company. Ideally, belonging to the SCA will provide your business with a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, today, too many of the things the SCA does also benefits non-members. Our advocacy to the province on behalf of the industry is very effective, but you don’t need to be an SCA member to benefit from the new labour legislation we helped create, or the procurement improvements we’re fighting for.

In other words, it’s not enough for us to just create value for the industry, we need to create unique value for members.

With that in mind, I’d like to propose we take a different approach with the SCA mission statement. What if our mission statement instead read like this?

The SCA exists to create extraordinary value for members through:

  • Securing the employees members need, with the skills they require, to do the work they need to do;
  • Providing programs and services that give our members a competitive advantage in the marketplace;
  • Encouraging investors to build in Saskatchewan;
  • Growing business opportunities for members by profiling the great work being done by members across Saskatchewan; and
  • Advocating for the interests of members to government and the public.

This is a mission statement that is really exciting. I believe that if the SCA got really good at doing these five things, we’d be well on our way to achieving our vision of sustaining a prosperous construction industry and improving the quality of life for people in Saskatchewan. If we could do these things for you, I think you’d agree that your investment in the SCA was money very well spent.

Today of course, we don’t do all of these things. We do some of them, but we don’t do any of them as well as we could. We’ve got a plan for how we’re going to improve our performance in these areas, and in the process create extraordinary value for you. In my next post I will outline why I think this revised mission makes sense, and how we can achieve it.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

August 6, 2014

A Valuable Investment

At its meeting in June, the SCA Board of Directors decided to increase the fee members pay to belong to this association. The fee, currently at $300, will increase to $425 in this coming year, and then to $500 in the following year. The increase will be the first most members have seen in more than a decade. The increase is necessary to ensure the SCA can fulfill its role and meet the growing expectations of members.

Most members I’ve spoken to have no issue with paying $500 to belong to a provincial association that represents, defends, and advances their interests. A typical response when I speak to a member is this: “I have no problem paying if you’re delivering value for my company. I think of it as an investment.” So long as the SCA can show you that we’re delivering value for you, most of you are fine to pay the $500 per year.

The problem the SCA has had in the past is difficulty explaining how our work delivers value for members. Most of our work, whether we’re talking about workforce development for the industry, or lobbying and advocacy with the government, is indirect. It produces value for the whole industry for sure, but it is hard to measure what it means for your individual company.

This challenge, coupled with an SCA that was too distant and too disengaged from members, led to a time when most members questioned the value that SCA provided to them. Ensuring that each SCA member believes they get real value from their investment in the SCA has been my singular focus since becoming President in April, 2013. I believe we’ve made good progress in that short time, and the feedback I receive from you suggests you believe that too.

Of course, our work is not done. It’s never done. What I know is that the SCA cannot sustain the effort we’ve made in the last 15 months, or achieve the objectives members have set for us, without an increase in fees. After more than a decade of surviving on the same fee level, with a shrinking service level, the time has come to change that pattern.

With fees set at $500, the SCA should not need to make significant increases again. The $500 fee will allow the SCA to meet your expectations, and grow our non-fee revenue. I believe there is a great potential to grow non-fee revenue, which reduces the extent to which you need to financially support this association. As you know, growing revenue sources takes investment, and this fee increase will allow us to do that.

However, just because I tell you that your membership fee is a good investment for your business, I don’t expect you to believe me without evidence. Working with the team in the SCA office, and on the Board, we’ve come up with a plan that I believe will eventually convince all of you that your SCA membership fee is not just a good investment, but one of the best you will make every year.

In the next three blog posts, I will outline this plan. I will share with you my achievable dreams for your association, and how together, we can achieve the vision of the SCA: To provide collaborative and trusted leadership that sustains a prosperous construction industry and a better quality of life for the people of Saskatchewan.

I bet that no matter how you feel about the SCA, or the fee increase, you can agree that if your $500 annual investment helps achieve that vision, it will be money well spent. I invite you to read the next three blog posts (all posted in August) and share your feedback with me. I’m here to serve you.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

July 5, 2014

Every Day, in Every Way,

We Hope We're Getting

Better and Better

The central function of this association is to serve you, our members. Everything else we do is only effective when it aligns with your interests. In other words, we should only be doing things that you want us to do. How do we do this? Well it’s actually fairly simple:
  1. We ask you what you want us to do.
  2. We develop a plan that allows us to do those things.
  3. We execute that plan.
  4. We tell you about the things we’re doing.
  5. We get your feedback on our performance.
  6. We adjust our plan and the work we do to match your feedback.
Doing these things creates what is known as a virtuous cycle, or continuous improvement. We want to always be getting better at serving you. I define better as both more effective and more efficient. My primary responsibility as the President and CEO of SCA is to ensure the association gets on, and stays on, this virtuous cycle. I’m pleased to say that today the SCA is well positioned to do just that. By the end of 2014, we will have been through one full cycle of this work. Completing that cycle will be an important step in entrenching the value of continuous improvement into the culture of the association.
Shortly after I started with SCA, we conducted a full and independent survey of our membership to determine the things that were most important to you (step 1 above). Taking your feedback, the SCA Board developed a five-year strategic plan for the association, and we now have an annual operating plan that moves us closer to ensuring that everything we do on a daily basis is aligned with the strategic objectives set by your Board (step 2 above).  Based on the information you provided, and the plan laid out by the Board, we made considerable changes to what we do, how we do it, and how we communicate it (step 3 above). We have invested more resources – money, staff, and time – into improving our communications (step 4 above). Now we have a regular monthly newsletter that goes out by email on the first Thursday of every month. We have a regular quarterly magazine that is sent out by mail. We are more focused on communicating through social media and on the website, and we’ve significantly increased our presence in terms of attending industry events and meeting with members, individually and in groups.
Early this Fall (October) we will, for the first time, repeat our member survey and get your feedback on our performance over the last year. This will then lead to a time for the Board and SCA staff to reflect on how we can improve performance to better meet your expectations. By our AGM this year (which for the first time we will hold in conjunction with the AGM of the Regina Construction Association) we will created a report for our members that highlights what we’ve done, what you told us about what we’ve done, and what we’re going to do to be better.
We’re taking this methodical approach to our core function of member service because it is necessary in order to make excellence in this function a matter of routine. While I’m happy with the way our efforts are rolling out, and the results they’re producing, I can’t always tell how we’re doing from where I sit in the organization. In order to know how we’re doing, I need to hear from you. To do that, I’m focused on spending as much as 20% of my time meeting with individual members. While this will help, you don’t need to wait for me to come to you in order to provide your feedback.

If you ever feel we’re getting off track, or if you’d like to tell us what we can be doing differently, or even what you’re happy with, I hope you won’t hesitate to pick up the phone, send us an email, or even pop by our office (320 Gardiner Park Court, Regina) for a visit. We are here to serve you, and the more we know about you and the things that are important to you, the better we can be. We will almost certainly never be perfect at meeting your expectations, but I can assure you that it won’t be because of a lack of effort or focus.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

June 4, 2014

Reflections from

the Ridge

I'm sitting here on my balcony, in my room at Elk Ridge, watching the intermittent afternoon rain patter on the ground and waiting with anticipation for the 180 or so SCA members that will be joining us here for the SCA's Annual Summer Meeting. I'm reflecting on how different I feel this year, as we go into my second SummerMeeting, than I did last year as a newcomer I've bee with the SCA for nearly 14 months, but it seems like only yesterday that I was coming up to Elk Ridge for the first time, with really no clue what I was getting myself into. I had attended some of our industry's larger networking events by that time - the Saskatoon and Regina Galas, and both Spring General Meetings - but Elk Ridge was the first SCA event where I would be expected to play a prominent role. It was my first meeting with the SCA Advisory Council, and only my second meeting of the SCA Board.

While most of last year's event is now a distant blur to me, there are a few things that remain clearly defined in my memory. These are the things I learned last year at Elk Ridge, things I didn’t know about our industry, or about myself. Some of these things surprised me, some didn’t, but they all stick with me…

1) The Summer Meeting is a great way to make friends – Networking is such an important component of our industry, and this was something that was really driven home to me during the event. Whether through golf, meals, meetings, or socializing, the opportunities to connect with current and potential business partners is a precious commodity. This lesson has helped inform the changes we’ve made at Elk Ridge this year, and will continue to drive our decision-making about the event in the future;

2) Construction leaders are a humble group – The things you all do amaze me. Your ability to conceive a project, design it, manage it, and in the process construct magnificent things really just blows me away. Leading your businesses through times of thin margins, and thinner margins, managing and directing large teams within a multi-generational workforce, while keeping everyone safe and productive, and contributing to the collective wealth of Saskatchewan directly through your investments in your company, but also through all of the incredible community and charitable engagements you pursue…construction companies are really remarkable, and construction leaders too.

Despite all of the many things of which you can rightly be proud, I was struck by how humble you are. In fact, it’s hard to get you to “brag” about your great work. This lesson has pushed me to determine that part of the role of the SCA is to brag for you – to tell the great stories of construction companies in Saskatchewan so that everyone, especially the next generation of Saskatchewan residents, knows how great an industry this is to pursue a career in.

3) You are fierce competitors AND fabulous colleagues AND good friends – The first part didn’t surprise me, but the other parts did. From an outsider’s perspective, I think the construction industry may still be viewed as one of the last vestiges of an old “wild west” culture. What I mean is that it’s kind of lawless, and every person/company for themselves. I expected construction leaders to be competitive, and you are, but I never expected you to be collegial. Your ability to “leave your company hat at the door” and engage collaboratively with one another for the good of the whole industry, really impressed me. Some of the best and longest-lasting friendships I witnessed at Elk Ridge were between individuals from “rival” companies. Your ability to focus on the things you agree on – good friendships, fun, food, and golf – inspired me to think differently about our work at the SCA. I’ve applied this lesson by trying to focus exclusively on the things that bring us together, the things that unite us. Focusing on common problems that we all share – things like improving WCB’s engagement with employers, or getting better and more consistent procurement practices out of the provincial government – means that we can all pull together and get it done.

4) You work incredibly hard, but you know how to have a good time – While the Summer Meeting is a fabulous networking event, it is also just as importantly a key time to step back from the busy-ness of work and celebrate by relaxing for three days with friends in a wonderful and peaceful setting. I was struck by how much fun you all had. I was especially impressed by the costumes on
the Friday night. In my previous world I deal mostly with politicians, and you would NEVER see them all show up in costume for a party. Watching all of you at Elk Ridge dressed as Thor, Superman, Batman, the Hulk, and even Duffman (and Duffgirl), taught me that it’s ok to have a little fun too. I’ve tried to incorporate that lesson into the way I approach business at the SCA office – both for the staff and for others.

The last 14 months have gone by quickly. We have collectively been busy transforming the SCA into the kind of association that you expect it to be. From what I’m hearing from you, you’re pleased with the results so far. We’ve got lots more to do, and I look forward to continuing to work together with you as we move the association, and our industry forward. Thank you for everything you’ve taught me over the last year, including those four lessons I mentioned above; thank you for being such great examples to me of good leaders; and most importantly, thanks for making this job as the SCA President the most fun I’ve ever had doing something called “work”.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 29, 2014

TFW Program Under Siege

The federally-managed Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program is under siege once again as a result of apparent employer mismanagement. A relatively small number of employers, all looking to fill low-skilled labour positions at or near minimum wage, appear to be abusing at least the spirit, if not the letter of the TFW program rules. Meanwhile, legitimate users of the system get lumped into an increasingly unattractive group of cheats and cheapskates. Before the media and our politicians head off the public policy deep end, let's take a deep breath and recognize that the TFW program has a real and important purpose in addressing temporary and limited labour market challenges.

First off, employers that break or bend the rules should be punished, and the government should be undertaking vigorous enforcement, particularly in economic sectors that are more prone to abuse. The TFW 
program, and other economic immigration programs do not exist to take jobs away from Canadians, or suppress wages. Where employers manipulate their workforce to achieve these ends, it should not be tolerated. On that point, the TFW critics are correct.

However, it is just as manipulative and incorrect to make the statement or the assumption that all employers accessing the TFW are misbehaving, or that there is no need for such economic immigration programs.

Economic immigration programs exist to make sure that the economy is not halted because of a skills gap, a 
labour shortage, or the reality that some people don't want to do some jobs. Economic immigration allows employers to look beyond their domestic borders to find skilled, capable, experienced, and hard-working people. As long as these immigrants aren't replacing Canadian workers, and as long as Canadian workers have had a legitimate opportunity to consider these positions, these economic immigration programs fill a real need.

In Saskatchewan, construction companies make regular and appropriate use of the available economic immigration programs. In skilled trades positions, employers often seek to bring in highly skilled and accredited trades professionals. In our marketplace today there simply isn't a surplus of these individuals who are willing to work in Saskatchewan. Going overseas allows employers to fill their labour needs, and by bringing accredited trades professionals, it also allows employers to train domestic apprentices and build up the next generation of their workforce from the local labour pool.

In the case of construction companies accessing the TFW program, it is 
typically to fill seasonal positions in the non-apprenticeable trades. This program is commonly accessed by our heavy construction members. In these cases, they must first advertise nationally, and they must be paying at least the prevailing wage - so no one is trying to cheat the system. I have not heard of one instance, documented or otherwise, where a Saskatchewan construction employer has been suspecting of breaking either the written rules, or the spirit of the rules.

So before everyone rushes to 
judgement and conclusions about the TFW program, I hope they take a deep breath and realize that this program is one way in which the construction industry in Saskatchewan is helping to build this province. Let’s not make all employers out to be evil, and let’s not demonize immigrant workers who are just trying to build a better life for themselves and their families. Punish those employers who break the rules, and let’s celebrate the successes of employers and immigrant workers who don’t.


Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 22, 2014

Public Procurement and

Competing Priorities

Often, one of the biggest complaints about government bureaucracies is the tendency for the “left hand not to know what the right hand is doing”. This can drive government customers and employees crazy. So why does it happen? It is likely because:

  • efficient communication in a large organization is challenging; and
  • public policy is inherently messy with multiple competing interests always in play.

Let’s use a recent example which affects the construction industry: The provincial decision to direct the bundling of 18 schools into one public-private partnership (P3) project. The lessons we can learn from this decision also apply more generally to public procurement decisions.

Why did the province decide to bundle school construction through a P3?
Saskatchewan is growing, and growth comes with real infrastructure costs. We need more schools, and we need them at a speed that traditional provincial procurement approaches cannot handle. The government does not have the money to build all of the schools now, nor does it have the internal capacity to manage that many procurement contracts. P3s offer a real chance to leverage private-sector expertise, efficiencies, and capital.

Okay, so a P3 procurement makes sense, but experts say that P3s only work when the project threshold exceeds 
$100 Million. Why? Because it’s at that limit that large-scale financiers come into play. The only way to get to that threshold is to bundle these schools together.

Every decision has its pros and cons. The introduction of a large-scale bundled P3 is no difference.
The primary consequence of bundling is the reduction in competition for the work. A significantly fewer number of private-sector firms can handle managing 18 construction projects (even on 9 job sites) simultaneously. Most of the potential firms that can handle this work are from outside of Saskatchewan.
These results are at direct cross-purposes with other provincial policy priorities. For example:

  • The government has a stated goal to enhance the Saskatchewan apprenticeship system. Without mitigating policies, out-of-province firms will not employ Saskatchewan apprentices.
  • The government wants to increase employment across the province (see the Growth Plan). Without mitigating policies, the bundle will take work away from small and medium-sized local businesses and provide it to out-of-province firms who will primarily employ out-of-province workers.
  • The government wants to better managing the housing shortage. Without mitigating policies, out-of-province firms will temporarily flood the market with out-of-province workers who will distort local housing needs and put pressure on vacancy rate.

The government wants to better control the cost of construction projects. The World Bank identifies procurement competition as the number one factor in controlling construction project costs. Without mitigating policies, bundling will reduce the level of competition.

These are just four examples of how stated government policies can clash and create confusion and public policy chaos. Sometimes finding a solution to a problem can create other problems. Bundling is one example.

It seems like the government’s 
right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing in the case of school bundling. Government cannot be all things to all people, but it must be some things to some people. The question is…what things to what people?

At the SCA we’re busily working with industry partners and the province to find a path forward with respect to bundling that makes the most sense. At the end of the 
day we all want to enhance the quality of life for people in Saskatchewan. When it comes to public policy the correct path forward is rarely clear…sometimes it doesn’t exist. Fortunately, in the construction
industry we’re used to building things…new paths included.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

April 1, 2014

Beware the Busters

Saskatchewan’s economy is growing. Our population is at record levels and increasing monthly. People are working, receiving better compensation, and enjoying a quality of life that is unparalleled in our provincial history. The provincial budget is balanced, taxes are relatively low, and we’re busy building the infrastructure needed to sustain this growth. Every way you look at it, it is good to be in Saskatchewan. But wait…something wicked this way comes…

It’s Buster Broodsalot. Buster thinks all of this fancy-schmancy growth is too good to be true. Buster has no concept of nuance and so believes that everything that booms must eventually bust. He can’t wait to spread his doom and 
gloom, because everyone knows that optimism is naïve. Buster would prefer to fixate on the negative future he forecasts rather than the positive present he inhabits.

We all know Busters. Saskatchewan today sometimes seems filled with Busters. On the airwaves and in print we see, hear, and read about how the future of Saskatchewan is less promising than the past. It seems as if editors have dusted off articles and stories from a decade ago and recycled them – as if the old tune is the right tune.

Saskatchewan the vast majority of construction investment comes from the private sector (86%). Individual companies choose to invest in Saskatchewan because they believe the future of this marketplace justifies the investment. If their confidence in the market begins to waver, so will their investment. When that happens, our industry will be one of the first hit. For that reason, we in construction have every reason to make sure we’re singing a tune about the great opportunities that exist in Saskatchewan today, and those that will exist in the future.

The Busters of the world would have us believe that today’s Saskatchewan doesn’t exist. Well, Buster may be stuck in the past, but the rest of us don’t need to be. By pushing back against the naysayers, we in the construction industry can ensure that private capital investment continues. This is important, because if the economic performance of the last half-decade in Saskatchewan has taught us anything, it is that when the construction industry grows, all of Saskatchewan benefits. Things are good in Saskatchewan today, and they will be even better tomorrow.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

March 24, 2014

WCB – Failing to Measure Up

The Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) was created to mitigate the employer risk of catastrophic injury, and to provide guaranteed protection to the injured worker. It is, in effect, a no-fault insurance program.

The framework for this workplace injury insurance program is created in legislation by the 
government, and is founded on what is known as the Meredith principles. These five principles were first presented by Sir William Meredith in 1913, and are the cornerstone of our injury insurance program. The principles are:
  • No-fault compensation – the employer is protected against lawsuit (unless negligence is proven)
  • Security of benefits – the employee is guaranteed benefits (unless fraudulent)
  • Collective liability – employers share risk
  • Exclusive jurisdiction – ensures the viability of the program
  • Independent administration – autonomous from government and any individual special interest group

These principles have held up for more than a century now, and are essential to the effective functioning of the insurance program.

WCB is a non-government agency, entirely funded by employer contributions. It is responsible for balancing the interests and rights of employers with those of the employee. In theory, WCB should be an ideal agency for all parties. It can operate with the efficiency, effectiveness, and entrepreneurial spirit of the private sector. It can be customer-service focused, and can be driven by the goal of eliminating workplace injuries.

So, if WCB has so much potential, why does it fall short of achieving it? When it comes to achievement, perhaps the most important factor is the ability to match performance to expectations. When performance and expectations are not aligned, there are two options: enhance performance; or lower expectations.

Typically speaking, bureaucracies choose to manage expectations, rather than driving performance. For some reason, WCB has been operating like a bureaucracy – slow, ponderous and inefficient. Mediocre performance leads to lowered expectations from all owners – and employers and employees alike come to rely on WCB less for what it could be, than what it is.

This shouldn’t be the case. Completed funded by employers, and mandated to balance employer and employee interests, WCB should be nimble, responsive, and unflinchingly focused on eliminating workplace injuries. Employer and employee interests align in this simple fact – it is better to eliminate workplace injuries than to pay, or be paid, for them. Yet here we are, the second worst province in Canada for workplace injuries (thank you Manitoba). That simply is not acceptable.

It’s time to change that.

The SCA will be working with partners in our industry, and in other industries, employer and employee groups alike, to change the way WCB does business.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

March 5, 2014

Workforce Training -

Solving Yesterday's Problems


I regularly speak to SCA members who raise concerns about their challenge to recruit or sub-contract skilled and experienced tradespeople. “There aren’t enough ______ (insert trade name here) – why can’t _______ (insert training institute name here) train more of them?” is a common question. The simple answer? We’re too slow.

I’ve heard people argue that the training regime in Canada is not market responsive enough. I think for the most part, every education, training, and professional development agency after high school is highly focused on delivering market-driven programming. Virtually all of them would argue that they are preparing people for the workplace.

They’re right. They are. The problem is that it is yesterday’s workplace.

If you’ve never seen the video “Did you Know?” on YouTube, you should take a moment right now and watch it. Although a half-decade out of date already it speaks to powerful trends that are reshaping our world at a pace most of us cannot comprehend.  

Two statements from that video always jump out to me when talking about workforce…

  • The top 10 in demand jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.
  • We are currently training students for jobs that don’t exist, where they will use technologies that don’t exist, in order to solve problems we don’t know exist.

So, is it any wonder our training and education system seem woefully unresponsive?

There is a whole industry of government workers and consultants wholly focused on how to better align training systems with market data. However, the system is rigged against success…

Labour market data is a lagging indicator. Even in the most efficient system the best we could know for certain is what market needs we have today. We could, theoretically, extrapolate and forecast future needs…but with odds of success so long as to be unattractive to even the loosest gambler. With the future changing in ways we can’t imagine our ability to anticipate labour market needs and train people accordingly is unlikely to materialize.

So, we’re stuck solving yesterday’s labour market problems tomorrow…instead of our preferred approach of solving tomorrow’s problems today. Is there any way we can do better?

Yes, we can. If we cannot slow down the speed of change, then our only option is to speed up our training systems. Less bureaucracy, lower overhead, more focus on teaching practitioners, multiple delivery methodologies, and open source training are all features of a twenty-first century training regime.

Institutions like universities, colleges, and polytechnics need to adapt to the changing world by adopting entrepreneurial attitudes, in particular around nimble business practices, and focusing on mission-critical activities.

We may never solve tomorrow’s problems today…but, with a new focus on nimble workforce training, we can finally solve today’s problems today…and that would be good enough.

This is something the SCA will be focused on as we look to ensure that the training and education systems in Saskatchewan can produce the workforce our members need.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

February 6, 2014

Saskatchewan's Lost Decade -

Sub-Optimal Productivity is not NEET

In Saskatchewan today, we all spend a lot of time talking about the labour shortage we have. Nowhere is this problem more directly felt than in the existing skills and experience gap we have in the construction industry. We all know there is not enough workers with the right mix of skills and abilities. We simply don’t have enough people living in Saskatchewan to do all of the work that needs to be done.

This post is aimed at addressing what I consider to be the most significant threat to our long-term economic productivity as a province; the lost decade of productivity.

This lost decade would probably be more accurately described as the lost fifteen years. When I refer to the lost decade, what I mean is the significant loss in productivity that our economy experiences in the years between when someone leaves high school and when they become fully engaged in the economy.

First let me introduce two terms:

  1. Optimal Productivity. An individual who is engaged in a full-time permanent position, attending full-time training or schooling, or some combination thereof.
  2. NEET – this term, common in labour market economics, means Not in Employment, Education or Training.
In a province that has an absolute shortage of labour force participants, the idea of people being sub-optimally productive is very concerning. Our economy requires all potential contributors to be maximizing their potential contributions; anything less than that will restrict our capacity for growth.

What is critical for our economy is that we don’t lose any amount of productive time when someone leaves high school. Unfortunately, statistics tell us that we have a real problem with this. 24.5% of our 15-29 population has been less than optimally productive over the last five years. Even in the last six years as our economy has shown periods of strong economic growth, the percentage of optimal productive individuals did not increase.

Not only are 15-29 year olds less than optimally productive, but the frequency of sub-optimal productivity actually gets worse as they age.

Age Category Percentage that was NEET or Sub-Optimal
15-19 12.7%
20-24 26.6%
25-29 33.1%

What is alarming in this context is the fact that the number increases in those aged 25-29. FULLY ONE-THIRD of those aged 25-29 are NEET or sub-optimally productive. While not the only cause of our labour shortage, it’s little wonder we have the labour challenges we do.

The real lost decade doesn’t include those in their teenage years, but those in their twenties. This is something we must address in Saskatchewan if we’re going to keep our economy growing.

19,000 adults could have been better engaged in our economy. If only 10% of these had chosen to pursue an apprenticeable trade after high school, we could have as many as 1,900 more journey people in Saskatchewan today, many of them with close to a full decade of experience. This would have made a big difference in regards to our industry’s labour shortage.

Not only is this lost decade of productivity bad for our economy, but it’s bad for the individuals as well. A decade of sub-optimal wages and career advancement has a massive impact on present income, future income, and retirement options.

In my next blog post, I’ll talk some more about what the SCA is doing to address this lost decade, and why the shortage of skilled construction workers should worry every sector of our economy.

Comments and feedback are always welcome. Send me your emails to president@scaonline.ca and I will include your thoughts on these issues.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP

President and CEO
Saskatchewan Construction Association

January 3, 2014

In The Ring with Mark Cooper

In every boxing match, there is a moment when a furious exchange of blows between two combatants is interrupted by the ringing of the bell. The bell of course signals the end of the round, and an opportunity for the two fighters to catch their breath. While the break is often met with frustration from the pugilists, not to mention the frenzied crowd, the resulting pause typically leads to even greater action in the round to come.

Just as the pause between rounds allows fighters to catch their breath, so too did the relative slowdown in construction activity in 2013 allow the construction industry to catch its breath. Things were still busy, just not as busy as previous years. One member described their 2013 experience as “operating at around 85%. It seems slow compared to the last few years of operating at 125%, but it is in reality a more manageable pace.”

Although the final numbers are not in yet, here are some industry stats for the year:
  • Slight decrease (0.9%) in the value of building permits issued overall.
            - Saskatoon had a 25% increase in permit values
  • 86% reduction in anticipated construction expenditures in the manufacturing and processing sectors.
  • Workforce grew by 8.5% to more than 48,000 people
  • Hourly rate held firm at $27.50 while average gross weekly earnings went up 7%

In 2013 the construction industry emerged from the battle unscathed. The industry used this “break” to continue developing its workforce, and effectively plan for the needs of the coming year.

So, if 2013 saw a slowdown in construction activity what can this mean for the 2014 year?

If the public sector, and our private sector partners, are optimistic about the future they invest in growth. When they invest in growth, they build things, and when they build things, they need us.

2014 will see many large-scale construction projects come on stream in Saskatchewan. The ability to maintain strategic focus, along with the underlying economic conditions within the province, means that 2014 is likely to be a very big round for construction in Saskatchewan.

Mark Cooper, MBA, PMP