WATCH: BC Liberals say a new labour model that forces workers to join a union for public infrastructure projects is a throwback to the 90s and the costly Island Highway expansion. Tess van Straaten reports.
The Island Highway expansion was a game-changer for Vancouver Island.
“Our new highway has been 70 years in the making,” a Campbell River resident told CHEK News in 2001, as the final portion of the Inland Island Highway was unveiled. “The road between Campbell River and Courtenay has always been a very very dangerous road and a lot of people lost their lives.”
But a 1994 Vancouver Board of Trade report estimates the price of the project increased more than $72 million due to NDP labour agreements that forced workers to join trade unions.
“When you look back to the Island Highway, it was a significant increase,” says Liberal MLA Jas Johal. “It’s led to increased costs for these projects and studies done in Manitoba and Ontario where they have these similar community benefit agreements saw a 20 to 30 per cent increase in cost for these projects.”
They were called ‘project labour agreements’ or PLAs in the 90s during the Island Highway construction but rising costs meant the scope of that project had to be scaled back.
Several interchanges, including the McKenzie overpass which is finally under construction more than two decades later, had to be scrapped and now critics are worried it’s going to happen again with the NDP’s new ‘community benefit agreements’ (CBA).
“The NDP have learned from the 90s so rather than calling it project labour agreements, they do the more touchy-feely community benefit agreement,” says Johal. “It’s a different name, but it’s the same bull. At the end of the day, it’s going to cost taxpayers more.”
But premier John Horgan disputes that, saying labour agreements can actually save money.
“The advantage we’ve seen historically on partnership agreements made sure that we built projects, provincial projects, on time and on budget,” Horgan says.
Under the B.C. Liberals, who eliminated union-only building, critics say several major projects — including the Port Mann Bridge — ran hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.
With the new model, non-union contractors will be able to bid on the billions of dollars of public infrastructure coming down the pipe but all workers will have to join the union within 30 days of employment.
Full details on how the new CBAs will work are expected later this week.