The long, long road to three-level memberships

The founders of the association back in 1918 envisaged that all local “builders’ exchanges” across Canada would become branches of the national body. However, only the local associations in Ottawa and Saint John agreed to do so. Elsewhere, some of the builders’ exchanges were large and long-established and were reluctant to give up their identity. They became “affiliate” members instead.

When I joined the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) staff in 1946, there were three main membership categories, depending upon the firm’s volume of business. Class A members paid $200 a year; Class B members $100 and Class C members $50. Associations were placed in the Class C membership category and new associations were serviced free of charge for their first year to assist them getting established.

There was; however, an exception – each of the members of the builders’ exchange in Vancouver was a full-fledged member of the CCA in a Class D category for $5 a year. This ‘deal’ was established on the contention that the builders’ exchange’s members were separated from the rest of Canada by the Rockies and could not participate in the national body’s operations like those located elsewhere in the country. This example of “integration” came to an end when the new CCA Membership chair Lorne Bain proceeded to recruit many B.C. firms on a regular basis and produced considerably more revenue than the Class D total.

As previously reported in these posts, the CCA periodically arranged for cabinet interviews at the provincial level. A brief was prepared on behalf of the CCA and its member associations in the province and the latter were represented on the delegation. The legislation governing such topics as apprenticeship, labour relations and workers’ compensation were provincial, and the CCA encouraged the formation of provincial construction associations, so that representations could be made on a more regular basis.

In doing so, the CCA realised that it was facing potential competition for membership and, indeed, this came to pass. In some provinces, those funding the new provincial body encouraged firms to drop their CCA membership and help finance the provincial body instead. Federal-provincial government relations were often acrimonious at the time. “Western alienation” and Quebec “separatism” were political realities and some of this rubbed off in the association sphere. Moreover, some specialist trade association were expanding their programs into areas of general concern and questioning their members’ financial support of industry-wide associations. South of the border, the associations representing general contractors and those representing trade contractors were spending large amounts of money in lobbying for, respectively, the general contract and separate trade contract systems for federal and state construction projects.

In 1964 and 1965 the construction program in Canada increased substantially after a period of relative ‘no-growth’. Moreover, the Economic Council of Canada’s five-year forecast to 1970 estimated that the construction program would increase in physical terms by 10% per year. This constituted an immense challenge to the industry to expand its labour force, to improve its management skills, to develop business practices to reduce delays and contract disputes, to achieve more stable labour-management relations and to be effectively organised to develop and execute co-ordinated policies. Otherwise, the potentially brighter days for the industry would be marked by king-sized headaches in dealing with chaotic conditions.

In response, the CCA convened the Construction Industry Associations Conference, held in Ottawa in May 1965. It was pointed out that the industry’s associations would be a large deciding factor as to which type of conditions would exist. It was through them that many varied training programs were executed. It was through them that most labour agreements were negotiated. It was through them that representations were made to governments at all levels and to other bodies affecting construction operations. It was through them that industry standards and business procedures were developed. How could greater use of association resources be achieved through increased co-ordination and avoidance of serious overlaps and gaps?

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson agreed to act as keynote speaker. Detailed reference papers on 20 topics and six proposals were distributed by the CCA with the invitations. Over 75 associations were represented at the conference. Discussion on the conference’s objectives commenced with the views of ten delegates representing both general and specialty associations at all levels, who had agreed to act as lead-off speakers. Next the delegates were divided into 15 study groups to give detailed consideration of the reference papers and draft motions and to allocate prime responsibilities for the 100 specific industry objectives to national, provincial or local associations. In many cases this responsibility was deemed to be shared by associations operating at two or three levels. The essential function of the CCA was confirmed.

Among the conference papers was a memorandum regarding the forthcoming “integration” of the memberships of the Alberta Builders’ Exchange Council and the CCA. One of the motions adopted at the conference was that there be study and industry discussions of the integration of association activities, fees, etc. at the local, provincial/regional and national levels.

At the follow-up Construction Industry Associations Conference held in 1970, it was reported that integration arrangements had been established up to the national level in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and had been approved by the BC Construction Association. Approval was given to a conference proposal “that the three-level integration of construction association memberships, policies, programs, fees, etc. be implemented throughout Canada at the earliest possible date.”

At the time of writing, “integration” arrangements exist between the CCA and 64 partner construction associations across Canada. In short, the original concept of the CCA’s founding fathers that the members of local builders’ exchanges” (aka construction associations) all be members of the national association has been realised and has been extended to provincial associations. They would be proud!