B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena (Hansard TV)

GUEST COLUMN: A better way to manage B.C.’s public construction

Claire Trevena responds to Andrew Wilkinson on NDP union policy

B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Claire Trevena offers a rebuttal to B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson’s criticism of the NDP approach to public construction. Special to Black Press.

Opposition Leader Andrew Wilkinson’s commentary on Community Benefits Agreements couldn’t be further from the truth. His party continues to mislead British Columbians to distract from their record and ignore the very problems they left behind that we are trying to fix.

Many large projects under their watch were wildly over-budget. Wilkinson knows this as well as anyone – he was the deputy minister in charge during construction of the Vancouver Convention Centre, which blew its budget by $335 million. The Northwest Transmission Line was $332 million over budget. The South Fraser Perimeter Road was $264 million over budget. The Port Mann Bridge project was $1.8 billion over budget from the 2015 estimate.

Even worse, B.C. workers couldn’t always get work on projects. Local workers were frozen out of tunnel construction work on the Canada Line and replaced with dozens of temporary foreign workers from South America and Europe.

Businesses are struggling to find qualified workers now because the B.C. Liberals failed to ensure enough apprentices were being trained in the province. With billions of dollars in investments coming to B.C. over the next decade, we need to drastically increase our skilled workforce. It’s an issue the opposition would continue to ignore.

Our government is building B.C. in a better way. The Community Benefits Agreement ensures that when public dollars are spent on major infrastructure, the projects create good jobs for local workers, support local businesses, and get infrastructure projects built on time and on budget. It increases the participation of women, indigenous workers, and apprentices to help them provide for their families and further their career path.

This agreement gives British Columbians good paying jobs right at home in their communities. Hiring local people means putting food on the table for B.C. families. It means growing local economies and building thriving communities as workers spend money at local businesses. If government is unable to find qualified people who live within 100 kilometres of the project, it will expand that radius to find qualified British Columbians, whether they live on Vancouver Island or in the Okanagan.

Andrew Wilkinson’s claim that only unionized companies can bid is false. Any company can bid on the project – union or non-union. And any qualified worker will have the opportunity to apply, regardless of whether or not they are currently union members. Like any unionized worksite in B.C., workers join the union while working on the project.

His claim around the cost of the Community Benefits Agreement is inaccurate. The benefits to communities from this agreement will far outweigh the cost. It helps pay for the goal of 25 per cent apprenticeship hours over three years. Without this apprentice target, there are few incentives for employers to train apprenticeships – one of the causes of B.C.’s skilled worker shortage.

Agreements like this have a successful track record and have been used for decades in British Columbia and other jurisdictions. Since 1963, 17 B.C. Hydro dams have been built using agreements like this. Every single one was constructed on time and on budget.

People in our province work hard and they care about their communities. The infrastructure projects British Columbians own should do more for them, too. The Community Benefits Agreement recognizes that building roads and bridges is an opportunity to build futures and change lives.

Our government knows the value of building major infrastructure with these agreements. It’s disappointing the opposition doesn’t.

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