BC Supreme Court Ruling Paves Way for Challenge of Restrictive Community Benefits Agreement
Vancouver—In a decision issued yesterday, the BC Supreme Court ruled that a challenge against the NDP government’s legal authority to impose a Building-Trades-Union-only requirement on public construction projects be allowed to proceed.
“We will be applying to the court to have an immediate hearing on our challenge, so that the government can be prevented from imposing this costly and unnecessary requirement on other public construction projects,” said Peter Gall, legal counsel for the coalition that launched the case against the BC government.
According to a coalition of BC’s largest construction associations and progressive unions, the New Democrats’ Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) should be struck down because it violates the rights of BC’s construction workforce to access work and be represented by the union of their choice.
Introduced last year by Premier John Horgan, the CBA is essentially a restrictive deal between the provincial government and their donors, the Building Trades Unions (BTUs), which bars 85 percent of the workforce from accessing work on public infrastructure projects. The vast majority of British Columbia’s workforce—those who choose to be a member of another union or not affiliate with a union—have been frozen out of these projects.
“We are confident that as we move forward with our legal challenge, the courts will decide this case on its merits and uphold the essential rights and freedoms of Canadians, particularly freedom of association and protection against discrimination,” said Ryan Bruce, CLAC BC manager of government relations.
The first project tendered under this complicated model was the relatively small Illecillewaet Highway expansion project, which saw only 4 companies bid and an increased budget of $22 million, or 35 percent. Over a dozen companies would normally bid on a project like this.
The New Democrats acknowledged that the Community Benefits Agreement would add up to seven percent to project costs. It is estimated that the NDP’s favouritism toward the BTU will add $100 million to the cost of the Pattullo Bridge replacement alone.
“Whether it is 7 percent or 35 percent, if this trend continues, with the billions of dollars in projects the government has on the books, British Columbians are going to continue to get less for more,” said Bruce. “If you are in a community hoping to get a new or seismically upgraded school or hospital, you may have to wait a lot longer while John Horgan prioritizes paying back his friends over the needs of your community.”
The coalition is made up of CLAC, Canada West Union, the British Columbia Construction Association, the Vancouver Regional Construction Association, the Independent Contractors and Business Association, the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada, the BC Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and several construction companies, professionals, and workers. They joined forces and launched the lawsuit in February 2019 to halt restrictive labour policies in BC’s construction industry.
“The reality is that achieving the government’s social objectives doesn’t require leaving thousands of workers out in the cold and the excessive waste of taxpayer dollars created by this deal with their Building Trades buddies,” said Bruce. “The basic principles of fair and open tendering and maintaining an inclusive approach to building public infrastructure are the best path to ensuring all British Columbians get a fair chance at gaining employment and training as we continue to develop British Columbia’s skilled workforce.”
The coalition plans to move quickly on its legal challenge against the procurement policy imposed by the NDP government before the BC Supreme Court.