While some leaders in Canada’s construction industry are applauding the federal government’s budget as good for construction workers, the economy and the environment, others are saying it missed the mark on infrastructure needs.
According to the Canadian Construction Association (CCA), the budget, introduced April 7 by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, “fell short on providing the right conditions to deliver on the government’s build back better objectives.”
“News of a $183.2 million investment over seven years for the development of innovative construction materials and revitalizing building standards to encourage low-carbon construction solutions will help the industry build resiliently, however the federal government stopped short of providing a plan to address our aging infrastructure and future needs,” states a release issued by the CCA.
“(The) federal budget needed to focus on public policies that would increase Canada’s economic resilience to ongoing and future threats. This includes a consistent and long-term infrastructure investment plan that benefits all Canadians and is aligned with the current and future needs of the provinces; contracting that supports fair competition, innovation and shared risk; and developing a pipeline of skilled and talented workers.”
Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), said the budget shows the federal government “has workers’ backs.”
“This is a really good budget with a lot of different items to help our economy transition to net-zero, provide the right kind of supports for workers and also the right infrastructure investments to help with that transition,” Strickland told the Daily Commercial News.
The Labour Mobility Deduction for tradespeople was the big news for Strickland. The measure will provide tax recognition on up to $4,000 per year in eligible travel and temporary relocation expenses to tradespeople and apprentices.
“Until this was put into place construction labour workers were not able to deduct any of their travel costs related to accommodation or meals when they had to travel a certain distance for work. That created a barrier for travelling to where the work is and this removes that barrier,” said Strickland.
Ken Lancastle, chief operating officer of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada (MCAC), said while some of the initiatives discussed with the government have been included in the budget, the association is stressing the importance of capacity-building, particularly with respect to the skilled trades, to ensure the programs included in the budget are implemented efficiently and effectively.
“There was certainly that commitment from the federal government in this budget that they are going to be working on greening the built environment. From the mechanical contracting sector’s perspective there is a significant amount of opportunity for our members with respect to retrofits, with respect to the greening of the built environment,” said Lancastle.
“There is a bit of a disconnect between the initiatives and the programs and the objectives and the ability for the industry to have the capacity to deliver on that because the industry, at this point, is not sitting and waiting with a stockpile of workers that it can funnel into new projects and retrofits. Our message will continue to be that the government needs to work closely with the industry on building that capacity.”
Of particular interest to MCAC are the investments in green building, including to provide $150 million over five years, starting 2022-23, to Natural Resources Canada to develop the Canada Green Buildings Strategy; $200 million over five years, starting in 2022-23, to Natural Resources Canada to create the Deep Retrofit Accelerator Initiative; and $33.2 million over five years, starting 2022-23, to Natural Resources Canada to implement a Greener Neighbourhoods Pilot Program. Also of interest is improvements to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.
John Gamble, president and CEO of the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies – Canada, said while there was a lot of infrastructure investment included in the budget, the association has some questions about the longer-term intentions.
“We’re very excited about the concept of the National Infrastructure Assessment as former Minister (Catherine) McKenna announced and we know that there is work going on by Infrastructure Canada on it,” said Gamble. “I would have felt a lot better to see an explicit reference to it in the budget because that, we hope, will frame the basis for informed infrastructure investment decisions for years ahead. Nevertheless, there is a lot of infrastructure money in there both within the Investing in Canada Plan and some of the things they’re doing for First Nations, some of it as it pertains to the electrical grid, some of the low carbon economy, that’s all very positive.”
ACEC was hoping for recognition of the importance of critical minerals and mining resources in the country. The budget includes $1.5 billion over seven years for infrastructure investments that would support the development of critical minerals supply chains.
“We’re very pleased with the commitment around the support for critical minerals, both in terms of development but also the supply chains that go along with that,” Gamble said. “If we’re going to convert to a low carbon economy then Canada is in a really strong position to be a supplier of critical minerals and precious metals.”
Other notable measures in the budget mentioned by construction stakeholders are the Housing Accelerator Fund to support municipalities in getting more market-rate housing online faster; doubling the Union Training and Innovation Program; bringing labour to the table for comprehensive review of the employment insurance system; and new green technologies to help the country transition to a low carbon economy.
Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela.