Group urges Competition Bureau to investigate Ottawa Hospital project

A group representing construction companies is crying foul over the Ottawa Hospital’s agreement with a labour group to build the new $2.8-billion Civic campus.

The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau on Monday, urging the watchdog to investigate the hospital’s agreement with Unionized Building and Construction Trades of Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec.

The complaint alleges the deal prevents contractors and workers who aren’t affiliated with select unions from bidding on and building the 2.5-million-square-foot facility.

“There’s something seriously wrong when thousands of Ottawa area construction workers and local companies have no chance to build one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s history,” Karen Renkema, the PCA’s vice-president of Ontario, said in a news release.

“This is a deal that shuts out local talent and does not provide good public value. That warrants an investigation.”

The hospital announced the agreement with the trade unions last month. In a news release, it hailed the agreement as “historic” and the first of its kind in Ontario, saying it would help keep the project on schedule and avoid delays associated with work stoppage.

The agreement ensures all workers are properly trained and will create apprenticeship opportunities for underrepresented groups including First Nations, Inuit and Metis people, women and diverse and at-risk youth, the hospital said. It sets out the terms and conditions for all employers and trades working on the project “while still following Ontario’s requirements for an open and competitive procurement process,” the release said.

But the PCA says the exclusive labour agreement is restrictive, stifles competition and is not in the public interest.

“It is a clear example of exclusive dealing, tied selling and market restrictions, which run counter to the Competition Act,” Renkema said.

The PCA cited a report by the Montreal Economic Institute that said the agreement would escalate project costs by $168 million to $525 million.

The PCA represents more than 25,000 unionized construction workers across Canada.

The Civic campus project is due to be finished in 2028.

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