Coping with COVID-19: Rebuilding Ottawa’s construction sector, post-pandemic

Editor's Note

In order to keep Ottawa business leaders informed in this unprecedented health and economic crisis, OBJ publisher Michael Curran is producing a video podcast with local business leaders.

In this Coping With COVID-19 podcast episode, OBJ speaks with three leaders in the region’s multibillion-dollar construction industry: Danny Dillon, the chair of the Ottawa Construction Association and CEO of Dilfo Mechanical, Bassi Construction president Ray Licari as well as Ron Tomlinson, the CEO of Tomlinson Group of Companies.

This is an edited transcript of the panel discussion. To hear the full interview, please watch the video above.

OBJ: Ron, what short- or long-term issues does the construction industry face given the COVID-19 pandemic?

TOMLINSON: We’re a little concerned about the supply chain. How is that going to play out over the year? Many factories have been shut down. We don’t know exactly where materials are going to come from. We took a look at our whole supply chain. We looked at what materials we need for the next six months to keep our jobs on schedule. Then we tried to source those materials. Anywhere we thought there was weakness in the supply chain, we started to pre-purchase materials. So we didn’t run out and start buying toilet paper, but we did look for water mains, truck parts, tires and mixtures for ready-mix plants ​– all of the things that keep our plants and our operations running. We started to warehouse some of those materials.

OBJ: Ray, I’d like to get your perspective on upcoming challenges for the construction industry as far as Bassi Construction is concerned.

LICARI: The initial concern is the whole notion of the government opening in a phased manner. They are going to create a great deal of chaos in the market if they don’t get this right. Bassi is one of 50-odd companies out there that are pulling from the same pool of tradesmen, the same type of work. At Bassi, we pride ourselves on a good working relationship with those trades. We’re trying to work proactively with them … I can tell you that, one year ago, I was lucky if I got one or two CVs coming in. Now, there’s a plethora of them. I think there are a lot of human resources that might move from Peter to Paul to John.

OBJ: Danny, maybe you can weigh in on this issue. For the longest time, I thought there was a labour shortage in the trades. 

DILLON: Before COVID-19, I think everyone’s perception was that there would be a manpower shortage in this summer in construction. So is that going to happen? Yes, I believe that is still going to happen. Is it going to be delayed a few months? I think that is a fair assumption.

I think there are also some silver linings. There is an awareness that has come out of this and the OCA is pushing this issue. An increase in standards around hygiene and sanitation on construction projects. Improved washing facilities – that’s long overdue.

I think there is another positive, too. This has created an awareness and appreciation of the construction worker. We are an essential service. I don’t think people realized the role we play out there in the world.