VAN BUREN: It’s time to focus on the elephant in the (economic recovery) room

Via Calgary Sun

It is critical that investments in infrastructure continue and a skilled workforce is an important part of the equation.

As the weeks of this short, mostly summertime, election campaign slipped by, it was frustrating to see pressing and important conversations being derailed as campaigns focused on much less fundamental matters.

The essential question of Canada’s economic recovery — the issue that the prime minister cited as the basis for an early election call — got little attention as other issues ate up space in newspaper columns and on Twitter feeds.

True, the Conservative platform talked about getting Canada’s economy back on track and the Liberal platform talked about building a better Canada, yet both lacked focus on what is at the heart of Canada’s economic recovery and of our future prosperity: The essential infrastructure Canadians rely on every day — from the schools we send our kids to; the hospitals that care for us; to the roads, bridges and trade corridors that connect our communities not only to each other but also to the global marketplace.

Infrastructure is both an investment in Canada’s future and a catalyst to recovery from the pandemic. Construction is the backbone of the Canadian economy, employing some 1.4 million Canadians, pumping about $141 billion annually into the national economy, and accounting for nearly 7.5% of Canada’s gross domestic product (GDP). So why aren’t we talking about it? It’s the elephant in the economic recovery room.

With a debt of $1.6 trillion, it nevertheless remains critical that investments in infrastructure continue. Funds must be predictable, flow quickly, and be aligned with provincial, municipal and Indigenous needs. The stability of having projects planned several years out, based on evidence and independent expert advice (ideally from a body with the mandate to align governments and address infrastructure deficits right across the country), would also enable the development of the necessary skilled workforce and encourage private sector investment.

A skilled workforce is an important part of the equation. The construction industry is facing a serious workforce shortage. Unlike other sectors hard hit by the pandemic, construction has kept people working, and now good paying jobs need to be urgently filled. This too should be part of the discussion. Because there are actions that the federal government needs to take now, in partnership with industry, to recruit, train and retain the new faces our sector needs, building the workforce of today … and tomorrow.

And finally, for infrastructure investments to be optimized, Canada’s procurement strategies need to be addressed. The federal government’s approach is outdated. It leaves little room for creative solutions and fair risk sharing. It is time for a system that encourages innovation, accounts for long-term value and sustainability, and explores the use of alternative delivery models.

This is a historic moment in time for Canada to build a brighter and better future — one that supports sustainable growth and benefits all Canadians. The Canadian construction sector is ready to step up and play its part.

— Mary Van Buren is the president of the Canadian Construction Association, which represents more than 20,000 member firms drawn from 63 local and provincial integrated partner associations.

Article by Lena Hogarth
September 23, 2021

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