When infrastructure projects come to neighbourhoods, it’s important to ensure that the people who live there have an opportunity to benefit from the jobs and economic impact they produce. That’s why communities should cheer about the recently released Ontario Long-Term Infrastructure Plan (LTIP). The LTIP is an impressive document that lays out a vision not just for what Ontario should be building over the next ten years, but how it should build it, and what that infrastructure should achieve. And, it includes – for the first time in Canada – a provincial commitment to include community benefits in all major infrastructure projects by 2020.
The 2015 Infrastructure and Jobs for Prosperity Act (IJPA) stated that community benefits should be considered in all public infrastructure projects, defining it as “supplementary social and economic benefits” such as local job creation and training opportunities, improvement of public space or other benefits identified by the local community. However, the IJPA made community benefits just one of many principles to be considered. While advocates of community benefits were happy to see the language in the legislation, there was no mandate to pay more than lip service to the concept.
Now, Ontario has kicked this principle into action. The LTIP commits the province to:
(a) select several pilot projects across the province in early 2018 to test different approaches to community benefits (including those delivered traditionally and through Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP));
(b) develop a Community Benefits Framework, in partnership with stakeholders, that will set principles for promoting community benefits, establish roles and responsibilities, provide guidance to participants, and set reporting requirements; and
(c) ensure that all major public infrastructure projects comply with that Framework by 2020.
Of course, much remains to be done to turn this commitment into reality. For example, how quickly will the Province move to choose the pilot projects, since “early 2018” is almost upon us (and we’re in pre-election season, when things tend to slow down)? How will communities be engaged, and how will their needs and aspirations be reflected? Will the Framework set real targets and establish mandatory requirements for tracking, monitoring and reporting? And of course, the biggest question of all – if the Liberals don’t win the next election, will the next government keep this commitment?
These and other questions remain to be answered. But if community benefits is adopted as planned, it will be a gamechanger – and Ontario will lead the country in leveraging its infrastructure investments to build stronger, more inclusive, and more prosperous communities.