Mr. Speaker, agreements on community benefits are definitely vectors of social and economic development at the local level. Today, it seems that creating such agreements is a progressive idea and an opportunity that we should seize.
I would like to say that I will be supporting this bill at second reading stage.
The NDP believes that we must promote local growth, training and employment by increasing investments in public infrastructure and promoting agreements on community benefits.
This government promised Canadians that there would be change. I am pleased to see today that they are finally getting down to work. The Liberals promised to make massive investments in infrastructure, among other things. We are still waiting.
Agreements on community benefits would stimulate growth, employment, and economic and social development not just in my riding, but in all ridings. In Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, there are a number of major infrastructure projects waiting for federal funding.
I want to talk about a large-scale infrastructure project, the Casavant Boulevard extension in Saint-Hyacinthe, that I would like to see covered by this kind of agreement. Having served six years as a city councillor, I am sure everyone in Saint-Hyacinthe knows what I am talking about. The project involves building a rail overpass. It is vital to the city's economic development because it will open up the industrial park. Believe it or not, we have been waiting for federal funding for this project for 10 years.
The Casavant Boulevard extension is critical to Saint-Hyacinthe's growth and development. The federal government must act quickly and decisively on this file so that we can build this road infrastructure. The Casavant Boulevard extension is well suited to a community benefit agreement. It would be an opportunity to create good jobs, make training available, and revitalize the local economy. It would certainly stimulate growth, help create wealth, and contribute to more responsible development.
While I have no doubt this would benefit my riding, I am skeptical about the implementation and the scope of such agreements.
I think that this bill could be improved in several ways. In my riding, it is important to support local businesses. Saint-Hyacinthe is known around the world for being an agrifood technocity. The development of its local businesses would definitely stimulate the economy, create jobs, and promote growth and innovation in my region. That would create a ripple effect. We all know that when our businesses are successful, our economy does well too.
What the NDP wants is to include local organizations, regional businesses, and members of the community in the planning process for infrastructure spending. We want to ensure that they enjoy the benefits and spinoffs that this spending creates. That seems like common sense to us.
However, this bill does not require bidders to provide all the information about the project to the various stakeholders. In my opinion, that is vital information. This bill also does not specify how the intended benefits will be calculated. It also does not mention the objectives of these agreements.
We believe that a targeted recruitment policy must be included in the bill so that members of the community and local organizations and businesses are not forgotten. What is more, as my hon. colleague, the sponsor of this bill mentioned, the purpose of these community benefit agreements is to “create community wealth, quality jobs, training, responsible growth, and a healthier environment”.
These are honourable goals. However, how can we be sure that they will be implemented if they are not even mentioned in the legislation? I suggest that the legislation include guiding principles that emphasize equity, community involvement, eco-friendly practices, and support for disadvantaged groups.
I would also like to come back to a small, but significant word. I am talking about the word “may” in clause 2 of the bill. This small word makes a big difference. Clause 2 of the bill reads:
The Minister may, before awarding a contract for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, require bidders on the proposal to provide information on the community benefits that the project will provide.
Why the word “may” and not the word “shall”? In other words, the requirement on community benefits that the project will provide is left to the discretion of the minister.
There is no guarantee that these agreements to include community benefits will in fact be implemented. I think if we really want to make a difference and generate wealth locally, we should not leave that to the discretion of the minister. If we truly wanted communities to benefit, we would establish clear structures and avoid the kind of ambiguity that we see here.
We want the goals of community benefit agreements to be an explicit part of the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities's mandate. Otherwise, there would be no requirement for the government to report on the success or failure of the policy.
I am trying to believe in the legislation, and I want it to become a reality for our regions. However, when I consider the conditions of the trans-Pacific partnership, I cannot help but be pessimistic about it. When my honourable colleague introduced the bill in the House, he said, “a similar piece of legislation in Ontario, Bill 6, has survived trade agreements.”
Bill C-227 must do more than survive trade agreements. Chapter 15 of the trans-Pacific partnership does not state whether bid criteria such as those in community benefit agreements would be considered a trade barrier. If that were the case, the bill could expose Canada to trade challenges
The government has bulldozed straight ahead to ratify this trade agreement. It is clear that the government will definitely limit preferences regarding government procurement at an international level. Let us also not forget that a similar piece of legislation in Ontario, Bill 6, has never been in force at the same time as the trans-Pacific partnership. It if survives, I have to wonder what will become of it once that agreement comes into effect.
It seems to me that the bill requires a number of changes before this initiative can become a reality, despite its goal to support vulnerable populations while working on development.
As I said, we do not want this bill to be a missed opportunity. These kinds of community benefit agreements need to become a reality. It is our duty to provide our regions and our constituents with meaningful social and economic development opportunities.
Let us work on creating jobs at a local level. Through these agreements, let us create a generation of qualified workers to build a talent pool for our industries, as recommended by Canada's Building Trades Unions and the National Construction Labour Relations Alliance. Let us stimulate economic growth in our regions. Let us encourage social and economic development in our ridings and our regions.
Let us work together to make our regional economies models of development.