The devastating floods in southern B.C. that severed vital road and rail links highlighted the crucial yet fragile nature of the province’s transportation networks. They also served as a long-overdue wake-up call on the province’s urgent need for massive, sustained public infrastructure investment.
Dependable infrastructure is the backbone of our economy. As British Columbians emerge from the second straight year of COVID-19 restrictions, the province is going to need extensive construction activity to get B.C.’s battered economy back on track. In its upcoming provincial budget, the B.C. government should make a meaningful commitment to aggressive, long-term infrastructure investment. This initiative should serve as a central pillar of its post-post pandemic economic recovery plan.
Much of B.C.’s physical infrastructure has been underfunded for decades and has not kept pace with public needs. The provincial government has made significant progress in upgrading and refurbishing many existing public assets, but we’re still playing catch up on decades worth of underinvestment. The Cowichan District Hospital replacement, Campbell River’s John Hart Dam seismic upgrade, and Victoria’s Cedar Hill Middle School replacement are just a few examples of essential projects finally seeing the light of day.
Dikes, dams, schools, and hospitals all need seismic upgrades or replacing throughout the province, which can’t be delayed any longer. B.C.’s public buildings also need to be built to higher energy standards to meet our greenhouse gas emission targets and reduce costs.
Sustained investment in transportation and transit is particularly important to our economic prosperity, which helps ease gridlock, improve accessibility and boost productivity. A case in point is the much-needed upgrade of Highways 14 and safety improvements to the Malahat highway.
These projects can be efficiently built under a workforce delivery model that ensures local job opportunities for Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and women in trades, including apprenticeship and skills training that will last a lifetime.
Preference for local hires means workers will spend their wages in the community, supporting small businesses devastated by COVID-19 and contributing to the tax base.
Construction unions and the industry are generally well-positioned to provide essential training for new and incumbent workers. Comprehensive training ensures workers have the necessary skills to meet the technological challenges of tomorrow, helping build a resilient and dynamic workforce connected to high-quality jobs.
The pandemic has inflicted a catastrophic human and economic toll. Massive, long-term infrastructure investment provides a unique opportunity to revitalize our economy and transform our province for the future. Now is the time to put political vision into action, get British Columbians back to work, and create the prosperity needed to put the last two years behind us.
Brian Cochrane is business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 115, representing over 12,500 skilled workers in the construction, transportation, mining, aviation, and other industrial sectors throughout B.C. and the Yukon.