Observations from the last Canadian Council of Public Private Partnerships conference in Toronto: A growing awareness of Community Benefits Agreements?

June 17, 2019

By Tim Runge, Partner

Though it seems a long time ago the CCPPP meeting held at Toronto’s Sheraton Centre in November was as usual extremely well organized, offering terrific networking and learning sessions. It was, as a result well attended by people around the globe. Mark Romoff and his staff are to be complimented. It is an excellent gathering of anyone interested in public private structures related to infrastructure –a must attend event for financiers, developers, law firms and other suppliers to the huge and growing global industry. Canada being at the forefront of P3s attracts people from all over the world interested in learning, selling to and participating in Canada’s dynamic sector, as well as looking at opportunities around the world.

I attended my first conference about 5 years ago. At that conference held at the Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto I was –as I remain- extremely interested in getting a sense of what developers and contractors thought about the notion of what we at Constructive Edge call, Socio-Economic Advancement™.  I wanted to know if developers had ever considered as part of their proposal a package of socio-economic accoutrements that might be attractive to a community, or jurisdictional neighbourhood that was not centred on the technical and financial aspects of an infrastructure proposal and therefore attractive in a way that resonated with the footprint of a project beyond the hard and traditional elements of a bid.     

5 years ago the answer was “no”, or at least I was unable to detect a “yes”.

Today that discussion seems to be happening, albeit quietly way, but getting louder. This year, one gentleman with a large contracting company asked me “can Constructive Edge save money in the long run (by applying socio-economic offerings to one of our bids)?” After thinking about the answer for a while I said, “yes and the way to do that is to engage with a local community early in the process to avoid unpleasant surprises and road blocks in the future.”

At lunch on Day 1 I could not help overhear a conversation between two delegates that turned out to be about the recent community benefits program implemented in British Columbia. It was not complimentary and to my ear it sounded like BC’s was exactly the kind of community benefits framework that was not going to be embraced by industry.

Is that a good example of a community benefits policy? If one party to an agreement has significant reservations about how it is to be implemented then it would seem to represent a failure.