Now that the Liberals have secured a majority government there’s some building to do both inside and outside the walls of Parliament Hill. "Anytime you’ve got a new government elected, they’re going to have a lot of building to do," Canadian Construction Association (CCA) president Michael Atkinson said during the CCA’s fall board meeting in Thunder Bay, Ont.
"We’ll be keen to see who are put in key cabinet positions that are important to us, working with their new implementation chain, discovering who their new staff people are going to be. That’s going to be one of our top priorities."
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his party secured 184 seats in the federal election after one of the longest election campaigns in Canadian history spanning 11 weeks.
"The fact they (the Liberals) are a majority government gives them some time to put in place the people they want and get on with the job," Atkinson explained. "If it had been a minority situation, especially if it had been a slim minority situation, governments tend to go into re-election mode rather than sticking with their platforms." The first day of the recent CCA board meeting happened to fall on Election Day, Oct. 19.
This coincidence left attendees wondering who would end up leading the country and deciding on matters that could impact the industry. Earlier in the campaign, indications suggested it would be a close election but that was quickly snuffed out as the Liberals’ red wave began with early poll returns from Atlantic Canada and continued nationwide throughout the night. The Liberals increased their number of seats by 150 since the 2011 election. The Conservatives secured 99 seats, a 67-seat decrease, while the NDP fell to 44 seats, which is a 59-seat decrease. Shortly after it was confirmed the Liberals would lead Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he would be stepping down as Conservative leader. The Conservatives have governed since 2006.
Atkinson said he believes a majority government means more stability and that potentially more will get done.
"It gives us a little more certainty that we’re going to see something rolled out. Frankly, certainty about the infrastructure programs are very important because I think it allows other levels of government to plan," he said.
During the campaign Trudeau promised he would almost double federal infrastructure investment to nearly $125 billion from the current $65 billion over 10 years and also divvied up where the money would go. For Atkinson and CCA chair Anibal Valente, working with the various levels of government is essential in order to make sure the proper infrastructure programs are carried out.
"Details, how they’re rolled out, the underlying framework that’s required between governments, we want to ensure that’s not a stumbling block," Atkinson said. "We want to work with the government to make sure the implementation process is as streamlined, as flexible and as timely as possible." Valente stated that municipalities have to be able to access funding in a timely manner.
"I just hope that these infrastructure promises aren’t unduly delayed due to red tape or long processes to go through to the point where the municipalities become frustrated," he said. "We’re waiting for the details."
The Liberals have promised social infrastructure investments of $20 billion over 10 years and are encouraging the construction of new rental housing by removing all GST on new capital investments in affordable rental housing. This is expected to provide $125 million per year in tax incentives to grow and renovate the supply of rental housing across Canada. The Liberals also state there will be an inventory taken of all available federal lands and buildings that could be repurposed in order to make them available at low cost for affordable housing. The Liberals committed to spending $20 billion over 10 years on public transit by giving the provinces, territories and municipalities long-term federal funding for transit plans.
Green infrastructure was also on the agenda, with $20 billion committed over 10 years, for local water and wastewater facilities, clean energy, climate resilient infrastructure, like flood mitigation systems, and other infrastructure that will withstand changing weather.
Among the other infrastructure promises was the establishment of a Canada Infrastructure Bank that would provide loan guarantees and small capital contributions to provinces and municipalities to ensure projects are built.
However, while infrastructure spending is welcome news to the CCA, Atkinson stated there were some areas when it comes to apprenticeship where more discussion is needed. The Liberals stated they will work with employers and workers to determine an "appropriate" apprenticeship ratio for all federal infrastructure projects. The CCA has stated there are options other than ratios.
"We share the same objective and that is to get more employer engagement with apprenticeship, no question," Atkinson stated.
"I guess where we may differ is the best method or most effective means by which to achieve that objective."
Valente said incentives could be a better approach for companies.
"The majority of the tax incentives have been directed at the apprentices themselves and if that hasn’t been working, to the extent that we all want it work, we’re suggesting let’s try something different and that would be giving the companies themselves some incentive to hire more apprentices," he said. "These are positions we made all parties aware of."