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Federal budget leaves the West wanting more

Russell Hixson
Federal budget leaves the West wanting more

Reaction to the federal budget in Western Canada was mixed, with most agreeing that supports for mobile workers were needed.

Chris Atchison of the BC Construction Association (BCCA) applauded some pieces of the budget, but cautioned that overall it was not strong enough.

“BCCA welcomes investments in labour mobility and training, and improvements in municipal permitting systems, but these are small commitments that will not help to build the strong foundation needed to ensure Canada remains resilient,” said Atchison. “The federal budget falls short on investments in critical infrastructure that is essential for the health and well-being of all Canadians. The budget does not go far enough to addressing economic resilience and establishing supply chain and infrastructure protections against current and future threats such as we have seen globally with the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, or locally in B.C. with the devastating environmental challenges of fire and flood.”

Atchison explained the $183.2 million investment in developing construction materials and encouraging low-carbon emissions is welcome, but not broad enough.

“Where is the bold strategic investment that will build the Canada we all want to live in?” he said.

Jordan Bateman, vice-president of communications and marketing for the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) in B.C., said new supports for mobile workers are a good step but other parts of the budget are cause for concern. 

“This is obviously good news for workers who are travelling to build things, especially for projects like the Coastal Gaslink pipeline and Site C which are in remote areas,” said Bateman.

However, he said the budget’s $84.2 million for the Union Training and Innovation Program raised his eyebrows. 

 

Trudeau’s government has shown little interest in harnessing the power of the private sector to solve Canadian problems,

— Jordan Bateman

Contractors and Businesses Association

 

The funds would go towards helping 3,500 apprentices from underrepresented groups such as women, newcomers, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, and Black and racialized Canadians begin careers in the skilled trades through mentorship, career services and job-matching. While Bateman said the goal of increasing diversity is noble, the vast majority of the industry wouldn’t be eligible. He said 82 per cent of apprentices in B.C. are not unionized.

“It comes to $25,000 a pop,” he said. “That is a lot of government investment in unionized apprentices. Especially when the open shop sector can do that for pennies on the dollar.”

Bateman added the entire budget creates a significant hole in Canada’s fiscal framework that could have repercussions down the road.

“In the mid-1990s, (Jean) Chrétien had to reset the fiscal framework, cut programs and download programs,” said Bateman. “Someday that reckoning is coming for Canada.” 

On housing, Bateman said the government has done little to cut red tape and unleash the private sector.

“Government loves pointing the finger at everyone else, but they need to look in the mirror,” said Bateman. “Trudeau’s government has shown little interest in harnessing the power of the private sector to solve Canadian problems. They seem to believe government is the best solution to everything.”

The Calgary Construction Association (CCA) gave kudos to Ottawa for helping workers with the mobility funding, putting more funding into union training and committing to more green initiatives.

“The looming skill shortage is one of the biggest challenges facing the construction industry and its effects are being felt already,” said Bill Black, CCA president. “Baby Boomers with 40 years or more of work experience are retiring and Generation X and Millennials are seeking to step up in their roles. Greater emphasis needs to be made on attracting and retaining skilled workers to fill the looming labour gaps in the local Industry. We look forward to continued engagement with the City of Calgary, Calgary Economic Development, and the Province of Alberta to address this major challenge.”

He added green initiatives could present a major boon to the region.

“Our belief remains that the environmental retrofitting of older buildings could create new jobs and opportunities for the local construction industry,” said Black. “As highlighted in the budget, we anticipate that the creation of new, sustainable building standards could trickle down and encourage the use of new material standards for the industry to build with.”

The BC Building Trades welcomed the Labour Mobility Deduction as well as Union Training and Innovation Program (UTIP) funding increases.

“We are glad to see a Labour Mobility Deduction for tradespeople in Budget 2022,” said Brynn Bourke, BC Building Trades executive director. “The BC Building Trades has long advocated alongside Canada’s Building Trades Unions that this is a critical step to improve labour mobility and support tradespeople when they have to travel for work.”

Bourke added UTIP has provided much-needed equipment to its trainers, which has allowed them to deliver training in emerging technologies and increase participation in the trades from traditionally underrepresented groups.

Metro Vancouver, a federation of municipalities, welcomed the budget’s focus on housing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many pre-existing issues in Metro Vancouver, including sky-high housing prices that make owning a home out of reach for many people,” said Sav Dhaliwal, chair of Metro Vancouver’s Board of Directors. “The federal budget’s pledge to invest in building thousands of new affordable housing units is a step in the right direction.”

The board also applauded the budget’s action on climate change but was disappointed that there was not a commitment to support its Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. The new facility will replace an existing primary-level treatment plant in Richmond.

“Federal regulatory requirements are a significant driver for the replacement of the Iona Island Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is why Metro Vancouver is seeking provincial and federal co-investment in this dynamic and transformative project,” said Dhaliwal. “We would have liked to see a commitment to predictable, equitable cost sharing with local governments on critical infrastructure projects, which would help with the planning and execution of important and necessary work.”

 

Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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