BCA President’s message: Blair Chalmers

Blair Chalmers
Blair Chalmers

Greetings industry colleagues.

In all my years in the ICI General Contracting Industry, I haven’t experienced anything like the COVID times we are living through.

During previous economic downturns, our industry has faced the challenge of not having enough work to bid on for everyone to stay busy. Private industries quickly shut down their spending, and government procurement less so. As the economy bounced back, the private owners responded by taking advantage of low pricing, as we all tried to get our businesses back to capacity. Government funded projects re-emerged at a slower pace, as their ability to ramp up is less nimble.

The onset of COVID created a quick change in our opportunities to secure new work. The uncertainty of when projects may start, whether or not the project schedule would experience government imposed shutdowns, the early emergence of basic materials not being available, and rapidly escalating commodity costs all combined to create a great deal of hesitation. My conclusion is this hesitation influenced most buyers of ICI construction to hit the “pause button”.

When trying to gauge the activity in our industry, I often use subtrade pricing as an indicator to how busy we all are. The period around the lockdown was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. At the time of the shutdown, our industry was very busy – most subtrades were too busy to price new work. We were forced to close jobs with only one subcontractor, or no subcontractor pricing at all. After the lockdown announcement, we were flooded with trades asking if we had any work to bid on. This turn-around, and the speed of which it happened, was astonishing.

Buyers of construction restarted the procurement processes as the government clarified what work could proceed, and what COVID protocols would have to be in place. Soon after, opportunities for tendering began resurfacing.

Subtrade responses to our bid invitations resumed briskly. Similar to past economic tough times, we received a much higher volume of subtrade pricing than in a stable economy. Competition amongst subtrades and general contractors led to a period of very price favorable construction costs for owners/buyers. As I write this message, it appears this phase is in the past or passing presently.

We need to celebrate what appears to be the return of stable market conditions. A market where we can bid work at a fair price, without taking extraordinary financial risks, keeping our people employed and businesses operating.

While I am hopeful we are on the right path as an industry, I recognize that there will also be a new normal. We will likely continue to adapt to concepts that are relatively new to construction – such as telecommuting and meetings being held on screen instead of a jobsite. Site protocols for cleanliness, sanitation, and wash station availability will likely be mandatory long after the pandemic is over. I also anticipate lasting changes to the Occupational Health & Safety Act and other relevant legislation.

I am proud to be a part of our Industry, our BCA members and staff, my colleagues, on-the-job workers, Industry Associations and Industry partners. We have proven our commitment to Health and Safety through these COVID times with our rapid adaption of site protocols to keep our site level employees safe with education and the necessary facilities and supplies. Our collective efforts resulted in our industry continuing to work through these tough times, allowing our workers to have paychecks and contribute to the economy. Overcoming the difficulties of the job site challenges of an ever-changing environment and achieving a very small percentage of WSIB COVID related cases is amazing!

Thank you for your individual efforts. You did a great job in the tough times.

BE PROUD.

Blair Chalmers