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B.C. government to prioritize First Nations, women, unions in public construction projects

WATCH: Premier John Horgan unveiled a list of major infrastructure projects including the Patullo Bridge replacement and Highway 1 improvements between Kamloops and Alberta.

The B.C. government has introduced a Community Benefits Agreement that will prioritize local, Indigenous, women and apprentice workers for provincial projects.

The first agreement has been signed in connection with the $1.377-billion Pattullo Bridge replacement.

The project is expected to start with construction in 2019 and will employ between 1,200 and 1,400 workers to take the old bridge down and build a new one between New Westminster and Surrey.

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B.C. premier announces new Crown corporation for provincial infrastructure projects
B.C. premier announces new Crown corporation for provincial infrastructure projects

“What is most important is to make sure the next generation of workers are getting the skills they need on the job,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said.

“This means as [people] are doing their apprenticeships they can have certainty of long-term projects that they can ply their trade, and construction companies will know that they’re going to have a stream of skilled workers coming to their sites.”

READ MORE: Provincial government to fund brand new Pattullo Bridge

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The province will ensure that 25 per cent of the workers on the Pattullo project are apprentices. Horgan also announced on Monday that the second project agreement that will be signed will be for improvements to Highway 1 between Kamloops and the Alberta border.

The B.C. government has established a new Crown corporation, B.C. Infrastructure Benefits, that will hire the project’s construction workers, and will work with unions and contractors to dispatch labour, as well as manage payroll and benefits.

WATCH HERE: NDP government announces new Pattullo Bridge

NDP government announces new Pattullo Bridge
NDP government announces new Pattullo Bridge

The new organization is expected to be up and running by the fall and is expected to cost about $5 million to set up and operate.

“We think the incremental increase in costs, which will be about $5 million, is absolutely well worth the investment to invest in the future to ensure we get that training,” Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said. “Investing to make sure we get the underrepresented groups working.”

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Reaction to NDP government’s newly created Crown corporation
Reaction to NDP government’s newly created Crown corporation

The signed Community Benefits Agreement includes these specific provisions:

  • A targeted approach to maximizing apprenticeship opportunities on major public-infrastructure projects
  • Focus on priority hiring and training of Indigenous peoples, and women
  • Co-ordinated access to existing training programs, while identifying and addressing skills gaps
  • Priority hiring for qualified individuals who live within close proximity of the projects
  • Hiring flexibility for contractors, who can request named hires
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READ MORE: B.C. construction jobs offer entry wages up to $27.31/hour, and they’re growing: survey

“We continue to work with Indigenous groups and women in trades to expand apprenticeship and employment opportunities,” said Tom Sigurdson, executive director, BC Building Trades.

“Under a Community Benefits Agreement, these initiatives will translate directly into apprenticeship completions, which, in turn, will allow B.C. residents to support their families, to invest in their communities, and to build the B.C. economy.”

The Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA) called the benefits agreement a “sweetheart deal” and said the NDP is “paying back its trade union donors.”

Currently, fewer than 15 per cent of all construction workers in the province are unionized.

“They are throwing aside 87 per cent of the industry in favour of the 13 per cent minority that is affiliated with the Building Trades Unions. The result of this labour monopoly will be higher costs for taxpayers,” ICBA President Chris Gardner said.

“We expect fairness in public procurement and will do whatever it takes to protect that.”

The Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) is concerned about value for tax dollars and fairness. The association says that although ‘details are scarce’, indications are projects under the new agreement will be modeled after the 1990’s Island Highway Project, which was millions of dollars over budget.

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“This government is not being upfront about who will really benefit from its Community Benefits Agreements,” said PCA Regional Director for B.C. Rieghardt van Enter. “The government has its finger firmly on rewind, reverting to a 70s style labour model that will prove costly for taxpayers and workers.”

“It seems the new way day of doing business in B.C., involves neither free choice nor good value for taxpayers.”