An insider's look at working for SNC-Lavalin
As a 23-year employee of SNC-Lavalin, I cannot tell you anything about the current debate swirling in Ottawa around my company.
What I can tell you is, I and my many colleagues across Canada and around the world, wouldn’t still be working at SNC-Lavalin if we didn’t believe it was a world-class engineering, construction management and operations and maintenance company with the kinds of values — an emphasis on safety, integrity, innovation and collaboration — that align with our own.
A lot is being said about SNC-Lavalin, that it is “scandal-plagued” and “corrupt.” That is not what I see or live day to day at SNC-Lavalin. My colleagues, including the nearly 2,800 working in Ontario, are honest, hard-working and talented professionals.
They are engineers, experts in 3D computerized drafting systems, safety and quality assurance professionals, construction supervisors, and lawyers and accountants who take great pride in working on complex and meaningful projects that help make Ontario a better place to live and work.
Our work is not always visible, but it is integral to the infrastructure of this province. It includes extending the life of the OPG Darlington and Bruce CANDU nuclear power plants, which produce 60 per cent of Ontario’s power; a major air quality improvement project in Sudbury that has dramatically reduced emissions from smelting operations, and maintaining back up power for Toronto’s Pearson Airport.
We are part of the consortium building the Eglinton Crosstown LRT in Toronto, operate a number of courthouses across the province, and our team in Ottawa maintains about 100 of the Canadian Navy’s auxiliary fleet off both coasts.
We continue to work hard and to persevere. But I won’t lie. These past few years, never mind the last few weeks, have been extremely difficult for morale. Our competitors exploit the challenges the company has faced to dissuade clients from hiring us, our clients and business partners insist on greater guarantees to work with us, and we have lost talent.
What is harder to quantify is the deep personal toll this situation has taken on each one of us, as the daily media onslaught looks to put a malignant spin on anything associated with SNC-Lavalin. Every past transgression is being dredged up as if it is a reflection of the company today. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I am in no way minimizing the mistakes of the past. And I can assure you that if Canadians are disappointed in the behaviour of a small number of former senior leaders, then SNC-Lavalin employees, who put their trust and professional credibility in their hands, feel that disappointment all the more keenly.
Like all Canadians and employees, I seek justice, where the prosecutors are determined to bring to court the wrongdoers, who have all left the company years ago and let the company and its innocent employees grow and prosper to the benefit of all.
What I and my colleagues don’t understand however, is why armchair pundits, media and our politicians insist on punishing us a second time. A company is not some disembodied entity. It is nothing more than its employees, and its shareholders. To destroy the company, is to destroy the thousands of well-paying jobs that go with it, along with the savings of hard-working Canadians and pensioners.
Some argue that the impacts to SNC-Lavalin or the Canadian economy are overstated. But to hypothesize that the company could survive a 10-year ban on federal contracts is to miss the point; it is the uncertainty, caused by years of a protracted legal proceedings, that causes the harm. We have seen the evidence of that already.
Our Canadian employee base has shrunk from 20,000 to 8,500 in just five years, and we have lost some $5 billion in business, with a large impact on our supply chain as well — and that was before the events of the last month.
Others argue that our jobs will simply be filled by “the market.” To a degree that may be true. What is also true is that we are the only Canadian company that has the scale, breadth of expertise and financial strength to bid on the country’s largest and most complex projects. Without us, that void will be filled by foreign companies employing foreign engineers.
Furthermore, a majority of SNC-Lavalin’s revenues are earned outside Canada. If SNC-Lavalin is brought down, that overseas work, presently serviced in part by engineers and other professionals from Canada, will in future be done by foreign competitors — not by Canadians.
It took more than 100 years to build SNC-Lavalin to what it is today. And we all know that Canada only has a few truly global champions that are leaders in their industries. SNC-Lavalin is one of them. Why would we throw away all that homegrown expertise, know-how and talent that has taken generations to build?
I am a proud Canadian; I love our country and our values, which is why this has been so difficult. No other country seems to beat up on its own homegrown talent like we do in Canada, and for what reason, and for what gain? It is of no benefit to Canada, our companies or the people who work for them.
Dale Clarke is head of SNC-Lavalin’s Operations and Maintenance business unit and is based in Toronto. He lives near Fergus, Ontario with his wife and two children.