A key B.C. construction-industry trade association is calling for speedy regulatory approval of major infrastructure projects as the industry prepares to gather for its biggest trade show of the year in Vancouver this Wednesday and Thursday.
Organizers for the Buildex conference are expecting some 14,000 attendees at the Vancouver Convention Centre for sessions on the latest trends in sustainability, design and innovation in construction techniques.
“The overriding message (for) all the people at Buildex would be, ‘Let’s get projects to yes’,” said Philip Hochstein, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association of B.C. That includes controversial projects such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion and mining firm KGHM International’s Ajax open-pit copper mine inside Kamloops’ city limits.
“British Columbia is now getting a reputation (that) you can’t get anything done in (the province),” Hochstein said. “From an investment point of view, that’s a terrible brand to have.”
While both of those projects are subject of considerable environmental concerns, Hochstein argues that B.C. and Canada’s regulatory regimes are robust enough to develop them responsibly.
And notwithstanding the economic downturn in mining and energy that has slowed the amount of capital flowing into Canada’s commodity sectors, “we shouldn’t set up our own (internal) roadblocks,” he added.
As it stands, B.C.’s construction sector is enduring one of those “best-of-times, worst-of-times” periods, with the Lower Mainland experiencing a hot market for residential and commercial construction.
“There is lots of work, lots of work to bid on,” Hochstein said.
Contractors in northern B.C., however, are “the group that is least optimistic,” Hochstein added, with mine development in the doldrums, liquefied natural gas developments not going ahead, and a forestry sector that has already undergone modernization and facing further uncertainty at the end of the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber agreement.
“My industrial contractors tell me it’s among the most bleakest of times,” Hochstein said.
B.C. is still a “beacon of light” compared with the rest of the country when it comes to economic growth, Hochstein said, which might have something to do with strong attendance for Buildex.
The conference itself will have more of a technical focus on materials and construction methods than in previous years, said Jennie Biltek, director of conference management for Buildex’s presenter, Informa Exhibitions.
She said the event will involve more crossover between key exhibits in the trade show and panel sessions in the conference.
“In the past, we’ve focused more on leadership and communication,” Biltek said. “We will still have some of those, but we’ve added 10 more (technical) sessions.”
Informa is also bringing a pavilion from its sister conference, The World of Concrete, which Biltek said is a popular annual event in Las Vegas.
The B.C. Construction Association will also use the event to highlight the need for more innovation in the sector. Creation of an innovation council is among the top priorities identified in a report the association will release at the conference