Quebec readies construction industry for massive injection of stimulus funds

·3 min read
Quebec's $53-billion construction industry employs around 265,000 people. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec's $53-billion construction industry employs around 265,000 people. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Quebec's construction industry will need to hire an additional 11,000 workers per year in order to keep pace with the infrastructure projects the provincial government has planned as part of its post-pandemic economic stimulus package.

That package, passed in December, fast-tracked 180 infrastructure projects around the province, including highway extensions, new elderly care homes and school renovations.

The government has earmarked $3 billion in infrastructure spending for the current financial year.

But in order to make the projects happen, the construction industry will need to address a labour shortage that was an issue even before the pandemic started, Labour Minister Jean Boulet said Sunday.

Boulet and Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel announced the government would spend around $120 million over the next three years to help ensure the construction industry can meet the demand created by the stimulus.

"Because of the pandemic we need to make sure we have strong measures to jump start the economy. Investing in infrastructure … has been proven to be very efficient for jump starting the economy," LeBel said at a news conference in Montreal.

"That being said, if we do have a massive injection of money in that sector we have to make sure that sector is able to respond."

Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel holding up a copy of Bill 66, the infrastructure stimulus bill that was passed in December.
Quebec Treasury Board President Sonia LeBel holding up a copy of Bill 66, the infrastructure stimulus bill that was passed in December.(Sylvain Roy Roussel/CBC)

The new funding for the construction industry includes $32.4 million over three years for addressing the tight labour market.

Boulet said the government wants to help companies hire more women, immigrants, visible minorities and members of Indigenous and Inuit communities, as well as people with disabilities.

"These are obvious sources of labour that are really necessary," he said.

This could mitigate some of the gendered inequalities that economists have warned are likely to arise if governments opt for conventional approaches to dealing with the slowdown caused by the pandemic.

While infrastructure spending has been successful policy response to past recessions, those downturns had been particularly felt in male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing.

But the pandemic downturn, as several observers have noted, has had disproportionate consequences on women.

Sectors with a large female workforce, such as hospitality and tourism, have yet to fully recover. Women are also more likely to shoulder childcare burdens created by school and daycare closings.

In January, 73,400 women aged 25-54 in Canada lost their jobs, compared to 33,500 job losses for men in the same age range.

Help for businesses to bid on contracts

Among the other measures announced Sunday were plans to facilitate how companies bid on public contracts and inducements for small municipalities to tender major projects together.

The government also wants to encourage construction companies to modernize their business operations.

"New digital technologies can speed up the whole construction process thanks to prefabrication in controlled environments that reduce waste and the possibility of mistakes," LeBel said.

Construction companies welcomed the new measures detailed by the government. Quebec's association of construction professionals said the reforms will help stabilize businesses following a difficult period.

But the main construction union in the province, FTQ-Construction, said the government had missed the mark. The problem isn't labour supply, but working conditions, said the union's director general, Éric Boisjoly.

Quebec's $53-billion construction industry employs around 265,000 people.