Models of Success – In Rural Locations – Manitoba Floodway ProjectModels of Success – In Rural Locations – Manitoba Floodway Project


The Red River Floodway Expansion Project is a multi-million-dollar expansion of the existing floodway protection system for the City of Winnipeg. It includes the excavation of 21 million cubic metres of earth from the floodway channel, the replacement and upgrading of eight highway and railway bridge crossings, improvements to the inlet and outlet control structures, modifications to utilities and services, and expansion of the west dike. The project was started in 2005 and achieved its overall objective of providing 1-in-700 year flood protection in the spring of 2009.

From the beginning, the project has been committed to equity hiring, targeting 20% of jobs to be accessed by equity groups including Aboriginal people of Manitoba. Specifically for Aboriginal people, an Aboriginal set-aside program was established to support enterprise development, employment and training in the floodway construction.

Who is Involved

The Manitoba Floodway Authority (MFA) has partnered with Employment Manitoba, a division of Competitiveness, Training and Trade, on a Job Referral Service (JRS) designed to match qualified individuals interested in working on the floodway project with contractors looking for workers. The JRS is designed to help facilitate and streamline the hiring process for the floodway project, while encouraging the public, and Aboriginal persons in particular, to apply.

The Aboriginal Set-Aside Initiative was established by working with and partnering with key stakeholders, such as contractors in the construction industry, and with Aboriginal community members, such as

  • the Aboriginal community, including:
    • Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
    • Manitoba Federation of Métis
    • Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce in Winnipeg
    • First Nations and Métis businesses in the construction industry
  • Manitoba Contractors and  labour groups located in
    • Selkirk
    • Thompson
    • Brandon
    • Winnipeg
    • Aboriginal contracting firms from communities
  • A crown agency created to expand the floodway – see below

    In March 2004, the Province of Manitoba introduced The Floodway Authority Act. The legislation outlines the roles and responsibilities of the Manitoba Floodway Authority (MFA), a separate, independent, publicly accountable provincial agency that will manage the expansion and maintenance of the Red River Floodway on behalf of Manitobans. As the government's agent, the MFA owns the floodway's physical assets; manages the design, construction and maintenance of the expansion; and develops the economic possibilities that result from the project.

  • The agency has direct access to Manitoba Cabinet committees and Treasury Board. 

What the focus is

An Aboriginal set-aside is an initiative that is “set aside” for members of the Aboriginal community in order to create employment and economic opportunities for Aboriginal people and businesses. Aboriginal set-asides have been implemented for other major projects. On the Red River Floodway Expansion Project, the West Dike component of the project was established as the Aboriginal set-aside.

The objectives of the Aboriginal set-aside on the floodway expansion project are

  • To create employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people on the floodway project.
  • To help address the potential skilled-labour shortage within the construction industry.
  • To create opportunities for Aboriginal contractors to gain experience and to build capacity in the industry.
  • To enhance spinoff economic opportunities for the Aboriginal community from the floodway project.

To qualify as an Aboriginal firm to bid for work on the Aboriginal set-aside, a contractor

  • must be at least 51% Aboriginal-owned and
  • 1/3 of its employees must be Aboriginal persons.

In addition, all contractors bidding on work on the project will be required to hold the Certificate of Recognition (COR) or the equivalent safety certification and will be required to sign the Project Management Agreement (PMA), consistent with all other floodway tenders.

Why This Model Works

The Aboriginal set-aside is more than an employment initiative. It is contributing to the socio-economic conditions of Aboriginal communities, their enterprise development and sustainability in remote, rural and urban areas. The initiative targets and meets the following criteria:

  • Approximately 10% of the floodway project was designated an Aboriginal set-aside.
  • Tenders are bundled into smaller packages, providing an opportunity for smaller Aboriginal firms to bid on contracts.
  • Joint ventures are partnerships between larger mainstream contractors and Aboriginal firms.
  • Aboriginal firms are not required to be bonded for contracts under $1M, which helps firms with the hiring of Aboriginal people on construction sites.
  • Agreements with labour providers include referral stipulations that will support the hiring of Aboriginal labourers and others on a regular basis.
  • The Floodway Authority worked with government and contractors to support the necessary training for Aboriginal employment.
  • Contractors were required to provide positions for floodway trainees.
  • A job referral service is used to support the Aboriginal hiring process.
  • Experience on the set-aside provides bonding for Aboriginal contractors.
  • Experience on the set-aside resulted in Aboriginal contractors obtaining subcontracts from mainstream contractors.
  • Experience on the set-aside resulted in Aboriginal contractors being awarded prime contractor status on the regular floodway contracts.
  • Heavy investment in the beginning means the future will have economic successes that are sustainable.
  • The website lists the number of Aboriginal contracts awarded over a five-year period.

Challenges to Work on

  • Education and training are lacking in remote communities.
  • Safety certified – a mentoring program is available for core certification.
  • Identify available equipment in communities and necessary repairs and maintenance requirements.
  • Develop a relationship with a co-managed / third party community.
  • Work with First Nations to obtain financial support from creditors.
  • Bonds help to pay for some of the expenses such as fuel bills; they can rely on smaller lines of credit.
  • Get companies or staff bonded.
  • Sensitivity with the hands-on aspect of worker supervision so that Aboriginal participants do not feel they are being singled out.
  • Cultural challenges: for example, do not plan any projects during moose-hunting season.