The devastating floods in southern B.C. that severed vital road and rail links highlighted the crucial yet fragile nature of the province’s transportation networks. They also served as a long-overdue wake-up call on the province’s urgent need for massive, sustained public infrastructure investment.
Dependable infrastructure is the backbone of our economy. As British Columbians emerge from the second straight year of COVID-19 restrictions, the province is going to need an “atmospheric river” of construction activity to get B.C.’s battered economy back on track. In its upcoming provincial budget, the B.C. government should make a meaningful commitment to aggressive, long-term infrastructure investment. This initiative should serve as a central pillar of its post-post pandemic economic recovery plan to create family-supporting jobs and encourage investment that generates tax revenue required to maintain public services.
Much of B.C.’s physical infrastructure has been underfunded for decades and has not kept pace with public needs. The provincial government has made significant progress in upgrading and refurbishing many existing public assets, but we’re still playing catch up on decades worth of underinvestment. The Highway 1 expansion from Kamloops to the Alberta border and the Mills Memorial Hospital replacement in Terrace are just two examples from a long list of “end of life” or required upgrades.
Sustained investment in transportation and transit is particularly important to our economic prosperity and necessary to ease gridlock, improve accessibility and boost productivity. A case in point is the much-needed upgrades of Highways 16 and 97 along with the replacement Taylor Bridge.
Dikes, dams, schools, and hospitals all need seismic upgrades or replacing throughout the province, which can’t be delayed any longer. B.C.’s public buildings also need to be built to higher energy standards to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets and reduce costs.
These projects can be efficiently built under a workforce delivery model that ensures local job opportunities for Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and women in trades, including apprenticeship and skills training that will last a lifetime.
Preference for local hires means workers will spend their wages in the community, supporting small businesses devastated by COVID-19 and contributing to the tax base.
Training and apprenticeships offer young people a clear path to Red Seal trades certification – the highest standard recognized across Canada – making a construction career more attractive to new entrants. This opportunity, in turn, will help address the chronic skills shortage in B.C.’s construction industry.
Construction unions and the industry are well-positioned to provide essential training for new and incumbent workers. Comprehensive training ensures workers have the necessary skills to meet the technological challenges of tomorrow, helping build a resilient and dynamic workforce connected to high-quality jobs.
The pandemic has inflicted a catastrophic human and economic toll. Massive, long-term infrastructure investment provides a unique opportunity to revitalize our economy and transform our province for the future. Now is the time to put political vision into action, get British Columbians back to work, and create the prosperity needed to put the last two years behind us.
Brian Cochrane is business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, representing over 12,500 skilled workers in the construction, transportation, mining, aviation, and other industrial sectors throughout B.C. and the Yukon.