Editorial: Associations can influence policy
Talking politics – Industry associations can address big issues better than anyone.
By Patrick Flannery
Industry associations can address big issues better than anyone.
In our last issue, we covered the Ontario Glass and Metal Association’s participation in a lobbying day at the Ontario legislature, where association president, Angelo Cairo, joined other construction industry professionals to talk to Members of Provincial Parliament about the need for new rules governing payment of contracts. Delays in paying for completed construction contracts have been creeping up for years across the country, to the point where small subcontractors are waiting 60 days on average for resolution of their outstanding invoices. This unacceptable state of affairs has disastrous consequences for business owners, employees, suppliers and the economy in general, and the lobby group (Prompt Payment Ontario) and the OGMA are to be praised for taking action to raise awareness with politicians. Cairo reports that the meetings went well and that legislators were surprised by many of the points the group raised – especially the fact that payment delays are usually not because of poor performance or incomplete work on the part of the contractor, but rather due to project owners and general contractors passing on the delays they experience in their own cash flows. In effect, these much larger, wealthier entities are using the subcontractors’ time, labour and credit to help finance their projects. Shockingly, municipalities are some of the worst offenders. It remains to be seen whether the Ontario government will take any action on the group’s recommendations to reform the Construction Lien Act and put some form of arbitration tribunal in place.
These issues are not unique to Ontario and I would hope that our other associations across the country would take up the cause in their own jurisdictions. Perhaps there is a role here for the Canadian Glass Association to coordinate a national movement.
American associations often take strong political positions on many issues affecting their members. Some attend lobbying conferences in Washington, D.C., and their state congresses annually, not just when there is a particular issue to address. This seems to me to be one function that an industry association can perform better than any other organization. When a government receives mixed signals from individual business owners, it has no mandate for action. Associations are understood to be run according to democratic processes and to therefore have the best claim to speak for the entire sector. Any responsible politician is going to be hard-pressed to ignore the expressed will of an entire segment of the business community. When associations take political action, they have the best chance to influence real change.
We often bemoan the codes, taxes and regulations that are enforced on us by governments, often in response to interests other than ours. We Canadians certainly tend to be less political than our friends to the south, where you can scarcely order a hamburger without getting into a discussion about the latest election. Maybe we should be taking a page from their book and communicating more with governments through our associations. Then it would just be a simple process of getting everyone inside an association to agree on the message…