An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit)

Sponsor

Ramesh Sangha  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of June 14, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-344.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to provide the Minister with the authority to require an assessment of the benefits that a community derives from a construction, maintenance or repair project.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

June 13, 2018 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit)
March 28, 2018 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit)
Oct. 25, 2017 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit)

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 13th, 2018 / 3:40 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the third reading stage of Bill C-344 under private members' business.

The House resumed from June 13 consideration of the motion that Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit), be read the third time and passed.

Impact Assessment ActGovernment Orders

June 12th, 2018 / 10:35 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight at this late hour to speak to Bill C-69, an act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, also known as an omnibus bill. I also like to call this bill the let us never build another pipeline or major energy project in Canada bill, or we could call it the labyrinth act, after the David Bowie movie Labyrinth, with its never-ending maze, which is what our regulatory process is going to be.

According to the Liberal government, the main purpose of this bill is to create an environmental assessment process that increases consultation, broadens a number of social economic criteria for approval, and decreases legislative timelines. At a lengthy 350 pages, this bill has so many proposed changes, it is tough to digest them all at once. Here is one clear takeaway. It will ensure the private sector pipelines will never see the light of day in Canada again.

This comes straight from the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association that these introduced amendments or “Regulatory 'poisons' are 'suffocating' oil industry by driving investors away”.

At committee we heard this from a witness, “The impact assessment does not address the pipeline sector's most fundamental concern: a process that is expensive, lengthy, polarizing, and ends with a discretionary political decision.”

Hence, the the labyrinth act.

I was pleased to quote Ozzy Osbourne in an earlier speech today on Bill C-344, which is another act from the Liberals that will create another regulatory burden. I am glad I was able to mention the late David Bowie as well.

We have seen the Trans Mountain pipeline put on life-support worth $4.5 billion because of the Liberals' action and inaction. However, knowing the Liberals' spin machine, they are going to say that this $4.5 billion life-support system is actually a health care investment.

The Liberals want to introduce this bill to ensure that we never see another pipeline built in Canada again. In this bill, we can clearly see that this regulatory process is designed for political influence and intervention. The minister can step in any time she wants and kill any major energy resource project at any time. This even includes the various stages where there is no formal ministerial approval required. It is going to be energy east all over again. It does not clarify or streamline an objective evidence-based process where decisions will be made by experts.

The Liberals can scrap entire pipeline projects for purely political reasons, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Of course members are sitting there saying that surely the Liberals would not kill something like an energy project, like a billion dollar gas plant for political reasons? I know that it was the Ontario Liberals, but where do people think most of the current Liberal PMO staffers come from? Of course, they come from Queen's Park.

Placing this kind of power in the hands of the minister will reduce transparency and give industry no guarantee that sensible projects will move forward. This planning phase is also concerning because, under the proposed bill, an environmental advocacy group from Sweden has as much right to be heard as a Canadian energy industry advocacy group.

I suppose we should give even more ministerial powers to the Liberals. After all, what could go wrong? We have had ad scam, the sponsorship scandal, the gun registry, Shawinigate, HRDC under the previous Liberal government, and of course the clam scam, where the fisheries minister personally intervened to give a lucrative clam fishing quota to, now get this, a brother of a sitting Liberal MP, a former Liberal MP, and a family member of the current fisheries minister. A Gordie Howe hat trick is described as a hockey game where one gets into a fight, scores a goal, and gets an assist. This is a Gordie Howe hat trick of corruption: a brother of a Liberal MP, a former Liberal MP, and to top it off, a family member of the deciding and interfering Liberal minister.

I could mention more Liberal scandals, but I should not talk about that if I want to finish by midnight. However, if people at home who are watching on CPAC are bored and want a more fulsome understanding of some of the Liberal scandals, they should take a look at https://www.mapleleafweb.com/forums/topic/4466-199-liberal-scandals.

I will return back to the bill. Steve Williams, the CEO of Canada's leading integrated oil and gas company, Suncor Energy, said that this legislation will effectively end his corporation's ability to invest in major Canadian projects. Suncor is worried about Canada's lack of competitiveness because, as he said, “other jurisdictions are doing much more to attract business”. The Liberal government just gave $4.5 billion of taxpayers' money to Kinder Morgan to invest back in the U.S. No offence to Mr. Williams and his comment, but he is incorrect. With the current government, other jurisdictions do not have to do more to attract business, because it will give money to companies to invest in other jurisdictions.

Canada's largest developer in the oil industry says it will not be able to invest in Canada, will not be able to create jobs in Canada, will not be able to pay more taxes in Canada, or create more wealth for Canadians. Suncor is a valued employer in Alberta, and provides thousands of well-paying jobs to indigenous people, youth, and new Canadians. Maybe if we change the name to Suncorbardier, then the Liberals would not try to phase out Suncor and our oil sands, but here we are.

We are talking about billions of dollars in investment going straight to the U.S. and other energy producing jurisdictions. This combined with higher taxes and more government uncertainty makes Canada a more difficult place to invest capital.

Bill C-69 completely fails to improve our ability to compete. In fact, it is only going to make matters worse. GMP FirstEnergy has also criticized Bill C-69 because it has “increased complexity, subjectivity and open-ended timelines”. The company sees “nothing in these proposed changes that will attract incremental energy investment to Canada.”

These statements do not exactly sound like a ringing endorsement for Bill C-69. We have some of the strongest and most stringent environmental regulations and standards in the entire world, so why are we introducing even more regulations when our system is world renowned?

We have seasoned experts telling us that over the years the ability of these major resource projects to get completed has become exceedingly difficult and is now almost impossible, and the Liberals want to introduce even more regulations to effectively put these projects six feet under.

Unfortunately, six feet under will refer to Alberta's economy and not the placement of a pipeline. Of course, the Liberals believe that adding increasingly complex legal frameworks and indeterminate regulatory methods will somehow expedite the process. The environment minister says we need a process with no surprises and no drama. I think what she meant to say is that she wants a process with no surprises, no drama, and no development, and perhaps no future for the young workers in Alberta.

I am sure members have heard this many times before. The Liberals love to talk about how the environment and the economy go hand in hand. However, Bill C-69 does not even live up to their own shaky standards in this regard. This policy puts red tape and the interests of foreigners first and the economy, jobs, and prosperity of Canadians dead last.

Energy development is crucial to jobs and economic opportunity in this country and Bill C-69 will only make it more difficult for private companies to receive approval for critical infrastructure projects.

I will remind the Prime Minister that many Albertans are still struggling to find work and pay their bills. His policies will only cause further harm to them and kick them while they are down.

Former premier Frank McKenna announced in mid-February that Canada has lost $117 billion due to pipeline woes. How does this legislation address that issue? I will answer that question: it does not. It does absolutely nothing. I would argue that the $117-billion loss is only going to climb higher in the future.

Bill C-69 will decrease Canada's economic competitiveness, without resulting in any meaningful environmental protection. While the United States scraps excessive regulations and cuts taxes for its citizens, the Liberal government has chosen to impose more unnecessary red tape, longer project timelines, and higher taxes for middle-class families. Bill C-69 will make it increasingly difficult to compete with countries around the world and grow our economy. The approval process will become even longer, more tedious, and completely unappealing to the private sector.

Seriously, what company wants to come forward and invest billions in Canada when they see the government actively kills energy projects and their only hope to get something done after the Liberal action is to nationalize it?

Venezuela is a mess right now because of nationalizing its oil industry. Experts are saying the way for Venezuela to get out of the hellhole it has created is to un-nationalize its oil industry. What are we doing? We are nationalizing our pipeline. We cannot afford to add uncertainty for companies who want to invest in Canada.

The Liberal government has managed to consistently decrease investor confidence with each and every passing day. It should be more cautious with its legislation. Liberals continuously outdo themselves and are setting the bar for failure as a government. We already have $20 billion in deficits every year, so what could possibly go wrong as investor confidence reaches new lows?

I cannot support a bill that would kill jobs in Edmonton, that would kill jobs in Alberta, and that would chase away energy investment at the same time as doing nothing for the environment.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2018 / 6:25 p.m.
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Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleagues for their broad analysis and support for this bill, except for the few who are not ready to agree. It is clear that Bill C-344 would strengthen federal community investments delivered to constituents throughout the country.

Community benefit agreements are an innovative approach to empowering local communities to partner with developers in order to counter local challenges. CBAs can be used to address economic development and growth and environmental sustainability in regions across Canada. This includes local job creation, apprenticeships, affordable housing, education, support for seniors, and other vital benefits that communities recognize.

Bill C-344 would allow for broad consultations with communities across Canada, thus strengthening local infrastructure investments. The bill also aims to reduce delays for small and medium-sized businesses and accelerate the approval process for federal repair and construction projects. Moreover, the idea of community benefit agreements is supported by numerous business groups and organizations across Canada, including the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, etc.

Bill C-344 is about implementing community benefit agreements into the federal jurisdiction. This would ensure that the Government of Canada exercises leadership in implementing CBAs in communities across Canada. Ultimately, CBAs would create the foundation for communities to receive their fair share of federal infrastructure investments. This will ensure that communities have steady growth and meaningful employment. Furthermore, it is about ensuring that upcoming federal projects involving the construction, maintenance, or repair of projects will result in community benefits for all Canadians.

Bill C-344 would ensure communities across Canada can have access to enhanced infrastructure developments, thus creating opportunities for local economies to prosper. I therefore ask all hon. members of the House to let dignity take root. Let us work for the betterment of our communities. I humbly urge all hon. members to support Bill C-344.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2018 / 6:20 p.m.
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NDP

Daniel Blaikie NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and use the little time I have to address Bill C-344 with respect to community benefit agreements for certain infrastructure projects embarked on by the federal government.

Why is that a good idea? If we were to canvass most Canadians, they would say that when public money is spent, they are interested in accruing the maximum benefits for communities in Canada, whether that has to do with a focus on hiring local people, or having some of the funding and investment of projects going to local communities, or ensuring that local suppliers receive the work or that members of disadvantaged communities provide goods and services in accordance with the needs of those public investments. Canadians would be interested in that public money going to communities and people as opposed to going to companies that would release that money to other parts of the country or, indeed, other parts of the world.

Canadians understand that when they invest their tax dollars in a way that improves communities and keeps the money in their communities so that the spinoff from public investment is even greater than it would otherwise be, that is money well spent and the most efficient way to spend public money.

This bill is good in that it sets us down that road, but it is the most minimal of steps that one could take in that direction.

The language of the bill talks about how the minister may require a community benefit assessment, but it is not actually required. If the minister chooses not to apply that rubric, and it is completely at the discretion of the minister, then we will not see the benefits. The discretion of the minister is an important weakness in the bill.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2018 / 6:10 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise once again to speak to Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act.

This private member's bill reminds me of a proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”. The saying is thought to have originated with St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote in 1150, “Hell is full of good wishes or desires.” An earlier saying occurs in Virgil's Aeneid. He wrote, “facilis descensus Averno” or “the descent into hell is easy.” This phrase has been used in the writings of Brontë, Lord Byron, Samuel Johnson, and Kierkegaard. For my NDP colleagues, Karl Marx used it in his writings. Even Ozzy Osbourne used it in his song Tonight and now we have it in Hansard.

I am sure the bill's author was well intended with this legislation. Who would not want a community benefit from government infrastructure or spending? In a way it is redundant. I want to read the definition as they have it listed: “For the purposes of this section, community benefit means a social, economic or environmental benefit that a community derives from a construction, maintenance or repair project, and includes job creation and training opportunities”, etc.

The very fact that government money is being spent in a community is obviously an economic benefit. The very fact maintenance or repair work is being done means that it is a benefit to the community. Government by its very nature does many things incorrectly but I am sure the government is not out there breaking up infrastructure, putting potholes in the road, or wrecking bridges with their spending.

Let us look at the two main problems of this legislation. Let me mention proposed subsection 20.1(2), under “Community benefit—requirement”:

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 to be derived from the project.

It does not state the minister “will” or the minister “must” or the minister under these circumstances does it. It states “may”. Why would we allow a minister to interfere when there is no criteria? Why would we give a minister the power to decide when he or she wishes to require the community benefits? Why would we allow this?

Here is a good reason not to. Two words that we are hearing in the House right now are “clam scam”. The Minister of Fisheries is being investigated by the Ethics Commissioner. The finance minister has also been investigated as has the Prime Minister. The member for Calgary Centre has been investigated for using office resources for his father's municipal election, and the member for Brampton East was investigated for the scandal in India.

Let me get back to “clam scam”. The Minister of Fisheries interfered with the awarding of a very lucrative contract to a company owned by a brother of a sitting MP, and a former MP is on the leadership team of that company, as is a member of his family.

Here we are allowing a minister to interfere at will for no defined reason in awarding a government contract. I wonder if the fisheries minister is going to stand up and claim community benefits as an excuse for directing a contract to be awarded to a Liberal family member.

Here is another way we are on the path of good intentions taking us somewhere rather warmer and muggier than Ottawa in the summer. Under "Report to Minister”, the bill states, “A contracting party shall, upon request by the Minister, provide the Minister with an assessment as to whether community benefits have derived from the project.”

Again, there is no metrics attached at all here. There is no trigger for the minister to suddenly demand more work to be added to the contractor. Why is this a problem? It is the added burden of uncertainty for our contractors, the added burden of red tape. Why is this important? We are studying the effects of the government's procurement process on small and medium enterprises right now in the operations and estimates committee, also known as OGGO.

We have heard again and again from witnesses, from indigenous businesses, small businesses led by women, regular everyday businesses, that they are drowning under red tape, that the way the government sets up its procurement process excludes a large portion of our small and medium enterprises that just do not have the money to jump through all the hoops that the government requires for bidding on its contracts. They also say the same thing. The red tape and the bidding process makes it difficult and costly to participate, yet here we have a bill that will add random ministerial interference and random uncertainty.

This is what the procurement ombudsman has to say about our current process. This is from his annual report, “Reviews of supplier complaints”. One of the complaints is, “The methodology used for calculating the bid did not reflect the true scope of the project”. However, here we have, under Bill C-344, that the minister “may” decide to change the bidding requirements, not “will” but “may” at his or her whim.

Another complaint is, “The [system] used to evaluate bids had a negative impact on the Complainant's bid”. Again, we could have a bidder being required to submit information on undefined community benefits. What if someone puts through the community benefit as “I am hiring two extra people” but the minister decides that the point system is going to be “I want the community benefit to show a park added”? The uncertainty of the bill will hurt small and medium enterprises.

Another complaint is, “The federal organization did not provide enough time for the supplier to prepare and submit a bid”. Here we could have a person bidding on Buyandsell.gc.ca who has a small company and just enough resources to bid, and all of a sudden, out of the blue, the minister requires them to provide community benefit information, barring them from bidding.

“There was an inappropriate allocation of points regarding the scoring of a rated criterion”. We often use the point system for how we are awarding the bids. Sometimes it is based on low cost. Sometimes it is based on costs plus the amount of indigenous benefits. Sometimes it is costs plus work experience. This adds a completely unknown factor in.

These are all items brought up by the procurement ombudsman, and there are many more.

We had a visit from a parliamentary group from Vietnam to the OGGO committee. This committee that came and visited us from Vietnam was its version of the operations and estimates committee. We were chatting through interpreters, and one of them asked me if we had ever passed legislation without considering the cost on taxpayers because they had not. Members should keep in mind that Vietnam is a communist country. They were dumbfounded that we would be considering a law before we measured the impact on taxpayers. Can members imagine that a communist Vietnam is more concerned about our taxpayers than the current Liberal government?

We would think that surely the government would take a look and do a study of what the added costs would be, perhaps emulating what the communist Government of Vietnam would do. We did an ATIP request and asked the government if it studied the issue. We were told, “I regret to inform you that a search of the records under the control of ESDC has revealed that no records exist in response to your request.” Therefore, the official version is that the government did not study it.

We had the minister of procurement, PSPC, at committee. We asked her repeatedly, and her deputy, if they had studied the effects of Bill C-344 with respect to added costs to taxpayers, or added costs or difficulties with respect to the people bidding. Would it add costs? How it is going to affect small business people? How will it affect taxpayers? The deputy minister told us, with respect to Bill C-344, that it was merely info gathering.

Here we have a private member's bill trying to change how we actually procure from small businesses, which we know is a mess. It is bad enough that we have actually spent about three months studying the issue in operations. Here we have a bill that will allow the government, the minister, to interfere at will without any metrics on why. Then we have her deputy minister tell us that it was merely info gathering.

Why would we need a bill for info gathering? If it is just a bill for info gathering, why would we add this burden onto our small and medium enterprises, why are there added costs, and why would we even need this bill at all?

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2018 / 5:55 p.m.
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NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-344 about amending the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act regarding the issue of putting in community benefit agreements.

I am very interested in the proposal. I want to speak to it from a rural perspective, from a northern industrial perspective, and then from an urban perspective. We are dealing with differing issues.

In terms of rural issues, and I represent a region that is bigger than Great Britain, infrastructure investments by the federal government are extremely important. Over the last number of years, our region has been left to fall behind, as the government has not kept up its commitments at the federal level.

I am very pleased that since 2015, my region of Timmins—James Bay was the third-largest in the country in terms of the number of projects that were approved. These are good investments. Whether it was Timmins Transit or investing in local bridges, these kinds of investments have a clear community benefit. In a rural region, in some of our small northern communities, putting another layer on an analysis coming forward on why a project is important could be difficult. These are legitimate questions, because many of our small municipalities have to outsource. They do not have the in-house engineering. This would be a question.

In terms of when we do development in the north, we have a number of major infrastructure projects that require government investment. An example is the four-laning of Highway 11-17, which is the major trucker route across Canada. All goods across this country travel through northern Ontario on winding two-lane roads that are often very dangerous, particularly in winter. The federal government treats this as local. They treat it as provincial. However, this is part of national infrastructure, and we need to see an investment there.

I represent regions that are very involved in the mining sector. In the last 12 years, there has been a complete transformation of how mining agreements are put together. The mining sector understands that if it is going to have development in the north, it needs social license. It needs to have a clear commitment to indigenous communities, so impact benefit agreements have become the norm.

When I was working for the Algonquin nation in Quebec, in 2001-02, companies refused to meet. There was a lot of confrontation in the forest, because the right of communities to benefit from the resources on their traditional territory was a principle that had to be understood. I can say that from my talks with the mining sector and indigenous communities now, these agreements are starting to transform, economically, many communities that had been left on the margins.

My good friend, Chief Walter Naveau, of the Mattagami First Nation, said that the government always talks about their sitting at the table, but for all their lives, they were not even allowed to look in the window. That has changed, but government is still not at the table most of the time. I will say that industry will come to the table much sooner than government will ever come to the table in terms of developing a coherent plan for the development of resources and the development of communities in the indigenous territories in my region of Treaty No. 9.

I want to talk about the benefit of this in larger urban areas. If we are looking at major investments, such as in public transit, a community benefit agreement should be fundamental to the discussion. We can talk about the Eglinton LRT. That is a massive investment in a city that has been choked with traffic, where people are being forced out of neighbourhoods because of high prices. Many of the people I know who grew up in Toronto cannot even afford to live in the city where they work anymore. They have to commute back to their own cites, because they cannot afford livable neighbourhoods. My old neighbourhood of Riverdale, which was a beautiful mixed working-class neighbourhood, has become a neighbourhood very much for the super-rich, particularly closer to the Don Valley.

When we are looking at the government putting $1 billion or $2 billion into an LRT or a subway in any city across Canada, we can ask who is going to benefit. Right off the bat, real estate speculators will be along that line, because they know that if they have real estate there, that real estate will dramatically bump in value, because there is good access to good urban transit. We could say to a city like Toronto that we will invest at the federal government level in a plan like the LRT. However, there will need to be some set aside so that we can have community housing and mixed-income housing.

That would be a fair trade-off for the massive investments the federal government makes to ensure that there is some kind of quid pro quo so that it is not just the speculators and the real estate developers who are going to make out from this infrastructure. Working families could still have access to neighbourhoods that are liveable and have access to good-quality public transit. That is where a community benefit agreement would be a very reasonable thing to bring to the table. It would not be onerous, because we are dealing with urban areas and a much larger size, where this kind of planning could be done in a coherent manner.

However, I have a number of concerns about the bill in terms of the lack of clarity and where we would need much clearer reporting mechanisms and transparency. If we are going to have a credible community benefit agreement plan, it cannot be just tick the box. Whenever a company just has to tick the box, or a large municipality just has to say that it did it and it is done, we do not know what that benefit is.

If we are looking at economies of scale, such as for a major investment in urban public transit, we are going to need clear accountability mechanisms to say that it is a credible community benefit agreement. Part of that requires consultation. I am very worried about the lack of obligation for consultation, because the consultation process would involve a community. An investment in, say, a major bridge in an urban area may have an impact on the community. Does the community have a credible response? Can we do this in a reasonable manner?

I think we would be looking at much more progressive notions of urban development if we had a strong, transparent, usable community benefit system in place. That being said, we would have to also look at the economies of scale in terms of smaller communities. For example, the federal government may invest in the community of Iroquois Falls in changing its sewage and water. Would we need to put an extra level of negotiation on that? We probably would not, because the benefit would be clear. Building that community infrastructure would benefit that community.

The other argument we could bring to this, of course, is the question of whether communities need more control over how they utilize federal investment. Federal investment can be very limited and very targeted to meet federal criteria but not necessarily municipal criteria.

For example, in the city of Timmins, there has been a plan to build an aquatic centre to serve the needs of people who will move to the city to meet a growing city need, but there is no federal program to deal with programs like building an aquatic centre. All that cost would be put on the ratepayers, which is an enormous cost for a mid-sized municipality to undertake. There would be a clear community benefit. In the case of the city of Timmins, if the city believed that it was in the city's interest to build that aquatic centre, and it could work with the feds and the province on it, there would be a long-term benefit for the community. This is something we should look at.

Having looked at the bill, there are some very interesting aspects of it. I think we need to look at it going forward. We need to have a little bit of flexibility between rural and mid-sized communities and large, urban municipalities. We need to be able to put a lens on it in terms of whether it is an indigenous community or not.

Public works has been an institution that has been very reluctant to apply a community lens to projects that would have a major community impact. There are a number of projects that could move forward with new kinds of partnerships, such as indigenous and municipal, working together to build community infrastructure.

When we talk about community benefits, that lens should be applied to those kinds of federal projects. If they were under the municipalities, I would leave mid-sized and smaller municipalities to handle what they know how to do. For larger urban municipalities, if we were doing major investments, we would talk about how it would benefit the whole region, because that would be a major financial investment. How would we do this with indigenous communities? It is possible. I am very interested in this bill going forward.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2018 / 5:45 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act regarding community benefit. While this bill has commendable intentions, it is my great concern that it will actually have a negative impact on our communities and the small and medium-sized construction businesses that employ so many Canadians. In my opinion, this private member's bill continues the Liberals' assault on SMEs by adding another layer of red tape to federal government contracts.

Just last week, I spoke on Bill C-69 and the Liberals' changes to the Navigation Protection Act contained within that bill. Like Bill C-344, the changes to the NPA would add more red tape and cost for project proponents and the construction companies that do the work. While this private member's bill may be smaller in scope and thereby seen as less problematic for small and medium-sized businesses than the government's omnibus bill, Bill C-69, it still reflects a worrying trend by the government.

The Liberals' mentality seems to be that they can add any amount of new taxes on businesses and that it will have no effect on their bottom line or the price they charge their customers or, on this occasion, that they can attach any amount of red tape on businesses' activities and they will happily absorb the administrative burden. This is not the case. There are consequences every time a government does this, just as there are benefits every time a government reduces taxes or cuts red tape for job-creating small and medium-sized businesses. If passed, this bill would pertain to those projects and the subsequent contracts awarded by the federal Minister of Public Services and Procurement.

I will talk about the substance of narrow scope of the bill in a minute, but for the moment, I will speculate about why the Liberals, through this private member's bill, have limited the application of the bill in such a way. It could be that the Liberals actually know that applying these principles more broadly would generate a larger backlash among the construction industry and the many partners that often work with the federal government to fund projects. It could be that Liberals want to use this private member's bill as a virtue-signalling talking point in order to win over a certain segment of the population. It could also be that some Liberals actually realize that slapping this requirement onto all federally funded projects would have a negative impact on the construction industry, as I have already identified, and as a result, they have decided to limit the damage to a more narrowly defined category of projects.

As I mentioned earlier, this private member's bill covers a limited number of projects and contracts of which the federal government is a partner. This private member's bill would amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act and would not apply to the projects that the federal government supports through the department of infrastructure. Still, the government's support of this bill is something that the construction industry and the federal government's partners should be aware of and concerned about.

Looking at the substance of the bill in a bit more detail, I find the level of ambiguity contained in Bill C-344 troubling. In clause 1 of the bill, the section creating new subclause 20.1(2) states, “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 to be derived from the project.” First, this clause says, “The Minister may”. “May” is a small word, but it sure has huge implications. Right there, we have uncertainty. This rule will not be constant. How will bidders know if this requirement will be applied?

Next, the new subclause 20.1(3) states, “A contracting party shall, upon request by the Minister, provide the Minister with an assessment as to whether community benefits have derived from the project.” Here we have more ambiguity, particularly in the needlessly vague and nebulous term “community benefit”. How is a bidder to determine what constitutes “community benefit”?

As we heard from the question I asked the sponsor of this bill, he could provide no definition. How is a bidder to know whether said benefit will meet whatever subjective criterion the minister choses to employ? When the bill states, “upon request by the Minister”, there is no certainty for the bidders or ultimately the successful bidder. This means that if this bill were to pass, people bidding on a contract will have to price into their bid the risk of being required to do or produce what the minister wants without knowing what that may be.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I think the intent behind Bill C-344 is commendable. However, it leaves me wondering how the Liberals feel about charity and social responsibility, and whether they have considered the law of unintended consequences.

I would like to quote from Michael Atkinson, President of the Canadian Construction Association, who appeared before the transport, infrastructure and communities committee when this bill was being studied.

Regarding corporate social responsibility, Mr. Atkinson stated:

Corporate social responsibility is becoming something that we are looking at very earnestly in our industry. It's a very important part of doing business today. We have a how-to guide coming out for our contracting members in the industry, but CSR is not social procurement. CSR is a voluntary program that a corporate entity takes on to ensure that what it does as a company meets environmental sensibilities, good HR practices, etc. Social procurement is a government coming out and saying, “If you want to do business with us, then you have to have a CSR policy.” I think that's a very important difference.

Mr. Atkinson highlights a very important distinction. Businesses in general, and many companies in the construction industry, already make investments in their local communities as part of their commitment to corporate social responsibility. I believe that it is important that in this conversation about community benefit, we do not minimize the benefit that communities are already receiving from businesses of all sizes. The picture painted by those in the Liberal Party and the NDP is that corporate Canada simply takes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Corporations, big and small, give back to their communities. They provide jobs to families in the communities in which they operate. However, beside this very basic economic support, small, medium and large businesses sponsor community events, support local infrastructure, and provide support to non-profit community groups like sports teams. They do this not out of obligation or necessity but out of an appreciation for the community they work and operate in, and sometimes live in, because they know they are part of the community. They do not need to be told how to be good corporate citizens. Most already are.

Of the reasons that I will not be supporting Bill C-344, the most notable are that I believe it minimizes the support and benefits that already accrue to communities when a project is undertaken in their backyard, that it is needlessly ambiguous, and that it fails to consider the unintended consequences that may arise from its implementation.

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

June 12th, 2018 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Ramesh Sangha Liberal Brampton Centre, ON

moved that Bill C-344, an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, today is a proud moment for me, because my private member's bill, Bill C-344, is now up for third reading.

The purpose of Bill C-344 is to amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act. The bill would stand for community benefits, CBAs, and if passed, would give special power to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, with an authority to require assessment of the benefits that a community derives from a project in which federal investment is made.

I introduced the bill with the motivation that it would be beneficial for the community at large. The community benefit agreement is a new approach to development and growth in projects across Canada. CBAs would create community wealth, social values, quality jobs, and a healthier environment.

Bill C-344 would amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act by providing the minister with the authority and flexibility to require successful bidders on federal construction maintenance and repair projects to provide information on community benefits. At the behest of the minister, a successful bidder would be required to outline the benefits a project is providing to the community, whether those benefits be through employment, social infrastructure, or other means.

The minister would collect the data from successful bidders and use the same to help update further procurement modernizations. The bill would ensure that the government is receiving best value for Canadians. CBAs would enable the minister to formulate agreements with federal infrastructure developers, with added input from community groups. It would also require the minister to annually report to Parliament as to what community benefits have been implemented.

The mandate letter to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement asks that the minister make procurement practices simpler and less administratively burdensome, deploy modern comptrollership, and include practices that support green and social procurement. As legislators, it is our duty to work for the benefit and betterment of communities, towards inclusiveness and their participation in projects.

We all know that acquiring skills is a prerequisite for meaningful employment, especially for women and youth within our communities. The main result of meaningful employment is restoration of dignity and meaningful development for individuals. In other words, when we strive to build physical infrastructure, at the same time we must aspire to look at the development of social infrastructure, which leads to inner well-being and can be called the inner infrastructure of an individual. Federal infrastructure investments, when shared with communities, will foster ownership of a project and as a result create a sense of pride for the individuals who participated.

I have looked into the primary arguments brought up by some members that this proposed legislation may create additional red tape. However, let us not forget that the major benefits of CBAs are not only that they allow local communities to benefit financially, but also that they give them an opportunity to provide their input and innovative ideas as to how delays, if any, can be minimized.

No one is suggesting that the rules and regulations must be optional or should be ignored, but the CBA concept will give the opportunity to provide services efficiently. Comprehensive consultations with communities will reduce the red tape for small and medium-sized businesses and further accelerate the approval process. Local communities will work to enhance the process of a project because it is for their own benefit. Thereby, CBAs can result in services being delivered without delay.

I'm certain that all of us are committed to strengthening our communities, and one way of realizing this vision is to enrich communities through collaboration and meaningful participation. For communities, the opportunities to apply their skills in local projects will ultimately generate a sense of pride and ownership.

Our government has committed billions of dollars over the next several years to infrastructure investments. The primary purpose of these infrastructure investments is for jobs and economic growth for the middle class and for those working hard to join it.

I am convinced, and I am sure that members will be with me in saying that meaningful employment is one method to achieve this. That is the way. Now it is time that we see the importance of inclusiveness through skills training, meaningful employment, and communities taking ownership of these infrastructure investments as a step towards the eradication of poverty and the promotion of social harmony.

Some of us may think that we have placed added constraints on contractors by addressing community inclusion during the bidding process. However, this is false because this process is very simple. The successful bidder will be bound to provide information to the minister, and the involvement of the minister will make the process simple.

Furthermore, there will be more accountability for Canadian tax dollars. The minister will not only have more involvement in the project, but will also be accountable to Parliament and taxpayers.

From the consultation process in my riding, what I have gathered by speaking to members of the community and to contractors is that CBAs will be welcomed by everyone, because they will ultimately promote socio-economic benefits for communities. Needless to say, this concept has been tried and successfully proven in many cities, provinces, and countries, like Ontario and the United States of America.

Bill C-344 would require the government to implement the modernization of the government procurement process. It would state to businesses and communities that we are managing procurement effectively to achieve broader socio-economic goals, while making it faster to do business with the federal government.

Let it remain clear that the purpose of Bill C-344 is to better our communities by creating a sense of community participation. Motivation in the communities will come by way of collaboration and ownership in the project. Skill training opportunities, employment, jobs, and additional benefits to communities are all reasons for the CBA. It is a win-win situation.

May 10th, 2018 / 12:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

I was just talking about the lack of detail, saying that $52 million is going to go to create a program that does not benefit first nations. We've heard certain members praise this current system that the first nations have repeatedly said is broken.

Are we going to have this money spent willy-nilly, without hearing the effects on women in small businesses? We've just heard that Bill C-344,which hasn't been studied by the government, is going to add more red tape to procurement for small businesses, which will affect women. If the time is up, I'm happy to...but we've heard specifically from women witnesses that they're generally smaller businesses, and added paperwork disproportionately hurts women in small businesses.

We haven't addressed how it will be, yet we're expected to spend $52 million without even asking the government how they're going to spend that.

May 10th, 2018 / 12:20 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

Okay.

On Bill C-344, with regard to the community benefits, I have asked several times if we have costed out what that will cost the taxpayers. Also this extends to the small and medium-sized enterprise procurement study we have been working on for quite a while in a non-partisan fashion. We've heard repeatedly that paperwork and uncertainty around contracts make it difficult and proportionally exclude women-led small businesses.

Have we done a study on what Bill C-344 will do to that issue but also to add to costs for taxpayers?

Department of Public Works and Government Services ActPrivate Members' Business

March 28th, 2018 / 5:50 p.m.
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Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion to concur in Bill C-344 at report stage.

The House resumed from March 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit), as reported (without amendment) from the committee, be concurred in.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act (community benefit), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.

March 20th, 2018 / 12:15 p.m.
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Conservative

Kelly McCauley Conservative Edmonton West, AB

It has nothing to do with ticking boxes. It adds a bureaucratic layer and adds costs for bidding.

Why haven't we done a study, or will we be doing a study on what it's going to cost taxpayers if Bill C-344 passes, as I assume it will?