Advocate for Quebec’s construction industry
By Leah Kellar
The ACQ (Association de la Construction du Quebec or Construction Association of Quebec) is docked in a safe harbor of integrity and credibility amid the tumultuous waters of alleged corruption surrounding key players in Quebec’s construction industry.
“We are very proud to be a part of this Canadian industry, which is led by the Canadian Construction Association who is doing a great job,” said Pierre Hamel, Director of Legal and Government Affairs for ACQ.
ACQ is the Quebec construction industry’s largest voluntary membership multi-sector alliance.
“Walking the talk,” according to Hamel, is important to maintaining integrity and credibility in the industry. ACQ has put commitment to credibility into practice for the past 25 years since it was formed in 1989 to represent the interests of builders in the institutional-commercial and industrial construction sectors. To date the association is in contact with nearly 16,000 industry businesses.
The ACQ evolved from the birth of the Builders Association of Quebec in 1907 which became incorporated in 1957 and later, in 1965, an affiliate association of construction in Quebec took root as a federation of small to mid-sized associations and businesses. These members grouped into the present day ACQ in 1989, but remain autonomous.
Hamel worked in construction law, civil and commercial litigation for 16 years before he joined ACQ in 1999. He is also a member of ACQ’s ethics committee. Hamel has noticed many changes in the industry over the past 15 years at ACQ.
The ongoing public inquiry of Quebec’s Charbonneau Commission into corruption in the management of public construction contracts involving alleged bid rigging has put the province’s construction industry in the spotlight.
“This is a very, very peculiar situation in Quebec,” said Hamel.
He spoke of how a few ‘bad apples’ in Quebec’s construction industry have cast a discriminating view of the industry as a whole.
“It’s been very tough on the climate but, this being said, there’s still stability in the industry in general in the economic perspective, and economical expenditure will remain at the recorded level— over and above $49-billion dollars in 2014. So the stability, I think, is supported by the commercial construction, considering a downfall observed the industrial sector in 2013” said Hamel.
Moving forward in their 25th anniversary this year, Hamel believes the climate will get better. Growth is evident in all of the mining projects, however there is still a downfall in the housing sector. Above all, Hamel says stability still exists as a starting point in this very difficult construction industry climate. As part of his duties as Director of Legal and Governmental Affairs for ACQ, Hamel is involved in major procurement reform taking place in Quebec since 2006, and he currently represents the voice of entrepreneurs from various agencies and departments responsible for implementing the various government actions to combat collusion and corruption in the construction industry.
“I think the events of the past year involving the collusion places the industry at a crossroads. Work won’t ever be the same. All of the industry has to take into consideration that people are looking at them, and they want them to behave whiter than white,” said Hamel.
“I think it’s important as an industry to move with that, to be proactive, and to understand that it is the activity of a few that colour the rest. Everybody has to work on proving their integrity. Even if we are saying that we are clean, we have to actually show people how clean we are and that we are indeed walking the talk. We have to prove to everyone that what we are saying is true. It’s about leading by action.”
Overall, Hamel notes that there has been much support and positive growth for associations such as ACQ, and the companies and businesses that they are comprised of which are committed to transparency in their business practices.
In March of 2013, the ACQ publicized the findings of a study by CIRANO, a centre of research in Quebec that suggested implementation of a program of action in the construction industry as a solution to regain public confidence and to ensure accountability, while being flexible enough to be adopted by Quebec companies. The implementation of the proposed integrity of business program would be subject to a certification that must be maintained after audit by an independent body. Participating companies would be subject to complaints and, where appropriate, lose certification if it has demonstrated failure to meet its required commitments.
This is a model that was implemented successfully in Germany approximately 20 years ago when the country’s construction industry experienced a crisis of credibility similar to what sparked the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec.
Despite recent problems a few key players in the construction industry in Quebec, and labour negotiations that were concluded with an agreement august, Hamel notes the importance of ACQ’s 25th anniversary this year as a testament to the association’s enduring strength, credibility, and long-standing support of its members.
“This is important in terms of strength for our federation, which is the strength over the years that has had some problems, but it’s growing very fast. Everyone understands the value of being unified to the group and the action that we have to do,” he said.
ACQ’s anniversary festivities will be kept at a low profile this year due to its concern with the aforementioned problems in the industry at large, but acknowledgment of the association’s milestone 25 years will be made at ACQ’s annual meeting at Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City.
ACQ board and committee members have worked very hard over the years to set the association apart, particularly in the area of labour relations.
“They have a very clever vision of the industry, which is key to the credibility ACQ has developed over the years with partners and government,” said Hamel.
ACQ has been instrumental in connecting and listening to the needs of the small contractors in Quebec. Focus is placed on education within its regions of membership. The association has developed a group to raise awareness of worker safety. Small contractors are numerous in Québec. Eighty-five per cent of contractors have less than five employees. ACQ provides these small companies with accessibility to plans which allows them to bid effectively on contracts. In Quebec contractors must be licensed and giving a bond is required in the process. ACQ develops services to help contractors obtain bonds. There is much legislation involved in the process, and contractors have many questions. Accordingly, ACQ offers free legal advice service, and also provides advice in the health and safety and labour relations fields.
Hamel says that ACQ is able to provide contractors with one-on-one attention in this way, and also helps them in a broader way by educating within the association at higher levels.
“That’s the way we develop ourselves. It’s not because we are better than the others, it’s probably because there is more legislation here than anywhere in the world,” said Hamel.
One of the biggest benefits of being a member of ACQ is the support that it provides to and among contractors within the industry. ACQ has a program in place to listen to the contractors and to make presentations to government at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels, which is very efficient.
“When you are a contractor in Quebec and you are a member of Quebec Construction Association, you know that you have a voice— even if it’s in a big organization. All of the governance helps everyone that has something to say to express themselves and to be considered. That forum is very important,” said Hamel.
Listening to the contractor has given ACQ a head start in foreseeing and adapting to changes within the industry.
“This helps us to develop a lot of services because before legislation is adopted, we have the chance to make some representation, and so we’re ahead of the curve. Contractors see that and appreciate it very much.”
He notes that it can get lonely in the development side in the construction industry. When facing problems many contractors may question themselves as to whether they are doing things correctly. And this applies to ACQ itself.
“I think the Canadian Construction Association, and as it is in other provinces, gave us a different perspective of the problems and solutions. It’s a great industry with lots of support,” said Hamel.
One of the things he would like to see moving forward is more focus in the industry on sustainability initiatives, which include integrative programs, best practices, green buildings and more education.
“We’ve worked very hard on our best practices program. We’re proud of our industry and what it is doing, but sustainability is more than just green buildings; it’s good governance, administration, and practices. It’s also the future.”