May 13 2020
Although every sector of the Canadian economy has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, some of the country’s key economic sectors have managed to adapt, and ultimately fare, better than others. This is largely a factor of whether the sector’s operations are considered essential. Among the country’s sectors, Canada’s construction sector is expected to exhibit only a minor slump in the wake of the pandemic primarily due to less-restrictive essential business mandates in certain provinces resulting in most construction activity remaining essential.
Initial response to the pandemic
According to the Engineering News-Record, the majority of Canadian provinces have generally permitted public and private construction to continue due to its status as an essential economic activity. However, social distancing measures and other risk mitigating tactics have been adopted across the entire sector to make it safer for employees to continue working. Moreover, while some construction projects did shut down, this occurred on a case-by-case basis.
For instance, some large energy projects in British Columbia voluntarily slowed their operations as a precautionary measure, as did a variety of mine, dam and energy projects in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; yet all of these provinces refrained from issuing any specific shutdown orders to industry operators. Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan chose to employ a similar approach, with their governments stressing the importance of following the proper social distancing and hygiene rules. The general leniency these provinces have had on construction projects is due in part to less severe rates of infection relative to more populous provinces.
Ontario and Quebec tightened their respective restrictions on all building activity through the beginning of April. Ontario removed industrial and commercial construction activity from its list of essential services; Quebec closed down all infrastructure and security work except for the most critical projects. This more stringent response compared with the rest of the country is primarily due to the fact that Ontario and Quebec have been the hardest-hit in terms of coronavirus cases across Canada.
Where are we now?
Things have continued to change from April to May, in tune with the ever-evolving nature of the pandemic itself. Ontario contractors involved in the construction of new hospital buildings and in the improvement of existing hospital facilities, in combination with other essential work projects, are now able to schedule around-the-clock shifts once again, with the extension of construction hours remaining contingent on the ability of workers to follow social distancing guidelines.
Furthermore, on May 11 the entire construction industry in Quebec reopened, with the reopening still well under way as of the time of this writing. According to the government of Quebec, as of May 11 “work sites can resume their activities in all sectors of the construction industry”; this explicitly addresses the reopening of “residential, civil engineering and road works, institutional and commercial, and industrial” construction, along with the reopening of sector supply chains comprised of small- and medium-sized businesses.
Overall, the construction sector in Canada has not been as devastated by the coronavirus outbreak as other sectors of the Canadian economy. This is not attributable to any one factor in particular, but rather several factors acting in concert with one another. Chief among them, however, is the essential nature of construction combined with the relative success Canada has experienced in managing the coronavirus compared with the neighbouring United States. Moving forward, the outlook for construction activity in Canada seems more positive than it did at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.