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YC Condos development near Yonge and College Sts. in Toronto, April 2 2015.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

In a move that could create hundreds of skilled-trade apprenticeships and construction jobs in priority neighbourhoods, Queen's Park is poised to enact legislation this week that will require contractors to hire apprentices and develop local recruitment programs if they want to bid on large infrastructure contracts, such as transit projects.

The new rules, which form part of a legislative package that earmarks $130-billion for infrastructure over the next decade, will establish so-called "community benefits agreements" (CBAs) for all large-scale infrastructure projects. No other state or provincial-level government in North America has this kind of law on the books.

For the past three years, construction unions and community activists in some high-needs neighbourhoods have been pushing the Ontario Liberal government to negotiate CBAs on multibillion-dollar megaprojects such as the Eglinton-Crosstown light-rail line.

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"This is a huge step forward," said Steve Shallhorn, executive director of the Labour Education Centre and chair of the Toronto Community Benefits Network. "There are a large number of communities that are excluded from the construction industry." While the law won't create net new jobs, Mr. Shallhorn predicts it will allow marginalized groups to have more access to lucrative, stable construction work.

Municipalities and private developers in many U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, have bylaws that require them to negotiate deals with labour organizations and neighbourhood groups that specify a range of benefits, including jobs for unemployed youth and improved community facilities.

But this approach has not been widely used in Canada beyond a handful of projects, such as the Vancouver Olympics athletes' village and the revitalization of Toronto's Regent Park, where builders and commercial tenants had to hire people from the immediate neighbourhood.

The amendments that will be passed in the legislature state that bidders develop recruiting strategies to create better access to construction-related jobs for youth, women, aboriginals, veterans and newcomers to Ontario.

Premier Kathleen Wynne has touted the virtues of CBAs since taking office. But Brad Duguid, Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, stressed that the community benefits envisioned by the government include compensating neighbourhoods and local businesses for the disruption associated with infrastructure projects. "Community benefits agreements can provide some benefits to offset the inconvenience," he said, adding that the rules won't appreciably add to the cost of infrastructure projects.

The legislation also states that CBAs can be used to establish new public spaces and "any specific benefit identified by the community."

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