COCA Corner: COCA ‘virtually’ on the job in the face of COVID-19

covid 19 face mask

Once again, it is my great pleasure to provide an update on the activities and successes of your provincial construction federation, the Council of Ontario Construction Associations (COCA), for the members of the Barrie Construction Association (BCA) through your annual magazine.

Much has changed since my last column in this space.  The novel coronavirus pandemic that has ravaged the world, has significantly altered our personal, family and work lives. Today we are all too familiar with the pandemic statistics that are published daily: the number of tests performed, the number of new cases detected, the positivity rate, the number of hospitalizations, the number of COVID19 patients on ventilators, the number of recoveries, the recovery rate and the number of deaths.

It goes without saying that the deaths are heart breaking and infections will leave their lingering effect on the lives of many. But we can take some comfort from the fact that, at least statistically, Ontario has performed well relative to other jurisdictions because of our effective health care system and as a result of strong political leadership that has been well informed by our public health experts.

The essential weapons to defeat the virus have been messaged clearly and should by now be known and practiced by everyone: as much as possible stay within your household bubble, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, cough into your sleeve, avoid touching your face, practice social/physical distancing, wear a mask when out in public and wherever social/physical distancing isn’t possible, sanitize high touch surfaces, and do not shake hands. And we know we will have to continue to deploy these anti-COVID tactics until a vaccine is developed and a large majority of the population has been inoculated.

Through the course of the pandemic, COCA’s business has been conducted pretty much virtually. Unfortunately, our attendance at member association events has been reduced to regular phone calls with association staff members and board members. Our regular coalition and committee meetings have been held via video conference or teleconference.

We have been in regular contact with senior officials in the provincial government to provide information and advice. And we have done our best to provide our member associations with the timely and relevant information they need to help their members be successful.

COCA’s primary role is to work with our members and senior officials at Queen’s Park to ensure that the province’s laws, regulations and policies support success in the construction industry. This work is the backbone of COCA’s being, it’s our “raison d’etre”.  So here are the highlights of our government relations work during the period of the pandemic:

  • We provided the government with information and advice regarding the development of the new elevated health and safety protocols for construction sites
  • We worked with our members to assist in the implementation of these new protocols
  • We successfully secured an exemption for the Construction Act from Emergency Order 73/20 which suspended limitations periods in all statutes, regulations and bylaws and which would have severely tightened cash flow in the construction industry
  • We sought relief for contractors from the additional cost burdens brought on by the pandemic including the cost of delay claims, using a digital advocacy tool
  • We provided advice to the government regarding opening-up the construction industry
  • We opposed the cancellation by the government of the shovel ready Halton Courthouse construction project
  • We worked with the WSIB and the government to contain contractors’ WSIB costs for 2021

Highlights of our work leading up to the pandemic include the following:

  • We pressured the government to implement the prompt payment and adjudication provisions of the new Construction Act as scheduled on October 1, 2019
  • We convinced the WSIB to lower employer premium rates for 2020
  • We persuaded the government to implement the long-awaited Accreditation Standard which was launched under the banner of Supporting Ontario’s Safe Employers of SOSE
  • We supported the development and implementation of the WSIB’s Health and Safety Excellence Program that offers significant financial incentives to participating employers to offset their  investments in improving health and safety performance
  • We convinced the WSIB to accommodate non-exempt partners and executive officers in construction in the new Rate Framework, to provide similar treatment as Rate Group 755 in the old classification system

The BCA is well extremely represented at the COCA board table by your President Scott Garrett of Adjudicated Construction Solutions.  Scott brings the issues that are of critical importance to the members of the BCA to the attention of COCA, for which we are thankful.

COCA is also delighted to count the BCA as a member of our formidable federation of 29 construction associations. Your membership and active participation make our voice even stronger.

Ian Cunningham, COCA president