The price tag for the latest four-laning project on the Trans-Canada Highway jumped by more than $22 million as the first contract was awarded on the NDP government’s new union public construction mandate.
The B.C. transportation ministry has awarded the two-km stretch east of Revelstoke to Kelowna-based Emil Anderson Construction, with a budget increased from $62.9 million to $85.2 million. The increase is “due to escalating costs of materials, labour and the complexity of work required,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Illecillewaet project, 42 km east of Revelstoke, includes acceleration and deceleration lanes and an expanded brake-check area for trucks. Construction is expected to begin in June, with completion by spring of 2022, with $15.5 million provided by the federal government and B.C. funding the rest.
“In the case of this project in my riding, the federal funding share is not going to change, so B.C. taxpayers are on the hook for these increased costs,” said Doug Clovechok, B.C. Liberal MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke.
Premier John Horgan’s government has directed that all large public construction be done under a “community benefits agreement” that requires employees to join international unions affiliated with the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades Council. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena estimated that the agreements would increase labour costs by up to seven per cent, partly due to expanded opportunities for apprentices.
The ministry issued a statement to Black Press Tuesday, saying the steep increase is partly due to a “hot construction market” for materials and labour, including a 30 per cent steel premium and 20 per cent on asphalt for paving.
The design was also updated to include another 600 metres of retaining walls after geotechnical work found “poor soils” both above and below the existing retaining wall, the ministry said.
The Independent Contractors and Business Association, a mostly non-union group of companies that has joined a court action against the NDP policy, says the cost increase is a direct result of the union restrictions.
“The NDP’s sweetheart deal with their building trade union allies has driven the cost of this project up by a third, and they’re not even in the ground yet,” ICBA president Chris Gardner said. “It’s no surprise. There were far fewer bidders than expected as many roadbuilding companies are avoiding the NDP’s forced labour model.”
Gardner predicted that the Pattullo bridge replacement, the Broadway subway in Vancouver and other sections of the Trans-Canada four-laning from Kamloops to the Alberta border will also cost more.
The 300-page B.C. deal creates a new Crown corporation, B.C. Infrastructure Benefits, to control payroll, union dues and benefits for public construction. It will divert 25 cents per hour for each employee to a new union council called the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council of B.C., and another seven cents per hour to building trades union funds for health and safety, rehabilitation and skills training.
Non-union or independent union-affiliated companies can bid on taxpayer-funded projects, but their employees are required to join one of the designated international trade unions within 30 days of starting the job.
The B.C. Construction Association also objects to the new deal, calling the name “community benefit agreement” a way to “disguise a union labour agreement.” The deal requires wage increases of two per cent per year until 2024 with no strikes allowed.