The Latest Community Benefit Agreement

They’ve been the buzz since mid-July: Community Benefits Agreements.

The current BC provincial government spent its first year in office addressing key public issues, some of which were required in their Confidence and Supply Agreement with the BC Green Party. Other issues, like housing affordability and superheated real estate markets, arose from campaign promises and public pressure. So now, government turns to its political hobby horses, namely satisfying its support base.

Such is the newly created, or some would say resurrected, Community Benefits Agreement, or CBA.

From my take, there is much to praise in its ‘community’ objectives, and a lot to condemn in the obvious pork-barreling handouts to its supporters. The pork barreling – rewarding its political supporters – is probably most galling to the average citizen who casts a cynical eye on all governments for this kind of conduct with taxpayer dollars.

I ask MCABC members: What action should MCABC take in response?

The majority of BC contractors will gag that certain infrastructure projects will require them to turn their employees over to an intermediary employer called BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc. This new employer will sign up the workers, turn them over to a trade union which will charge them membership dues, then assign them back to their true employer for the duration of the work the contractor has been contracted to perform.

Equally troubling are the details in which the agreement specifies that the purchaser (government) will pay the costs of both employer and unions to administer the agreements along with built-in pay increases. Does the term ‘boondoggle’ come to mind?

I think all of the program’s more high-minded goals could be achieved with some effort and less cost by the use of an equivalency program where contractors who could demonstrate equivalency would be eligible to pursue infrastructure work, without the headaches and disruption of some bureaucratic overseer such as BCIB Inc. Contractors would be sworn to a declaration and be subject to audit. Most would climb aboard because they want access to the work.

Meanwhile the Premier and his ministers will continue to squirm in defense of their patronage and the Liberal opposition will huddle and howl about additional costs and the freedom of enterprise. Such is our BC political tradition. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver seemed to recognize the positives and negatives of this latest government offering when he remarked in his July 19 statement, “…CBAs must be advanced as a policy tool to address the values I outlined above – not as a tool to pay back political favours or to advance ideology at the expense of good policy.”

What about us MCABC? What should we be telling government about their proposed CBA program? Please email me your thoughts or call me at 604-205-5058.

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