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This Week in Construction Law: April 4 – 8, 2022

In federal news, the lobby group Progressive Contractors Association of Canada praised the recent announcement by the federal government of changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program, which starting April 30 will permit employers in the construction industry to use temporary foreign workers to fill 30% of their low-wage workforce. The change comes amid a flurry of moves at the federal and provincial level to increase the pace of homebuilding in the face of historic unaffordability.

In B.C., the provincial government’s labour minister reintroduced controversial amendments to B.C.’s labour laws this week, specifically the removal of secret-ballot voting from union certification and the granting of permission for union “raids” in the construction industry, i.e. attempts by rival unions to convert the membership of existing unions. Commentators predict that these measures may have a cooling effect on investment in construction projects in the province.

In B.C., several mayors have expressed dismay at what they perceive to be the downshifting of blame by the provincial government for the province’s lack of housing supply; they in turn blame the provincial government and its regulatory regime. Following their complaints, the provincial Housing Minister suggested that he may introduce legislation giving the province power to override municipal decisions on housing. It is unclear at this time whether the mayors in question are treating this suggestion as a threat or a boon.

In Saskatchewan, new legislation (the Labour Mobility and Fair Registration Practices Act) has been introduced by the provincial government. The Act‘s intent is to reduce barriers for skilled workers, including in the construction industry, to work in Saskatchewan by ensuring that their credentials remain valid. Saskatchewan is currently one of the only provinces without a requirement that regulators comply with domestic trade agreements and fair registration practices for internationally trained workers.

In commentary, Mike Yorke (president of the Carpenters’ District Council of Ontario) writes about the impact of contractor tax fraud on the construction industry, which includes practices such as undeclared cash payments and misclassification of employees as independent contractors, and apparently carries an annual cost to Canadian governments of over $3 billion.

In commentary, Julie Gordon and Nichola Saminather question the practicality of the federal government’s recent commitment to double Canadian homebuilding in the next decade. They observe that the current pace of construction is already straining the labour supply of skilled workers: Canada has added more than 100,000 construction jobs in the last six months, and the overall jobless rate fell to a historic low of 5.3% in March. Canada’s immigration program, which they note does bring in some skilled labourers, but which they contend prioritizes white-collar immigrants and exacerbates the housing supply problem, which is worse in Canada than in any other Group of Seven country.

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