Pressure to restart construction builds in Quebec and Ontario as provinces begin loosening restrictions

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With modelling showing cases of COVID-19 at or just past their apparent peaks in Quebec and Ontario, crews are getting back to work on a small number of stalled construction projects and pressure is building for a gradual resumption of work is slowly gaining traction.

Earlier this week, Quebec contractors working on residential projects scheduled to be complete by July 31 returned to work after a nearly month-long shutdown.

In Quebec, the province hardest hit by the outbreak, only urgent repairs and construction tied to public security had been permitted since April 24.

With a segment of the residential sector restarting, union groups FTQ-Construction and the Provincial Council (International) said they will be closely monitoring new health and safety measures designed to protect workers and ensure coronavirus is not being spread on job sites. The small-scale reopening will let the industry judge how effective the new regulations are ahead of the gradual restarting of the entire industry, labour groups said in statements.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault is now planning a wider return to normal.

“Of course, we still need some time to be sure that the pandemic is under control before reopening the economy and the schools,” he said April 21, emphasizing measures would be introduced gradually and with the blessing of public health officials. “We’ll table a plan to tell you exactly how it will be done in the next weeks and months.”

There are also rumblings that Ontario is also charting a course to reopening its economy, however Premier Doug Ford has made it clear no changes will happen in the near future.

In a press conference April 21 Ford said the province plans to release its framework for reducing or removing certain restrictions in the coming days.

“I’m getting lobbied hard by so many groups and organizations, but it’s easy to say, ‘Open, open, open,’ until we get a second wave of this and it bites us in the backside,” Ford said.

“I just ask people to be patient.”

The vast majority of Ontario’s construction industry was allowed to continue working under the province’s emergency orders last month. On April 3, however, the government restricted construction to key infrastructure projects and residential construction already underway. On April 9 projects related to food production, processing or distribution scheduled to be complete by Oct. 4, 2020 were added to the list.

With Ontario and Quebec preparing to ease job site restrictions, Broccolini said in a statement April 22 it’s stepping up hiring “in anticipation of the rapid resumption of its activities” in the weeks ahead, planning to expand staffing levels in Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.

“We are proud to have been able to keep our entire team employed throughout the pandemic, with the exception of the day labourers directly affected by the closure of the construction sites,” Anthony Broccolini, the company’s COO, said in a release. “Our exceptional positioning in the real estate market is now affording us the opportunity to further expand our team following these difficult times.”

Despite the uncertain economic conditions, the company said it anticipates strong growth as construction ramps back up.

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