Editorial: No, we can’t
Are there glass projects that Canadian glaziers can’t accomplish?
June 13, 2023 By Patrick Flannery
I was at the Ontario Construction Secretariat State of the Industry conference earlier this year when I heard a disturbing comment. One of the contractors for the Parliament Hill renovation project was delivering an excellent presentation to a room full of mostly other ICI contractors. My interest perked up as he addressed the big new skylight over the West Block. He mentioned the glazing contractor – Seele – and threw in that they had to go to Europe for the work because the capacity to do such a technically challenging project didn’t exist in Canada. When challenged on this premise (by me), my colleague overheard someone in the audience saying, “There’s no way a Canadian company could do that.”
This incident was disturbing on two levels. First, it is apparently the opinion of at least some in the Canadian general contracting community that domestic glass fabricators and installers have some limit to their technical capabilities compared to other parts of the world. If this is wrong, we have a communication problem.
But an even more disturbing notion is that it might be right. If it is, I can’t think for the life of me why it would be so. Canada is not poor. We can afford the most advanced technology in the world. Our engineering programs are top-notch, producing people who do internationally recognized work in facade and glass engineering. Just look at our Great Glazing features (coming in the next issue) for examples of the amazing work our industry does. We are in constant contact with the American market where, one would assume, some of the most expensive and advanced projects in the world are happening. It seems to me that if challenged with a project more difficult than the run-of-the-mill, there are many Canadian companies that could rise to that challenge and learn what they need to in order to get it done. Or am I hopelessly blinded by patriotism?
One narrative I hear frequently is that Europe is way ahead – some use the figure 10 years – in glazing design and technology. Many reasons are floated for this. Relatively expensive oil has driven interest in energy efficiency in Europe for a lot longer than here. Government subsidies for sustainable construction are more common in Europe and have a longer history. Europeans invest more heavily in R&D. European trade schools and unions do a better job of generating workers and engineers with advanced knowledge. Higher prices for land and housing mean owners hold their properties longer in Europe and spend more on them.
I can see where all of this might add up to Canadian companies not making the same investments in product design. But equipment can be purchased and learning can happen. Last I checked, there were flights to Germany and a big show that happens there every year where the latest European technology can be seen. Also, there’s this thing called the internet. It would be sad indeed if our market conditions have created a structural deficit in our capabilities when we have, in my view, people and infrastructure the equal of anywhere else in the world. •
Print this page