Nearly 60 per cent of Canadian construction professionals recently surveyed expect infrastructure activity to drive growth in construction output over the coming year, reports the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in its RICS Q1 2016 Canadian Construction Market Survey.

However, this positive impetus is tempered by concerns about factors such as the Canadian dollar’s continued weakness versus U.S. currency and the effects of persistently low oil prices, says RICS’s media statement, released April 29.

“Overall, the market is steady, and I’m optimistic about upcoming government spending on infrastructure,” said Grant Mercer, director of cost planning for the Altus Group in Ottawa, a respondent to the survey.

Regarding the currency issue, “the strong U.S. dollar has negatively impacted building activity — that’s just the way economics works,” says Ardeane Maharaj, cost manager for program cost and consultancy with Aecom in Vancouver.

“Local suppliers are shifting their materials and supplies south of the border if they can get a stronger business position there because of the currency discrepancy. The market is quite mobile, given that many construction materials are quite mobile.”

Despite that, “there hasn’t been much volatility overall in the British Columbia construction market in the last five or six years — it has been quite predictable,” Maharaj said.

Another sharp drop in activity in the energy, oil and gas sector strongly affected construction activity with 77 per cent more respondents reporting their workloads falling rather than rising.

However, some professionals have found alternative work in another area, according to one respondent.

“Government-funded institutional projects, such as schools, courthouses and university campuses, are continuing despite the energy downturn in the Prairies,” says Kevin Magill, project manager with Aspen Capital Projects Management in Edmonton, Alta. “And many large, multi-disciplinary consulting firms that were concentrating on the energy sector are now shifting some of their focus to these public-sector institutional projects instead.”

Overall, construction workloads are expected to rise just 0.3 per cent over the coming year, down from the two-per-cent growth expected in the last survey, from the fourth quarter of 2015.

Among other factors mentioned, financial constraints and regulatory pressures were cited by most respondents — 59 per cent and 52 per cent respectively — as top obstacles to construction growth.

RICS, a U.K.-based association for chartered surveyors, promotes finance-oriented professional qualifications in the development of land, real estate, property and construction.

Source: DCN