The new president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) may have big boots to "Phil," but Chris Gardner's varied career should serve him well.
In January, Gardner took the helm at the ICBA from Phil Hochstein who spent three decades with the association, becoming its strong voice, along with Gord Stewart. Both men are now consultants for the Burnaby-based organization.
"Chris' job is it to take it to the next level," Hochstein said.
Gardner said he's committed to ensuring the work Hochstein and Stewart achieved will live on.
"They both built a remarkable platform," Gardner, 53, said. "The vision and core values won't change."
ICBA got its start in Trail, B.C. in 1975 when non-union contractors couldn't access public work in B.C. Since then, the 2,000-member ICBA has become the champion of open tendering and fair treatment for all contractors, union or non-union.
The association's core values include remaining a strong voice for free enterprise, for public advocacy and for the construction industry, as well as expanding training programs, supporting apprentice training and the professional development of workers and continued expansion of the insurance/health benefits program.
"I have the opportunity to take the platform and move it forward and ensure the legacy lives on," Gardner said.
To do that, he and the 40-employee ICBA will focus on three key areas: the ICBA's new Growing The Economy strategy, training and its health and retirement plans.
Growing The Economy is the mechanism being used to promote a free enterprise economy and to advocate for the approval of major projects, Gardner said. Key is that major construction projects and resource development have to be given the go-ahead in a timely manner and that the best companies, union or non-union, are awarded contracts for the construction.
"Best" would be defined as the company that does quality work, has the best-designed project, delivers it safely, provides best value to the owner/taxpayer and brings benefit to the community, Gardner said.
But also crucial is that in the past few years, projects such as the Kinder Morgan pipeline and Site C Dam have been stymied by a vocal, well-organized, minority opposition. The resulting uncertainty when projects are stalled generates cascading consequences for the B.C. economy, Gardner said.
"We can't lose sight of the fact that if we can't approve projects in a reasonable time frame, projects won't move forward," he said.
At risk, are well-paying jobs that support families, long-term careers for young workers and the tax revenue from those employees which funds health and education services.
"We feel very strongly about advocating for building projects like Woodfibre LNG and the George Massey Tunnel Replacement."
Projects that receive regulatory approval, meet environmental guidelines and address the impact on First Nations and local communities should be allowed to proceed, Gardner said.
"But often the voice of the silent majority is crowded out by the voice of 'no,'" he said.
"The voice of no gains attention and skews the debate in a way that's not very helpful."
Gardner acknowledges that there's a level of complacency amongst the silent majority who live throughout the province.
"One key thing that's important for British Columbians to know is that the economic prosperity we enjoy, much of it happens outside the lower mainland. It's easy to forget that. The jobs and lifestyle we enjoy in the lower mainland are underpinned by what's going on outside the lower mainland," he said.
Training, the ICBA's second mandate, has focused on working with individual companies to assist with easing the administrative burdens companies face as well as offering professional development courses.
The ICBA's third arm, health and retirement plans, operates under Benefit Services Ltd. In B.C., roughly 90 per cent of construction companies have 20 or fewer employees, Gardner said. ICBA works with those smaller, and large, companies to design benefit programs for individual companies.
Prior to joining ICBA, Gardner was senior vice-president at Civeo, a Calgary-based company that provides workplace accommodation. He also held a similar position with Britco for nine years, a major builder of modular structures. In between, he served as principal secretary to B.C. Premier Christy Clark from May 2014 to May 2015.
In those roles, Gardner often came into contact with Hochstein and Stewart. Last fall, he was approached by ICBA to join its team.
"Chris is a wonderful guy who will do an exceptional job," Hochstein explained.
"Politically, he's very astute. He's very well respected in political circles. He's smart. He has a business mind. If we did a worldwide search, we'd still choose him," said Hochstein.