Thank you, colleagues. I, too, am pleased to speak in support of Bill C-344 at second reading. To Senator Klyne’s point, I believe this bill would amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act so that the minister may require a community benefits assessment of federal construction and repair projects. I think the criteria by which that is done is a really good question for the committee.
Its sponsor in the Senate, Senator Omidvar, provided an excellent overview of the bill back in December and its potential impacts. As many of you likely already know, I’m a big fan of and a very strong proponent of private-public partnerships. I believe community benefits agreements can play an important role in encouraging and creating a diversity of opportunity.
We’ve already heard a lot of about economic benefits from Senator Omidvar and Senator Moncion. Senator Francis spoke about the benefits to communities. Senator Dean focused on the benefits and the work of social enterprises. I think Senator Dasko tonight talked about novel procurement strategies and what they could do to promote inclusiveness in communities. Senator Bellemare spoke about the importance of providing these programs for skill development and work experience.
I’d like to try and string those together and show the connection between all those different themes because I think it’s quite strong.
For me, I see Bill C-344 as introducing creativity and innovation in places where they might not typically exist. It’s about empowering groups who might not otherwise be provided with the opportunity to contribute to federal construction or repair projects, and it’s about unlocking possibilities, potential and promise.
I was first introduced to the sustainable power of investing in community benefits when I was a director of the Halifax Assistance Fund, a foundation that happened to be created a year before Confederation. I was constantly surprised by the creative ways in which pervasive social issues, issues that were primarily affecting those living in poverty, were being addressed by some remarkably entrepreneurial leaders.
An example that stood out to me was Halifax’s MetroWorks. It was created over 40 years ago. This organization sought to address the growing cost of and dependence on social assistance based on the underlying belief that most people would rather work for a living.
MetroWorks seeks to deliver what its president and CEO Dave Rideout refers to as a triple bottom line. Senator Dasko referred to this.
One of its businesses, Stone Hearth Bakery, assists about 70 individuals a year — about 20 at any given time — to gain employability skills. The costs of this program are partially covered by government funding but largely covered by sales revenue.
A fully funded employability training program could cost $10,000 per client, but Stone Hearth’s business model has dropped that cost by 75 per cent down to about $2,400 per person.
That is a huge savings for all involved and also has the benefit of providing otherwise marginalized individuals with the ability to receive job skills and benefits from community involvement. That savings could be reduced even further if, as is contemplated in something like Bill C-344, government could support Stone Hearth through a sales contract rather than just providing funding support. That’s what Dave Rideout means as a triple bottom line.
Government gets the service they require at the budgeted price point; the social enterprise generates revenues that make them self-sustaining; and clients get an opportunity to develop employability skills that allow them to take advantage of employment opportunities and become economically independent, which in turn reduces the costs to governments in supporting these individuals through social programs, health care services and corrections.
In recognition of the creativity we observed in our community, the Halifax Assistance Fund established something called the Social Innovator Award. The intention was to identify and recognize innovative ways in which some of our most marginalized citizens were being helped.
We created a $10,000 Social Innovator Award and we expected maybe the community might identify and nominate five or six creative community leaders. We were astonished when over 45 remarkable individuals were nominated for this award. We struggled so hard to select a winner that we decided to expand the number of prizes.
I’m always amazed by what you don’t see because you’re not looking and what do you see when you do look.
I think that’s true for all of us. I’m astounded by what we found. I think that’s why we need to create formal mechanisms for large procurement projects that make sure that we don’t overlook opportunities that can benefit communities, formal mechanisms like the one outlined in Bill C-344.
It will remind procurement managers and project contractors to seek opportunities to improve, to do more, to not always do things the way we’ve always done them and to give someone a shot who might not otherwise get that chance to deliver disruptive value.
As someone who has spent more than two decades building businesses that offer a unique value proposition, I have some sense of how hard it is to break into traditional, conservative marketplaces.
The barrier created by the sentiment “that’s not how we do it here,” is always much higher, wider and more resilient than you expect. Even when the promised results are disruptively positive, it can be incredibly challenging to convince managers to change their buying habits. Finding that one person who, like you, has been frustrated by the limited number of traditional solutions and who is willing to give you a shot can sometimes seem almost impossible.
This is what Bill C-344 is all about. It provides the opportunity to create market-based solutions for pervasive social issues. It is about causing decision makers to not always choose the path of least resistance but to sometimes try something a bit different, to find something that will meet the requirements but promise to deliver benefits to the community, uncover previously unseen opportunities, to help make a particular project unique and make it special in a very positive way.
Great improvements rarely emerge from the centre of accepted practice; they almost all are outliers.
In business, I’ve been inspired by the tremendous productivity gains that employers benefit from when they hire neurodiverse adults. Senator Munson has certainly provided this chamber with ample proof of the benefits that come from unlocking the potential of marginalized Canadians, specifically those with autism spectrum disorder. There are plenty of inspiring news stories on the opportunities that emerge when those on the autism spectrum are hired for jobs that require exceptional levels of precision and accuracy, including cyber security threat detection, software quality assurance, licensing and regulatory compliance and data analytics.
This is an outlier of an idea that was created from a previously unseen opportunity. I’ll bet it would never have been uncovered unless someone had not taken a risk, likely a motivated family member, and provided that as an opportunity in their business.
It was a random and fortunate act that uncovered tremendous productivity gains and created new opportunities where they did not previously exist. I believe that as an economy and as a society we can no longer afford to count on random acts. We need to deliberately innovate in all areas of how we do business.
I would argue that the advantages of including community benefits in infrastructure and repair projects cannot be ignored and we can no longer leave them to chance.
Our honourable colleague Senator Wells raised an important question last week as to whether Bill C-344 might place an onerous burden on a micro or small business that is trying to get a federal contract.
I look at the issue underlying his question a bit differently. I see Bill C-344 as providing small and local organizations with the opportunity to partner with much larger businesses that are looking to strengthen their community benefits portion of their project.
If passed, Bill C-344 would provide the additional advantage of drawing more attention to these smaller organizations as larger corporations start to seek them out. There is no shortage of inventive partnerships that could be formed as a result of this proposed legislation.
Partnerships can come in all forms. Consider the growing shortage of skilled workers in several trades.
Arlene Dunn, the new director of Canada’s Building Trades Union, voiced her support for Bill C-344. She pointed to the challenge of replacing the 250,000 skilled workers expected to retire over the next 10 years. This has caused her to focus on attracting and retaining under represented groups in the construction trades. Bill C-344, she says:
. . . will give under represented groups the first priority to training and employment opportunities.
Hers was not the only letter of support I received, arguing against the suggestion that this bill could be onerous to business. I also agree with the Mainland Nova Scotia Building Trades when their executive director said:
Procurement decisions made by the federal government create economic multipliers, employment opportunities and environmental and social ripples. We believe that all federal construction, maintenance and repair projects should benefit the people and businesses in the communities in which they happen. Far too often, however, this is not realized and benefits go elsewhere.
It’s clear to me that Bill C-344 is not a burden but an opportunity.
I’ve mentioned before that our own Senator Christmas was one of the authors of Nova Scotia’s Ivany report. It identified community economic development and social enterprise groups as “. . . indicative of what can be done when leaders in different sectors put their heads together to change attitudes and build better future from the ground up.”
The Now or Never report, which he helped to produce, also noted the role of these organizations to help “build a new culture of entrepreneurship amongst our youth.” Let’s not limit that to our youth. Let’s start to fully embrace entrepreneurship across all that we do. Bill C-344 helps us do just that.
Professor Howard Stevenson is a revered leader in entrepreneurship studies based at Harvard Business School. He defines entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity beyond resources controlled.” It’s a very simple concept, but it’s quite profound: The pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control.
This definition promotes a distinctive approach to management generally rather than simply representing a specific stage of an organization’s life cycle. This definition promotes the idea that entrepreneurship can be fostered in any organization or project. It’s not just about tech start-ups.
This definition of entrepreneurship — the pursuit of opportunity beyond the resources you currently control — captures the spirit of Bill C-344 for me. It encourages entrepreneurial action to create opportunity in areas where it does not yet exist.
It is my genuine hope that my honourable colleagues will choose to expeditiously send this bill to committee for further study, where I believe we will hear more examples of the ways in which community benefit agreements can help create opportunities and benefits in our communities and in our economy.
Let’s work to do better as we also work to do good. Thank you.