As Canada elects a federal Liberal minority government, western construction leaders recommend optimistic caution in the days and weeks ahead.
On Oct. 21 Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party won the 2019 federal election with a minority government of 157 seats in Parliament, with the Conservatives close behind at 121 seats, the Bloc Quebecois secured 32 seats, the NDP 24 seats, the Green Party three seats and one seat was claimed by an independent.
Progressive Contractors Association of Canada president Paul de Jong congratulated returning PM Justin Trudeau but stressed the importance of staying committed to previous infrastructure commitments.
“Our major concern is that we have some type of clarity and continuity on infrastructure spending in Canada. It’s critical not only for Canadians but for construction employers anxiously awaiting the promises from the Liberals from the past four years to provide opportunities,” de Jong said.
The future of the Trans Mountain pipeline which the federal government bought for $4.5 billion in 2018 was top of mind for several construction leaders.
“The top of the list (of priorities) is the Trans Mountain pipeline, which has been endlessly winding its way through reviews with very little construction. We want work to start immediately and demonstrably, so we see shovels in the ground from Red Deer to Burnaby,” de Jong said.
“With victory comes responsibility for this government to support our communities and good paying jobs by getting Canada’s pipelines and other major resource projects built without further delay,” he added. “If there’s anything we’ve learned from this campaign, it’s the need for greater awareness about the contribution of Canada’s energy economy to this country’s welfare. Each year it generates over a hundred billion dollars annually to Canada’s GDP, and leads internationally with environmental and social advancements. That deserves recognition.”
Alberta premier Jason Kenney stressed the importance of follow through on the Trans Mountain project in a post-election press conference on Oct. 22.
“The bottom line is this, with a lot of issues on the plate here and a lot of anger and frustration in Alberta, I want people to keep their eye on the prize focused on our most important economic imperative which is the completion of the pipeline,” Kenney said.
Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe was blunt about the new minority government.
In a letter released by the premier he said “If he (Justin Trudeau) is serious, if he really means it, here is what her could do right away: Cancel the federal carbon tax, commit to a new equalization formula that is fair to Saskatchewan and Alberta, and commit to develop a plan to ensure Saskatchewan and Alberta can get our exports to international markets. This means pipelines.”
Both Alberta and Saskatchewan saw a sweep for Conservative candidates in contrast to the country’s other regions.
BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson said he thinks the Trans Mountain pipeline will get online through combined Liberal and Conservative support, but an energy corridor across Canada will not happen.
“I’m taking the NDP out of equation for the pipeline because the Liberals don’t need their support for the pipeline when the Conservatives will do it. But with Quebec, 32 out of 48 seats went to the Bloc Quebecois and the province is anti-pipeline,” Sigurdson said.
“The Conservatives and Liberals recognize their political fortunes remain in Quebec and can’t afford the political risk to either of them to say they’ll put in a pipeline,” he added.
Infrastructure spending was also a concern and de Jong said work would have to happen across party lines to demonstrate Canada is open for business and investment.
“We want to see more focused and intentional spending from the federal government, and we remain deeply concerned that bills C-48 and C-69 have done close to irreparable harm to the industry here and abroad,” he said.
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) president and CEO Tim McMillan said in a statement the association congratulated Prime Minister Trudeau and is committed to working with the federal government.
“The election of a minority government reflects the diversity of Canadians and the need to work constructively together to achieve our mutual goals. We all agree on the importance of making life affordable for Canadians, enabling results on climate change, and creating prosperity for all,” McMillan said.
Sigurdson said the divisive nature of the election isn’t healthy for democracy.
“It wasn’t healthy for the Liberals to have a clean sweep for the Maritimes in 2015, and it’s not healthy now to have a clean Conservative sweep in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” he said. “It’s not healthy for debate, in Parliament we need contrary positions presented and with that concentration of support it isn’t healthy for a democratic society.”
British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison said he hoped members of Parliament would work together to strengthen the economy.
“From a construction perspective, we believe Canada’s economy will benefit greatly from a greater federal government commitment to infrastructure spending in western Canada, increased funding for career and technical training programs, and a greater federal commitment to strengthening investor confidence – this means demonstrating both a willingness and ability to work together,” Atchison said.
B.C.’s experience with minority rule could prove helpful for the new Liberal minority government, he added.
“As we know in B.C., having a minority or coalition government emphasizes the need for meaningful engagement between parties and stakeholders, which can be a good thing. BCCA and our regional partners look forward to sharing our expertise and working collaboratively with all federal parties and government in order to further strengthen a construction sector that invigorates communities and benefits all Canadians,” Atchison said.