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Neglect will lead to decline

April 11, 2013  By Brian Burton

Here is a news release from Oct. 29 of last year. “Almost 100 employees
at the National Research Council in seven cities across Canada have
received notice that their services may no longer be required

Here is a news release from Oct. 29 of last year. “Almost 100 employees at the National Research Council in seven cities across Canada have received notice that their services may no longer be required. Kennedy Stewart, NDP member of Parliament and critic for government science and technology policy, commented that “when we look back in a few years we’ll see that these cutbacks were really part of a larger plan that will have a significant impact on our international standing.”

In our last issue we talked at length about the contributions of the NRC to our industry and I was dismayed, to say the least, to read a press release announcing that the government was contemplating cutting back on staff.

This agency was responsible for creating our National Model Building Code and establishing the foundation for what we know about cold-weather building performance and building science. Unfortunately for the construction and fenestration industries, the Stewart is probably correct. Cutting back on research is definitely not a good idea. It is like deferring maintenance – eventually you wind up paying for it.


The impact of cutting back on research won’t be immediately apparent but the cutbacks will eventually have a significant impact on our international standing when it comes to cold-weather construction and building science, which as you know, is second to none. The total economic contribution by these industries last year was more than $100 billion. Yet the industry is remarkable for the regrettable fact that we spent less than 0.1 per cent of revenues on research and development. Aside from manufacturers of construction materials most of the research that we do undertake is fostered by the NRC. Many other large industrial sectors such as the aerospace ($1.5 billion in 2010) and pharmaceutical (1.3 per cent) invest much greater resources in R&D for the simple reason that ensuring continuous innovation produces substantive results and helps industries remain globally competitive.

Construction is our largest industry. It is an extremely valuable economic driver and is particularly important because it employs more than a million citizens. It’s also apparent over the last five years that, while many nations have struggled economically, Canada appears to have fared reasonably well. It appears that our continuing investment in renewal, renovation and construction is almost certainly one of the reasons we are holding our own. Because 80 per cent of Canadians now live in cities and spend most of their time indoors, buildings play an essential role in our well-being and contribute a great deal to what most people believe is our exceptional productivity. We also invest more money on construction per capita than just about any other country and the remarkable efficiency of the construction sector is fundamental to our continuing national and global success. The economic impact of the industry and its dedicated supply chain is much larger than described by traditional  ecomomic statistics, which focus primarily on the activities of general contractors and specialty trades. In real terms, the value-added components of the construction sector also include the design of buildings, engineering, landscaping, manufacture of building products, maintenance and renewal. In addition, the operation and maintenance of machinery and equipment used in construction contributes considerable value.

The industry as a whole almost certainly represents at least 20 per cent of Canada’s GDP when you consider its impact on all sectors of the economy.

Approximately eight per cent of our workforce earns a living in construction. That breaks down to 853,400 in direct construction, 182,000 in building products and136,200 in engineering and architecture. Most workers were located in Ontario (39 per cent), followed by Quebec (18 per cent), and British Columbia and Alberta (16 per cent). The sector leads industrial employment growth in Canada, having increased by 7.1 per cent since 2008. Building and infrastructure construction, repair and renovation contributes approximately $150 billion to the economy.

However, the industry faces a number of specific challenges, one of which is the fact that there is very little representation at senior levels of government. One of the principal reasons for this is that most construction companies have fewer than 10 employees and operate primarily in local markets. There are several countries that do a better job of recognizing the importance of construction, including Britain, New Zealand, the Soviet Union and Israel. They all have a minister of construction in their cabinets.

Brian Burton is a Business Development Consultant and is serving on the Personnel Committee for the CSA’s Certification Program for Fenestration Installation Technicians. His current interests include overcladding technologies, adaptive reuse of buildings, maintenance of the building envelope and the rapidly growing use of computers in construction. You can contact him at brianburton@live.ca or visit http://burtons-pen.com .

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