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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It’s election time in British Columbia!

As I write this the provincial election campaign has commenced with the BC Liberals enjoying a 17 point lead over the BC NDP. The economy has emerged as the number one campaign issue as well it should.

Over the last six months 357,000 jobs have been lost in Canada and over 80% of those losing their jobs were men. This is because the job cuts have generally happened in traditionally male-dominated industries such as trades, including construction, transport, manufacturing and natural resources.

The losses in the construction sector are especially troubling. This is a time when we desperately need young people to enter the workforce and become skilled tradespersons to replace a graying workforce that is nearing retirement age. Instead thanks to the financial market meltdown in the US that triggered a worldwide recession, we are instead seeing apprentices being laid off and contractors scrambling to find work to bid on.

There is a timely solution and that is public infrastructure spending. But for that to work federal, provincial and local government agencies are going to have to do a much better job of coordinating their efforts and flowing those dollars. It also needs to be done in a much more timely and consistent manner.

Prior to the provincial election being called, I met with Housing Minister Rich Coleman at his office at the BC Legislature. One of the issues I raised was the lack of a clear, consistent and transparent bidding process for public infrastructure projects. Minister Coleman told me that his government (if re-elected) will be taking to steps to centralize and make consistent the bidding process.

Regardless of who wins the next election, this is something that the Mechanical Contractors Association of BC (MCABC) must be involved in. It is in everyone’s interests, you as a contractor, and your neighbor as a taxpayer, to ensure that the bidding process is open to all qualified contractors. There have been troubling incidents with some school boards directly awarding contracts with no public bidding process and there even being an incident where the project manager for a public project was also having the general contractor do some renovation work on his house.

In this particular instance a complaint was filed that resulted in a lengthy and expensive audit by KPMG on the project. Investigating after the fact simply isn’t good enough. The bidding process needs to be fair and consistent up front in order to avoid these sorts of shenanigans.

In Victoria there has been much talk about the Capital Region’s aging infrastructure, everything from Victoria’s 80 year old blue bridge that needs to be replaced to Saanich’s rotted out storm water pipes. The CRD’s $2 billion sewage project is also under increasing fire as being too expensive while financing of the project has also become of increasing concern.

Because of all the aforementioned issues, MCABC has invited two incumbent candidates to come speak on April 25th to the MCABC Annual Conference and AGM which is being held at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort near Victoria, BC. Ida Chong who is the Minister of Small Business and Economic Development, and seeking re-election in the riding of Oak Bay-Gordon Head will be our featured dinner speaker. Meanwhile opposition MLA, John Horgan, who is seeking re-election as the MLA for Malahat Juan de Fuca, will be our featured breakfast speaker on April 25th.

Both of these candidates have years of experience in government. Ida Chong was first elected an MLA in 1996, and prior to that she served as a councilor for the Municipality of Saanich. John Horgan was first elected as an MLA in 2005 but in the 1990s served as a Ministerial Assistant and then a senior political advisor throughout the NDP’s two terms of government in the 1990s.

This is your opportunity to not only listen to them speak, but ask question as well. As we are in the midst of an election I think it is very timely for you to bring forward your concerns as well as your suggestions to these candidates. If Ida Chong and the BC Liberals are re-elected then she will almost certainly remain in cabinet. If the BC NDP are elected then John Horgan will likely be appointed to a senior cabinet position.

Thus by attending the 2009 conference in Victoria and by making a point of going to the breakfast and the dinner on April 25th you have an opportunity to directly dialogue with these politicians and have your voice heard. I look forward to seeing you there!

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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