In an October 9 Edmonton Journal opinion piece, Ken Kobly, President of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, warns that “Community benefit agreements may not work for Albertans“.
On the one hand, Kobly raises alarmist cries about special interests, red tape, escalating costs, and workers missing out on benefits, advancement opportunities, and bonuses if Alberta follows the BC’s community benefit agreement framework. On the other hand, he admits that the Alberta government has said the Alberta community benefit agreements will look nothing like BC’s and that the government intends to pilot a small project first to make sure they get community benefit agreements right.
Why the alarm then?
The BC Community benefit agreement Framework
The BC community benefit agreement requires workers on major public infrastructure projects paid for with public dollars to be a member of or join a union while working on the project. The BC Chamber of Commerce has joined with like-minded organizations to seek a court injunction blocking that province’s community benefit agreement legislation. In fact, previous BC Liberal and Social Credit governments dating back to 1963 have had similar labour agreements for major public infrastructure projects. Those projects weren’t challenged in court. Perhaps BC’s community benefit agreement is not so much new then as it is an NDP government this time. And perhaps Kobly’s attention to the BC example is nothing but a red herring when it comes to an Alberta community benefit agreement.
Let’s look at a few facts.
What community benefit agreements can mean for Alberta
Most people would agree that current tendering processes for major public infrastructure projects are not delivering the value Albertans deserve. The Building Trades of Alberta believes that community benefit agreements have the potential to deliver better value. They can be a win-win for developers, small businesses, local communities, workers, the provincial government itself, and, yes, trade unions.
Several jurisdictions in Canada and the United States have successfully used community benefit agreements for major public infrastructure projects, ranging from BC hydro dams to the Los Angeles International Airport. Best practices are well known.
- Community benefit agreements can include requirements for
- Hiring, including local hiring and hiring of disadvantaged groups in the labour market such as women and Indigenous people
- Hiring apprentices (crucial given the pending shortage of skilled trades workers in Alberta)
- Sub-contracting to local businesses
- Environmental impacts and monitoring.
Community benefit agreements are legally enforceable contracts. They provide governments with an important new mechanism to ensure regulatory requirements are met on projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion.
What did Premier Notley actually say?
Notley’s address to the Building Trades of Alberta 2018 Conference is available online. In brief, the Premier said:
- Alberta’s economy is unique and we need a community benefit agreement that is right for this province.
- Procurement practices for public infrastructure projects should be about the best bid, not the cheapest bid.
- Jobs for Albertans come first.
- The best bid means benefitting local jobs, training and apprenticeship opportunities, and working people.
- Once Alberta learns the lessons from a pilot community benefit agreement, the government’s goal is to enact a community benefit agreement provincewide.
That’s radical stuff only because it will make sure infrastructure projects are done right for current and future generations, keep jobs in Alberta, train the next generation of skilled trades workers, and benefit local businesses and communities. Those goals seem to be ones that the Chamber of Commerce should wholeheartedly support.
BTA Supports Community benefit agreements
In Alberta, the Building Trades of Alberta is proud to have led the way in establishing
- Best trained skilled trades workers in the industry
- Unequalled skills training and training facilities
- Apprenticeships and scholarships for students
- The best safety record in the industry
- Good, middle-class wages that help to raise community standards of living
- Diversification programs to give women, Indigenous people, and Canadian Forces personnel opportunities to become skilled trades workers
- An enviable record of community service.
The Building Trades of Alberta has been actively supporting community benefit agreements for some time. We are the skilled trades advantage and we think community benefit agreements can work for all Albertans.