Photo Credit: Wolf Depner | BlackPress Media

Local Contractor Refuses to be Project’s “Token Indian”

NDP government using "tokenist" exemption tactics rather than actually solving the problem.

“Community Benefit Agreement” is hurting Cowichan Contractors.

Would you rather treat the symptoms of a disease, or cure it?

The answer is pretty obvious, but some politicians seem confused when it’s applied to the Cowichan Hospital project.

This idea should be applied to government decisions that govern who can and can’t work on the $1.4 Billion hospital under construction outside of Cowichan.

The “Community Benefits Agreement” applied to its construction is as ill-named as could be.

It prevents construction companies, not members of unions accepted by BCIB (BC Infrastructure Benefits), from working on the project.

The joke is – that’s most of the contracting construction companies in the Valley.

Especially local indigenous contractors.

For locals to work on this gigantic build, they have to pay out huge sums just to get a paper stamp that they’re “union members.”

“The elders of the Cowichan Tribes gifted land to the province to build the hospital in Cowichan,” said Skeena MLA Ellis Ross

“Then the Premier told the Cowichan Tribes they can’t work unless they pay the union agents who support them politically. This is a colonial story from 100 years ago.”

Because local contractors refused to do this, the project was going to hire outside contractors from elsewhere.

Some “community benefit,” that is…

Jon Coleman, the owner of Jon-co Contracting, wasn’t willing to accept this.

He appealed to the “Community Benefits Agreement” in the provincial legislature.

“The CBA needs to be abolished. It doesn’t help our taxpayers, and it doesn’t help Cowichan as a whole. It is disrespectful,” he said.

Under fire from Coleman and many other critics in the legislature, the NDP caved.

They decided to treat Coleman as a disease symptom rather than addressing the political rot creating the actual problem.

They’ve now decided that Indigenous contractors under the umbrella of Khowutzun Development Corporation (which includes Coleman and his company) can work on the project without unionization.

But this is only one contracting group. There are many others.

Basically, they’re trying to shut up the CBA’s loudest protestors – and ignore everyone else.

Coleman immediately opposed this position. He called it “tokenism” at its finest.

“Tokenism needs to get out of the door. I’m not going to represent token Indians. It’s wrong,” he said.

Colemans’ criticism is far from the first to be aimed at the project.

Its cost was pegged at $887 million last year, has now soared to $1.45 billion, and its completion date was pushed back another year to 2027.

“Labour shortages” was one reason for the cost increase.

It sounds pretty bogus, with so many people fighting to work on the project.

As Cowichan Tribes Chief Lydia Hwitsum told Times Colonist,

“The clock is ticking as these economic opportunities pass by our citizens’ companies, and work is performed by contractors from outside our region.”

It sounds like political ties are stronger than local ones for the NDP.