Minister of Health Adrian Dix has stated that Cowichan Tribe companies will be allowed to work at the site of the new $1.4-billion Cowichan District Hospital.
Dix made that commitment in the legislature on Feb. 8 after Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau asked him when companies that work under the banner of the Khowutzun Development Corporation, Cowichan Tribes’ economic arm, would be allowed back to work at the site.
Dix said the government has had ongoing conversations with Cowichan Tribes and has worked to bring all parties together to share information and talk through challenges.
“That’s how you solve issues,” he said.
“As a result, the Khowutzun Development Corp. is now eligible for work on the Cowichan hospital site without a change to their workforce.”
Furstenau asked Dix when Cowichan Tribes companies would be allowed back to work on the site.
“They’re now eligible,” Dix said.
But Jon Coleman, the owner of Jon-co Contracting, a member of the KDC, said that as of Feb. 9, no companies belonging to the KDC were working at the site.
Coleman, who was in the legislature at the invitation of Furstenau when Dix made his statements, said he couldn’t believe his ears and he is still sceptical that the matter is finally resolved.
“I think it’s all smoke and mirrors, but we’ll see,” he said.
Furstenau said she’s looking for clarity on the issue from the ministry.
“What the minister said and what Jon [Coleman] is telling me are two different things,” she said.
“There are still no Cowichan Tribes companies working on the site and I’m still waiting for some documentation from the ministry on this issue.”
Work was halted at the hospital’s construction site on Bell McKinnon Road for 11 days in December after KDC companies, which had been clearing the site and hauling gravel for some time, set up a protest line at the entrance.
The companies and their workers were protesting the fact that BC Infrastructure Benefits, which provides the qualified skilled trades workforce for the construction of public infrastructure projects in B.C., refused KDC a permit to continue to work at the site because none of its companies and workers are members of unions accepted by the corporation.
The protest lines were taken down on Dec. 13, although the dispute was still unresolved, and negotiations continued.
But a letter of understanding recently surfaced between BCIB and the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council, which represents 19 construction unions, regarding work at the site.
The letter, dated Nov. 8, 2022, while negotiations were ongoing, states that all workers and companies engaged in earthworks, civil and utilities work at the new Cowichan hospital site must be affiliated with the Teamsters union.
Furstenau had raised the issue of the letter of understanding when Dix made his comments on Wednesday.
The ministry said it will soon release a statement.