moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in the House to speak to Canadians about my private member's bill, Bill , an act to amend the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, community benefit.
Before I begin, I would like to thank the residents of York South—Weston for giving me the confidence and the opportunity to be in the House of Commons to present this legislation.
Since I drew an early slot in the private members' lottery, I consulted widely, and I heard extensively from various stakeholders. I felt a special responsibility to put forward legislation that would greatly benefit all Canadians.
Bill would amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to include a provision that would give the the flexibility to require bidders on federal construction, maintenance and repair contracts to include information on the community benefits that the project would provide.
Community benefits are essentially the social or economic benefits that result from a development project above and beyond the project itself. These include but are not limited to local job creation, paid training, apprenticeships, affordable housing, or any other benefit that the community identifies.
What are community benefits agreements? These are agreements between an infrastructure developer and the that are developed after input from local community groups. CBAs are a new approach and a very important tool in empowering local communities to partner with developers in order to respond to local challenges. Essentially, CBAs maximize the local economic impact of publicly-funded development projects, producing quality jobs, training, and contributing to a responsible growth and development, and a healthier environment.
For example, my riding of York South—Weston has a section of the Eglinton LRT project, a project that has embraced a community-benefits approach, and is a great example of how a public works project can benefit a community above and beyond the project itself.
I will now present case studies. Before I do that, according to a joint report from the Mowat Centre and the Atkinson Foundation, the Government of Canada, the province of Ontario, and the city of Toronto alone have spent $23.5 billion per year procuring goods and services, including construction. Imagine how communities would thrive if even a portion of that expenditure had CBAs tied to it. We would have more local jobs produced and more opportunities for local businesses because big construction contracts would be chopped down to bite-size pieces. We would have more paid training and apprenticeships, and unions would have new blood inserted into their membership.
I held a round table in my riding of York South—Weston in the city of Toronto with the federal . We had over 20 stakeholders participate. The message was clear. They wanted the Government of Canada to leverage spending on federal projects by increasing the local economic impact of these projects. They wanted community benefits to result from these projects above and beyond the project itself. They wanted federal leadership to result from this.
Community benefits agreements are not new. They have been used for years in the United States and in many other parts of the world.
There are great examples also of community benefits agreements working in our country. These also highlight how they could work here.
Social networks and indigenous communities in Canada have signed community benefits agreements for various projects, including the 2010 Olympic Winter Games' Southeast False Creek Olympic Village, where a community benefits agreement was formed to create opportunities in the areas of training, and the acquisition of goods and services.
The second example is the Waneta expansion project. The Columbia Power Corporation signed a community benefits agreement with the Ktunaxa Nation Council for the Waneta expansion project in British Columbia, which included provisions for assistance to the community in small hydro development.
Finally, the Eglinton crosstown LRT project is set to provide benefits to disadvantaged communities through equitable hiring practices, training, apprenticeships, local suppliers, and social procurement opportunities, where possible. In addition to this, other provinces such as Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Manitoba are either exploring or have already implemented a formal community benefit agreement.
Since 2001, just south of the border in Los Angeles, one of the first successful pioneers of community benefit agreements, organizations have negotiated CBAs that range from living wage requirements to investments in parks and recreation.
In the United Kingdom in 2012, the Public Services (Social Value) Act was passed to promote social benefits through public sector procurement. According to this act a commissioning authority must consider how the purchase might improve the economic, social, and environmental well-being of the relevant area, so that everyone can get a slice of the development pie.
All of these case studies show very clearly that there is a growing realization that community benefit agreements are essential to public development projects.
Experience also shows that CBAs can bring historically marginalized or excluded groups into the construction industry. Women, for example, represent more than 50% of the population but just 2.6% of the construction industry labour force. Youth from underprivileged communities, veterans, and indigenous groups can also benefit from community benefit agreements and become more involved in the construction industry.
There are groups already addressing this issue and I will give three examples. The Hammer Heads program in the greater Toronto area is a skill and employment-based training program with the construction industry that provides youth from under-resourced and underprivileged communities with access to apprenticeship career opportunities. Helmets to Hardhats is a Canada-wide program that is designed to provide opportunities to anyone who has or is serving in the Canadian Forces.
Finally, “I'm Eglinton” is a pre-apprenticeship program in my riding of York South—Weston for Ontario Works recipients interested in a career in the construction and building trades industries. The program aims to provide participants with knowledge about the building trades and to expose them to working in the building trades and construction fields. By gaining real-life experience, networking with industry members, and gaining a secure foothold in the construction industry the community benefits in addition to these individuals.
My Bill would also allow for measures to ensure there is implementation of the community benefit agreements that are signed by developers and that there is also a measurement of outcomes.
If Bill is passed, it would empower the to require bidders on government-funded projects to explain the community benefits that would result from these projects. The bill would also enable the minister to require these developers to provide an assessment as to whether the project has indeed provided community benefits. The bill would also require the minister to report back to Parliament at the end of every fiscal year to demonstrate what community benefits were delivered from the CBAs that were signed.
Community benefit agreements are inline with our government's priorities, such as procurement modernization. In addition to this, the largest province in the country, Ontario, has already set a precedent for community benefits. Ontario has successfully made community benefit agreements in the context of infrastructure planning and investment.
In conclusion, the community benefit agreements that would emanate from Bill are particularly suited to my riding and many other communities that would benefit greatly from local and increased economic impact from federal building projects.
Many communities in the U.S. and Canada have already had many projects with a CBA component but they have done this without a legislative framework. However, this is an idea that has passed the test in practical terms and in many communities. It has delivered.
My bill is about bringing CBAs into the federal realm, so that we can allow the Government of Canada to exercise leadership on community benefit agreements and take its benefits to all communities across Canada. If passed, we would have an amazing opportunity in which the Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada would have CBA enshrined in law. This would create a model for the rest of the country. It is also about ensuring that future federal projects involving the construction, maintenance, or repair of federal projects would result in community benefits for millions of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
I am asking my colleagues on all sides of the House for their support for my private member's bill, Bill , so that we can have a community benefit approach enshrined in federal law. I welcome any amendments that my colleagues will bring forward at the committee stage.
Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the member for , for his speech and presentation, and I would like to commend him for introducing his private member's bill, which is an important milestone in the life of a parliamentarian.
As he pointed out in his speech, this is one of the first series of bills being debated, so he had little time to draft it. As a result, I want to raise a few points during my speech today.
Maybe just to remind members, this bill is adding the notion of community benefit along with the already provided capacity to the minister by narrowing the definition of “community benefit” in the public works and government services department. It would expect the bidders to be fulfilling some additional requirements regarding community benefit, if the minister wishes to obtain this information before handing out the contract. It would expect that the minister could ask for a study to the contracted parties so that they can precisely scale of the community benefit generated by the project. There would be an additional step of a report to Parliament after each exercise that would evaluate if the work, repairs, or maintenance generated any community benefit.
Before I comment any further on the bill, I would like to comment on a poll that was done when we talked to businesses in this country. Basically, it says that companies felt that there is too much red tape in Canada already. Sixty-nine per cent of businesses in this country find that there is too much red tape and that it is not helping to create jobs, create wealth, or create a lively community. I think, in particular, of farmers who have to deal with red tape exactly in the middle of their high season.
It is very important, as parliamentarians, when we are tabling new legislation, although well intended—and I do not doubt in any way the intention of the member to increase the benefit of the activity of the government—to make sure that we are not adding an extra layer of administrative tasks to those who are actually responding to the need of the government.
Our party, the Conservative Party, certainly supports transparency within the government and in the federal contracting process. We believe that community interests must be served. We know that, naturally, when contracts are awarded in a region, there are automatically benefits to the economy. It is also important to support local workers. We believe in a neutral, rational contracting process that is advantageous to taxpayers.
That is my concern about Bill as introduced. It is a sort of double-edged sword, since it would give the minister discretionary authority in the contracting process. When we consider the tens of thousands of contracts that are awarded every year by Public Services and Procurement Canada, this will create a lot of red tape, which I think is completely unnecessary.
Paragraph 7(1)(a) of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act explains the framework and the various duties or functions of the minister, pursuant to the act. It states that the minister must “[increase] the efficiency and economy of the federal public administration and...[enhance] integrity and efficiency in the contracting process”.
Under these proposals, as we have seen and as I have mentioned, the minister would be able to ask bidders to submit additional reports and would be able to issue a report to Parliament. This translates into many different administrative tasks. It is another step for the bidder, but it also means additional tasks for our public officials, tasks that are unnecessary.
Therefore, in the interest of small and medium-sized businesses, we believe this is unnecessary. I invite my colleague to consider some of the initiatives in place to reduce red tape. Examples from the Government of New Brunswick and others from Quebec come to mind.
My colleague mentioned the Helmets to Hardhats Canada program, an initiative that was led by veterans themselves to facilitate veterans' integration into civil society. He could have mentioned a number of other initiatives that our government brought in to reduce red tape for veterans, including the veterans independence program. We also simplified the process for that program.
Veterans no longer have any paperwork to fill out for that program. In the past, they had to fill out forms and include invoices, whether it was for housekeeping, snow removal or window cleaning, and it all had to be reviewed by officials. There were over 100,000 transactions of that nature. We simplified the process so there would be only two payments, thereby making things easier for veterans.
Officials can now spend their time on more important tasks than reviewing housekeeping, snow removal and window cleaning invoices. Taxpayers also come out further ahead, as do veterans, most of whom are aging, we have to admit, and who benefit from the veterans independence program, also known as the VIP program.
I also want to applaud the fact that Public Works and Government Services Canada has already produced recommendations in response to the Red Tape Reduction Commission's work, which started in 2011. Led by the minister, the member for , our government consulted businesses across the country with a view to boosting efficiency and figuring out how best to reduce red tape and spare businesses from getting bogged down in bureaucratic processes.
Of the many recommendations, Public Works and Government Services Canada adopted two that zeroed in on improving the procurement process. In response to one of the recommendations in the Red Tape Reduction Commission's report, Public Works and Government Services Canada improved the famous MERX database. People who work for Public Works and Government Services Canada know it well.
PWGSC improved the procurement process by adopting a smart procurement approach that leverages digital technology to provide tools and information that enhance service delivery while cutting costs and reducing the operational burden for clients, suppliers, and procurement staff. That is my first example.
The department continued to create electronic tools for its clients, which helped the government to become more efficient and improve its services. That measure is related to another measure, the open bidding service. It was recommended that the program be improved and that is what PWGSC did. The government electronic tendering service was improved. There is now one-stop access to information on the federal government's procurement activities.
The people watching at home, whether they be entrepreneurs or suppliers, can go to the MERX website to see all of the federal government's procurement and leasing needs and determine whether they can meet those needs. This bill pertains mainly to property development projects.
The MERX website has become the Government of Canada's official website for tendering opportunities. This site provides one-stop access to information on the federal government's procurement activities. It contains useful information and it is easy to access.
Now, it is important for the government to simplify its processes and become more efficient by removing red tape rather than creating more.
We believe that today's bill will create red tape and concentrate powers in the minister's hands. Given the large number of transactions that are conducted, I worry that this bill will merely serve to create more red tape. That is why we cannot support this bill today.
Once again, we need to remember that if our companies have to deal with red tape, they will not be able to remain competitive. As a result, in order to create healthy communities, we need to reduce red tape. We do not intend to support this bill at this time.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin on a point of consensus. I believe all members of the House support investment in infrastructure. We sometimes differ on how those funds are allocated. For example, in the recent federal budget, transit funding was allocated based on ridership, which is probably a good deal for a city like Toronto that has a very well-developed transit system, but it does not do much to help a city like Regina that needs funding to extend its transit system.
Looking at the province of Saskatchewan as a whole, we will receive less than 1% of the transit funding from the budget, even though we comprise more than 3% of Canada's population.
Another area on which we sometimes differ is the conditions that government applies to infrastructure investment. The previous Conservative government required projects to be organized as public-private partnerships in order to receive federal funding. One of the problems with that is that public-private partnerships effectively involve paying a private business to borrow money at a higher interest rate than the government itself could access.
I was very active in the referendum campaign in Regina to keep our new waste water treatment plant public. However, the city privatized this facility because it needed to be a P3 in order to receive federal funding.
During the campaign, I talked about removing this restriction from federal infrastructure funding. I am very pleased that the federal government has now promised to do exactly that. We should be deciding on a case-by-case basis what financing model makes the most sense for which infrastructure projects. We should not have the government arbitrarily saying that they have to be P3s.
I am happy to work with the government to implement that change, but I am also disappointed that the government has increased funding to PPP Canada, because that money, by definition, will only be available to projects that organize themselves as P3s.
Another type of condition that we could talk about for infrastructure funding is domestic or local procurement. If one of the goals of infrastructure spending is to boost the Canadian economy, then it certainly makes sense to buy domestic inputs and to hire Canadian workers.
I would recognize community benefit agreements as being one way of ensuring that public infrastructure spending translates into local jobs and local training opportunities.
The New Democrats definitely support the basic principle behind the bill. However, it is also important to talk about some of the bill's limitations.
As was explained by the member for , the bill would allow the minister to negotiate community benefit agreements, but it would not commit the government to do anything. It is also important to note that this is being put forward as a private member's bill rather than as government legislation.
I am sure the member for is putting forward the bill in good faith, but let us also recognize that the Liberals have more history of talking about community benefit agreements without actually doing very much.
The member for talked about a Metrolinx project at the Eglinton LRT that included a community benefit agreement. I would like to talk about another Metrolinx project. This was the construction of the Union Pearson Express. Let us remember, Metrolinx is a crown corporation of the provincial Liberal government. In building this hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Union Pearson Express upgrades, it refused to create apprenticeships and almost none of the workers were hired locally. Therefore, there is a big difference between talking about community benefit agreements and actually implementing them.
Another limitation of the bill is that the government is simultaneously pushing ahead with trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that will restrict subnational procurement. I have already asked whether the government is confident that community benefit agreements will not be challenged under the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
I think we heard two answers to this point in the debate. One was that the analogous Ontario legislation so far has survived trade challenges, but obviously it has not been in place under the TPP, so it is hard to know whether it will survive that agreement. The other answer we heard is that the TPP includes some sort of a carve-out for minority hiring, and that is not overly surprising given that the United States is involved in the agreement and does have some of those requirements itself. However, it is not clear to me that this exemption is really going to be effective in allowing all of the community benefit agreements that we have talked about during the course of this debate. I think there is a real risk that Liberal trade policy is going to contradict the spirit if not the letter of the bill.
I would also like to take a moment to respond to some of the points made by the Conservatives in this debate.
I was very impressed by the number of times the member for used the term “red tape”. I do not know if he set a record for this Parliament, but it was quite a performance and I salute him for that. However, I do not think that just calling something red tape is necessarily a good argument. Let me be clear, the bill would not apply requirements to private construction projects. What it is saying is that if a company wants to bid on a government infrastructure project, some of the contractual requirements could involve hiring local workers, providing local training, and those sorts of things. Therefore, I really do not think that it makes a lot sense to call that red tape any more than we call any other type of requirement written into a contract red tape.
The other argument we heard from the member for , which I found maybe a little bit contradictory, was that the former Conservative government had done a lot of good things to mandate the hiring of veterans as apprentices. It sounded to me like that was maybe an example of a community benefit-type agreement that worked, and certainly not something we would want to dismiss as being red tape.
In summary, I am going to vote for the bill, but I am skeptical as to how many community benefit agreements it will actually produce. To the extent that it does produce community benefit agreements, I am skeptical that they will survive Liberal trade policy.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to support Bill .
To put this bill in context, I would like to take a moment to describe the department governed by that act. Public Service and Procurement Canada serves as a vital foundation for the Canadian government. With the help of over 12,000 hard-working employees across Canada, the department acts as the government's principal treasurer, accountant, and real property manager.
The department's efforts ensure that the government buys what it needs and guarantees that resources are in place for the future. This includes big ticket items, such as military procurement and large information technology systems, as well as other goods and services, such as office supplies, fuel, and translation services.
In total, PSPC manages about $15 billion on behalf of other government departments and agencies. This amounts to over 80% of total federal government procurement.
Not only does this government department buy much of the goods and services for the Government of Canada, we also seek to make these purchases beneficial to communities and businesses across the country. For example, of the $15 billion in procurement the department manages each year, around 40% goes to Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises.
Canada's unprecedented, multi-billion dollar national shipbuilding strategy is also giving rise to accomplishments beyond procurement. In addition to re-establishing a world-class shipbuilding industry, the national shipbuilding strategy is growing our economy, creating jobs for Canadians, and generating apprenticeship programs for indigenous communities and women.
This bill is yet another example of our efforts to make government procurement work for all Canadians. The principles that underpin this private member's bill and its intended objectives are laudable and deserve further study in committee.
I would like to congratulate the member for York South—Weston for his work on this private member's bill. When he introduced the bill, he stated that he would like to empower communities to make development work for them. I think this is something every member of this House can support.
Bill seeks to amend section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act to include a provision stating:
The Minister may, before awarding a contract for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, require bidders on the proposal to provide information on the community benefits that the project will provide.
The bill also requires that:
A contracting party shall, upon request by the Minister, provide the Minister with an assessment as to whether the project has provided community benefits.
The Minister must table an annual report in Parliament assessing whether construction, maintenance, or repair projects have provided community benefit.
Other jurisdictions are starting to move toward an approach that considers community benefits in the context of infrastructure investment. Such approaches generally involve the use of community benefits agreements, which are formal agreements between a real estate agent or infrastructure developer, and a coalition that reflects and represents people who are affected by a large development project.
Community benefit agreements are not in any way a new concept. They have been used for years in the United States, and they were used in the construction of the athletes' village for the Vancouver Olympics.
Last year, Ontario was the first province to include community benefits in provincial infrastructure projects under the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015.
If Bill is referred to committee, it would be advisable for the committee to examine the experiences of these jurisdictions in more detail and identify the lessons learned that could be applied to federal endeavours in Canada.
When he introduced the bill, the member for also said that community benefit agreements “create community wealth, quality jobs, training, responsible growth, and a healthier environment”.
Once again, these are objectives that every member of the House of Commons should support.
In fact, our government is already taking steps to achieve these objectives. To strengthen the middle class and ensure more inclusive growth for more Canadians, budget 2016 is making historic investments in infrastructure and innovation.
According to the budget, “investing in infrastructure is not just about creating good jobs and economic growth. It's also about building communities that Canadians are proud to call home.”
The mandate letter for the requires that the minister, “Modernize procurement practices so that they are simpler, less administratively burdensome, deploy modern comptrollership, and include practices that support our economic policy goals, including green and social procurement.”
To achieve these objectives the Department of Public Services and Procurement Canada is working to simplify its contracts, templates, and business processes. This will make it easier for clients to buy the goods and services they need to deliver their programs to Canadians and for suppliers to sell to the government.
The department is acquiring and implementing a new web-based e-procurement solution, which will move the Government of Canada procurement function to an e-business model. This will leverage the best practices of the industry, which will reduce cost and process burden for government departments and agencies, and for suppliers.
Taken together, these initiatives will modernize the Government of Canada procurement function, foster competition, and allow procurement to advance social and green policies for the benefit of Canadians. With this private member's bill, we are taking another step to ensure procurement is socially conscious and community-focused.
To come back to the content of Bill , the bill should be sent to committee, because several parts of it warrant closer attention.
First of all, we need to determine whether the scope of the bill will allow for its own objectives to be fully achieved. For instance, amending section 20 of the Department of Public Works and Government Services Act, in accordance with Bill , would require that community benefits be taken into account for projects led by Public Services and Procurement Canada, whether on its own behalf or on behalf of another department.
Accordingly, the overall impact of the amendments would be limited, because approximately 30% of the federal government's real property is managed by Public Services and Procurement Canada.
Second, we need to look closely at any potential impact the bill could have on international trade agreements. International agreements often impose certain restrictions regarding the requirements that member nations can include in their bid solicitation process. The intentions of Bill are laudable. Let us send it to committee so that it can be examined in greater detail.
We want procurement to work for all Canadians and the bill would help us do just that.
Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak to the bill.
I think we should start by understanding what Bill would actually do.
It is a classic case of the Liberal government getting its backbenchers to do its dirty work, because we know that the government has already betrayed small businesses in Canada by not reducing the tax rate down to 9%, and the bill before us would impose additional burdens on our small businesses across Canada. Therefore, the Liberals have a private member, one of their backbenchers, bring forward the bill. It provides the Liberal government with plausible deniability. The bill gets passed here in the House, and they blame the House for it rather than themselves. We know what is up.
Essentially, Bill would allow the minister to require bidders on federal projects to provide information on the community benefits that a federal project would deliver. We have no idea what benefits would be sufficient, which, of course, introduces greater uncertainty into the bidding process.
However, it is not just information that the minister would be able to require. The bill would also empower the minister to demand bidders provide a formal assessment as to whether community benefits have indeed been provided.
Who would conduct this assessment? Is it the minister at his or her discretion? Is it some independent party? What is the threshold or standard that must be met? Is there a value of contract that would be captured? We do not know. Would bidders compete with each other on who could best meet the community-benefit test, or is it whether the appropriate balance between community benefit and value for money has been met? Who makes that decision?
Bill would turn what is usually an objective process, which is value for money, in other words, getting a project, product, or service at the best price and the best quality, and turns it into a largely subjective determination by the minister. This is another example of a Liberal government overreaching and interfering in matters it should stay out of.
Last week, I spoke to Motion No. 45, which was another Liberal initiative that essentially interfered in the ability of municipalities to do contracting. Now the federal government wants to force every municipality to run every single infrastructure project over $500,000 through an assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions that will be caused both upstream and downstream. Again, it is a horrific cost to municipalities. There are 4,000 of them across Canada, multiply that by two or three projects a year, and think of how much money that is going to cost municipalities across the country.
This is all about layering red tape upon red tape upon red tape, and undermining and underappreciating the value of small businesses to our economy.
As I mentioned, the Liberals have already hammered Canadian small businesses by breaking their promise to lower the small business tax rate to 9%. That was a very clear broken promise. That decision alone is going to cost our businesses somewhere in the order of $2.2 billion over the next five years, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs across this country. Now they are hammering them with even more government red tape, increasing the cost of doing business, and further discouraging smaller businesses from bidding on government contracts.
The bottom line is that Bill would hurt small businesses. It would add a massive amount of additional regulation on top of the ones that already exist. It would dissuade small businesses from bidding on government contracts, and it would require small businesses to assess matters other than price and quality, which, of course, will drive up the cost of government and drive up the cost to taxpayers in this country.
Of course, these companies, if they are going to bid, are going to have to build in these additional risk considerations into the price that they bid. We are talking about additional costs to taxpayers across this country.
Then there are, of course, the additional powers that would be given to the minister under the bill. Bill would expand the minister's discretionary power and allow the minister to unnecessarily politicize the contracting process.
There is no clarity as to when an assessment would be required. It could be in the middle of the contract, after the contract had been let, or maybe after the bids have been received. There is no clarity in the bill at all. It is very broad in scope. It is highly ambiguous. It is vague. It leaves everybody here in the House, the contracting community, the sub-trades, and the workers in the dark.
I asked a question of the proponent of the bill earlier on. Given the fact that he claimed he had broadly consulted on the bill, had he at the very least consulted with the key business organizations across the country that represent small business? I am talking about the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, the Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters. The member said that he had consulted with unions across the country. Really. Why not with the businesses themselves that actually pay that price? He said that he had consulted with academics. What about consulting with the very Canadians who would be most impacted by the bill?
The bottom line is this. The bill would do a few things. It would impose an increased burden on our companies. It would impose additional costs on them and uncertainty for small businesses that have already been betrayed by the Liberal government. The bill would also replace what in the past was a clear process, value for money, ensuring we get the best quality at the very best price, with a process that would be unpredictable and highly subjective and dependent upon the discretion of the minister and his or her officials.
In his speech, the sponsor highlighted all of the things the bill intended to achieve. It is clear to anyone who heard the speech that this is about social engineering at significant cost to the taxpayer. The bill would drive up costs to taxpayers to try to achieve some social engineering goals that the Liberal government suggests may be reasonable objectives.
The best response we should have when businesses are contracting with the federal government is to ensure that they understand what the rules are, ensuring Canadian taxpayers get the best value for money.
Then of course the proponent referred to Ontario, of all places, as being the role model of these community benefit agreements. A Liberal government in the province of Ontario has mismanaged the economy so much and has driven that province into such debt that today it has the highest sub-federal cost, the highest sub-federal debt not only within Canada, not only within North America, but in the entire world. Is that a role model we should be following? Absolutely not.
No one should be surprised that the bill is coming from the Liberal side of the House. We can also be certain that Liberals' will find new ways of increasing costs to taxpayers, interfering with the private sector, and clearly giving themselves more and more power over time. On that basis alone we should reject the bill.
I ask the Liberal government, the Liberal members of the House, the NDP members who have highlighted significant shortcomings of the bill, to reconsider their support of the bill, let business do what it does best, which is provide contracts, services, products of the very best quality and at the very best price. By doing so, we would be serving the taxpayers of our country.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to a bill that has to do with community benefit. Community benefit is extremely important to small rural communities.
Some members come from ridings similar to mine, ridings covering a lot of land, often with a hundred or so small municipalities. When the federal government chooses to invest locally, hire local companies and workers, or purchase materials locally, it can make all the difference for these communities, especially those that are fighting their decline every day. Many of those communities have lost infrastructure over the years. Accordingly, it is worthwhile to focus on as much community benefit as possible.
Although I support the principle of my colleague's bill, I think that some points could be improved or clarified. That is why I want to share my thoughts with him. If he chooses to present amendments to his bill in committee to improve it, he will have some possible solutions to make it more effective.
I want to emphasize that when it comes to community benefits the bill says:
The Minister may, before awarding a contract for the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, require bidders on the proposal to provide information on the community benefits that the project will provide.
Note that it says “may”. It is not mandatory. The circumstances are not defined. One of the problems I see with the bill is that it is not clear on whether the bidder is required to provide such information. It depends on what side of the bed the minister wakes up that morning. If he gets up on the left side, he will require that information, but if he gets up on the right side he will say it is not necessary. That is a problem. If we do not define the criteria describing the circumstances under which it would be appropriate to require the information, then we have a big problem. Then we end up with another bill that gives more power to the minister and we do not want that.
When stable, reliable, well-known criteria are adopted, we avoid the problem of wondering why one project had a community benefits analysis and another project did not. That is one of the first problems I see with this bill.
Once an analysis is underway and the minister has asked about the community benefits, we have no idea how that information will be used. Is it just a potential piece of information for the minister or his team at Public Works and Government Services? Will this really add points on the project evaluation grid? That is a problem. The minister is asking for something without any real criteria on which to base the request. What is more, we do not know whether the information requested will actually be considered when the time comes to determine which project to choose. It is a problem.
This is about more transparency for governments, but in the end, disclosing why they want to know about community benefits or why not is discretionary. Choosing to factor something into the analysis or not is discretionary. We have to consider that. I think it is interesting, but I would not want people asking for that information for basically no good reason. If, ultimately, community benefits are not factored into the decision to approve or reject a proposal, then why bother asking for that information initially when it only complicates things?
The member opposite really should explain that better if he wants to improve his bill.
Furthermore, there is no way to know if there is any obligation to keep these promises. Unless someone makes an access to information request about potential community benefits for each project according to various bidders, there is no way of knowing. However, since these are private bids, I am not even sure whether that information can even be obtained under the Access to Information Act. There is no obligation to disclose whether promises were duly kept.
Imagine that a number of companies have analyzed the benefits that their project would generate and that one company is chosen. Under the bill, the minister could ask for a report in order to find out whether the work generated community benefits. That report would have to be tabled in Parliament before the end of the fiscal year. However, we would not know whether the community benefits that were created actually correspond to the list of potential benefits that was submitted. We would not know whether the bidder was actually meeting its obligations in terms of community benefits. We would not know whether the the bidder conducted a serious analysis of the potential community benefits or whether it merely exaggerated the community benefits a bit to increase its chances of being awarded the contract. That could also be a problem.
I believe that, when we ask about the potential community benefits, we need to ensure that we closely monitor the situation and that commitments are kept. Community benefits have an important impact on the economy, particularly in small communities. When there is a major construction project, the small restaurants and services nearby often reap the benefits. We also need to be able to maintain a certain expertise and fully understand the regional characteristics related to the project.
The problem I see with this bill is that the various parts are not connected. It is not a continuous process. Bidders are asked about community benefit, but once the project is complete, no one makes sure that this benefit truly exists. Furthermore, the minister is not required to ask about community benefit once the project is complete.
The same is true of the report to Parliament. There is a problem with continuity, from the bidding stage to the results stage.
I hope that my colleague has taken note of my comments, since they can help him improve his bill when it is sent to committee.