Troy Knipple is a journeyman steam fitter/pipe fitter who’s been working in Saskatchewan for the past 30 years. He and a number of other tradespeople came to the legislative assembly Monday to put a face to opposition concerns over the procurement process for major projects.
Knipple said that around two-thirds of the license plates in the parking lot at the Chinook Power Station, being built outside Swift Current, have out of province plates.
“Now we’re kind of sitting on the sidelines. To me it’s not even a union, non-union, it’s about Saskatchewan first and where do we fit in and what makes sense for us,” Knipple said.
“So you have a worker coming in from Alberta or B.C., they’re struggling the economy is down there. They come here as well looking for a job, looking to do things for their families. At the end of the day they’re in Swift Current looking to spend the least amount of money they can in the province.”
Knipple is a 25-year member of UA Local 179, the plumbing and pipe fitters union in Saskatchewan. He said around 500 to 600 members are currently not working, another 400 to 500 are working out of province.
The union has around 1,800 total members.
“In the last two years I’ve worked one year. In the last 15 to 20 years I’ve never been off work. I’ve never been off work, so this is dramatic. It’s to the point where it’s concerning,” Knipple said.
While sitting on the employment sidelines, Knipple said it doesn’t make sense to see jobs going to out of province tradespeople and watching money and potential tax revenue leave the province.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said that in Alberta and Manitoba they look at “overall value” when putting out the tender for contracts on major projects.
“It’s not only the price that contract can be completed by, but also what’s the larger value. Including, who’s working at that project and whether those folks are within the province, but also looking at where are those projects procuring their materials,” Meili explained.
Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison said that the province does make local procurement a priority through Priority Saskatchewan under SaskBuilds. The program notifies Saskatchewan contractors of upcoming bids according to Harrison.
The Priority Saskatchewan manual references the province is committed to getting “best value” when awarding contracts for publicly funded projects.
Harrison said he has empathy for the workers who were at the legislative assembly. He said there is a trade-off to having open trade in an export dependent province like Saskatchewan, outside companies are welcome to compete for jobs in the province.
“What I’ve heard from our companies is they aren’t afraid to compete. They think they’re as efficient, effective as any other company in Canada at what they do, but what you do end up with is opportunities to bid in other provinces,” Harrison said.
Harrison added that the economy is facing “significant headwinds” through the looming federal carbon tax and lack of pipeline capacity limiting energy investment in the province.
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