Letter to the Editor: Just who are CBAs ‘going well’ for in B.C.?

Journal of Commerce | Paul de Jong | November 25, 2020

Re: CBA experts discuss experiences article, Nov. 18, 2020

To the Editor,

When a participant at the annual conference of “CBA experts” concluded that “things are going well” with B.C.’s Community Benefits Agreements, it begs the obvious question: for whom? Certainly not the public or the vast majority of B.C.’s construction workers.

Since its introduction in July of 2019, it has been clear that the John Horgan government’s so-called CBA framework is intended to benefit a select group of Building Trades Unions (BTU) at the expense of everyone else. It decrees a 1970s-style exclusionary regime that severely limits the freedom and flexibility of contractors to not only design their own work but select their crews.  They have no choice but to work with a BTU-exclusive workforce. Not surprisingly, many companies have opted not to bid on these infrastructure projects. 

This is driving up taxpayer costs. So far, infrastructure projects built using CBAs in B.C. are now $400 million over budget and counting. This is the equivalent of five new schools, one new hospital or 3,000 affordable housing units. British Columbians are clearly not getting good value for their tax dollars. This is not something anyone should be bragging about.

There’s also the question of fairness. More than 85 per cent of B.C. construction workers are not affiliated with Horgan’s privileged BTUs. This is a conscious choice. And yet they must join the BTUs and enrich the BTU pension fund in order to work on public projects. This point underlines just how unfair B.C.’s CBA regime really is and why it’s the subject of legal challenges by a large segment of the province’s construction industry.

If the goal of B.C.’s CBA truly is to give underrepresented groups greater opportunity to work on projects, where’s the evidence that this policy is working?

It’s one thing to say “things are going well” with B.C.’s faulty CBA policy, quite another to prove it.

Paul de Jong

President of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada