BY NORDAHL FLAKSTAD
As this year's chairman of the Canadian Construction Association,
APEGGA member Tom Brown, P.Eng., G.S.C., finds himself at
the helm of Canada's largest industry. With 20,000 affiliated
firms, which combine to employ almost 900,000 Canadians while
generating 12 per cent of our GNP, CCA provides a national
voice for road, heavy construction and all structural contractors
other than single-unit home-builders.
The senior vice-president of Ledcor Alberta Limited brings
to his elected CCA post a familiarity with building, road
and heavy construction gained during the three decades since
graduating in civil engineering from the University of Alberta.
His varied background is particularly valuable, given that
CCA serves as the umbrella body for the provincial and local
construction organizations representing both integrated (industrial,
commercial and institutional) contractors, as well as road
and civil firms.
In 1989 Tom Brown joined Ledcor in Edmonton as general manager
of its building and road construction division, after rising
through the ranks to become a general manager with CANA Construction
Ltd., another firm with deep Alberta roots. In the late 1980s,
Ledcor - whose first contract was to build the road to the
historic Leduc No. 1 wellsite in 1947 - was expanding its
commercial and building division.
"It was an opportunity for me," explains Mr. Brown.
"Ledcor's building division was still in its early years
and they were looking for someone with a mix of skills in
the building and civil disciplines."
Certainly Mr. Brown filled that bill. Following graduation
in 1971, he started as a surveyor on a CANA power project
in Grande Cache, moving on to become a junior engineer during
construction of the world's then-largest earth-fill dam, the
Mica in British Columbia. Later he assumed responsibilities
as an estimator and project manager on numerous CANA building,
bridge and road projects in Western Canada.
When the Ledcor Group restructured in the mid-1990s, Mr.
Brown, by then a company vice-president, was able to concentrate
on managing road-building. This was significant, since Ledcor's
heavy civil and highway division was plowing in new directions.
The diversified contractor, already active on numerous fronts
(including civil, pipeline, building, industrial and commercial)
in Canada and the United States, was one of the successful
bidders as Alberta Transportation began outsourcing routine
highway maintenance, including snow removal.
Under Mr. Brown's direction, the highway maintenance division,
with 30 depots and about 150 full-time employees, currently
maintains 8,000 kilometres of Alberta's primary and secondary
highways fanning out from Red Deer. As a traditional road-builder,
the highway division also remains active in new road construction
and rehabilitation ¾ yearly putting down half a million
tonnes of asphalt and 600,000 to 700,000 tonnes of granular
Ledcor's restructuring also coincided with Mr. Brown stepping
up his volunteer involvement as chair of the Alberta Construction
Safety Association, the Alberta Roadbuilders & Heavy Construction
Association (two years starting in 1995) and the Western Canadian
Roadbuilders and Heavy Construction Association. The Ledcor
executive became the ARHCA representative to the CCA board.
With 75 members, Canadian Construction Association board membership
provides no guarantee of attaining the top office. Other CCA
leaders soon recognized his dedication and commitment, however,
and one of them is Barry Brown, P.Eng., (no relation) who
preceded his namesake as CCA chairman. Explains the president
of Maple Leaf Construction Ltd. of Winnipeg: "Tom brings
a lot to the table -- everything from a good sense of humour
to dedication to the objectives of the association and the
will to achieve them. He's knowledgeable about the industry
and principled about what he says. That's what the association
Tom Brown earned his stripes through active participation
on a number of CCA committees, notably membership and finance.
He chaired CCA's Road and Heavy Construction Council for two
years. That strengthened his appreciation of what remains
a significant CCA concern: Canada's chronic shortfall in infrastructure
"We've lobbied for 20 years for the federal government
to take a leadership role by starting a long-term national
highways program with some scope, some vision and some money."
In the CCA chairman's opinion, there are some signs that the
federal government has responded in recent years to repeated
calls to fund municipalities. However, he adds, federal assertions
that roads are a provincial responsibility provide too easy
an exit for Ottawa.
The February federal budget showed some sign that the national
government is ready to move on what CCA estimates is a $50-billion-plus
infrastructure deficit in Canada. However, in concert with
the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada, the Coalition
to Renew Canada's Infrastructure and others, CCA, through
its offshoot TRIP Canada (The Road and Infrastructure Program),
will press for action.
CCA is not just looking to others for work or to do the work.
The national construction group recently celebrated the 10th
anniversary of its Gold Seal Certification program, under
which some 6,000 construction project managers, superintendents
and estimators across the country have upgraded their skills
through a curriculum involving courses and written exams.
The added professionalism, pride and mobility that result
from the certification not only make the $134-billion-a-year
construction industry more efficient and safer. The program's
success also serves as a beacon to attract new talent.
Various initiatives under way through CCA constituent associations
alert young people in schools, colleges and universities of
career opportunities in construction. "One of the industry's
challenges is having a sufficient manpower pool. There is
likely to be no shortages of job opportunities in construction
for young people coming out of colleges and universities,"
Mr. Brown predicts.
Yet he admits his industry sometimes may suffer from being
perceived as low-tech and having few barriers to entry. "The
fact is that there are a lot of highly skilled people and
a lot of rewarding, challenging careers in construction."
Tom Brown's own career and success provide a convincing example.
"We've lobbied for 20 years for the
federal government to take a leadership role by starting a
long-term national highways program with some scope, some
vision and some money."
Tom Brown, P.Eng.