National construction stakeholders found few reasons for enthusiasm as they dissected the recent Fall Economic Statement delivered by the Justin Trudeau government, praising some policy directions but lamenting missed opportunities.
Construction observers noted there was little new spending on infrastructure, no long-term infrastructure plan, no progress on a National Infrastructure Assessment nor new initiatives on trade-enabling infrastructure pledged by federal Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland during her address in the House of Commons Nov. 21.
But they cheered the announcement of an additional $15 billion in new loans for the Apartment Construction Loan Program, the proposal to create a new Department of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities, the pledge to boost national construction labour mobility and indications the government would take next steps on investment tax breaks to support green projects.
“We’ve been working really hard to have all orders of government understand that building housing also requires housing-enabling infrastructure,” commented Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Mary Van Buren. “The sewers and the power and our roads and public transit. So we’re really happy that the economic statement recognizes this and called it out specifically.
“Where we are disappointed is that there is no commitment to having a plan to invest in that infrastructure.”
The Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada also stated it is disappointed by the lack of new investments for infrastructure needed to support housing initiatives. ACEC president John Gamble said the government needs to introduce a successor program to its Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program.
“While the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program was very successful, the opportunity for new applications closed in March 2023,” said Gamble.
“New and ongoing demand means municipalities will need new and ongoing investments to ensure their communities are affordable, productive and safe.”
A CCA statement praised the government’s announcement to leverage the Canada Infrastructure Bank to support more housing, while Mechanical Contractors Association of Canada COO Ken Lancastle said the decision to create a new Department of Housing, Infrastructure and Communities to replace Infrastructure Canada signalled a recognition by the government that housing is integrally linked to infrastructure, workforce issues and the broader construction sector.
“It is somewhat in line with one of our pre-budget recommendations this past summer for the federal government, that the federal government designate a single point of contact, we refer to it as a federal construction secretariat,” said Lancastle.
Both Lancastle and Sean Strickland, executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions, highlighted the government’s intention to improve labour mobility as potentially benefiting the construction sector.
The finance minister said the federal government will leverage federal transfers to encourage provinces to address regulations that inhibit the movement of workers in targeted sectors, including construction. The government will also expand the Red Seal program to eliminate further barriers.
“Recognizing different credentials from province to province is one example of a barrier to labour that impacts skilled tradespeople across the country and impacts the industry’s ability to deliver and to build those projects,” said Lancastle.
The harmonization of tradespersons’ credentials is complicated, Lancastle said. In some jurisdictions it was a challenge when gasfitter certification was removed from the piping trades.
“While this was done in the name of harmonization, it presented some real challenges for certain parts of the country, as there was not an abundance of individuals carrying just a gasfitter certification,” he said, adding the potential pitfalls will need to be addressed.
Strickland noted licensing requirements are provincial jurisdiction, and there have been attempts to reduce barriers for 20 years. But if the federal government can find a way to close gaps through a carrot and stick approach, “It’s good for them to try and do that. But it’s really up to the provinces.”
Van Buren said it’s important to address workforce mobility but other workforce issues also require attention.
“That’s not going to be enough to solve the workforce shortage that we have. There were no comments about how they would move more assertively toward bringing construction workers into Canada, both skilled and less skilled workers. We need both and there were no new commitments around that,” she said.
The economic statement also presented a timeline for the implementation of Clean Technology and Clean Electricity Investment Tax Credits with waste biomass also included.
“We need to get this implemented as soon as possible so we’ll start building the hydrogen, nuclear and renewable projects in the future,” said Strickland.
The Cement Association of Canada also praised measures to advance the Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage Investment Tax Credit in a statement.
“It is essential that Canada keeps pace with other jurisdictions such as the United States and the European Union in attracting investment in industrial decarbonization,” stated the association.
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