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Workers Present

Cardus Work and Economics Program Director Brian Dijkema reflects on the opportunity that construction season provides us to celebrate the "vast array of talents and skills that it takes to keep a country and its economy functioning." 

4 minute read
Topics: Trade, Vocation, Labour, Work, Architecture
Workers Present July 5, 2016  |  By Brian Dijkema
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Virtually no one in Canada can drive to the cottage or campsite without coming across a sign like this:

It’s cliché to say that Canada has two seasons: winter and construction. But Montreal this summer seems to have taken this truism to a whole new level. Based on a picture tweeted by Toula Drimonis this morning, there’s an almost 100% chance that you’ll see the same “workers present” sign in French. Take a look:

And it’s not just Quebec. Construction work is happening all over the country, in Edmonton, Vancouver, and Cardus’s hometown. Most people hate the construction season because it means more time spent on the road and less time drinking beers and mojitos by the lake. Fair enough, but I also have a bit of a soft spot for the construction season and the ubiquitous high-visibility vests that come with road-work. The reason is that “construction season” is one of the few times where we can witness the labour of people who literally build our country. Most of the time we simply use the fruits of construction workers’ labour without a second thought for what is required to make such small miracles possible. We turn on the tap and have clean water. We flip the switch and we have light. We turn up the thermostat and the gas burns and heats our houses. Being stuck in traffic gives one ample (admittedly sometimes too much!) time to realize that these things don’t just show up. They have to be built.

Two years ago Cardus embarked on a project in association with construction associations, trade unions, colleges, aboriginal communities, boards of education, resource companies and then minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney, that explored what it would take to build a “culture of esteem for the trades; a culture that not only talks, but actually values the trades in Canadian life.” Part of that project was an argument that “respecting the skilled trades [requires] tapping into deeper questions about skilled trades as vocations, as valid and worthy ways that Canadians can make use of their dispositions, proclivities, and talents to fulfill their own potential and to serve their fellow citizens.” There is still a great deal of work to be done of course.

There are a host of policies that continue to separate Canadians. The Globe and Mail this morning notes just how intractable these divisions can be – whether it be divisive procurement policies, provincial protectionism (in Alberta of all places!), or the inability of Canadian tradespersons from one province to quickly and easily labour in another, or the long-standing perception that the trades are “for those who can’t cut it.” It’s not easy to be stuck in traffic and think about the trades in a positive light, but I think it can serve as a way of not only dealing with the frustration of driving 20 km/hour on a highway, but of putting into perspective the vast array of talents and skills that it takes to keep a country and its economy functioning. Rather than seething at the worker who seems to be between you and the cottage, take a moment to appreciate the work they do. For inspiration, you might want to take a gander at the gesture of the restauranteurs at Resto Hachoir in Montreal. The morning host of CHOM in Montreal sent me this picture of their response to construction. Faced with the frustration and loss of business that accompanied repairs on Rue St. Denis, the owners decided to make a terrasse out of a morass.

And, in a show of class that we could all learn from, this is how they celebrated the end of construction – with the workers who helped repair their road.

So, when you eventually do get through that construction and arrive at the cottage, don’t forget to raise a glass to those who helped get you there!

Topics: Trade, Vocation, Labour, Work, Architecture
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