INTERVIEW: Alberta’s Minister of Economic Development & Trade on Fort McMurray rebuilding contractsCanadian Contractor
Deron Bilous wants local businesses to be hired 'first and foremost'
As residents of Fort McMurray return to their fire-ravaged city today, the rebuilding process begins in earnest. Alberta’s Minister for Economic Development and Trade Deron Bilous spoke to Canadian Contractor regarding his government’s focus on hiring local firms to help the local economy get back on its feet.
As the massive rebuilding process begins, how will areas of responsibility between the Province and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo be transferred?
When it comes to the rebuilding of Fort McMurray, the bulk of the contracts, both now and going through the whole reconstruction phase, will be doled out predominantly by the Municipality. The government of Alberta will obviously lend support, as will the Federal government; there will be dollars to help the rebuild. For private residences and buildings, insurance will cover those, and individuals will exercise their own options as to who rebuilds their homes.
Are there any aspects that will remain the responsibility of the Province itself?
I don’t have off the top of my head a contract that would go through the province versus the Regional Municipality. However, to put it into context, to date the government of Alberta has only issued five contracts and the Regional Municipality has issued over 500 contracts. The Municipality is quite empowered through our legislation. I’ve had a number of conversations with the Mayor of Wood Buffalo, Mayor Blake, and she is absolutely committed whenever possible to employ local workers and local companies.
You mention high level of support from the Province of Alberta and the federal government. Can you quantify that support?
At this point there are still assessments going on as far as dollar figures. But we have committed to working with the Regional Municipality and want to be a good partner. Last week the Minister of Municipal Affairs and I convened a round table with local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, the Red Cross, the Insurance Bureau, Aboriginal associations and had great conversations about ways the government of Alberta can support local economic development and get small businesses get back up on their feet. We’re working with the Wood Buffalo Economic Development and we’ll be setting up a small business support centre in Fort McMurray which will have some staff from the government of Alberta. We’re there to help support small businesses, whether they need work space, access to the internet, information etc., and we’re going to be looking at providing an opportunity for businesses to connect with each other to encourage small businesses to employ each other in the region.
You have expressed some frustration regarding what you term ‘misinformation’ regarding the ongoing and future involvement of local businesses in the rebuilding of Fort McMurray.
Local Fort McMurray workers and businesses want, and rightly so, to be employed first and foremost to rebuild their community. I agree with them 100%. There was some misinformation that the government of Alberta was issuing contracts to out-of-province companies and bringing in out-of-province workers. That’s simply not true. Both the province and the Regional Municipality want to use local workers, local labour, local companies wherever and whenever possible. We’ve made it clear that if we cannot find companies to fill the work that are from Fort McMurray, then we will look province-wide first and foremost before we look east or west.
As you acknowledge, insurance companies are players in this situation. What can you do to encourage private companies to use local workers and businesses as they meet their obligations to policy holders?
Through conversations like this and every time I speak to the media, I am encouraging private companies to employ Albertans first and foremost. And I’ve been encouraging Albertans to make their voices heard, to communicate to these companies, “Hey listen: we’re here, we’re looking for work, we’re local labour, and we should have first crack at these jobs, and we want to participate in rebuilding our community.” I think that is very powerful.
Aside from perhaps negative publicity, what can be done when restoration companies still choose to go out-of-province when hiring?
At the end of the day, these are private companies, and if they choose to go out-of-province, the government of Alberta cannot step in and refuse them. But we want to reinforce the message that we have willing and able workers right here in our province, we have a ton of skills, tradespeople, construction people, engineers, you name it, and we really want to give them the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding Fort McMurray.
Nevertheless, are there regulatory requirements for out-of-province workers hired to work in Fort McMurray’s rebuilding?
First, Alberta is part of a number of trade agreements, so we’re working within my Ministry to ensure that we’re compliant within these agreements. Second, we want to ensure that we are hiring companies that have operated in Fort McMurray. Unfortunately, when tragedy or disaster strikes, there are sometimes those who try to take advantage of the situation. We very much want to be hiring reputable companies, folks who have worked in the community, but if we can’t find those companies from Fort McMurray then we’ll look within the borders of our province first and foremost.
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