CCA: approach to Ottawa Hospital project unfair, costly

The group says large parts of the industry are getting excluded from major public projects.

A rendering shows the design of Ottawa Hospital’s Civic Campus project. – Ottawa Hospital

Key Takeaways:

  • The Canadian Construction Association says Ottawa Hospital’s project labour agreement is unfair to non-union employers.
  • They cited a new report that suggests the approach could lead to large budget increases.
  • They believe it is part of a larger trend of unfair public sector procurement practices happening across the country.

The Whole Story:

The Canadian Construction Association (CCA) is sounding the alarm on a major Ottawa Hospital project.

In a press release the group stated that Ottawa Hospital’s $2.8 billion Civic Campus project will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions more and leave a majority of Ottawa-area construction workers ineligible to work on the vital project.

The CCA explained that an exclusive project labour agreement (PLA) between the hospital and the Unionized Building and Construction Trades of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec prohibits contractors and workers who are not affiliated with these specific unions from bidding on, or even participating in building, the hospital’s new $2.8 billion Civic Campus.

The group cited a report by the Montreal Economic Institute (MEI) that concluded the Ottawa Hospital’s restrictive PLA will stifle competition, escalating project costs by between $168 million and $525 million by 2028. The authors of the report find it unacceptable for a public entity to make taxpayers pay more by granting exclusivity to a specific group of affiliated workers.

“Not only are a large number of talented workers — many from small and medium-sized firms — barred, but, as the MEI points out, the projects are likely to cost taxpayers more than necessary as a result,” said Mary Van Buren, CCA president.

The CCA stated that the Ottawa Hospital project is the latest in a series of concerning examples, like B.C.’s Pattullo Bridge, where public sector procurement is “falling short on fair and open practices”. 

The CCA added that an even more concerning issue is the labour requirements attached to the newly introduced federal clean tax credits established in Budget 2023, which again exclude non-unionized construction workers.

Union workers pose in front of the Pattullo Bridge replacement project in B.C. the CCA says it is another example of non-union workers getting excluded. – Province of B.C.

“The Canadian Construction Association takes issue with these examples and others that either categorically exclude or strongly disadvantage one group of workers,” said Van Buren. “We would take a similarly forceful position if the reverse had happened and union workers had been excluded or disadvantaged.”

When the agreement was announced in January, officials argued that it would be a positive move for the project. 

“The Ottawa Hospital wants to do all we can to create a positive and safe work environment for the thousands of workers that will be on site every day during construction of our new campus,” said Cameron Love, president and CEO of the Ottawa Hospital.  “We’re thrilled to have partnered with trades unions on this landmark agreement that will help keep the project on schedule and avoid costs and delays associated with work stoppage.”

According to the hospital, the agreement sets out the terms and conditions that will apply to all employers and all trades working on the project. The hospital believes that agreement sets a high safety standard for working conditions for all building and trades workers on the site, increasing safety and job stability, while still following Ontario’s requirements for an open and competitive procurement process. 

Officials explained that the agreement ensures compliance with bargaining rights and that all workers on the site are properly trained and certified and will create apprenticeship opportunities for populations underrepresented in the construction trades, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, women, and diverse and at-risk youth. The agreement lasts for the duration of the project.


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