Could Olivia Chow really force city contractors to hire young people?

Could Olivia Chow really force city contractors to hire young people?


Back in May, Olivia Chow made a proposal that she continues to tout at debates and other publicity stops. Her idea is to use community benefit agreements (or CBAs) to require companies that take on major city infrastructure contracts to hire local youth—a measure Chow says will help create 5,000 new jobs and apprenticeships for young Torontonians over four years. “One out of five young people can’t find a job,” Chow said at a press conference. “It’s demoralizing. They don’t have their first job, they can’t get experience, and then they can’t land a new job. It’s a vicious cycle.”

election-idea-evaluator-light-green-smallWOULD IT WORK?

Community benefit agreements, in a general sense, already do. They’ve been used in the U.K., Los Angeles, Vancouver (for the Olympic Village) and even Toronto. As part of the Regent Park revitalization, the city partnered with Toronto Community Housing and the area’s developer, Daniels Corporation, to design a hiring program that created nearly 500 jobs for local residents. “It’s a useful and successful model,” says Steve Shallhorn, executive director of the Labour Education Centre, a nonprofit training organization that advocates for CBAs. “There are lessons learned from Regent Park that could be applied to future community benefit agreements in Toronto.”

Could those future agreements create ten times as many jobs in a much larger area? There are a few possible hitches. For one, Canada’s Agreement on Internal Trade prohibits “discriminatory procurement practices,” such as requiring that “a construction contractor or subcontractor use workers, materials or suppliers of materials originating from the province where the work is being carried out.”

“There may be some trade challenges,” Shallhorn says, “but I think the logic is that, since it’s Toronto taxpayers paying the bills, Toronto citizens would have first crack at the job.” (The Regent Park agreement didn’t face legal issues on this point.) Additionally, he says, applicants or new workers would almost inevitably need to live in or around the city, whether the agreement stipulated that or not. With a properly framed recruitment process, he says, “I don’t see any legal impediments.”

Because of existing recruitment and training tools, the plan wouldn’t cost the city any significant amount of money, Shallhorn adds. “That infrastructure is already in place, so presumably that’s how the recruitment would be done.” Chow’s agreements, he thinks, would simply change the ages of the people entering training. “There might be a bit of extra money spent on the actual apprentice training programs, but that would be a provincial cost.”

If the community benefit agreement is financially and legally feasible, then, could it really create 5,000 new jobs and apprenticeships over four years? “It’s probably realistic, given the size of the city’s construction budget,” Shallhorn says. While Chow’s plan obviously doesn’t guarantee every one of the unemployed youth she mentions will be willing to work in the sector, the agreement in itself, Shallhorn concludes, “is entirely doable.”

How do other 2014 mayoral candidates’ ideas measure up? Click here to find out.