B.C. Premier John Horgan says “the usual suspects” are denouncing his NDP government’s plan to hire union workers for major projects such as highways and bridges, but that he is willing to talk to critics about their concerns.
“If there are those who have issues with it, we’ll certainly sit down and talk to them about it, but advocacy groups expend a lot of money condemning the government for policies that will make life better for people,” Mr. Horgan told a news conference on Sunday.
Mr. Horgan’s comments came as leaders of nine business associations and non-affiliated unions, including the Canadian Federation of Business, the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Independent Contractors and Business Association signed an open letter to the premier, published over the weekend, denouncing the plan as likely to give labour allies of the NDP a monopoly on government-funded construction projects, and hike labour costs.
Under the Community Benefits Agreement, unveiled by Mr. Horgan in mid-July, the government will set up a new Crown corporation that will hire union workers for major projects such as highways and bridges and also manage payroll and benefits.
Non-union companies will be able to bid on projects, but their workers will be required to join unions while on the job.
Mr. Horgan, announcing the plan, said it offers benefits that include increased apprenticeships, more training and employment opportunities for women and Indigenous people.
But in their letter, the group of business associations and non-affiliated unions call on the premier "to abandon this ill-conceived procurement model where workers, construction contractors and taxpayers all lose.”
Mr. Horgan on Sunday rejected the idea that the program was a nod to the NDP, noting his government took “big money” out of politics through campaign-finance reform.
After forming a government a year ago, the NDP announced changes that ban union and corporate donations and out-of-province contributions. Individual donations are capped at $1,200 a year to a political party and its candidates.
“If those that had the ear of government because of the magnitude of their donations are unhappy about those changes, I am sorry for that, but the good news is that their shareholders won’t be spending money on accessing government. They can call me, and I’ll set up a meeting for nothing,” he said.
Chris Gardiner, president of the independent contractors, said on Sunday that the battle with the NDP is essentially lost at this point, despite efforts by allied groups to raise concerns. He said that leaves groups to consider other possibilities to counter the NDP, including some kind of legal action.
Richard Truscott, B.C. and Alberta vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said he was open to talking to the premier and his government about the issue.
“If he’s serious about having a discussion, and talking about impact and mitigating measures to offset the damage done to small business, let’s have that discussion, but I worry our pleas will fall on deaf ears,” he said on Sunday.
“This [issue] looks like one where the premier is likely to dig his heels in.”
He said this move is one of several, including an increased minimum wage and employer health tax, the NDP is rolling out to the detriment of the business community.