Mr. Speaker, today I speak in favour of Bill C-227, the community benefits agreement.
As the member for Sault Ste. Marie, I campaigned on historic infrastructure investments of $125 billion over 10 years. I strongly believe that if the government wants to, investments will have important impacts on regions and communities, and the bill will have that effect.
Bill C-227 will amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to include provisions that will give the minister the flexibility to require bidders on federal projects to include information on community benefits of said projects for the local community.
For the purposes of the bill, the community benefit agreements are defined as social or economic benefits the community obtains from a public works project. These benefits can include local job creation and training opportunities, improvement of public spaces within the community, and any other specific benefits identified by the community.
It is a bill modelled on existing legislation in the province of Ontario, which was implemented earlier this month and is a great fit with this government's priorities.
In my riding of Sault Ste. Marie, the steel industry, including companies like Essar Steel Algoma and Tenaris Algoma Tubes are plagued with challenges. Global overcapacity and weak demand have put these domestic steel producers in jeopardy and are threatening the livelihoods of many people and their families. Many have already been laid off. Good-paying jobs in northern Ontario are hard to come by.
As a former city councillor and someone who has worked in economic development in Sault Ste. Marie and northern Ontario for many years, I know that economic development, diversification, and investments in key infrastructure projects are more important today than ever.
In fact, Sault Ste. Marie's unemployment rate over the last few years has been in the double digits. Investment in infrastructure in Bill C-227, in combination, will work to ensure that the historic investments our government is delivering have direct impacts that will leverage the existing skills and expertise of local businesses and individuals in my riding and in ridings across this country.
As someone who has worked in training and with the trades, it is my hope that, once passed, this legislation will also lead to more opportunities to train and develop a skilled workforce.
CBAs are a new approach to empowering local communities to partner with developers to respond to local challenges, and through encouraging activities like training, can lead to economic development and growth, poverty reduction, and environmental sustainability in neighbourhoods across Canada.
Canadians, in particular, are struggling economically and need a boost. Our government is working to deliver on a procurement and modernization agenda, and the constituents of my riding, like many others, want the Government of Canada to step up to the plate, after years of neglect, to ensure that Canadians are not left behind.
I think of an example in my riding of community benefits that our first nations partners put in place many years ago. We should look to our first nations as leaders in developing community benefits. When we added lanes to Highway 17 that ran through my riding a few years ago, the first nation of Garden River said they would like to see some community benefits, and they listed a number of things, including employment of Garden River people, training, use of local aggregates, and subcontracting with local businesses.
I think we could learn a lesson from our first nation friends that this is a good thing. It really helped Garden River. I know that Chief Paul Syrette is a leader in this area and will continue to be.
I have been able to speak with the mayor of Sault Ste. Marie, Christian Provenzano, and with many city councillors, and they believe that this is a good thing that will really help our economy, which has been struggling over the last few years.
The Government of Canada has an opportunity to work directly with many communities across this area to dictate these community benefits.
I will use the example of some tradespeople who came to my area to get certification so they could work. They were not from the community. They were not even from northern Ontario, Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, or Alberta. They were from the United States. Sault Ste. Marie is on the border of America, and they had come to work. I have nothing against my American cousins, but when the government spends infrastructure monies, they should direct them to community benefits.
I said that the economy in my riding had been suffering over the last few years and it was an opportunity for other tradespeople from Sault Ste. Marie, northern Ontario, or across the country to work, but they did not. Those are just two anecdotal examples where community benefits in play have helped a community like Garden River and when community benefits were not in play, there was a bit of seepage, so to speak.
Our government has also invested greatly in infrastructure spending in my area, and there are many federal projects that could be invested in and expanded upon. This gives the minister the ability to work with local communities.
I would be remiss if I did not thank the member for York South—Weston for introducing this great bill and for his hard work. I know he has gone from coast to coast across the country, talking with many businesses, labour organizations, communities, community leaders, and organizations. I will not steal his thunder as I know he will speak later, but there were very positive results from those consultations and hard work. My hat goes off to the member for York South—Weston, who has been working very hard.
This is really important. It is a critical time for us to invest in infrastructure and get the economy going. It is of utmost importance, not just for my generation but our children's generation. My daughter Kate Sheehan is visiting Ottawa today on a professional development day. We have to think about what her future will look like in Sault Ste. Marie and Canada.
I am very pleased that we can dictate the community benefits that will help the riding of Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding area. The people from Batchewana First Nation are going to have opportunities, as well as Prince Township, Heyden, and Searchmont. There are untold opportunities, and this is just the beginning.
We could look at this to see how we could expand it to have more impact. Our historic spending of $125 billion over 10 years is absolutely remarkable. Of course, the spending is important to the steel industry because infrastructure projects use steel. Being the co-chair of the steel caucus, I recognize there are plenty of opportunities for us to have steel in our infrastructure program. I know it will be extremely beneficial for places like Sault Ste. Marie, northern Ontario, Ontario, and the rest of Canada.
I cannot stress enough that, after talking with local community leaders, they are totally looking forward to announcements. I am looking forward to making announcements in the future in my riding and working with community leaders to prioritize which infrastructure projects they believe are important. Not only that, but we should engage them again and ask how we can benefit their communities more, get people working, get people into the trades, and get local contractors working on these infrastructure programs.
I again thank the member for York South—Weston. It is an honour to co-second the bill.