Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit). I thank Senator Omidvar for shepherding the bill into this chamber and for her impressive and detailed remarks outlining the many good reasons for the federal government to take into consideration the on-the-ground impact of their decision making.
Your Honour, there are issues with the translation. They are speaking French on the English channel. For those of us who have a bit of a hearing impediment, we need the earpiece even when they’re speaking in our required language. If they could correct that, please.
The federal government spends tens of millions of dollars annually on its construction, maintenance and repair projects. These projects happen in all regions in the country — from the East to West Coasts, and from Northern Canada to our southern border.
The government has stated that it is committed to transparency and an open bidding process. Asking a company that is competing for federal work during the bidding process to outline its community benefit impact demonstrates the government’s commitment to the communities that are the backbone of this country and to the youth, the unemployed and the Indigenous community members who will be helped from this very simple provision.
This one, non-mandatory request by the minister, asking those companies who would like to take on a federal government contract is not an erroneous or excessive demand. Any federal contract, whether building, refurbishing or retrofitting, is going to impact the surrounding communities and the lives of their citizens, hopefully in a positive way. Bill C-344 asks that companies outline the positive impacts of benefits going into a project and provide an assessment of community benefits realized at the end of a project.
In my view, the most important aspect of Bill C-344 is a spinoff effect for youth at risk and Indigenous youth who will be able to take advantage of the opportunities that would come from such an endeavour.
Buy Social Canada is a social enterprise with a goal to educate, advocate and engage social suppliers and purchasers from across governments, institutions and corporations to advance social procurement policies and practices. Imagine Canada works alongside other charitable sector organizations and often in partnership with the private sector, governments and individuals in the community to ensure that charities continue to play a pivotal role in building, enriching and defining our nation.
Both of these organizations support the aim of Bill C-344. In their estimation, federal construction and repair projects should add value to the businesses in the communities in which they occur and should benefit the people in those communities.
While not a federal contractor, Ontario Power Generation has specifically targeted Indigenous groups and mandated an Indigenous relations policy first developed in 2007. Since much of OPG’s work in the nuclear industry occurs on or near First Nations lands, OPG chose to involve the Indigenous people in their decision-making and to proactively foster positive relationships in order to create social and economic benefits for their communities.
A couple of recent examples of these collaborations are the partnership with Coral Rapids Power Corporation, a wholly owned company of the Taykwa Tagamou Nation to build the Peter Sutherland Sr. Generating Station on the New Post Creek location in northeastern Ontario. This $300-million project employed 220 workers at its peak and was completed in 2017.
The Lower Mattagami River project was a $2.6-billion hydroelectric redevelopment partner with the Moose Cree First Nation that was completed in 2014 ahead of time and on budget. Two-hundred and fifty local Indigenous people worked on this project as an equity partner. The skills and training they learned were of immense value.
Community benefits are not a new idea, as was pointed out by Senator Omidvar. Our Commonwealth cousins in the United Kingdom initiated the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012. It calls for all public sector procurement to factor in economic, social and environmental well-being in connection with public service contracts. It requires that all public bodies in England and Wales consider how the services they commission might improve the social, economic and environmental well-being of the area. This includes providing apprenticeships and work placement programs.
In Australia, the state government of Victoria published a guide for use by their community governments on social procurement. It mandates it that government procurement take the following factors, among others, into consideration when awarding contracts: build and maintain strong communities by generating local employment, particularly among disadvantaged residents; promote social inclusion and strengthen the local economy; strengthen partnerships with a diverse range of community and government stakeholders; demonstrate leadership across a wider community and local government sector; and achieve greater value for money for their communities.
In 2016, the European Union commissioned and published a report entitled Social enterprises and the social economy going forward. This report argues for a European action plan that would promote an environment for social enterprises and a social economy to build on their core values. These include democratic governments, social impact, innovation, profit reinvestment and, most important, priority given to the individuals in the economic decision-making.
Bill C-344 is not another burden being placed on companies asking to be considered for federal contracts. It is a way for the federal government to take into consideration the economic, social and employment benefits of their decisions, using taxpayer dollars.
Senator Omidvar outlines examples in Canadian urban areas and outside of Canada. I have looked specifically at the benefits attained or that are possible within Canada’s Indigenous communities. Lack of employment or underemployment is a major factor for the desperation and hopelessness felt by Indigenous youth. While this may stem from geographic isolation, it is very often simply a lack of opportunity. For companies to include in their federal government proposals the community benefits relating to local employment, especially the employment of Indigenous youth, as done by Ontario Power Generation mentioned earlier, the impacts could be quite literally life-changing.
Proposed section 20.1 of Bill C-344 defines “community benefit” as follows:
. . . community benefit means a social, economic or environmental benefit that a community derives from a construction, maintenance or repair project, and includes job creation and training opportunities, improvement of public space and any other specific benefit identified by the community.
There is nothing negative in this definition and nothing that might prove onerous to those companies wanting to do business with the Government of Canada. Everything that touches Canadian communities and the people living in them should be beneficial; otherwise, why bother?
I ask that colleagues take the time to read the bill and move it forward for study at committee. The aims of Bill C-344 can only benefit the regions, provinces, minorities and Indigenous peoples. As senators, these include everything and everyone we represent.
Honourable colleagues, I follow Senator Omidvar and Senator Francis in rising to support Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit). This is a modest bill that sets out to leverage federal infrastructure investments by requiring bidders to partner with communities in order to ensure that everyone wins, including people in communities, and public and private project participants. We should refer this short and simple piece of legislation to committee as quickly as possible.
I have struck out some sections of my statement; I’m not going to repeat things that other colleagues have said. I will add that one of things that community benefit initiatives do is contribute to the public health and social fabric of communities. In particular, they are responsive to the particular needs of local areas in ways that one-size-fits-all programs sometimes miss.
Senator Omidvar has spoken to specific Canadian examples. We, both being in Toronto, are aware of the Metrolinx project, which incorporates community benefits on the Crosstown and Finch light rail projects. I think she has mentioned the British Columbia announcement last month of $1.377 billion Pattullo Bridge replacement in Vancouver. We know that here in Ottawa, section 37 of the city’s planning act has carved out the opportunity to ask for benefits to construct, fund or improve facilities when a development requires a zoning bylaw amendment.
Colleagues, here is what I particularly want to focus on in relation to this bill. Community benefits also help in growing Canada’s emerging social sectors and it’s social economy, which, of course, occupies the space between the traditional private sector on the one hand and the public sector on the other. This is the space between in which we find social enterprises and other not-for-profit enterprises, and the charitable sector, which is often a key player in community benefit arrangements.
Social enterprises can be community groups, regional or national charities or businesses, and they engage in a wide range of community and social services that contribute significantly to personal and community development.
While we know — and certainly our colleagues in Quebec know — that Quebec has been a champion historically for decades in building a social economy and the establishment of social enterprises, we have seen in the last decade the rest of Canada starting to catch up.
A 2016 survey showed there are now more than 1,300 social enterprises in Canada. They employ 254,000 people and provide services to an additional 5.5 million people. Encouraging more community benefit agreements will build on this success and again, this is the space in between the traditional public and private sectors.
Why do I keep coming back to the link between community benefits and the broader development of a social economy? Colleagues, having worked as a public service adviser to a New Democratic Party government, to a Liberal government and to a Conservative government in Ontario, one can dwell sometimes on the differences between them. But as a public servant working in a non-partisan capacity, the things that really struck me were the success stories in the public sector and in public policy that actually lived from one government to another despite the different nature of its political stripe. Those are true success stories where governments of all political stripes recognize something that adds public value when they see it.
The social economy initiatives are a terrific example of this. I have observed this in my academic work in both the U.K. and in Canada. In this case, it’s important to note that a current government has continued to build on the work done by its predecessors, including the Steven Harper government and, before that, the Paul Martin government. Prime Minister Harper’s government was engaged with and actively supported in social enterprise and social finance initiatives, and my colleagues on the other side of the chamber will recall these things. Both social enterprise and social finance initiatives are connected to Bill C-344 because they contribute to social value outcomes. Social enterprises are often suppliers of social and other services so they have the potential to gain market share through social procurement initiatives.
In 2013, the previous government is to be applauded for having initiated funding for social enterprise development across Canada through the Enterprising Non-profits Program, ENP Canada. It also launched the Department of Employment and Social Development’s Harnessing the Power of Social Finance initiative.
I will also add the work done in the report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities study on social finance also initiated by the previous government, which includes social procurement initiatives in the very style of community benefit programs. The committee also heard witnesses describe the role of social finance in supporting innovative approaches to persistent and complex social problems that neither the private sector alone nor the public sector alone has been able to wrestle to the ground.
And here is an interesting one: At the Social Enterprise World Forum in Calgary — and indeed there are social enterprise world forums that travel around the globe — then federal Minister of Employment and Social Development, a person who joined us in this place this morning, Jason Kenney, spoke of the government’s unwavering support for social enterprise. In early 2015, the previous government issued a call for social enterprise support models and launched a social enterprise ecosystem project, which included social procurement.
This was interrupted by the October 19 election in the same year, so its implementation came after the election through the efforts of the current government, which today sees that cycle closing with the bill before us.
Honourable senators, supporting the development of a broader social economy is a win-win situation for all of us. That has been recognized by governments of every stripe in this country. It’s important that both construction companies and communities leverage money already spent on these large projects. The return on those investments can be significant.
The Welsh government recently measured the benefit to the economy following 35 projects worth approximately 465 million pounds and found that communities saw 1 pound 80 pence worth of benefit for every pound spent, an 80 per cent return on the dollar that has additional social benefits that cannot be as tangibly measured.
From a corporate perspective, engaging in community benefits agreements could help to boost public image and employee engagement. It can also help to attract and retain potential investors by demonstrating commitment to local communities. They also benefit from unlocking the economic potential of local workers and businesses who may be uniquely skilled and knowledgeable about the particular region of an infrastructure project. More community benefit initiatives will see more social enterprises and the broader small business sector gaining market share, which I think is a desired outcome on which we can all agree.
Honourable senators, I close by saying that I encourage you to think about what Bill C-344 can do for your communities, especially in places with large populations of vulnerable people in communities that have experienced major job shortages or in places where training opportunities are scarce. It makes sense to leverage existing investments to ensure that everyone wins. I encourage you all to vote in favour of moving this bill to committee now and to seize the opportunity to improve social and economic conditions for the people in your communities who could benefit from our support.
Senator Dean, thank you for your speech. No one doubts that a community benefit results because of federal dollars being spent on a project somewhere or anywhere. What would you say about the additional burden put on small businesses, that are very often federal contractors — let’s say an electrician company with 10 electricians on staff for a project worth $50,000 that might take a week to do.
With the requirement for a community benefits statement in that bid, do you not think that would be an onerous burden put on a small contractor trying to get a federal job? It could be a contractor who might have unionized employees and if the groups that were mentioned were forced in there — Indigenous groupings or any of the others that were mentioned in a number of speeches — would you think that would not put an onerous burden on a small contractor for a small federal project?
Thank you for the question, senator. It’s a really important one, and there are complexities associated with any significant effort to improve social equity. You have mentioned the difficult side of one of them and I would not expect anything to be forced on anybody. That would be counterproductive.
I’m familiar with the unionized sector of the construction industry and some of the rigidities that both employers and trade unions operate within. I’m also aware of an acute labour shortage across this country in large and small communities, and I’m particularly acutely aware of an absence or a need for apprentices and those feeder trades and sub-trades that support the apprenticeship system.
I do think that small, medium and large employers are experiencing job shortages, and to the extent that community benefit programs create opportunities for learning for those people, regardless of their backgrounds, Indigenous or not, racialized or not, to enter apprenticeships and skills training programs through this community benefit initiatives and other job promotion initiatives.
I think there are challenges, but there are also benefits for employers of all size, including those with rigidities. I know that trade unions in the construction sector that operate training programs are as acutely aware as their employer colleagues about the importance of attracting people to those trades. I think community benefit projects have the ability and some opportunities to attract and to bridge people who want to work in the trades and encourage people who want to work in the trades to actually have the opportunity to enter into training programs.
The legislation is very clear. It says, “The Minister may . . . require . . .” So it’s possible it is at the judgment of the minister. If the minister does require that to be part of the assessment and possible success or failure of the bid versus “we want you to build this bridge and we want your cost,” do you think the community benefit statement that goes into a proposal after an RFP would be considered as one of the criteria for success of the bid?
It depends on the circumstances of the proponent and how they want to respond to community benefit initiatives.
I certainly think that the activation of a community benefit initiative as part of a project should be something that’s considered at the completion end of a project in terms of its success. We should be evaluating these things all the time. But I hesitate to get drawn into the notion of rigidity. I doubt this is something that is going to be imposed on unwilling actors. We will need to make this successful. Those people who see the benefit of a community benefit arrangement, and I think a growing number will, need to step forward and see the broad benefits that will be available and to take advantage of those.
So I’m looking on the bright side of this, on the positive side, and I —
Hon. Patricia Bovey (The Hon. the Acting Speaker)
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Honourable senator, your time has expired. Are you asking for more time?