70 per cent of sub-trade contractors denied work opportunities on $1 billion Parliament Hill Centre Block renovation: Merit Ontario

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construction parliament hill
Parliament Hill construction (Raymond Levielle photo)

Ontario Construction News staff writer

An association advocating for open shop businesses says about 70 per cent of contractors who would otherwise be able to bid on sub-trade work for the massive Parliament Hill Centre Block renovation are being denied access the work because they are not signatories to collective agreements with the major construction trade unions.

A joint venture of PCL Constructors Canada Ltd. and EllisDon Corporation (PCL/ED) was the only bidder for the project valued at more than $1 billion, following a request for qualifications initially released in 2015.

After years of planning and preparation – and work to complete the West Block renovation – the joint venture contractors began inviting bids from subtrades earlier this year.

Walter Pamic, Merit Ontario’s past board chairman, said after reviewing the bidding documents, he found his business, Power-Tek Electrical Services, along with dozens of other contractors that haven’t signed with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) or others affiliated with the major construction trade unions, were shut out of the bidding opportunities.

Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) describes the project as its “largest and most complex heritage rehabilitation project ever” on its website.

The work includes restoring the building envelope, a seismic upgrade, excavation of the basement, new mechanical and electrical systems, new information technology, security upgrades, restoration of heritage spaces and adjustments to allow additional seating in the House of Commons and Senate chambers.

Both PCL and EllisDon are signatories to labour agreements with the trade unions, and are bound under provincial labour laws to observe their collective agreements. Generally this restricts them to using unionized subtrades on their projects

“We are all in this together,” Pamic said in a statement. “It is an extremely difficult time for workers and companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, therefore governments should not be creating an unfair system for local contractors and their workers,” he said.

“If the companies they work for aren’t even allowed to bid on construction projects that their tax dollars are paying for, how can their company compete and how can they stay employed. In a time of a global pandemic and limited government funds, we all have a responsibility to hardworking Canadian taxpayers to ensure that every dollar the government spends goes as far as possible. Closed tendering means lost opportunities and wasted tax dollars.”

Pamic said Merit Ontario is “going to explore every option” to open up the project to all sub-trade contractors.

“If errors were made, purchasing protocols not followed, and on federal laws, can these provincial legislation rules not apply, we need to look into this,” he said in an interview.

“Parliament Hill belongs to all Canadians and all Canadian workers and companies should have a shot at competing for this work,” he said in the statement. “The federal government needs to ensure rules are followed to allow fair and open bidding on these projects.

In a 2016 email to PostMedia (publishers of The Ottawa Citizen and Sun), the department said it solicited construction industry feedback before developing the evaluation criteria in the Request for Qualifications

“Despite these efforts, only one response was received,” it said, adding that the PCL/EllisDon response was “fully assessed and determined to meet the mandatory requirements,” Postmedia reported.

While PCL/EllisDon was the only bidder, the work will still be “reviewed and assessed against well known industry benchmarks to ensure best value for Canadian taxpayers,” PWSGC said then.

As well, the work is only for construction management. The government said then that more than 90 per cent of the contract’s value will be completed by subcontractors, whose work it said will be competitively tendered.

PCL had the construction management contract for the ongoing $863 million West Block renovation.

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