Cost of materials, labour shortages will slow recovery in Nova Scotia

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

The rising cost of construction material and widespread skilled labour shortages will make it difficult to rebuild quickly in Nova Scotia after post-tropical storm Fiona.

While it’s too early to put a cost on the damage, Public Works Minister Kim Masland says the rebuilding effort will be competing for labour with ongoing construction projects — driving up prices and extending timelines.

“No question, there is going to be cost pressures going forward,” Masland told reporters after a recent cabinet meeting. “But we are going to need to work through those and make sure that we’re delivering safe and reliable roads to Nova Scotians.”

Prior to Fiona’s devastation, the province had cancelled six planned bridge and road projects this year due to higher-than-expected costs. The “extremely high” estimates are due to the rising price of steel, diesel, asphalt and labour, Masland said.

In an economic update the Nova Scotia government reported capital projects on highways and other infrastructure will cost $73 million more than originally budgeted for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Cancelled projects include repair work to a bridge and the minister said “different delivery options” are being considered, such as phasing the work.

In Nova Scotia, Fiona was most devastating in Cape Breton and Pictou County, where roadways were washed out and the causeway to Big Island was significantly damaged.

In a Canadian Press story, Duncan Williams, president of the Construction Association of Nova Scotia, said the demand for skilled tradespeople is extremely high and about 2,000 to 3,000 additional workers were needed for ongoing projects well before the storm hit.

With construction booming in the province coupled with damage to infrastructure from the storm, “and we’ve got some real, real problems,” Williams said, adding many projects in the Halifax area have “crawled to a snail’s pace” because of labour shortages.

In June, Premier Tim Houston announced a new program aimed at recruiting and retaining young tradespeople. The program will return the provincial tax paid on the first $50,000 of income earned for all trades workers or trades apprentices if they are under 30 years old.

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