Premier Christy Clark meets with B.C. union leaders

B.C.’s labour market goes global

As Ottawa cracks down on its temporary foreign worker program, B.C. building trades protest Site C dam plans

VICTORIA – The labour situation in B.C. is showing increased signs of strain, even before a long-promised boom in heavy construction gets set to ramp up this summer.

Jobs Minister Shirley Bond announced last week that B.C. is suspending its “provincial nomination” program for 90 days. This program allows the province to recommend people for federal immigration, based on skills in demand in B.C.

The B.C. provincial nomination program saw its number of applications triple to 1,200 for the month of December, as the federal government cracked down on the temporary foreign worker program. Thousands of temporary foreign workers who have hit the four-year deadline are being sent home, with many of them turning to the provincial nomination track.

Bond has been pleading with Ottawa to raise B.C.’s annual provincial nomination quota from 5,000 to 7,000 or more. The three-month pause is so her ministry can add staff and speed up processing time. Backlogged applicants will still be considered, and exemptions for health care workers and a northeast pilot program are being maintained.

Even with the current slump in energy prices and before anticipated pipeline and liquefied natural gas projects start, the labour shortage in the northeast is near crisis.

The last time I was in Dawson Creek, radio ads were offering signing bonuses for qualified truck drivers. In Fort St. John, grocery and hardware retailers have come to depend on foreign workers to keep going.

While supposedly educated young people work part-time and refuse to leave the comforts of southern city life, this is the reality up north, and it’s only going to get worse.

This summer, work is scheduled to start on the Site C dam on the Peace River, the most costly construction project in B.C. history. And a union vs. non-union battle reminiscent of the old Expo 86 labour wars is underway.

The B.C. and Yukon Building Trades (BCYT) are demanding a project agreement that requires all workers on Site C to be paid their rates, and are warning of chaos on the huge project if they don’t get their way.

BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald told me that’s not all they want. They are also seeking quotas for members of their unions on a project that will be a small city of 1,700 people at peak construction.

BCYT executive director Tom Sigurdson says that while all sides acknowledge the need for foreign workers for Site C, he wants to control that too, working with their affiliated unions in the United States.

There will be non-union construction firms, some of them owned by aboriginal communities in the north. There will be contractors affiliated with the Christian Labour Association of Canada. The BCYT hopes to set wages and conditions for them all, and influence Ottawa’s temporary foreign worker program to boot.

McDonald and Premier Christy Clark have politely told them to pound sand. Their formula would add millions in costs to the project, driving up BC Hydro rates even more than they are already rising. BC Hydro has already done dam upgrade projects using a “managed open site” model and it’s not inclined to return to the era of W.A.C. Bennett as Sigurdson demands.

Sigurdson makes a valid point that when two concrete masons compare paycheques on the Site C project and one sees he’s making $5 an hour less, he won’t be happy. He will want the higher rate, and the BCYT is taking BC Hydro to court to ensure they can recruit new members on the site.

It looks like a hot summer ahead.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

Just Posted

VIDEO: Friday night fire outside Saanich Staples

Witness says two employees helped put out blaze

Victoria non-profit empowers women escaping abusive homes with a fresh start

Organization’s gift certificate program helped around 400 women last year

VIDEO: Royal Bay Secondary students take flight in ‘Peter and the Starcatcher’

Play tells the story of the orphan who becomes Peter Pan

Sidney designer showing killer collection at Van Fashion Week

A young Sidney designer is showing her 14 piece collection Obsidian Nights at Vancouver Fashion Week

Support group helps Victoria parents navigate issues with children

Parents and caregivers offered “free, safe, non-judgmental, confidential” support

VIDEO: Iconic ‘snow cone’ takes shape at B.C. park near Clearwater

Snow cone forming at Wells Gray Provincial Park one that would make Disney’s Queen Elsa proud

POLL: Will you be wearing pink to take a stand against bullying?

Schools and workplaces across Greater Victoria and around the province will be… Continue reading

A ‘warm embrace’ for grieving parents at funeral of seven young fire victims

Mourners offered love and support to Kawthar Barho, mother of seven children

Indigenous leaders, politicians say Trans Mountain report flawed

The National Energy Board has endorsed an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline a second time

UPDATE: Reports of rashes prompt closure of all Harrison Hot Springs pools

Public pool available after Fraser Health shut down all five mineral pools until further notice

Legislation to protect B.C. farmland comes into effect

Regulations enhance food security, encourage long-term farming

Have you heard the legend of Shuswaggi, the Shuswap Lake monster?

Witness accounts as old as 1904, and as recent as 2018, place a creature in the lake’s depths

UPDATE: B.C. ticket holder winner of $25.9-million Lotto Max jackpot

Next draw set for Mar. 1 with an estimated jackpot of $10 million

B.C.-based ‘Team Tardi’ brings home gold in junior curling worlds

In a 9-4 victory over Switzerland, a Langley-based curling team earned its 2nd straight world title

Most Read