Canada: The Federal Community Employment Benefits Initiative: Building Diversity Project-By-Project

On June 22, 2018, federal Ministers Amarjeet Sohi, of Infrastructure and Communities, and Ahmed Hussen, of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, announced a new Community Employment Benefits Initiative (Initiative) to support the diversification of Canada's workforce through infrastructure project funding. We expect that the Initiative will have an impact on developers and operators of infrastructure as well as public sector owners of infrastructure across the country, and its implementation by the federal government and their provincial and territorial counterparts will accordingly be closely watched.

THE INITIATIVE

The Initiative requires that applicants for federal funding under the Investing in Canada plan, which is delivered through Integrated Bilateral Agreements with the provinces and territories, set and pursue targets to provide training, job opportunities and/or procurement opportunities for identified groups. These include Indigenous peoples, women, persons with disabilities, veterans, youth, apprentices, recent immigrants, and small-sized, medium-sized and social enterprises. The Initiative also outlines how recipients of federal funding for new major public infrastructure projects can establish their project targets and report on the results. The Investing in Canada plan covers the federal government's five main infrastructure priorities: public transit infrastructure, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation infrastructure, and rural and northern communities infrastructure.

Provinces and territories will be asked to develop their own community employment benefits approach and to establish associated targets in the three-year infrastructure plans they will be developing under the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. Under their respective infrastructure plans, provinces and territories will be asked to indicate how they intend to advance the community employment benefits program and provide aspirational goals for each of the identified groups, while also reporting annually on progress towards those aspirational targets.

The Initiative will also be implemented under the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) and the Smart Cities Challenge Fund (see Blake's Bulletin – Infrastructure Spending, Blueprints Pending: 2017 Federal Budget).

PROJECTS INCLUDED

The Initiative applies to projects that exceed a total eligible costs threshold negotiated by each province or territory. In most jurisdictions the threshold will be C$10 million, while Alberta and British Columbia will have a threshold of C$25 million. The threshold is yet to be determined for Quebec, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. Eligible projects will be posted on the Investing in Canada plan project map on the Infrastructure Canada website, which will indicate whether the requirement has been applied.

PROJECT-BY-PROJECT DETERMINATION

Provinces and territories have the ability to decide, on a project-by-project basis, whether a project meeting the monetary threshold will take part in the Initiative. If affirmative, then specific targets will be set for three of the identified groups. The targets do not need to be provided at the time of submission, but should follow as soon as possible. In cases where the requirement cannot or will not be applied, a rationale for exemption must be provided to Infrastructure Canada at the time of project submission. It is up to the province or territory to determine what constitutes a valid rationale for non-participation by a particular project. Infrastructure Canada will not adjudicate the merits of the rationale; however, all rationales will be made publicly available. Whether or not a project is participating in the Initiative will not affect the eligibility of that project for federal funding.

REQUIREMENTS

Projects that meet the monetary threshold will have to provide employment and/or procurement opportunities for at least three of the identified groups. However, each jurisdiction can identify appropriate targets for the achievement of community benefits and establish specific targets for each project based on regional and local factors.

Projects are required to report annually on progress made against the targets, including the number of hours worked by an identified population and/or the value of contracts provided to small-sized, medium-sized or social enterprises, as applicable, and a qualitative narrative around the progress made to date by the project, including both successes and challenges.

Although launched as a federal initiative with implementation details to be framed under provincial and territorial direction, we anticipate that policy-makers will look to those involved in the infrastructure industry as public owners, constructors and operators for guidance on regional and local requirements.

OUTLOOK

The Initiative is a welcome enhancement, and potential accelerant, to diversity initiatives already being implemented by industry associations, owners, contractors and suppliers across the country. Time will be required to assess how the Initiative is implemented in each province and territory, however, with some C$180-billion ear-marked by the 2017 federal budget for infrastructure spending over 12 years, the Initiative can't help but have an impact on all those involved in each level of the ownership, development and operation of infrastructure across the country.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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