In The Know

Are community benefits agreements worth implementing?: Cardus

Massive infrastructure projects are on the horizon as Canada looks to boost our recovering economy and provide lasting benefits to our communities.

A new report from Cardus addresses, from the perspective of the builders’ community, the concept of community benefits agreements (CBAs) — an often poorly understood and ill-defined concept that is quickly gaining prominence.

First, the report examines what CBAs actually are. While there is no comprehensive definition, at their most basic they are legal agreements utilized in infrastructure and development projects designed to promote fairness, equality of opportunity, and broad stakeholder understanding and cooperation.

They often confer benefits in the categories of employment training, supplier diversity, economic development and community improvements. 

Continuing challenges can also be identified, however. Limited quantitative reporting, elusive and complex targets being difficult to administer, and, given the relatively recent nature of these products, the lack of an ongoing track record of results. Caution is prudent, says Brian Dijkema, vice-president of external relations at Cardus.

“Governments have been jumping onto the CBA bandwagon without taking the time to ensure that they are fair, open, transparent, and effective. The result is that they aren’t achieving their goals, and are reducing diversity in the labour market. That’s unfair to workers, drives up the cost of construction by a conservatively estimated 15 percent, and worse, fails to deliver for the people CBAs are supposed to help.”

The report suggests that the key elements of a proper framework are:

  • Genuine, broad consultation with government, developers, community, labour, and industry
  • Standardized, fair, open, and transparent procurement processes
  • Measurable goals that will help determine CBA success or failure 
  • Clear, achievable targets for things like job training and hiring
  • Longer term community benefits that last beyond the construction of any project
  • Inclusivity that respects all human rights, labour models, and union affiliations
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