The Plan d’action pour le secteur de la construction – Concrete measures for the post-COVID-19 pandemic economic recovery of the construction industry in Québec

Construction site

On March 21, 2021, Sonia LeBel, the Minister Responsible for Government Administration and Chair of the Conseil du trésor, and Jean Boulet, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, announced the Plan d’action pour le secteur de la construction [PDF] (action plan for the construction sector, the Plan).

The objective of the Plan is to contribute to the post-COVID‑19 pandemic economic recovery by accelerating the priority infrastructure projects provided for in the Plan québécois des infrastructures 2020-2030 (the Infrastructure Plan) and supporting and developing the industry’s capacity to carry out those priority infrastructure projects in Québec.

The Plan underlines the importance of the construction industry for Québec’s economy, and highlights that the development of the industry is a key priority for the provincial government. In this context and through the Plan, the provincial government aims to reduce the scarcity of qualified labour, increase productivity, and provide the support necessary to the growth of business in the industry. In this regard, and with the goal of stimulating the economy, the Plan provides for measures which fall within the following five categories:

  • the acceleration of the Quebec Infrastructure Plan, the relaxation of approval processes for certain infrastructure projects and the adoption of regulatory measures to make public contract adjudication more flexible and favour the participation of a greater number of businesses in public contracts
  • a more efficient implementation of the Infrastructure Plan by taking action through the terms and conditions of certain calls for tenders and on project management
  • various initiatives to reduce the scarcity of qualified labour
  • an increase in the productivity of the construction industry
  • favouring growth of small and medium businesses in the construction industry

Construction industry players will recognize that these measures, taken together, are comprehensive and encouraging in addressing long-standing industry issues both from the bottom-up and from the top-down.

The first series of measures

In order to stimulate economic recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic, and in anticipation of decreasing private investments in the industry, the provincial government accelerated the investment of $2.9 billion provided for in the Infrastructure Plan in 2020–2021. This decision enabled the completion of many projects throughout Québec and ensured employment for thousands of people.

Additionally, the provincial government has undertaken to streamline the approval process for certain infrastructure projects and to adopt new ways of tendering public contracts to facilitate participation by smaller businesses. For certain major projects, the government study and approval process will be simplified and shortened. Moreover, the threshold for “non-major” projects has been increased to reduce the number of projects that go through the full assessment and approval process.

As for the adoption of new ways of doing things, this measure encompasses the following initiatives:

  • a forthcoming regulation for the construction contracts of public bodies subject to the Act respecting contracting by public bodies, aiming to increase participation of small and medium businesses in public contracts.
  • Bill 66, An Act respecting the acceleration of certain infrastructure projects (Bill 66), which was adopted last December. Under Bill 66, 180 infrastructure projects are eligible for various acceleration measures pertaining to expropriation, environment, land use and urban planning. Bill 66 was examined in a previous blog post.
  • accelerated payments to contractors. To effect this, Bill 66 includes by reference prompt payment and adjudication provisions aiming to facilitate payments for construction contracts entered into by public bodies. A detailed overview of the Canadian prompt payment and construction law reforms (including Québec) appeared in a previous blog post. Moreover, in March 2020, guidelines were issued by the Secrétariat du Conseil du trésor du Québec (Treasury Board of Québec Secretariat) to remind public bodies to proceed promptly with payment on construction contracts.
  • the improvement of the electronic tendering system to allow for the electronic transmission of qualification notices, product approvals and calls for interest, the electronic signature of the submissions transmitted electronically and the publication of audiovisual recordings of the opening of bids on the platform. Additionally, since January 24, 2021, bidders may respond electronically to all tenders as long as such method of response is provided for in the notice of invitation to tender published on the SEAO. Additional improvements to the functionality and performance of the electronic tendering system are forthcoming.  

The second series of measures

For an efficient implementation of the investments provided for in the Infrastructure Plan, the provincial government intends to take action through the terms and conditions for certain calls for tenders and on consolidating project management.

More precisely, the provincial government has undertaken to

  • promote the breakdown of the municipal works into lots. The reduction of the scope of work will enable small and medium-sized companies to access these projects more easily, according to their specialties.
  • encourage municipalities to consolidate procurement for regional projects.
  • implement a new program to facilitate and accelerate projects for construction and renovation of the core municipal buildings for municipalities of less than 5,000 residents. This program is similar to the Programme de la taxe sur l’essence et de la contribution du Québec 2019-2023 (the Quebec Tax Gas funding program) and will complement the program Réfection et construction des infrastructures municipales.
  • promote local procurement by public entities and municipalities. For instance, on March 25, 2021, the Act to establish a new development regime for the flood zones of lakes and watercourses, to temporarily grant municipalities powers enabling them to respond to certain needs and to amend various measures was adopted. This Act amended acts concerning municipal affairs and the Act respecting public transit authorities to allow — and in certain circumstances to require — municipalities, metropolitan communities and public transit authorities to include in a public call for tenders that goods or services must be Canadian, to the extent permitted by law and the public procurement liberalization agreements entered into by the provincial government.

The third series of measures

Given the scarcity of qualified labour in the construction industry, the provincial government intends to adopt measures to favour the development of qualified labour for the construction industry.

To effect this, different initiatives were elaborated which fall within the following four categories:

  • To adopt regulatory amendments to facilitate access to construction trades. For instance, on April 26, 2021, the Règlement modifiant le Règlement sur la formation professionnelle de la main d’oeuvre de l’industrie de la construction came into force. This amendment allows admission to the qualifying examination for a trade or specialty once students have completed 85% of the required program.
  • To promote a better integration of under-represented groups (women, members of visible minorities, members of First Nations and Inuit, immigrants and the disabled) into the industry’s labour force.
  • To adopt regulatory amendments to provide more timely and tailored training. For instance, on April 26, 2021, the Règlement modifiant le Règlement sur la délivrance des certificats de compétence came into force. This amendment allows students of a recognized training program to obtain a certificate of apprenticeship and to work on site during their studies.
  • To promote the construction trades and to recruit new members to join the labour force.

The fourth series of measures

Industry productivity is a key element in addressing the scarcity of labour. The provincial government intends to encourage the industry to invest in digitization and to support it throughout the process.

A key element for this digital transformation is Building Information Modeling (BIM) software. Starting in 2021, the provincial government intends to implement the software progressively as a requirement for the execution of all public infrastructure projects.

Additionally, the government will encourage prefabrication for public infrastructure projects. To effect this, pilot projects for various ministries and government bodies are forthcoming.

More broadly, these two measures are consistent with a more widespread consideration in the Canadian construction industry of BIM and other technologies to reduce errors and inconsistencies in construction drawings and submittals, along with prefabrication and modular construction to minimize site labour generally with the added benefit of avoiding the on-site restrictions caused by COVID-19.

The fifth series of measures

As the construction industry is comprised of a multitude of small and medium-sized businesses that find it difficult to access public tenders, the provincial government intends to intervene through coaching, loans and loan guarantees, in order to increase the number of businesses eligible to participate in public tenders for major projects.

Takeaway

With the Plan, the provincial government confirms that it views the construction industry as a key player in Québec’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery and adopts concrete measures to facilitate industry development and drive productivity.