Part 1: Community Benefits Agreements

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The recent federal court decision delaying construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion (TMX) project points to the lack of a clear regulatory framework to obtain approval for major infrastructure projects. The court ruled that the federal government did not engage in meaningful consultation with the Indigenous communities affected by TMX and did not assess the environmental impacts of increased tanker traffic on the killer whales off British Columbia’s coast. This blog looks at Community Benefits Agreements as a mechanism for engaging with communities on projects like TMX to ensure regulatory requirements are met during the approval process of major infrastructure projects.

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The negotiated outcomes of Community Benefits Agreements can range from hiring requirements for apprentices and disadvantaged groups in the labour market – such as Indigenous peoples and women – to environmental protections and contract opportunities for local businesses.

Provinces, like Ontario and British Columbia, are already using Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) to ensure local communities benefit from major infrastructure projects. British Columbia created a Crown Corporation to oversee these public construction projects. The new Patullo Bridge and the twinning of the Trans Canada highway will be covered by Community Benefits Agreements.

What Is a Community Benefits Agreement?

In general, a Community Benefits Agreement details the benefits that a community will obtain from a development project. It is a legally enforceable contract. Terms of agreements can be specific and measurable. The terms may vary widely, however, depending on the agreement and the jurisdiction.  When a government requires Community Benefits Agreements for major projects, it can also monitor and ensure the fulfillment of the terms of those agreements.

A Community Benefits Agreement may include provisions for:

  • wage agreements
  • targeted hiring of apprentices and disadvantaged groups in the labour market
  • education and training opportunities
  • sub-contracting to local small businesses for construction, services, and supply requirements
  • environmental impact standards and monitoring
  • development of community infrastructure projects
  • monitoring and fulfillment requirements.

A Community Benefits Agreement Can Be a Win-Win Solution for Stakeholders

Provincially mandated Community Benefits Agreements for major infrastructure projects can have many advantages for developers, local communities, small businesses, labour unions, and the provincial government itself.

Developers in Alberta can benefit by knowing the ground rules for development. A Community Benefits Agreement framework can help the developer negotiate

  • community support
  • development permits
  • environmental approvals
  • tax concessions and other subsidies from local and provincial governments
  • local workers
  • local business support
  • skilled trade labour with predictable wages and no-strike clauses.

Local communities in Alberta can benefit by being part of the larger provincially mandated framework. A Community Benefits Agreement can help the local community negotiate

  • environmental protections
  • funds for infrastructure projects, such as recreation centres and parkland improvements
  • funds for training and education initiatives
  • employment opportunities for local workers at good wages
  • contract opportunities for local businesses
  • population increases as skilled workers resettle for ongoing maintenance work
  • an increased tax base for the local government.

Local businesses in Alberta can benefit from a fairer playing field. A Community Benefits Agreement can

  • include provisions that break large contracts into smaller contracts in recognition of local business capabilities
  • guarantee specified shares of contract work
  • offer new opportunities for existing staff
  • create opportunities for new employees.

Building trades in Alberta can also benefit from a fairer playing field. A Community Benefits Agreement can

  • open new opportunities to work with developers
  • provide a guaranteed percentage of work
  • create new, well-paid union jobs
  • guarantee opportunities for apprentices
  • help diversify the workforce by supporting Indigenous and women workers.

The government of Alberta can also benefit. A Community Benefits Agreements can help to

  • ensure compliance with federal and provincial regulatory frameworks
  • align major infrastructure projects with the government’s social, economic, and regional development policies and programs, while also reducing the costs of delivery
  • strengthen local communities and local governments
  • reinforce local business strengths
  • help develop a more skilled and diverse workforce
  • ensure lasting benefits to local communities, workers, businesses, and the province
  • increase the tax base.

Time for Action

Community Benefits Agreements aren’t new. Sure, there’s lots of hard negotiation involved. But Community Benefits Agreements have proven their worth to community coalitions, developers, workers, and governments in other jurisdictions. Best practices for successful Community Benefits Agreements are well known. It’s time the government of Alberta considered a Community Benefits Agreement framework for this province.

In our next blog, we look at the advantages trade unions bring to Community Benefit Agreements.


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