Since 2019, four energy mega-projects – Site C dam, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink pipeline – have been under construction, boosting B.C.’s economy with thousands of construction jobs and billions spent on procurement and wages.
With a total capital spend estimated to be roughly $100 billion, these four projects alone were estimated to have provided 19,000 to 20,000 construction jobs in B.C. in 2022.
But all of these projects are now in the home stretch, and construction will soon begin winding down.
B.C.’s Major Projects Inventory – which lists private and capital projects over $15 million – notes a $22 billion drop in activity between the first quarters of 2022 and 2023 – from $388 billion in Q1 2022 to $366 billion in Q1 2023.
The two pipeline projects – the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) and Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL) – are expected to be finished by the end of this year. LNG Canada and Site C have roughly another year to go. The TMX project’s workforce was expected to peak this year at 10,500 – 11,000. In June this year, a little more than 6,000 people were employed on the Site C dam.
A spokesperson for Site C told BIV that employment on the project is expected to trend downward later this year.
Though there are a number of multibillion-dollar projects in the queue, their collective size and value can’t match that of the B.C. mega-projects nearing completion.
“You add it up, it’s about $100 billion,” said Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA). “The reality is, we don’t have $100 billion of major nation-building infrastructure projects coming behind this $100 billion. This will have an economic impact. People should not understate the significance of $100 billion worth of projects winding up and only about $20 billion coming on stream.”
Gardner said there could have been other large LNG projects like LNG Canada sanctioned, had Canadian governments not discouraged them from being built.
“There is a reason why we don’t see another major energy player proposing another major LNG project in Canada, and the reasons are crystal clear – we’ve basically sent signals out of Ottawa and Victoria that we’re not really open for business when it comes to natural gas,” Gardner said. “So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that we don’t have another one, two, three or four natural gas projects that are in the approval process.”
It’s not as though there will be no work in B.C., however, for the skilled trades people who worked on major commercial, industrial and institutional projects once all major energy projects are built.
“There’s more slack in the system right now than there was, certainly, 12 months ago, and as a result you are likely to have a slightly better time trying to find the labour that you need to allow these projects to proceed in a timely manner,” said Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada.
The billions of dollars invested in other private and public sector mega-projects that are either underway or expect to start soon are not to the scale of LNG Canada ($40 billion total), Site C Dam ($16 billion) or TMX ($31 billion).
“Sitting right behind those marquee projects are a whole bunch of private and public projects that are moving forward quickly,” said Bryne Brooke, executive director BC Building Trades. “We have got way more work than people right now, and it’s going to stay that way. There is a huge horizon for institutional and commercial construction in B.C., and we’ve got a ton of engineering projects.
“Right behind LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink is Woodfibre LNG, which is expecting 2023 construction. And then there may be trains 3 and 4 with LNG Canada. The big one I’m watching is Metro Vancouver and it is wastewater treatment. They are massive.”
She notes the Iona Island wastewater treatment plant rebuild is estimated to cost $10.4 billion, and is one of several wastewater treatment upgrades that Metro Vancouver has planned.
Whereas many of the jobs created by the big energy projects were spread throughout B.C. – mainly between Kitimat and Fort St. John – many of the new civil engineering projects moving ahead now are largely in the Lower Mainland.
“Many of these projects were in remote areas, so much of that workforce will likely be transitioning back to the Lower Mainland, would be our guess, and they’ll be primarily now engaged in ICI (industrial, commercial and institutional) work and residential work,” said Ferreira.
“There’s a lot of hospital work or institutional building work slated to get started in the Lower Mainland. Health care is going to be the big one, and there’s still a lot of public transit projects in the Lower Mainland area that are moving forward, or just in the process of getting started, so they will probably take up some of that workforce.”
In addition to the new hospitals, bridges and sewage treatment plants to be built, there is also the recently green-lit Roberts Bank container terminal expansion. Construction on that project is not expected to start until 2027 and is expected top take six years to complete. The expansion is expected to generate 18,000 full-time equivalent jobs during construction.
Having major energy projects built in B.C. in recent years provided an opportunity for people in skilled trades to get their Red Seal certification.
“We have an historic number of registered apprentices,” Brooke said. “We now have over 40,000.”
Construction trades account for about half that number, Brooke added.
“On the unionized construction side, we have over 5,000 registered apprentices in construction,” she said.
She said big civil works projects like the Iona wastewater treatment plant project will continue to create opportunities for more construction trades apprenticeships.
“We’re having to do this massive infrastructure overhaul on wastewater,” Brooke said. “When you have projects of that kind of size and scale, you can really get creative with how you move apprentices through them. It gives you the opportunity to be really thoughtful about how you build a workforce – use a project to build more than just a project, but the legacy, by building a workforce.”
In addition to public works projects to be built in the Lower Mainland, a number of new mines are also being built in B.C., which will employ hundreds of workers during the construction phase.
The major projects inventory notes that work has already started on the Premier Gold Mine near Stewart ($178 million) and the Kemess underground copper-cold mine ($524 million) 250 kilometres north of Smithers, B.C.