It looks promising for Canada’s unionized construction workers that their top priority heading into the federal election will be realized once the winner launches the next government.
According to Let’s Build Canada, an advocacy group that includes Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU) and six other construction unions, each of the Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP have committed to implementing a tax deduction or credit for trades workers who have to travel far distances for work.
“It is very significant and that’s something that I would say building trades as a whole have been advocating for for quite some time,” said Matt Wayland, director of Let’s Build Canada. “The NDP has championed it through private member’s bills a number of times, including most recently in March of this year. So this is a big step to see not only the NDP bring it forward but for it to appear in the Liberal and Conservative party platforms in one form or another.”
Let’s Build Canada commissioned Abacus Data to survey the construction trades after the election was called. Reimbursement for long-distance travel to work was identified as the top concern of the CBTU during the first week of the campaign.
Wayland, an advocate with IBEW, said the release of the survey was timed to coincide with the leaders debates held Sept. 8 and 9.
The survey found that 77 per cent of skilled trades workers have experienced work shortages in their area, with 65 per cent forced to travel more than 150 kilometres away from their homes to find work in the last five years. Workers on average paid over $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses to travel to jobsites but current Canadian tax legislation does not permit them to deduct the expenses on their tax returns, unlike many professionals and entrepreneurs who travel on the job.
“Half our members said they have had to decline work opportunities because of out-of-pocket travel-related expenses,” Wayland said.
Among other findings, 84 per cent want to see more Community Benefits Agreements on federal infrastructure projects, and 89 per cent want to see more government financial support for apprenticeships.
Let’s Build Canada highlighted a number of policies implemented by the Liberals since their election in 2015 as friendly to the skilled trades including scrapping both bill C-377 and bill C-525, Stephen Harper government bills seen as anti-union. The Liberals also introduced the Union Innovation and Training Program, which funded union-based apprenticeship training programs.
Wayland noted even the Conservatives have adopted policies that are supportive of the union movement, including a pledge to make it easier to organize workplaces.
“Erin O’Toole and the Conservative Party have moved to the middle,” he said. “In the past that party unfortunately has done the opposite, so I’m glad to see that they’ve reversed course, at least in their platform. There are some positive pieces in there for working people.”
Wayland said there is no plan for the coalition to endorse one party before the Sept. 20 election.
The survey also identified concerns about the transition workers in the oil and gas sector and similar fields will have to make as the economy goes green: seven in 10 workers worry that the costs of retraining will be too much for them to afford, while three in four believe jobs in the renewable sector will not pay well.
The issue was also raised during the English-language leaders debate Sept. 9, with Green Party Leader Annamie Paul offering a personal anecdote.
“Canada will remain an energy superpower, but we will be a renewable energy superpower, and I think about my brother who was a roughneck out on the oil patch until the bust during the
pandemic, and I think about his future and I know that we have got to diversify our economy,” said Paul.
Investments to support the green economy, including electrified transit, received ample attention from the five leaders on the debate stage. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau of failing to deliver on climate targets.
“We shouldn’t do what Mr. Trudeau did, set targets and miss them,” said Singh. “We shouldn’t promise to end fossil fuel subsidies and then increase the price on pollution, and then exempt the biggest polluters. What we need to do is end those fossil fuel subsidies, invest in provinces and territories with infrastructure that’s going to help us fight the climate crisis.”
O’Toole said his party would deal with climate change while ensuring the economy remains strong.
“We have a plan to meet our Paris targets, but minimize the impact on jobs and investment,” he said, noting planned spending on hydrogen power. “There is so much we can do to get our emissions down but grow a strong economy, because without a strong economy, we can’t tackle climate change. We can’t tackle the issues of today.”
Infrastructure was also addressed during a debate segment on Indigenous reconciliation. Trudeau was asked by a moderator to defend his government’s record on boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities.
“Cynicism is discounting the hard work that millions of people have been involved in over the past six years and, yes, there’s always more to do. Progressives always know there’s more to do,” he said, explaining that for each remaining instance of a boil-water advisory there was a project team and action plan in place.
“There are tens of thousands of kids across this country, Indigenous kids, who have started the school year in new schools or refurbished schools,” Trudeau added, listing numerous consultation efforts. “And we’re not done yet.”
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