Skills, Training and Education

Merit Canada recommends that policy makers:

  • Provide federal funds for training programs, in partnership with the provinces, through provincially accredited colleges, trades training, and technical institutions;
  • Provide targeted assistance, in partnership with the provinces, to provincial institutions to build incremental training facilities where the need is greatest as clearly demonstrated by labour market data;
  • Give preference to funding support for apprenticeship programs which support work-integrated and life-long learning;
  • Ensure any federal apprenticeship funding is provided without preference or favour to union, non-affiliated union or non-union workers. Fundamentally, if the federal government provides funding for skills, training and education, it should be non-exclusively to all segments of construction industry workforce; and,
  • Recognize and support entrepreneurship as a legitimate and vitally important component of apprenticeship training and supporting succession planning in small, medium and large construction firms across the country.

Merit Canada believes skills, training and education is foundational for building a talented workforce to build our country. This is a shared responsibility of government, business, and individuals.

Federal policy makers have an important role to help ensure a skilled, trained and well-educated workforce to build Canada from coast to coast to coast. Though substantially within provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has an important leadership role working with its provincial counterparts to provide funding and incentives to enhance skills, training and education for Canadians.

Building Enabling and Sustainable Infrastructure

Merit Canada recommends that policy makers:

  • Continue and enhance the existing commitment to multi-year federal cost-sharing for provincial and municipal infrastructure renewal;
  • Support provincial infrastructure initiatives to better connect communities, to improve goods and people movement, and to debottleneck provincial and national highway networks;
  • Support major port infrastructure development on Canada’s West Coast, East Coast, and Saint Lawrence River and Great Lakes Gateways tied to road and rail networks to improve supply chain efficiency and Canada’s capacity to get exports to global markets;
  • Work with telecommunications providers to ensure that Canadians across the country have sufficient access to highspeed internet and wireless network capacity;
  • Invest in targeted airport infrastructure in partnership with local airport authorities (where applicable), provincial governments and municipalities (where applicable) to improve passenger movements and experience, and to improve air cargo capabilities where there is a clear business case to do so; and,
  • Invest heavily in urban transit infrastructure in recognition that much of Canada’s population growth is occurring in Canada’s major cities and that affordable, livable and environmentally sustainable housing options go hand-in-hand with expanded transportation access.

The federal government plays an important role in sharing the cost of infrastructure funded by provincial and local governments.

Provincial infrastructure to connect communities with efficient and effective urban transit systems to reduce congestion in urban centers requires the assistance of the federal government to make projects pencil out.

At the same time, local infrastructure is critically important for efforts to maintain and grow affordable, sustainable and healthy communities of all size across the country.

Much of Canada’s infrastructure was built in the 1950’s and 1960’s and, in the view of Merit Canada, is now in dire need of renewal or repair. However, both provincial and municipal governments are overburdened by “infrastructure deficits” that have built up – that is, infrastructure built in the post-war period is now at the end of its life-cycle.

Fortunately, the federal government has the fiscal capacity to assist with funding cost-shared infrastructure renewal, and through its ten-year $180 billion program is investing in our country’s aging infrastructure.

It is critical that all federal parties commit to multi-year funding for infrastructure renewal across the country, with added emphasis and initiatives in areas where investments can accelerate economic gains from export trade for the entire country.

Investments in infrastructure renewal across the country should also be undertaken with a clear line-of-sight to cost-effective ways to improve energy use and efficiency.

Responsible Resource Development

Merit Canada recommends that policy makers:

  • Develop a national vision, strategy and implementation plan for advancing responsible resource development in cooperation with provincial governments, Indigenous Nations and the private sector that advances national infrastructure planning and execution (especially interprovincial pipelines to access tidewater on Canada’s east and west coasts);
  • Repeal and replace Bills C-69 and Bill C-48 with more balanced legislation in the national interest to advance responsible resource development for all Canadians, while balancing legitimate societal interests and environmental protection;
  • Clearly define the meaning and intent of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples juxtaposed to the Duty to Consult and Accommodate which has evolved in case law since the enactment of the Constitution Act, 1982. Failure to do so will result in many years of litigation and uncertainty;
  • Focus on incremental pan-Canadian LNG development to unleash the full potential of Western and Eastern Canadian gas reserves and export opportunities; and,
  • Develop a realistic climate action plan which truly respects concurrent federal and provincial jurisdiction over the environment; markets Canadian LNG as a transition fuel for China and India (the world’s leading carbon emitters) and Europe; and upholds the principle of full revenue-neutrality (i.e. one-for-one offsetting personal and corporate tax reductions) if a price on carbon is maintained.

Merit Canada is firmly of the view that the wealth, jobs and opportunities created by Canadian resource industries is too often maligned and not sufficiently appreciated or supported.

Ground zero for the now endemic challenges within Canada’s resource industries is the approach taken by federal policy makers toward the energy sector where there has been little focus given to getting Canadian resources to market.

In the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s, governments of both political stripes who governed — Liberal and Conservative — did make concerted efforts to unleash Canada’s resources to generate enormous opportunity for our country.

The result is that the energy industry is the single largest private sector investor in Canada, investing about $44 billion in 2017 alone. The energy sector also pays an estimated $15 billion annually to government, which all Canadians share.

Over the past few years, however, this commitment has been undermined by detrimental public policy measures which has complicated major project development and has land-locked our natural resources.

The passage of Bill C-69, Impact Assessment Act this past spring will impair Canada’s ability to develop its resources by making major project permitting and approvals more costly and complex at best and, at worst, impossible. Bill C-48 – the ban on oil tankers off the west coast of Canada – stymies the development of further pipeline infrastructure on our country’s Northwest Coast which is critically necessary to get our nation’s oil reserves responsibly to global markets.

Instead of taking action in the national interest to responsibly develop our resources, these legislative measures institutionalize obstruction, complacency, and the status quo. By doing so, all Canadians lose.

Merit Canada believes Government has a purposeful role to set the national direction for responsible resource development, to facilitate timely regulatory approvals and permitting, and to lay the foundation for the execution of nation-building infrastructure within federal jurisdiction.

In recent years, however, efforts to catalyze (i.e. articulate a vision), coordinate (i.e. work with the provinces, Indigenous Nations and private sector proponents), and communicate (i.e. make the case to Canadians about the financial, social and moral imperative of advancing responsible resource and infrastructure development) has effectively been non-existent.

Merit Canada fears that Canada risks being labeled a place where it is simply too difficult to get things done or, worse, a place where regulatory approvals are not worth the paper they are printed on. The early results are in: businesses and investors are taking their ideas, their people, and their capital elsewhere.

Protecting Canada’s environment is an important public policy objective, and Merit Canada believes the environment and the economy go hand-in-hand. However, federal policy makers’ vision has been misplaced or has overstated Canada’s place and influence on the core global challenges of our time.

For example, while most Canadians agree that climate change is a real threat, our national response fails to recognize that Canada produces less than two percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada’s useful contribution to climate action should be to help China, India and Europe transition away from coal to less carbon-intensive sources of energy such as Canadian LNG (liquified natural gas).

Open and Fair Government Procurement

Merit Canada recommends that policy makers:

  • Maintain open, fair and transparent procurement processes based on achieving the best value at lowest reasonable cost for taxpayers without preference to non-union, non-affiliated union or building trades union contractors.

Fairness in government procurement policy is a key touchstone in the construction sector generally, and for Merit Canada in particular.

Governments – federal and provincial — should adopt procurement models that are open to all contractors regardless of whether companies and their workers are non-union, non-affiliated (wall-to-wall) union, or members of traditional (craft) building trades unions.

Fundamentally, both levels of government should seek the best value at the lowest reasonable cost for public sector infrastructure procurement.

Federal policy makers should not follow the path, for example, of the fledgling building trades union-only requirements in the Government of British Columbia’s deeply flawed and likely illegal Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) framework which is currently being challenged in BC Supreme Court.

In 2018, the BC NDP Government mandated that anyone working on a provincial government construction project be forced to join one of the government-approved building trades unions.

Progressive unions and non-union contractors representing 85% of the province’s 250,000 men women in construction are shut out – gone is fair, open and transparent procurement on public infrastructure projects. This model must not be adopted by federal policy makers.

According to an analysis done by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, with British Columbia planning to spend $25.6 billion on infrastructure over the next three years, the building trades union-only hiring model could cost taxpayers as much as $4.8 billion more, or nearly $4,000 for every family in the province.

Where applied, the BC CBA framework has already led to significant cost escalations, project descoping to stay within budget, and qualified bidders are choosing not to bid projects because of significant financial and human resource risks to their businesses.

Merit Canada strongly believes that cutting backroom deals with the building trades unions to give them a monopoly on government projects hurts workers, construction contractors and costs taxpayers more money. And more people are trained in the construction trades by being inclusive, by investing in more training spaces, and by working with construction contractors who train workers on construction projects in every community across the country every day.

Investment, Trade and Growth

Merit Canada recommends that policy makers:

  • Undertake a long-overdue review of Canada’s complex tax system, with the overarching goal to simplify its application and administration;
  • Continue with the current sector-by-sector review of Canada’s regulatory burden with the goal of streamlining and simplifying the application and administration of regulations affecting businesses and citizens;
  • Review the Canada Labour Code to ensure that it provides labour market flexibility and balanced labour relations and employment standards policies suitable to the needs of today’s world of work. This must begin with restoration of a workers’ right to a secret ballot vote during union certification processes in federally regulated workplaces (there is no more fundamental democratic value than the right to a secret ballot, and workers should have that right when they are deciding if they should join a union);
  • Ensure that Canada maintains open access to steel products from international markets. Fundamentally sourcing cost-competitive supply to meet construction industry demand for steel inputs is differentiated across the country (Central Canada can source much of its supply domestically, while Western Canada is heavily dependent on imports from international markets); and,
  • Develop a comprehensive pan-Canadian, export-oriented jobs and investment plan to leverage gains from trade with the United States, Asia and Europe.

Private sector investment is key for enabling economic growth. A growing economy provides people with jobs and governments with tax revenues to pay for health, education and social programs.

While Canada has fared well overall in recent years, outbound foreign investment flows have outpaced inbound flows since 2014, and growth and job creation has been uneven across the country. Lagging investment and lagging employment growth have, for example, hit the Alberta energy sector particularly hard, while other sectors and regions have performed somewhat better.

At the same time, the effect of the USA’s Jobs and Tax Cuts Act initiated under the Trump administration and lingering uncertainty over whether the US-Canada-Mexico Agreement will be ratified, together with turbulent relations with China and India, have made for uncertain times within other sectors of the economy.

Inbound foreign direct investment and secure and fluid access to export markets are both critical for enabling economic growth in Canada. In the construction sector, demand for institutional, commercial, industrial and residential construction services is derived from other areas of the private sector including manufacturing, forestry, mining, and energy, among others. Demand for construction services also comes directly from governments’ leading role to fund nation-building and regional infrastructure such as highways, ports, airports, hospitals and educational institutions.

Merit Canada believes that public policy choices profoundly affect investment and growth by establishing private sector confidence levels and ultimately their choices about whether to expand their businesses.

Investor confidence is strongly influenced by government policies setting taxation levels, the burden of red tape and regulation, the degree of labour market flexibility, and openness to international trade to source critical business inputs and to export goods and services.

Levels of investment, in turn, ultimately determine the amount and stability of taxes, fees and other revenues that are available for government spending to support critical “public goods” such as social services and infrastructure to move goods and people.