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Government, Infrastructure

Election notebook: examining Canada’s federal construction issues

Don Wall
Election notebook: examining Canada’s federal construction issues

The Conservative plan to postpone billions in infrastructure spending, announced Oct. 11, livened up a federal election campaign that construction stakeholders had previously decried as disappointing for its failure to ensure construction issues were adequately debated.

Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Mary Van Buren identified investor certainty and skills training as other issues the CCA has been following while John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada (ACEC), lamented the lack of discussion regarding overall economic planning policy on the campaign trail.

With the release of the Conservatives’ costed platform Oct. 11 and the unveiling of further fiscal details by the New Democrats the same day, the complete election platforms of the four major national parties were finally available for comparison.

Highlights include:


Canada Infrastructure Bank:

It’s a signature program introduced by the Liberals during their first term but both the Conservatives and the NDP have pledged to scrap it. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called it a “$35-billion failure.” The Greens would refocus the CIB towards climate-proofing essential infrastructure such as water and wastewater systems. The NDP would spend $3 billion on a new Canadian Climate Bank, mandated to spur investment in the low-carbon economy.


Indigenous communities:

Indigenous Services Canada reports that 78 boil-water advisories have been rescinded since November 2015 under the Liberals’ watch with the government saying more will come. The party says it will address all critical infrastructure needs including housing, internet and schools in Indigenous communities by 2030.

The NDP promises to invest $1.8 billion to lift all drinking water advisories by 2021 and the party will create a Northern Infrastructure Fund to make investments on infrastructure such as roads and broadband internet for communities in the north.

The Greens have also promised to upgrade infrastructure to end boil-water advisories.


Pipelines/resource development:

The Liberals bought the Trans Mountain pipeline and have pledged to see it expanded.

The Greens would stop all new fossil fuel development projects while the NDP would eliminate all fossil fuel subsidies. Both parties will abandon Trans Mountain.

The Conservatives’ platform vows to “use of every possible tool government has at its disposal to get our energy sector going again.” The Tories would repeal Bill C-69, which they call the Liberal Anti-Pipeline Bill.

That’s a move Van Buren of the CCA questions. She said the legislation that disbanded the National Energy Board is “not perfect” and parts “could be improved.”

“Certainty is what is most important so people know the rules of the game and they take that into consideration when considering investment in Canada or when going through a project,” said Van Buren.

“I am not sure that ripping that up will lead to more certainty.”

The Tories have reiterated their pre-election support for a national energy corridor that would move oil, gas, electricity, telecommunications and other commodities and services across the country.


Green retrofits:

The Liberals promise to retrofit 1.5-million homes over the next five years.

The Conservative have a plan to make homeowners eligible to receive a 20 per cent refundable credit on their income tax for green improvements to their homes of over $1,000 and up to $20,000, enabling household savings of up to $3,800 on renovations each year.

The NDP has set a target to retrofit all housing stock in Canada by 2050 through low-interest loans.


Skills training:

The Liberals say they will proceed with creating the Canadian Apprenticeship Service to help Red Seal apprentices complete their certification on time. They will also spend $100 million on skills training to ensure there are enough qualified workers to perform energy audits, retrofits and net-zero home construction.

The Greens will establish a Canadian Sustainable Generations Fund to spend on trades training, apprenticeships and education to enable a transition to a green economy. They will also pursue a National Community Benefit Strategy to ensure under-represented groups can take advantage of social hiring opportunities in project procurement.

Van Buren commented, “There hasn’t been a whole lot of commitment to jobs and training. We have a significant workforce shortage and for us to continue on with projects we need more people in the industry.”


Infrastructure notes:

The Liberals have pledged to fund a Newfoundland-Labrador fixed transportation link.

The Conservatives would fund the Ontario Line subway and the Yonge Subway Extension in Toronto and the George Massey Tunnel Replacement project in Vancouver.

The NDP would expand public transit in communities across Canada with an emphasis on low-carbon transit projects.

The Greens would spend $600 million in 2020-21, increasing to $720 million by 2023, to develop regional rail networks.


Economic strategy:

There has been very little discussion of making Canada more competitive, said Gamble.
“There is some frustration, there doesn’t seem to be a comprehensive macroeconomic plan to make Canada more competitive,” he said. “Infrastructure is just one element of a well-thought-out broader-scale economic strategy.”


Follow Don Wall on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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