Where does your province stand? Construction slows, but different jurisdictions taking different approaches
Differing classifications for essential workers across Canada has led to little coast to coast uniformity for construction
Health & Safety
Little more than a month into the crisis already guaranteed to define the early 2020s, the construction industry across Canada has been forced to take decisive steps to protect its workforce and help safeguard public health.
In all provinces but Quebec, a considerable, if not a majority, of job sites remain open, but the pace of work has slowed to accommodate new health and safety measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With the number of confirmed Canadian cases of coronavirus climbing into the tens of thousands, a timeline for a return to normalcy remains uncertain.
As of April 7, most provinces have implemented measures related to construction, though there’s little uniformity across the country.
The situation by region:
On Canada’s West Coast, the British Columbia government declared a state of emergency March 18 as its outbreak worsened. Construction, however, remains ongoing in the province under stricter sanitation and social distancing regimes.
Though job sites have been allowed to remain active, being deemed essential, several high-profile projects have scaled back work. Among others, BC Hydro has slowed construction on its Site C dam project. LNG Canada has also slimmed down its workforce at its new natural gas export terminal, cutting on-site staff levels by 65 per cent and putting all non-essential work on hold.
The Prairie provinces have implemented relatively similar measures to deal with the outbreak. Governments in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have placed an added focus on sanitation on job sites but recognized construction as essential, allowing projects to continue.
Ontario’s approach has been more complex and continues to evolve. In its initial emergency declaration March 24, the province exempted construction from any closures by including nearly all aspects of the industry on its essential services list. As in other provinces, a number of new health and safety guidelines were put in place. The government also hired more safety inspectors.
On April 3, the province changed tack, releasing a more refined essential services list that excluded significant parts of the construction industry. Key infrastructure projects in the health care and transit sectors have been allowed to continue, but other industrial and commercial projects put on hold. On the residential side, the rules are more lenient, allowing for construction to continue on projects already underway, though any new starts have been halted.
In neighbouring Quebec, which currently accounts for nearly half of Canada’s COVID-19 cases, construction is at a near standstill, with the government permitting little leeway in terms of what constitutes an essential service. Firms carrying out urgent repairs and those building or maintaining projects essential to public security have been granted exemptions, but other work across the residential, industrial, commercial, and institutional sectors has been halted.
The original emergency orders place all work on hold until at least mid April.
Policies in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are essentially aligned, permitting construction to continue with added precautionary measures. Prince Edward Island has enacted similar steps for ongoing work, but took the additional measure of ordering new construction starts temporarily halted.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government has not directed non-retail businesses to close, so long as workers can practice social distancing. Still, construction has been temporarily stopped on several major projects, including Husky Energy’s West White Rose Project, Vale’s Voisey’s Bay mine expansion and the Muskrat Falls dam.