North America (Change)

Angela Gismondi July 6, 2020  Daily Commercial News

A national campaign is calling on the federal government to commit to an “inclusive recovery” by ensuring community benefits requirements be included in post-COVID-19 infrastructure investments.

“It’s an unprecedented amount of money (being invested) and throughout the pandemic we have been learning more as a community, as a population, as a society about the huge levels of inequities and the disproportionate impact that some communities are facing,” explained Rosemarie Powell, executive director of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN).

“We’ve known historically that the construction industry is a challenge with equity and diversity. We just want to make sure that when government is planning on spending this kind of money, especially taxpayer dollars, that community benefits are central to the planning and to the consideration and to the policies that these general contractors have to commit to in order to receive the funds. That there is a process in place for the community to be able to participate in the decision-making and visioning for those projects.”

The TCBN alongside over 75 labour, business and community organizations across Canada have endorsed a letter asking that the federal government integrate and expand Community Benefit Agreements (CBA) and expectations in publicly funded infrastructure projects.

The campaign is in response to “some construction and engineering firms who are lobbying all levels of government to remove community benefits requirements on pending ‘shovel ready’ projects, citing this as being red tape,” Powell stated. “Our message to all levels of government is that these projects also have to be ‘shovel worthy’ and ensure that local communities near these projects can also benefit from these investments.”

There are gaps in the road to an inclusive recovery and CBAs are designed to close those gaps, explained Powell.

“It is imperative that government leaders leverage Community Benefit Agreements to create local workforce and business opportunities for Black and Indigenous peoples, women, persons with disabilities, veterans, youth and newcomers. Commitment to infrastructure, employment, and improved outcomes for diverse communities must go hand in hand,” states the Inclusive Recovery website.

The campaign was launched at the end of May and the letter has since received over 1,000 signatures.

“With the website we wanted to get the public’s attention for the Inclusive Recovery Campaign and bring more attention to it,” Powell said.

“We’ve shared the letter we prepared and are asking for people to read it and endorse the campaign and to write their own comments about what community benefits and inclusive recovery means for them.

“We see more community benefits projects taking shape across Ontario and Canada and we would like to see that become a natural part of the procurement process when it comes to infrastructure,” added Powell.

In addition to the TCBN, signatories to the letter include the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, TAIBU Community Health Centre, Urban Alliance on Race Relations, IBEW Local 353, Social Economy Through Social Inclusion, the Toronto Environmental Alliance, LIUNA Local 506 Training Centre, Insulators Local 95, the Somali Workers’ Network, the Atkinson Foundation, United Way Greater Toronto, United Way Centraide Windsor Essex, the Metcalf Foundation, The Canadian CED Network, Buy Social Canada, Carpenters’ Local 27, the Ironworkers’ District Council of Ontario and Labour Education Centre.