MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Community Benefits Agreements in the Legislature

Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Community Benefits Agreements in the Legislature. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.

I’m eager to speak on the motion being put forward today by the member for Langley East, but I feel the need to begin by reinforcing two facts, not political machinations: (1) any company can bid on public contracts, and (2) any British Columbian can work on the projects that are put forward.

Now back to the motion. I’d like to draw attention, first, to the language used in it. I refer specifically to the use of the word “condemn.” That’s pretty strong language but ironic, given the lack of action on the part of the previous government to end discriminatory practices that have proliferated in the building trades. I’ll touch on a couple today.

I’ve had the opportunity over the past year to meet students both at the high school level and at post-secondary who are interested in and training in trade and technology — one female at the high school, less than a handful at the post-secondary institution. We heard earlier that women make up just 5 percent of apprentices in trade.

[11:45 a.m.]

I couldn’t be prouder of these young women who are visibly strong and confident in becoming workers in what, at this time, is often an unwelcoming and hostile environment.

We were all invited to a women in trades and technology reception months ago to meet women from a number of trade unions who are on a mission for change. They introduced us to the real challenges that women face, both entering the sector and dealing with the discriminatory attitudes and behaviours on the job.

There’s an expression in the Bible about taking out the log in your own eye before you go looking for a speck in your brother’s eye. In the face of obvious, systemic discriminatory practices that have excluded women from participating — women, who make up nearly half of the paid workforce overall — I think the members opposite would do well to consider what they did or didn’t do in the 16 years that they had as government to end discriminatory practices in the trades. Today this government is not shying away from our responsibility to end gender discrimination.

When the Liberals began their 16 years as government, the first thing to go was the Ministry of Women’s Equality. The former ministry catalogued the positive results of a decade of attention to closing the income gap and opening up opportunities for women in new occupations. For more than a generation following, though, there was a glaring loss of focus on cultivating equity for half of B.C.’s workforce, and it shows with a widened income gap and a lack of progress in opening jobs for women.

Paying attention is how change begins. In the trades, community benefits agreements create that change. Discriminatory practices, of course, extend beyond gender. Community benefits agreements, or CBAs, are a purposeful vehicle to prioritize hiring and training not only women but others who face discrimination in the trades, like persons with diverse abilities and Indigenous workers. The use of CBAs is how government works to halt the insidiousness of racism, misogyny and hate by active inclusion, rather than turning a blind eye.

It’s also worth talking about apprenticeships when addressing discriminatory hiring practices in construction. Under the previous government, it’s no secret that the apprenticeship system was left in tatters. They decimated staff levels at the provincial apprenticeship branch from 120 down to 12. They created apprenticeship programs and then eliminated nearly 40 percent of them, including a native residential construction worker program.

Training program requirements were reduced after being pressured by some shortsighted employers who didn’t want to shoulder the costs of training their own workforce, a workforce they would need to keep their companies alive and thriving.

All the cuts and shortchanging has produced a severe shortage of apprentices. I’ve been out in my community just in the last couple of weeks and have been meeting young workers who are desperate to find apprenticeships to work as sheet metal workers, as auto mechanics.

British Columbians, as workers, should not be discriminated against because former governments abandoned them. CBAs begin to redress the wrong of the previous government’s abandonment of apprenticeships, ensuring that when public funds are spent on public infrastructure, British Columbian workers will not be told: “You need not apply.”