Adelaar: LeBreton Flats must be about social benefits as well as business ones

A CBA is a legally enforceable agreement involving communities, developers and government, intended to achieve a broad range of socio-economic outcomes from large infrastructure and building projects. CBAs bring robust accountability, empower communities to a meaningful role in development planning and implementation, and provide developers a defined, transparent framework to ensure projects succeed financially and socio-economically.

CBA take-up is growing in Canada and internationally: the Ontario Construction Secretariat estimates that in Ontario alone, roughly $43 billion in projects are underway, or being considered, containing CBA elements. The federal government is innovating with a CBA for the Windsor-Detroit Gordie Howe Bridge and the Canada Infrastructure Program-Community Employment Benefits Initiative.

In Toronto, CBAs are enabling, for example: 10 per cent of all construction trade hours going to under-represented groups; 162 apprentices and journey persons, $7.5 million supporting locally owned businesses and about $750,000 supporting social enterprises, from the Eglinton LRT project; 10 per cent local procurement (non-construction) annually, $5 million for a new child care centre, and 20 per cent local hiring (of which 50 to 60 per cent of positions must be full-time), from the Woodbine Casino project. The Windsor-Detroit Gordie Howe Bridge project CBA includes a local Workforce Development Strategy and a $20-million neighbourhood infrastructure fund to support community improvements on both sides of the border.

The coalition has made numerous attempts to work with the NCC, but it has, in our view, not responded constructively. Instead, it has ruled out a CBA based on a flawed assessment and, so far, ignored a roadmap the coalition presented to it in January, showing how a CBA could work for LeBreton.

LeBreton Flats: Children on Street. 1963 Credit: Ted Grant/Library and Archives Canada/e010857415 Keyword: LeBreton Flats; historical
LeBreton Flats at it looked in 1963. (Ted Grant/Library and Archives Canada) /jpg

The NCC’s position ignores CBA experience and contradicts the view expressed by Catherine McKenna, MP for Ottawa Centre and minister for Infrastructure and Communities, who, while participating in a recent National Observer event, referred to CBAs as one of the three requirements for all federal infrastructure spending, and stressed the importance of rebuilding “social infrastructure” – one of the primary goals of a CBA.

While ignoring the coalition’s roadmap, the NCC has instead offered to give the coalition members some seats on an undefined project advisory committee. Presence is not power. The historic marginalization of communities in building/infrastructure developments is largely due to a power imbalance; the state and developers wield considerable power and communities have little or none. This is why a CBA for LeBreton is so important.

The coalition urges the NCC to commit to a CBA for LeBreton. Evidence reinforces that CBAs enhance the economic value of every dollar spent during pre-construction, construction and during operation of a development site.

We urge the NCC to embrace the opportunity to lead, innovate and show the world how to achieve net social and economic benefits from community empowerment and collaboration. As a progressive, modern, enforceable mechanism, a CBA is the best way to ensure that the development of public lands serves the needs of all citizens and addresses a historical injustice.

Martin Adelaar is a member of the LeBreton Flats Community Benefits Coalition Steering Committee. The petition is at

In 1962, the government of Canada forcibly evicted more than 3,000 working-class residents from their homes in LeBreton Flats and transferred ownership of the 65-acre site to the National Capital Commission (NCC). Sixty years later, most of the land remains vacant and this historic injustice is largely forgotten. Now the NCC is poised to redevelop the property in ways that may again ignore the expressed needs and aspirations of the community.

The LeBreton Flats Community Benefits Coalition seeks to negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with the NCC. We’ve launched a public campaign to get the NCC to commit to a benefits agreement for LeBreton Flats.

Formed a year ago, the coalition comprises 27 organizations, including community associations near LeBreton Flats, United Way East Ontario, and groups involved in affordable housing, health care, education, labour, Indigenous services, social procurement, child care and several other sectors. The coalition shares a vision of LeBreton Flats as a vibrant, inclusive, equitable, healthy and sustainable community where everyone can work, live and thrive. We’re inviting everyone to join.

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