Covid-19 provides a rare opportunity to address key issues of equity and diversity.
The impact of COVID-19 on the local economy has been significant. Small and medium businesses and social enterprises (SMEs) have been profoundly harmed. These businesses are the backbones of neighbourhoods and communities across Canada. Their loss weakens the economic fabric of communities and compounds the negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. However, this crisis also affords an opportunity to make progressive and lasting change as we focus on economic recovery efforts. A once-in-a-generation event, COVID-19 allows us to reimagine what our economy can look like while addressing issues of equity, diversity, real estate affordability and prosperity for all residents. COVID-19 has exposed the inequities that have long existed in communities: hunger, racism, and lack of good jobs. Employment opportunities remain inadequate for women, First Nations, and people of colour. Municipal, provincial and federal governments have a policy tool at their disposal that can ensure communities benefit from recovery efforts: community benefit agreements (CBAs). As part of infrastructure projects, large residential and commercial construction projects, and other major developments, CBAs create hiring and procurement opportunities for local residents and SMEs. Directing a portion of a project’s budget to purchases from social enterprises and diversely owned local businesses is a form of community economic development that strengthens the local supply chain. It also bolsters the sustainability of SMEs during a period of economic uncertainty. Likewise, CBAs support a portion of the new jobs attached to a development to go to local residents, particularly those underrepresented in the construction and building trades. CBAs are an effective tool to create lifelong career opportunities for Indigenous youth, women, and the BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of colour) populations. For construction companies, unions, and the trades, this infusion of new hires addresses a growing labour shortage as traditional tradespeople begin to retire. Leveraging development to lift all residents is not a new concept. President Roosevelt’s New Deal helped the United States emerge from the Great Depression. COVID-19 presents a similar challenge and CBAs can be one effective tool to help Canada’s economy recover. Furthermore, CBAs can help guarantee that Canada’s recovery is just and equitable. A recovery that builds stronger communities by supporting local businesses creates meaningful and lasting employment for those most affected by COVID-19; Indigenous youth, women, and the BIPOC community.