Carpentry student takes part in a skills competition

Non-union bidders welcome, NDP says

An NDP government would impose minimum levels of apprentice participation for government-funded construction projects.

By Tom Fletcher, Black Press

An NDP government would impose minimum levels of apprentice participation for government-funded construction projects, but won’t restrict non-union firms from bidding, the party’s labour critic says.

Shane Simpson, running for re-election in Vancouver Hastings, rejected a suggestion by the Independent Contractors and Business Association that the “project agreements” promised in the NDP election platform mean public construction will become union-only.

ICBA president Phil Hochstein accused the NDP of planning a return to the approach the party brought to construction of the Island Highway during the 1990s. That project agreement specified the contractor must pay union wages, and cost increases resulted in a scaled-down design with fewer overpasses.

Simpson said there would be two objectives for new project agreements for publicly funded projects: to ensure local hiring and meet targets for skills training. He gave the example of BC Hydro, which he said has “done very little” to employ apprentices.

Projects in remote communities and aboriginal hiring would be a priority if the NDP forms a government in the May 14 election, he said. The training targets would extend to municipal projects that have provincial funding, if they are large enough to support it.

“It would differ from project to project, depending on the nature of the project, but we want to make sure that it’s not just people coming to town to take the work,” Simpson said.

The retiring baby boom is expected to widen a skills shortage that is already being felt in skilled trades, with B.C. preparing for a potential boom in energy and mining development. Simpson said large industrial employers agree they have to increase skills training to keep up and minimize the outside workers coming to B.C.

Rich Coleman, energy and mines minister in the B.C. Liberal government, said there won’t be a mining boom to worry about if the NDP wins the election. Coleman was unimpressed with NDP leader Adrian Dix’s pledge this week to a Prince George mayors’ conference that he supports mining and natural gas development.

Coleman predicted a repeat of the 1990s when the NDP raised corporate taxes and mineral royalties, prompting an exodus of mineral exploration and investment.

“[Dix] really doesn’t have a track record or a commitment to mining, and the mining industry knows that,” Coleman said.