How should diversity and migration shape urban planning? What are the tools to match the needs of our increasingly diverse communities with the opportunities presented by large infrastructure projects?
These are urgent questions as governments around the world invest in infrastructure to meet the demands of cities with growing and diversifying populations.
In Canada, the federal government committed to invest $125 billion over 10 years to upgrade the country’s infrastructure. Slated for transit, green projects, and social infrastructure, the Globe and Mail reported, “infrastructure spending is shaping up to be the Liberals’ biggest single policy response to the dramatic changes in the Canadian economy.”
The money is sizeable, but the benefit for communities is not inevitable.
In a question to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, the Hon. Ratna Omidvar, Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange and newly appointed Senator, put a spotlight on one innovation in urban planning, community benefits agreements (CBAs), with big local potential.
These contract-based agreements work to ensure that publicly funded capital projects as well as private developments have a positive impact on the host communities through benefits like affordable housing, living wages, environmental upgrades, community facilities, and local jobs including apprenticeship opportunities for youth.
Contracts that include employment benefits are especially key in ensuring that public spending represents an investment in people. CBAs that include “first source” jobs have been tested in corridors with diverse and underutilized talent in Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles and beyond.
Will this local practice become policy?
Here’s the exchange in the Senate:
Hon. Ratna Omidvar: Thank you for joining us, minister. I welcome the investments and announcements on infrastructure. They will create, I think, not only much-needed transit, affordable housing and child care, but also jobs.
My concern has to do with the people who will not have access to these jobs in the communities where the infrastructure is being built and located because they may not have the skills, education, training or social networks. I think you know what I’m speaking about in Toronto, where a lot of this infrastructure is currently being built by the province, but young people, people living in poverty, recent immigrants and racial minorities don’t have access to these employment opportunities.
Community benefit agreements are an innovative approach being deployed by the province to bridge that gap by locating employment and training activities for people on the margins in the communities where the infrastructure is located. We will be left in Toronto not only with the hard assets of rapid transit but also with a stronger workforce for the future.
Will the federal government capitalize on this historic opportunity by working with the provinces and embedding community benefit agreements as part and parcel of infrastructure funding?
Hon. William Morneau, P.C., M.P., Minister of Finance: I’d like to start by thanking the senator for her question. Since you’re from my riding, I will say it’s particularly great to get a question from you. I’d like to say also that it’s an honour to be responding to your question because I’ve seen your work on Lifeline Syria, which has made such a huge impact.
We of course recognize that the only way we can deliver on infrastructure plans in this country is by collaborating with provinces and municipalities. There is no solution that includes us deciding what the projects are, nor is there one that includes us deciding exactly how those projects will get done without consulting with provinces and municipalities. We will be open to working with provinces in the method that they put forward for how we should move forward with infrastructure spending. We believe there will be significant opportunity for us to engage those that are more challenged in our communities and invite them into these projects. An enormous part of our budget is, as you know, the infrastructure spending, but also for helping these people in communities that are particularly disadvantaged to find themselves a better situation.
Working together with provinces will be our agenda, and we’ll be working with them to find the specific way we can have the greatest impact on engaging Canadians as part of this project to make these historic investments.
Learn more about Community Benefits Agreements:
- Groundbreaking infrastructure law a boon for at-risk youth (Toronto Star)
- Community Benefit Agreements – a New Tool to Reduce Poverty and Inequality (Maytree)
- The Prosperous Province: Strategies for Building Community Wealth (Mowat Centre and Atkinson Foundation)
- The Toronto Community Benefits Network