OTTAWA – Cities, provinces and territories building new roads, bridges, water and transit systems funded with federal dollars will have to let Indigenous Peoples, veterans and recent immigrants have a hand in those projects under new rules being unveiled today.
The idea of so-called community benefits will be a mandatory requirement for major infrastructure projects the federal government will help pay for through its $33-billion spending envelope.
Provinces and territories will have some leeway to decide what projects are to be subject to the rules. Those projects that are will have to explain publicly how far they have come in meeting the government’s goals.
Under the new guidelines, provinces, territories and cities would have to hire apprentices, Indigenous Peoples, recent immigrants, veterans, young people, people with disabilities and women, or procure goods and services from local small- and medium-sized businesses or social enterprises.
Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi said cities and provinces will early on in a project have to consider the opportunities for training, employment and contracts aimed at groups that have a more difficult time in the economy.
“Unfortunately, not every Canadian has the opportunity to participate in the economy,” Sohi said.
“We want this type of thinking (community benefits) to become routine for us and our partners to help incent employment for these groups and achieve better results and outcomes for all Canadians.”
Sohi made the announcement in Toronto alongside the MP who first brought the idea to him two years ago — Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen. Hussen’s private member’s bill introduced in 2016 called for a wider definition of community benefits from federal projects. It included training opportunities, new housing and green space as well as jobs, among the options.
Hussen had to pull his backing from the bill when he was appointed to cabinet, but said “the spirit and the goal of that bill, my bill, is now embedded” in the policy the Liberals adopted.
Community benefit agreements have been used for years in the United States and were applied to the construction of the athletes’ village for the Vancouver Olympics. The agreements require projects to hire locally or create jobs for groups facing high unemployment rates, such as young people and Aboriginals.
The deals are usually negotiated among private companies doing work, the public body funding the project and community groups like unions, faith-based groups or social services.
The Liberals inserted broad wording about community benefit requirements into infrastructure funding deals that provinces and territories signed over the past year.
Once construction starts on projects funded through those agreements, the Liberals want to see how many hours the targeted populations work, or the value of the contracts provided to targeted businesses, to see how well proponents are doing at meeting their goals.
There will also be requirements to explain the challenges and successes provinces, territories and cities have in meeting the community benefit goals.