Monday, March 26, 2018

There is a better way to build in B.C. — a way that provides opportunities and a legacy of skills and experience to qualified local workers, apprentices, women in trades and Indigenous workers. 

By Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director
BC Building Trades

What if public infrastructure projects built in B.C. came with more than just the bridge, tunnel, dam or highway listed on the construction blueprint?

What if they came with significant benefits to your community?

In a progressive society, public infrastructure projects should provide job opportunities for qualified local workers, apprentices, women in the trades and Indigenous workers.

And in fact this has been a common practice — embedding community benefits in public infrastructure projects —in cities throughout North America for almost 20 years. Cities like Los Angeles and Portland have found that the fair wages earned by workers are reinvested in local communities, and workers benefit from a legacy of experience, skills training and employability.

But that doesn’t happen here in British Columbia. Take the Site C dam, for example. Of the 1,195 construction and non-construction contractors at Site C in January 2018, 18 per cent were from outside this province. And only eight people, or less than one per cent of people working there, were apprentices!

A community benefits framework could ensure we do better than we have for the past 16 years. That’s why we are happy to hear that the NDP government is giving consideration to a community benefits framework on public projects in B.C.

To clarify, a community benefits framework is just that: a framework for ensuring the community benefits from a project. Both union and non-union contractors can — and do — build public projects with community benefits.

Opponents of community benefits — how can anyone oppose community benefits? — will say they cost more. That’s rich, considering the system we have now has resulted in mind-boggling cost overruns. Look again at Site C, an open-managed project where two-thirds of the contingency fund has already been gobbled up with less than one-third of the project completed. Moreover, the project was budgeted at $8.335 billion, but is likely to come in at in excess of $10 billion.

We’re facing a major skilled trades shortage, with the Industry Training Authority predicting some 100,000 direct skilled trade job openings in B.C. in the next 10 years. Community benefits that include hiring provisions emphasizing apprentices, women in trades and Indigenous workers can only help B.C. prosper.

Without community benefits, unscrupulous contractors could hire workers from outside of B.C. and perhaps even outside of Canada, as we saw with construction of the Canada Line. In that case, workers were brought in from Latin America and paid $3.89 per hour. Preference for hiring should be given to qualified local workers first, at a salary that allows them to support their families and invest in their own community. Hiring locally also means the investment in infrastructure stays in the community, which provides a community benefit to the local economy and revitalizes job creation. Local workers are proud to build their own community.

Still unconvinced? Here is a snapshot of some high-profile infrastructure projects built without community benefits agreements.

  • The Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, which was initially built under a public-private partnership (PPP) before it failed, went almost $400 million over its original $495 million budget.
  • The Port Mann Bridge replacement cost $2.974 billion, which was $572 million more than the original estimate.
  • The roof on BC Place Stadium was budgeted at $100 million to $150 million and came in well over $500 million.

We’re excited for the future of this province. That the provincial government is talking about community benefits is a positive sign that we’re finally going to build B.C. better — and that’s great news for all British Columbians.

Tom Sigurdson
Executive Director
BC Building Trades

For More Information: 

Contact the BC Building Trades office
(778) 397-2220