April 23, 2020

Summary from April 23 CCPPP Conference Call: COVID-19 & the Infrastructure Sector

Joining us on the call was Joseph S. Mancinelli, International Vice President and Regional Manager of the Laborers' International Union of North America (LiUNA), Central and Eastern Canada Region, and Chair of the LiUNA Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada. He gave participants an overview of the impact of COVID-19 as viewed through the lens of LiUNA, a diverse union with members across Canada.

  • At the moment, approximately 90 per cent of LiUNA’s 120,000 members in Ontario are still working during the pandemic.
  • The industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) sector of the construction industry was shut down by the Ontario government but will be reassessed on whether it will open again on May 6, that’s the date the current order expires.
  • Projects such as courthouses, hospitals, long-term care facilities that are already under construction are still ongoing even though they’re part of the ICI sector.
  • Work is continuing in other sectors, such as building roads, bridges, residential towers, subdivision, utility work etc.
  • LiUNA is working closely with the Ontario government, in particular with Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, to ensure those working on construction sites are protected. Contractors and LiUNA members are also working together to ensure work sites conform with provincial health and safety protocols.
  • In Ontario, only four LiUNA members have tested positive for the virus. Of those, none are believed to have been infected on the job site. Very low chances of infection on job sites right now.
  • The LiUNA pension plan has been affected by the pandemic, too. The plan was approaching $9 billion and is invested in a lot of hard assets like construction, such as hospitals in Ontario, which has helped it weather the storm in the equities market. The plan is 105 per cent funded.
  • There must be a strong recovery program that invests in infrastructure so as many people as possible can get back to work.  Also need to get stalled large-scale projects back on track.
  • LiUNA has met with federal Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna and Ontario Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott, as well as with Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips, on the importance of kick-starting the economy in a big way with shovel-ready work.
  • Governments seem poised to do this and spend money but they aren’t going to have enough to do all of the work that needs to be done. That’s where a number of institutions like the LiUNA pension plan can step in and co-invest in a number of these projects right across the country. Canada has some gigantic pension plans that given the opportunity and decent long-term returns will invest in a number of these infrastructure projects. This is a win-win situation.
  • There is a need for more long-term care facilities in Ontario. Province says 15,000 beds need  to be renovated with an additional 15,000 new beds added. Those are great examples of opportunity for the private sector to partner with the government and build better homes that protect residents.
  • In response to questions from participants:
  • Hamilton LRT is more than just a rail project. A lot of these LRT project are giant economic development projects. More than 20 large mostly private projects are poised to be developed along that route in Hamilton. Plus, you’re antiquated infrastructure like the sewer and water. LiUNA has been lobbying the federal and provincial governments on the project and is hopeful both will support it.
  • The Ontario Construction Advisory Council was just announced this week and LiUNA is a member. Good cross section of the industry and great opportunity for Minister McNaughton to get input right on the ground from industry.
  • The labour skills shortage Canada is experiencing is going to get worse. If we have a lot of shovel-ready projects going ahead as part of the post-COVID recovery, we’re going to need more people. LiUNA is doing a lot of training but more needs to be done across Canada. Immigration is a great avenue to source on this. Currently, immigration forms are rated towards how much money you have and if you have high tech skills. Don’t need to reduce those ratings, but we should increase the desire for construction skills.
  • Mark Romoff also mentions two important reports that came out this week: RCCAO’s Station to Station: Why Subway-building Costs Have Soared in the Toronto Region and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ report on Protecting vital municipal services, which calls for $10 billion in emergency funding to help with COVID-19.
  • Mark also asks call participants to consider sending questions on a possible survey by CCPPP on industry concerns arising from the pandemic and other issues.
  • Thank you to everyone for joining us on the call. Our next weekly conference call will be held on Thursday, April 30 at 1 p.m.