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Sunday, April 26, 2009

It’s decision time in British Columbia!

On May 12th voters will have elected a new government in British Columbia. Who it will be is anyone’s guess as at least one poll suggests the BC NDP are only three percentage points behind the BC Liberals.

It was with this fact in mind that on April 25th at its annual conference the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC invited a representative from each of these political parties to speak to delegates. The first was John Horgan, MLA for Malahat Juan de Fuca, the riding which encompasses the location of this year’s conference which was held at the Westin at Bear Mountain near Victoria, BC.

First elected in 2005, John Horgan also worked as a political staffer in both the Mike Harcourt and Glen Clark NDP governments of the 1990s. Thus he brings far more [political experience to the table than his one term as an MLA would initially suggest. John spoke to delegates at the breakfast and focused on training issues and the critical role of public infrastructure spending to help the construction industry through the current global economic recession.

At our President’s Dinner held later that evening, was the Hon. Ida Chong, Minister of Small Business, Technology and Economic Development. Ida was first elected as an MLA back in 1996. Thus she knows what it is like to have been an opposition MLA, a backbencher and to be a front line cabinet minister.

Ida is also seeking re-election as the MLA for Oak Bay Gordon Head. This has traditionally been one of the few safe ridings for the BC Liberals in the Greater Victoria area. But when she meets people on the door steps she has made a point of telling supporters that she needs not only their encouragement but their vote as the election has become far too volatile for anyone to assume their (re)election is a given.

In speaking to delegates at the President’s Dinner, Ida spoke about the fact her father had been a boilermaker, who had helped build a number of BC Ferries and the pride she felt when her father showed her some of the work he had done when she was a little girl. She also spoke about the need to make sure the bidding process on all public infrastructure projects is fair and open.

Both the BC Liberals recognize we are facing the most serious global economic recession since the Great Depression. Both recognize the importance of public infrastructure projects to help stimulate the general economy and keep trades people and contractors working.

These are not just trying economic times, but demographically challenging ones as well. Many skilled trades people and contractors are reaching the age where they wish to retire. At the same time there are many apprentices who have been or face the threat of layoffs as a result of the global recession. It is vitally important that those apprentices and the companies who employ them are able to keep working.

If these apprentices are simply let go en masse, many will never return and when the next economic recovery happens (as it surely will) the construction industry will be in even more of a fix to try and find qualified trades people than we were during the last construction boom.

That is why now, more so than ever, construction industry organizations like MCABC are going to be critical to the success of our member companies. Through our collective lobbying efforts we can ensure that the public procurement process is done in a timely open and fair manner and that programs such as the Apprenticeship Training Tax Credit and other initiatives which MCABC has successfully lobbied for continue to be there and are built upon in order to ensure that we have the companies, the contractors and the skilled trades people here in BC to meet the next upturn in the economy.

Mike Geoghegan is a government relations consultant who lives in Victoria, B.C. He can be reached via his website at www.mgcltd.ca or on Twitter under “bclobbyist”

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