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Maritime construction industry says labour shortages, supply chain issues could affect government housing promises

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Leaders in the construction industry say they’re unsure if the number of housing projects announced by all levels of government are possible, given the labour shortages and supply chain issues plaguing the industry.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced 285 housing units will be built over three years in Saint John, N.B., – his government’s 22nd housing announcement related to their housing accelerator fund.

It joined a number of other provincial and federal announcements related to housing, including 34 affordable homes at Millbrook First Nation and 32 units at Membertou First Nation, also this week.

There’s a desperate need for housing of all types, but some are asking: who’s going to build them?

The Construction Association of New Brunswick believes there are about 1,900 vacancies in the industry right now, and the number increases in the summer months.

In Nova Scotia, it’s about 3,000.

And there’s been more and more demand on the industry due to damages caused by storms like Hurricane Fiona, and other projects like hospitals and schools.

Houses and apartment buildings also require wraparound infrastructure.

“You’re going to need streets, you're going to need water, sewer, you're going to need curbing,” said Tom McGinn, executive director of the N.B. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association. “It’s more than just building homes. And I mean, we need it. But it's a bigger issue than just propping up a house or an apartment building here. You're going to need a lot of surround infrastructure around it.”

Some say, any construction project is at risk or not happening, or not happening on schedule or on budget.

“There is no silver bullet in this situation. So, you know, we applaud all levels of government for commitments, but money alone will not do what we need done,” said Duncan Williams, president and CEO of the Construction Association of N.S. “What we do need is a coordinated effort from all levels of government and working with the industry to make sure that those efforts align with what we're seeing in the marketplace.”

However, Williams says there are some suggestions that could result in real improvements over the next couple years.

“We need to see immigration prioritized based on the highest needs, and that is construction. Right now we need to have builders, people who can participate in the industry getting into the country first so that they can build houses, apartments, etc. for the rest of the people that we need to come and live, work and play in,” he said.

New Brunswick’s Liberal leader Susan Holt agrees that a focused look at immigration could make a difference.

“The (N.B.) government promised 380 units with a $100 million investment more than a year ago. They made the exact same promise a year later, because they hadn’t moved the needle on a single unit. So there's good reason to be skeptical that that deadline will not be able to be met,” she said. 

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