December 14, 2017 by Saul Chernos
From Sea to Sea may be a Canadian motto and unifying force. However, economic conditions vary considerably across the country. On-Site looks at prospects for 2018 region by region.
Vancouver and the province are faring quite well. However, provincial commitment to the Site C hydroelectric project is uncertain, and proponents withdrew several proposed liquefied natural gas projects. Still, considerable infrastructure work is underway. “The simple fact that people want to reside in that area means considerable uptick on commercial and institutional work,” said Bob Blakely of Canada’s Building Trades Unions.
Paul Cashman of the Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction Association forecasts a lean year. “There was a lot of overbuilding before the recession hit (in 2014), and a lot of office and industrial space is still coming onto the market. It’s going to take time to absorb that capacity.” Infrastructure projects such as Calgary’s Ring Road and Edmonton’s Yellowhead Trail Freeway have “acted as a shock absorber,” Cashman added. Blakely said the fallout from TransCanada nixing plans to build its Energy East pipeline will be significant. “With nothing new on the go we’re going to be much worse off.” He added that “a couple of the biggest shut-downs that Alberta has ever seen” — including the Fort Hills oil sands project north of Ft. McMurray — will employ many people but for just a limited time.
Potash is doing well enough in Saskatchewan, but the province is affected by low oil prices and the loss of Energy East, said Blakely. He added Manitoba has two significant hydro projects underway — Keeyask and Keewatinoow — plus some high-rise and office tower work in Winnipeg.
Proponents have long talked about the Ring of Fire. This potential mining hotspot in the northwest would need roads and other infrastructure. Will 2018 be its year? Andrew Cheatle of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada said his hopes are “within the next decade if not sooner.” Still, mining remains strong from Thunder Bay through to Sudbury and the region is holding its own, though the cancellation of Energy East means no new pumping stations. The Toronto area and southwestern Ontario are experiencing a strong building boom and large public transit projects are underway there and in Ottawa.
“Montreal is busy because Montreal is always busy.”
— Bob Blakely, Canada’s Building Trades Unions.
Plan Nord, a 25-year natural resources extraction strategy, remains a major source of optimism. Cheatle said he sees work commencing within the next few years. Blakely said the province is vying for LNG activity, and there’s “a real question” of what’s going to happen to refineries in Quebec with the failure of Energy East. Infrastructure is strong in populated centres, with significant road and bridge work, including the new Champlain Bridge in Montreal. “Montreal is busy because Montreal is always busy,” said Blakely.
Blakely said the loss of Energy East dashed refinery hopes in New Brunswick, but some smaller mine projects remain underway and there’s potential hydroelectric work with NB Power wanting to reinvigorate the Mactaquac dam. In Nova Scotia, there’s significant commercial-institutional work in the Halifax area and ongoing activity in the shipbuilding sector. Newfoundland and Labrador is holding its own with Husky Energy following on the footsteps of Hebron with a planned $2.2-billion offshore oil project. Iron ore and nickel mining also offer promise, a Vale smelter is nearly completed, and the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project is ongoing.
Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon are largely sustained by mining and modest infrastructure activity. Work on the Nanisivik Naval Facility on Baffin Island holds some promise and Iqaluit wants to replace diesel with more eco-friendly generation, but these aren’t big jobs. “When you have small numbers of people you have a tough time building anything,” explains Blakely. In 2017, the federal government committed to the Yukon Resource Gateway Project. PDAC’s Cheatle said this includes upgrading roads and is designed to enhance existing infrastructure, help access known deposits and open up areas for economic development.