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Thursday, February 01, 2007

Making news

I gathered a whole stack of news last night at the annual general meeting of the General Contractors Association of Ottawa. While this is a purely local organization, it also happens to be in the Nation's capital, and last night, the federal minister of public works and government services made himself available for a brief speech and question and answer session.

However, things turned interesting about five minutes into Michael Fortier's presentation when he looked at me and told me to stop taking notes (I was typing notes about his speech live into my laptop). This caught me off guard. First, I had been invited as a member of the press by the association, and secondly, Mr. Fortier's assistant approached me before the speech to invite me to participate in a private interview with him after his presentation.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, and realizing it wasn't my place to disrupt the meeting, I closed the notebook and listened.

He said some things that definitely could stir up reaction, and were, in journalistic parlance, the stuff of national scoops. Perhaps the most suppressing remarks relate to Defence Construction Canada, a rather unusual Canadian crown corporation that handles construction for Canadian military bases.

This organization lives in its own unique space -- it has a rather nice looking website, but you won't find much about its inner workings there, or anywhere else. Fortier, in his remarks, suggested there was no need for this crown corporation; that its functions could easily be integrated within his Public Works ministry.

Fortunately for DCC, the reaction in the room to this idea was, well, less than enthusiastic. Ottawa's general contractors have had more than their share of frustrations with Public Works/Government Services bureaucrats who don't know about construction, and don't have authority to take a decision. DCC, on the other hand, runs a smooth and fair operation, at least as far as the contractors in the room related. They said the DCC people understand the construction business and work well with it.

This morning, I called DCC for comment about the minister's remarks. It didn't take their public relations person long to check things out -- staff called the minister's office, and learned no immediate changes are planned. The minister may have been putting out a trial balloon (in a semi-closed meeting) but he said his remarks about DCC after he clearly understood I was in the room, and answered a question about the topic in my brief interview post-meeting.

If you are wondering what all of this has to do with construction marketing, you should appreciate that our role in the industry is to provide news and information -- in doing that, we are read by the people who count. I was in a room with about 35 general contractors who together build hundreds of millions of dollars of projects a year. Having their attention-- and readership -- means that advertisers get value for their money.

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