Mr. Speaker, we have heard that the Conservatives will be opposing this bill because it lacks specifics but they see the potential for negative consequences. We in the NDP are a hopeful and optimistic party, so despite the bill's lack of specifics we will be supporting it because we see the potential for it to be quite positive legislation. We will also be proposing amendments at committee to try to set out some of those needed specifics. We certainly support the concept of community benefit agreements, trying to ensure that public infrastructure investment creates local jobs and local training opportunities and that it really enriches the local community.
One of the main purposes the government has provided for infrastructure investment is to boost the Canadian economy. Of course, infrastructure spending only boosts the economy to the extent that it employs Canadian workers and procures Canadian-made inputs. However, the current government has a very weak track record of actually making an effort to use procurement policy in that way.
We see, for example, the construction of the new Champlain Bridge using only 19% Canadian-made steel. Even as we have steel mills struggling through bankruptcy protection and laying off workers, the Canadian government is importing a huge amount of steel to build this new bridge. This would be a great example of where the concept of community benefits could be put into effect in a very useful way. Therefore, I agree with basically everything that the member for Brampton Centre said; I am just somewhat skeptical that this bill would actually achieve the laudable goals that the member set forward.
The first thing that is important to emphasize is that this bill would not require community benefit agreements. It would not even require contractors to provide information on community benefits. What it would do is allow the minister to require contractors to provide this information. Therefore, in the hands of a very energetic and proactive minister, it is possible that this bill could be used as a tool to help negotiate community benefit agreements, but it would not actually require the government to do anything of the sort.
Another very important issue is the scope of this legislation. I asked the member for Brampton Centre whether it would apply only to infrastructure that is entirely funded by the federal government, which is very little infrastructure, or whether it would apply to infrastructure that the federal government cost-shares with other levels of government. We did not get any kind of a clear answer to that question, but this is a real issue and it came up at committee when this bill's predecessor, Bill C-227, went before the transport committee. The government essentially tried to indicate that Bill C-227 would only apply to infrastructure totally funded by the federal government, which means it would not apply to very much infrastructure at all.
We believe that a more realistic proposal would be to apply this legislation to infrastructure that the federal government cost-shares with other levels of government, but of course that would require a lot more detail and a lot more information about how the federal government would reconcile its objectives in terms of community benefits with those of provincial and municipal governments. I believe there is the potential for the federal government to work together with provinces and municipalities in quite a constructive fashion to achieve community benefit agreements. However, that is something we should be acknowledging and discussing, rather than talking about this bill as though it would only apply to the very small subset of infrastructure that is entirely paid for by the federal government itself.
Another issue I would like to raise regarding this bill is the lack of evaluation or monitoring. If we were to have a successful strategy to implement community benefit agreements, we would want a very good mechanism to report back on whether the benefits were actually achieved.
What this bill talks about is the minister providing a report on community benefits, which could be almost anything. The minister could easily just pick and choose projects that had some community benefits, and highlight those and trumpet those. It would be very easy for the minister to just put forward a positive report without actually doing much analysis or without really evaluating anything.
We believe it would make a lot more sense for this bill to actually require the minister to report on whether community benefits were achieved, so that we have some actual evaluation of whether all the money that the government is spending on public infrastructure is actually creating local jobs, providing apprenticeship opportunities, improving local communities, and improving our natural environment. We believe that this bill requires a lot more detail in terms of reporting and evaluation.
Another issue that is very important to discuss is how this bill fits with international trade agreements. The government has been very aggressive in signing onto trade deals that limit the public sector's ability to use procurement policy to require local employment, the purchasing of local inputs, and that sort of thing.
One of the questions that came up at committee with this bill's predecessor, Bill C-227, was whether it actually fit in with some of the trade deals that the government has signed. We have not gotten a very clear answer on this from the government, but I believe it is an important question. I do not bring it up as an argument against community benefit agreements. I think we want to pursue community benefit agreements, but we also want to make sure we are not negotiating trade agreements that take away the ability of government to use procurement policy in that way.
What I fear about this bill is that it actually contains so little that maybe it does comply with international trade agreements but it complies with them only because it requires so little of the government or of contractors. It is essentially totally up to the minister whether to even require information on community benefits. It seems as though the bill may not actually apply to very much infrastructure, if it is only those few projects that are entirely funded by the federal government. I hope the answer is not that this bill complies with international trade agreements because it does not actually do anything and it does not require anything.
Now, of course, we do have a number of trade agreements that apply to infrastructure that is entirely funded by the federal government. Where our country has more latitude to use procurement policy in a constructive way is with provincial and municipal infrastructure. Fortunately, most infrastructure is indeed also funded by those levels of government. However, the government does not seem to want to say that this bill would apply to those projects.
The NDP very much supports community benefit agreements. We want to see public investment in infrastructure supporting jobs in local communities, providing apprenticeship opportunities, improving the local area, and supporting a clean environment. A way of actually achieving that would be for the federal government to negotiate community benefit agreements in concert with provincial and municipal governments for infrastructure projects that are jointly funded. That would have an effect on a lot of infrastructure and would also comply with international trade agreements.
Unfortunately, we are getting the suggestion from the government that this would only apply to those few projects that are totally federally funded and, in that case, might not fit in with Canada's international trade obligations.
In conclusion, we in the NDP are going to support this bill, but we are going to support it with the view to getting it to committee so that we can amend it into a constructive and positive piece of legislation.