By Giovanni Cautillo
Special to Ontario Construction News
During the start of a new year, the majority of publications being written talk about new year’s resolutions. Although this is important, we cannot immediately forget 2020. Don’t misunderstand: I am happily relegating 2020 to the history books and choose to use it solely as a reference point regarding how bad things can become, but it was the impetus for change.
I can see people referring to 2020 with continued angst and disdain, and you would be completely justified for how you feel. Let’s be honest: 2020 was one of the most arduous years we have collectively faced as a global community in our lifetime. It was incredibly stressful, seemingly never-ending, and at times, completely exhausting. But we also must look at what 2020 has given us: perspective.
This last year taught us what is important to each of us. It was the catalyst for change, innovation and some much needed self-reflection. It taught us the importance of staying healthy and how imperative our family and friends are to our overall healthy state of mind. It taught that we can work from anywhere and even be productive in our pyjamas. As I noted, overall, 2020 taught us all about perspective and even though it was punishing at times and relentless, not everything that is bad, is bad for you.
For some reason now, in remembering 2020, I recall a quote from Sir Winston Churchill. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” I find this apropos since 2020 was the closest thing to hell most of us will ever know. Luckily, we are on the other side of hell and now that we are here, we need to focus on moving forward to a better tomorrow. This is where perspective is incredibly important.
The year 2021 provides all of us, the entire world, a new opportunity. We now have the hope of a COVID-19 vaccine that is not only in production, but is now in distribution. This gives me hope that 2021 will provide us with a return to a semblance of normalcy; whatever that will look like now. And please understand that the term “normal” is not as it was pre-COVID-19, but our new normal moving forward.
So, until that new normal is obtained, what do we do?
Firstly, we need to remember that our sector was not spared the effects of this pandemic. The ICI sector was initially ordered to close through a government-mandated shut down, save for any essential work being conducted, and that six-week closure, although difficult, refocused our efforts.
When the OGCA was successful in convincing the provincial government that our sector should be allowed to reopen, our collective efforts became the new pinnacle for health and safety. We developed new standards, procedures and policies that were shared with all companies through our Safety Committee and the efforts of the League of Champions. Both of these committees worked closely with the Chief Prevention Office to create the provincial standard on how to deal with COVID-19. The ICI sector was once again reaffirmed as the leaders in health and safety. That is an important perspective to maintain.
Secondly, our general contractors not only continued, but increased our efforts and focused on our workforce’s wellbeing. The positive mental health of our workers was now a priority. This topic was now discussed openly at tool box talks and the term “depression” was no longer a taboo to be ignored and relegated to the shadows. We as an industry spoke openly about mental health and the need to keep it top of mind. Another important perspective to continue in 2021.
Additionally, with regards to the mental health of our workers, in the latter days of 2020, a rash of deaths occurred in construction that shook our industry to the very core. We were all in disbelief and couldn’t understand the rationale behind why these deaths were occurring. Regardless of why they occurred, our industry responded with on-site grief counselors, call-in numbers and professionals to help people cope. The overall notion that we were all in this together, and that together we would be able to get through all of this, is an incredibly powerful perspective to note.
Thirdly, our industry was front and centre on the topic of racism in construction. As with the topic of mental health, the ICI sector did not shy away from tackling this difficult subject, but instead lead the way as to how to properly deal with racial injustice. Articles, webinars and coalitions were all created to adequately address this longstanding issue. The OGCA assisted by organizing a conversation with EllisDon to share their experiences and the steps taken by them to bring this topic to light. The OGCA and the entire construction industry will continue to address racism and all social injustice in the days and years ahead. This is a positive perspective moving forward and will only gain momentum as the industry continues to discuss it.
Lastly, the sharing of information and experiences between our general contractors through the OGCA increased. We were all speaking as one combined and focused voice. Be it on onerous contract language or on the need for more projects, small, medium and large, to be released to provide a basis for a sustained stimulus package, our industry spoke as one. This is also an important perspective to continue since we are stronger as one entity working towards a combined goal.
In conclusion, perspective is essential in moving toward a positive outcome and direction. I cannot tell you definitely what 2021 will bring, but I can state with a degree of certainty that it will be better than this previous year. But this is a matter of perspective.
On behalf of the OGCA, we wish all of our contractors, their families, both personal and work, and all of those associated with your jobsites, a very healthy, safe and prosperous 2021.