Feb 14, 2019

Community Benefit Agreements

More money flowing through our local economy

Edmonton Examiner Thursday, Jan 31 2019 Page: A8

Edmonton is growing – there’s no doubt about that. Everywhere you look you see cranes in the air and construction on the roads. In the Northeast, big projects like the Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage are well underway and the Yellowhead Trail Freeway Conversion is slated to begin this year.

But, what if we didn’t need to wait for completion of these projects to see our communities benefit? What if there were community benefits built right into the construction process along the entire scope of the project?

Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) are a great tool to ensure that construction partners are investing in our city and people, not just collecting a fee for service. Other municipalities have formalized CBA frameworks in their procurement process to get more local jobs and more money into the pockets of local citizens and businesses. Some agreements stipulate that contractors must provide training and jobs to local residents. Some build in opportunities for social enterprises and neighbourhood improvements.

Right now, our infrastructure projects are contracted out in a way that focuses mainly on the lowest bid. But, when we opt for the cheapest price, we miss other important factors like quality control, timeliness, company track record, and support for the local economy.

When the Valley Line South LRT project was being tendered, the City of Edmonton entered into a public-private partnership (P3) with an entity made up of four companies. Two of those companies are Ontario-based, one is American and the other is Quebec-based. They weren’t obligated to hire locally, to source from local vendors, or to include any training or opportunities for apprentices or under-employed groups.

With a fuller set of criteria for awarding contracts, projects are more likely to be completed without delays, errors, and cost-overruns.

Both union and non-union companies could continue to bid on projects with contracts going to each. We know that unions typically represent highly trained, skilled employees who have good workplace safety protections and living wages. Companies that offer similar kinds of benefits by hiring locally, being environmentally conscious, and supporting local social programs are already contributing to communities and they should be recognized for it by making it part of our procurement criteria.

The City has an obligation to provide maximum benefits for its citizens. CBAs would be good for people, good for the economy, and good for business.