EDMONTON — The organization that represents the army of skilled tradespeople who work in Alberta’s hard-hit resource sector is hopeful after what it calls its “historic” meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Warren Fraleigh, executive director of the Building Trades of Alberta, spoke with Trudeau on Monday night about what Ottawa can do to help the 75,000 members of 16 unions weather the economic downturn.
“I think he gets it. We walked out of that meeting believing the prime minister meaningfully understands what our issues are and he is looking for ways to help us,” Fraleigh said Tuesday.
“They are truly interested and concerned about the challenges here in Alberta.”
Thousands of skilled workers from other provinces who were flying in and out of Alberta to work have been laid off and have gone home.
There are enough construction and facility maintenance projects to keep many of the workers who remain in the province on the job over the next few months, but they are expected to feel the crunch later this year and in 2017, Fraleigh said.
The unions want the federal government to do what it can to keep its members working, including those who are trying to complete their apprenticeships.
Fraleigh said they have asked Trudeau to broaden the definition of projects that could receive federal infrastructure money beyond roads, schools and public buildings.
Part of the goal is to ensure that this force of skilled tradespeople such as pipefitters, boilermakers, electricians and welders doesn’t melt away before the economy picks up again.
Fraleigh said Trudeau didn’t make any promises, but appreciates that these people will be needed when the price of oil rebounds.
The federal government has been saying it wants to expedite $13 billion in existing national infrastructure cash allocated in 2014-15 by the previous Conservative government, but never spent. Of that sum, $704 million is earmarked for Alberta.
The building trades also want the federal government to improve and simplify the Employment Insurance system.
Skilled workers in other provinces hurting from the downturn also stand to benefit if Trudeau delivers, said Robert Blakely, spokesman for Canada’s Building Trades.
Blakely said there is hope that a measured response from Ottawa, with input from the labour movement, will lead to better programs.
He said since the Liberals took office in the fall there is a new spirit that things are going to happen.
“When was the last time a prime minister of Canada when going through Edmonton went and met with the business managers of the construction unions and said, ‘How’s it going and what can I do to help you?,”‘ Blakely said from Ottawa.
“If nothing else, at least he is listening.”