The construction industry is Canada's largest industry and executes most of the construction activity in the country.
The construction industry is Canada's largest industry and executes most of the construction activity in the country. It provides a wide variety of buildings, ranging from houses to skyscrapers and from schools and hospitals to factories and shopping centres, and carries out an equally wide variety of engineering construction projects, ranging from highways to nuclear-power stations and from dams and dredging to petrochemical plants and pipelines.
Members of the construction industry put in place most of the capital investment of all other industries, governments, business and individual citizens. Thus, construction is both a production industry, providing the physical means for shelter and industrial development, and a service industry, most work being carried out in response to orders and investment decisions of others.
Construction is Canada's largest single industrial activity in terms of both value and employment. The estimated value of the 1996 Canadian construction program was $104.5 billion. The industry directly employed more than 750 000 people, representing more than 5% of all jobs in Canada. An even greater number are engaged in producing, transporting and merchandising construction materials and equipment.
The construction process involves many different functions from concept to commissioning. Owners in most cases initiate construction projects, acquire necessary sites and arrange for project financing. A design team consists of the architect or consulting engineer and their specialist subconsultants who together prepare the detailed specifications and drawings for a project's design.
General or prime contractors assume responsibility for the co-ordination of construction activities and project completion. Trades or specialty contractors perform work related to the various trades, eg, mechanical, electrical, carpentry, etc. Manufacturers and suppliers include importers, wholesalers and retailers engaged in the production and merchandising of thousands of construction items.
The Modern Industry
After the decrease in construction that occurred during the Great Depression, WWII brought about a substantial resurgence in activity in Canada. Achievements during this period included construction of the synthetic-rubber plant at Sarnia, Ont, and of numerous British Commonwealth Air Training Program aerodromes. This rapid increase in wartime construction and the ability of the industry to execute projects quickly and efficiently marked the establishment of Canada's modern construction industry.
Construction has continued to expand throughout the postwar period and there has been a striking increase in the size and complexity of many individual projects. For example, the postwar housing boom saw the development of "project housing," comprising hundreds of units of high-rise apartment buildings and complexes and of entire communities.
A new construction market developed in northern Canada with the building of early-warning radar defence installations, mining and other resource developments and transportation facilities. In southern Canada the Trans-Canada Highway and the St Lawrence Seaway were finally completed.
Canada has long been famous for its large-scale hydroelectric power projects (eg, Churchill Falls; James Bay Project); this program was expanded and augmented by thermal and nuclear-power plants. Perhaps the most striking change wrought by the construction industry in this period was the creation of new skylines in Canada's cities and towns.
For many years after the war, the regional breakdown of construction activity showed one-third or more of the total located in Ontario; about one-quarter in Québec; and one-tenth in BC. Toronto and Montréal were the main centres of construction activity, accounting for perhaps 25% of the total. Similarly, there was a quite constant breakdown by main components: residential 30%; other building construction 30%; and engineering construction 40%.
Significant shifts became evident in the 1970s in favour of western Canada and of engineering construction. By 1981 the value of Alberta's construction equalled that of Ontario (both 25%); residential construction's share fell to 25% and that of engineering construction rose to nearly 50%.
The $100 billion mark for total construction activity was first reached in 1990. Because of the prolonged recession, this value was not matched again until 1996. In that year, $104.5 billion was spent on construction in Canada: 85.6% ($89.5 billion) on new construction and 14.4% ($15 billion) on repair work. In new construction, 45.1% ($40.3 billion) was residential, 20.5% ($18.4 billion) non-residential, and 34.4% ($30.7 billion) engineering.
By 1995, due to nation-wide cutbacks, only one-fifth of the country's construction was directly financed by government departments or agencies at the federal, provincial or municipal level. In addition to construction in Canada, Canadian developers, designers and contractors have developed a substantial export market, especially in the US. Softwood lumber, gypsum board and manufactured housing are among the principal products the construction industry exports.
The construction industry's voluntary organizations are structured according to type of trade, product, project, service or interest. Employers' associations, professional societies and labour unions are organized and operate on the national, regional or provincial and local levels.
The principal employers' group is the Canadian Construction Association, which has maintained its head office in Ottawa since its incorporation in 1919. The CCA represents general building and engineering contractors, trade contractors, industrial contractors, manufacturers and suppliers of construction materials and equipment and professional and service firms.
Virtually every major component of the industry has its own national body to deal with its special interests. The residential construction sector is represented by the Canadian Home Builders' Association, the Urban Development Institute and the Canadian Institute of Public Real Estate Companies. Groups representing contractors include the Canadian Institute of Steel Construction, the Pipe Line Contractors Association of Canada, the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada and the Canadian Electrical Contractors Association. Among the product associations are the Canadian Portland Cement Association, the Canadian Wood Council, the Society of Plastics Industry of Canada and the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada. The Canadian Construction Documents Committee, representing 5 major national bodies, develops standard forms for a wide range of construction contracts and related tendering and administrative guides.
The traditional nature of many of the building trades and familiarity with the European guild system led to the early establishment of labour unions in the Canadian construction industry. With certain notable exceptions, the building trades unions were organized along craft lines and were affiliated with unions operating in the US or in Great Britain.
Local construction-employees' groups now operate mainly under charters received from international unions with head offices in the US. They are affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Department of the American Federation of Labour-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO). The Department has a Canadian executive board and maintains an office in Canada. Building trades councils, representing these international construction trade unions, operate on district and provincial levels throughout the country.
In Québec the international unions belong to le Conseil provincial du Québec des métiers de la construction. Other Québec construction labour groups include the Conféderation des syndicats nationaux (CSN-Construction) and the Centrale des syndicats démocratiques. The syndicates represent the various construction trades. The Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) represents a number of local construction labour groups in Ontario and western Canada.
Training and Education
Organized vocational training for construction careers in Canada is carried out under the apprenticeship system. Trades instruction is also available at technical schools and through correspondence courses. Construction-technician courses are commonly given at institutes of technology and special courses are available for supervisory personnel.
The increasing complexity of construction operations has led to a substantial increase in the number of professionally trained individuals in supervisory and managerial positions. A number of universities have established special centres for building studies and construction engineering. In 1998 there were 16 university chairs in Canada devoted to construction-related subjects.