A Winning Approach to Building Cities

Colette Murphy is the Chief Executive Officer of the Atkinson Foundation.

The Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) has won the Atkinson Good Fight Prize for its campaign to put equity at the centre of Ontario’s infrastructure development process. This $80,000 award was given to mark our 80th anniversary.

From its inception in 2013, this membership-based, Black-led, community-labour coalition has fought for a process that respects the voices and interests of communities most affected by infrastructure development. TCBN has done this by organizing residents who have been harmed the most by projects that have displaced or excluded them, and have historically benefited the least from these investments.

Together, they have negotiated goals, targets and legally binding contracts to make job opportunities, apprenticeships, and other community benefits like child care part of major projects, including the Finch West LRT, Eglinton Crosstown LRT, West Park Healthcare Centre, and Casino Woodbine. At last count, over 2,000 individuals from under-represented groups have moved into apprenticeships and professional, administrative and technical careers as a result of these efforts.

TCBN began with 13 member organizations and now has over 120. Members include construction unions, community organizations, resident groups, and social enterprises. They are active in 10 neighbourhoods throughout Toronto, and support a growing network in six cities – Ottawa, Hamilton, St. Catharines/Niagara, Windsor, London and Peel. Their advocacy and organizing efforts have brought about necessary changes in legislation governing the infrastructure development process at municipal, provincial and federal levels of government. According to a 2019 Ontario Construction Secretariat report, there are close to 30 construction projects in the province with requirements for community benefits totalling over $40B.

We’re inspired by TCBN’s ambition and progress. Executive director, Rosemarie Powell, and her team have always expected more than poor quality, low-paying jobs supplemented by inadequate services for their communities. They’re building community power to leverage infrastructure spending and create real economic opportunities for persistently excluded Black, Indigenous and other racialized people. Nearly a decade after the adoption of Ontario’s Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act (2015), TCBN continues to be an anchor in the movement for decent work and a fair economy. We’re proud to stand with them in this fight for an inclusive workforce and a just approach to building modern cities. You can read what Rosemarie has to say about receiving the prize in this Toronto Star article.

The Atkinson Good Fight Prize was first awarded in 2017 on the occasion of our 75th anniversary. Every five years, the foundation’s Board of Directors selects a grassroots campaign, coalition or network that is having an unmistakable, positive impact on one or more of the foundation’s public policy priorities. The name of the prize lifts up the struggle for social and economic justice that former Toronto Star publisher, Joseph Atkinson, described as “a good fight.”