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Community group questions whether Metrolinx is committed to bringing Ontario Line jobs to Thorncliffe Park

People gather at the Metrolinx job fair held in Thorncliffe Park on Jan. 24. The Toronto Community Benefits Network says they have concerns about Metrolinx's hiring targets for underserved groups and neighbourhoods like Thorncliffe Park that are impacted by the Ontario Line.  (Vedran Lesic/CBC - image credit)
People gather at the Metrolinx job fair held in Thorncliffe Park on Jan. 24. The Toronto Community Benefits Network says they have concerns about Metrolinx's hiring targets for underserved groups and neighbourhoods like Thorncliffe Park that are impacted by the Ontario Line. (Vedran Lesic/CBC - image credit)

A Toronto community organization is calling on Metrolinx to commit to specific targets to hire from communities most affected by the construction of the Ontario Line.

The Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), which advocates for equitable opportunities for communities connected to new transit lines, says most of the jobs created from the line should go to those from Thorncliffe Park.

Residents and advocates from the area tell CBC Toronto that Metrolinx's planned 175,000-square-metre storage and maintenance facility in the community has led to job loss and community disruption. Because of that, the neighbourhood deserves a portion of the hundreds of jobs tied to the transit line, says Kumsa Baker, the director of campaigns at TCBN.

"We really want to make sure that there's actually a plan in place of how they are going to be creating those local pathways, especially for residents who are most impacted from the construction," said Baker.

But the provincial transit agency has not signed on to a formal community benefits agreement as part of the Ontario Line development, the TCBN says. Earlier this year, the group submitted a letter to the city's Toronto and East York Community Council, calling on the city to investigate why.

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A community benefits agreement typically includes targeted commitments to local and equity hiring for development projects, and according to the TCBN, and are legally enforceable.

Metrolinx has made such agreements before. It has one with TCBN for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT, signed in 2014, and another for the Finch West LRT. Baker says about 500 people in impacted communities were employed in jobs connected to those lines as a result of the agreements.

In statements to CBC Toronto, Metrolinx said it is delivering community benefits related to the Ontario Line. Those benefits include "promoting employment opportunities, workforce development opportunities and apprenticeships for equity deserving groups," it said.

Asked why it hasn't signed a community benefits agreement for the Ontario Line, Metrolinx did not directly answer, saying it "remains committed to maintaining strong collaborative relationships with the communities in which we work."

Metrolinx says it's committed to equitable hiring  

As for the group's concerns over proposed hiring targets, Metrolinx said, "We are working closely with our construction partners to achieve the 10 per cent hiring target, including residents of Thorncliffe Park."

Those hiring targets have been expanded to all major Metrolinx projects, including the Eglinton Crosstown West expansion and the Scarborough Subway expansion, it said.

According to the TCBN, Metrolinx CEO Phil Vester told the community group in 2021 that the transit agency aimed for 10 per cent of hiring connected to the line to be reserved for Black, Indigenous and people of colour and 10 per cent for women.

People line up outside the Metrolinx job fair for the Ontario line on Jan. 24.
People line up outside the Metrolinx job fair for the Ontario line on Jan. 24.

People line up outside the Metrolinx job fair in Thorncliffe Park for the Ontario Line on Jan. 24. (Vedran Lesic/CBC)

But Baker says the TCBN has concerns that the commitments made in 2021 do not appear in any Ontario Line project agreements posted on the project's website.

"We've been following up with Metrolinx to really see what those commitments are," said Baker. "Unfortunately that's something that we haven't seen reflected in the contract in terms of the 10 per cent target for hiring."

Asked about the TCBN's claims, the city said in a statement that it remains "highly engaged" with Metrolinx about construction initiatives, including following up on council's recommendations on project-specific community benefit plans.

"We continue to track Metrolinx's progress," it said.

Still, Baker worries, "If it's not in the contract it, it just won't be delivered on."

Job fair aimed to connect with Thorncliffe: Connext6ix

Rob Granatstein, who leads communications at the construction consortium Connect6ix, told CBC Toronto they've posted over 100 jobs so far and want the local community to know what's available.

A Metrolinx job fair held in the neighbourhood last week included organizations hiring for the project and connecting residents with skilled trades training, he said.

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The jobs currently posted are for engineers, finance and procurement, said Granatstein. Construction jobs will follow in 2025, he said. "We're still in the design phase," he explained.

"It's going to bring prosperity to this neighborhood, both better transit but also having good jobs," he said.

As for specific hiring targets for Thorncliffe, Granatstein said, "We do have goals on how many people we need to hire."

"The biggest thing for us is to have the right skills to do this... there'll be all sorts of jobs that come up over the years with different levels of skills. The really huge focus for our team and Connect6ix — to hire from the community and bring some of these jobs," he said.

Ahmed Hussein, the CEO of The Neighbourhood Organization, says Thorncliffe Park needs community benefits including jobs from the Ontario Line, since residents have to cope with the storage facility that Metrolinx is building in the neighbourhood.
Ahmed Hussein, the CEO of The Neighbourhood Organization, says Thorncliffe Park needs community benefits including jobs from the Ontario Line, since residents have to cope with the storage facility that Metrolinx is building in the neighbourhood.

Ahmed Hussein, the CEO of The Neighbourhood Organization, says Thorncliffe Park needs community benefits, including jobs from the Ontario Line, since residents have to cope with the storage facility that Metrolinx is building in the neighbourhood. (Igor Petrov/CBC)

Ahmed Hussein, CEO of The Neighbourhood Organization, a community agency in Thorncliffe Park that provides services and advocacy for residents, says he's optimistic about the job potential from the Ontario Line.

But he says he supports TBCN in their calls for a more formal community benefits agreement.

"We want to be invested in this community that is impacted the most. No other community is hosting this storage facility," he said.

(CBC)