Terry Parker is executive director of Building Trades of Alberta and Adam Legge is president of the Business Council of Alberta. This article originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal.
Without question, the past 12 months have been some of the most difficult and trying in our lifetimes. A year has been swallowed by a virus that's upended the status quo and wreaked havoc on everything from our health-care systems to our economies.
History will remember this period as one of incredible hardship. However, it should also be remembered as a time when the importance of unity was emphasized and adjusting to struggle rested on coming together to protect and support each other and our communities.
That's why the Business Council of Alberta (BCA) and Building Trades of Alberta (BTA) have come together as two organizations representing business and labour to advocate for an all-in approach to provincial recovery. To drive the recovery Alberta requires, labour, business, and governments must work together in a way even more aligned than in the past. At the end of the day, pipefitters in Hinton want the same things as head office workers in Calgary, and as politicians hear from folks in their constituencies: a prosperous province, a better future for our children, and a good life overall.
An opportunity for co-operation presented itself with Alberta Budget 2021, which included over $20 billion in infrastructure spending over the next three years. This can help immediately jump-start economic activity and get Albertans back to work.
Alberta business and Alberta's skilled tradespeople can be, and must be, partners in getting these shovel-ready projects built so they can create tangible long-term value for the province.
How do we do that? One way is through social procurement, which both BCA and BTA have teamed up to push for.
These modern procurement arrangements are in line with the global environment, social and governance (ESG) movement; and when a company bids on a project like a new school, wind farm, or road, for example, they compete on cost and quality, but also on the opportunity to compete on how the business can drive additional benefit to the province.
These arrangements can see local workers and underrepresented groups in the labour market like women, Indigenous people, and new Canadians hired first. They include provisions for hiring apprentices, and heavy focus is placed on using these projects to skill up the next generation of workers.
Further, social procurement can ensure sub-contracting goes to local businesses — providing opportunities for smaller businesses — and contain requirements for environmental performance and monitoring.
Social procurement ensures value for dollar by making sure infrastructure projects are done using the highest-skilled, best-trained, and safest workers in the industry through the use of local businesses and workforce.
It gives incentive to companies that provide high-quality, locally skilled labour; those with real commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. Exactly the kind of world-class businesses we have in Alberta. In fact, it can give them a leg up over lower-quality competition from elsewhere.
Correctly structured, social procurement benefits workers, as local workers are more likely to get jobs; it benefits Alberta companies, as they often have a greater ability to demonstrate positive community impact; and it benefits the government and Albertans, as we enjoy value for dollar, and additional benefits over and above the new infrastructure project.
We could dramatically increase the scope and scale of these benefits too by securing an outsized portion of the upcoming federal economic stimulus, which will also prioritize green initiatives. Alberta has both high unemployment and high potential for carbon-reducing projects.
That's why we're encouraging the provincial government to work with the federal government to direct more of these dollars to Alberta, with a particular focus on investing in projects that lower the carbon emissions of our major industries. With these projects, Alberta and Canada win three times: lower emissions are good for the planet, infrastructure projects create good jobs, and lowering the carbon intensity of our products makes everything we produce — oil, gas, forestry, and even agriculture — more competitive globally.
Now, let's get to work.