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Budget 2024 is ‘a lot of prose and very little substance,’ says MHCA president

Warren Frey
Budget 2024 is ‘a lot of prose and very little substance,’ says MHCA president

While the budget committed billions to new housing initiatives and to streamlining the impact assessment process, many western Canadian construction leaders saw little movement on infrastructure and no solutions for falling productivity and weak economic growth.

Manitoba Heavy Construction Association president Chris Lorenc expressed “profound disappointment” and called the budget a political document.

“It reads like the answers posed to the prime minister or his minister of finance in Question Period rather than a framework to grow and enable the economy or to generate revenues for the programs the government is introducing,” Lorenc said.

“It’s a document intended to look good and won’t deliver the housing it thinks it wants, hasn’t defined what affordable housing is or what it means, and provides no tax relief for first time homebuyers. It’s a very glib document that is a lot of prose and very little substance.”


‘Panic’ has gripped the federal government

The open-shop sector regarded the measures announced in the federal budget as a missed opportunity.

Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) president Chris Gardner said the budget “continues the Trudeau government’s legacy of excessive spending, bloating bureaucracy, high taxes, and doing nothing to reverse Canada’s withering economic productivity and competitiveness.”

“The torrid pace of spending by Ottawa and the growth of government is simply breathtaking. The Trudeau Liberals are doubling-down on a very bad idea – that government is the centre of everything and that there is no challenge facing Canada that billions and billions in new spending, ever-higher taxes, and overregulation will not solve,” Gardner said.

He also expressed doubt that the focus on housing will bring substantial results and said “a federal go-it-alone approach to housing will not work.”

“The sheer volume of pre-budget announcements on housing and the billions committed by Ottawa reveals the sense of panic that has gripped the federal government. The policies are disjointed, ill-conceived, confusing, and often conflict with those of not only other levels of government but also of Ottawa itself. None of this is going to deliver any meaningful relief to Canadians being crushed by the weight of the affordability crisis,” Gardner said.

ICBA Alberta president Mike Martens echoed Gardner’s disappointment, adding the federal government has ignored the lessons of Alberta’s economic success.

“Alberta’s economy continues to be the ox that pulls the national cart, but the Trudeau government hasn’t learned from the success of the Alberta Advantage. The federal insistence on overspending is going to burden taxpayers for generations to come,” he said.

“There’s a chance some of the measures in today’s budget will help spur construction of more houses. The problem is that the budget does not address the underlying issues that have caused the housing affordability and general negative economic conditions we face today: increased debt financing and expansion of the size of government. Until we get those under control, Canada’s economy will not be able to increase the standard of living of the average Canadian,” Martens added.


‘Infrastructure gets kicked down the road’

Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA) president Paul de Jong was also disappointed by what he saw.

He added the budget’s proposal to amend the Impact Assessment Act (Bill C-69) parts of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada does not go far enough.

“In our view, Bill C-69 requires nothing less than a major overhaul so that the process for approving major projects is less subjective and political and far more reliable, providing greater certainty for project owners and investors.”

Calgary Construction Association president Bill Black said addressing the housing crisis will take more than “throwing money at the problem.”

“Visiting a few factories that build modular homes won’t do it,” he said. “These ideas will be part of future solutions, but they can’t scale up to meet demand.”

He added building houses without also addressing needed infrastructure creates more problems that will land in the industry’s lap.

“Infrastructure gets kicked down the road because it doesn’t fit well within election cycles, and this budget is not changing that anytime soon,” Black said.

British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison was also unimpressed with the lack of focus on infrastructure in the budget.

“B.C.’s aging infrastructure needs to be addressed. This includes ensuring the construction and maintenance of roadways required to service new construction. Numbers from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities show that each new housing unit requires $107,000 in public infrastructure investment. This means that an additional $128 billion is needed to build, support and connect these homes to essential housing-enabling infrastructure. How does the government propose to make up the shortfall?” Atchison said.

He added BCCA does see positive movement in the federal government’s indication it wishes to improve the efficiency of zoning and permitting.

“Meeting Canada’s aggressive housing targets means making working with municipalities on permitting and zoning more efficient,” Atchison said.


Immigration reform key for construction

BC Building Trades director Brynn Bourke expressed optimism with the budget in terms of its approach to apprenticeship.

“We are pleased to see the government’s continued commitment to apprenticeship with $100 million for apprenticeship placements and skilled trades awareness and readiness programs,” Bourke said.

She added her organization will keep a close eye on the federal government’s handling of foreign worker credentialling.

“We noted the government’s $25 million investment in the foreign credential system and will be watching the implementation closely.  We believe Canada should bring appropriately qualified construction workers into the trades where there is clear evidence of labour shortages. Canada must stop its reliance on temporary foreign workers in the construction industry and provide meaningful protections for immigrant workers and a pathway to citizenship,” she said.

Atchison recommended the government allow more immigration for skilled tradespeople without requiring a job offer before they can arrive in Canada and get to work.

“We know through our experience and success with the BCCA Apprenticeship Services program that, in the right hands, workforce solution programs can be highly effective….Where we need to see action is in immigration reform. The current outdated point system needs additional improvement, and Ottawa must work with the provinces to ensure better skills matching. Let’s remove the barriers to entry for qualified, skilled workers by eliminating the requirement that ties immigration to a job offer. Construction requires more flexibility than that.”

Bourke also diverged from other construction leaders and praised the federal government’s commitment to infrastructure projects.

“The BC Building Trades welcomes the federal government’s plan to invest $56 billion in critical infrastructure over the next decade. There are a number of important infrastructure projects in B.C. requiring federal support and we look forward to seeing the details on those,” she said.

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