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Manufacturing Competitiveness is an Election Issue

David MacLean.

A more diverse, resilient Alberta economy depends on a strong manufacturing sector. With an election around the corner, it’s time to put manufacturing on the provincial agenda.

You’ve probably heard it a million times, but Alberta is moving in the wrong direction when it comes to competitiveness. While everyone agrees we need a stronger manufacturing sector in order to stabilize the provincial economy and smooth out the boom and bust cycle, it’s getting tougher to make things in Alberta. The provincial government raised corporate taxes during a downturn, biting into already dwindling business profits. Changes to occupational health and safety rules add additional burdens and WCB premiums are on the rise. Of course, the carbon levy adds another layer of cost to doing business.

This election could be a turning point. It’s a time to take a good, hard look at our business climate and stake out policy positions aimed at putting people back to work and diversifying the economy.

At Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME), we’ve been calling for the creation of a formal manufacturing strategy – a blue print that would guide the province toward doubling manufacturing output by 2030. That plan would apply to other sectors as well, but manufacturing (including petrochemicals) would be central.

What would a manufacturing strategy in Alberta look like? To begin, it would assess how Alberta (and Canada generally) stacks up internationally when it comes to attracting investment. Alberta has some disadvantages – it’s a landlocked province with a high cost of living. It also has advantages – including a world class oil and gas sector that serves as a bedrock market for Alberta-made products, and a highly-skilled and technology-savvy workforce.

In order to capitalize on these strengths, we need to make Alberta an attractive place to invest, and that starts with tax policy. Finance Minister Joe Ceci applauded (as did we) the feds when they unveiled their more aggressive Accelerated Capital Cost Allowance – allowing manufacturers the flexibility to write off 100 per cent of equipment and technology investments within the first year. Why not mirror that policy provincially?

We also need a plan to address one of the biggest challenges for manufacturers – the attraction and retention of skilled labour. We must do a better job of promoting manufacturing and trades as viable career options. We need to make it easier and less costly for manufacturers to do in-house training to ensure our people have the skills needed to compete globally. We need to work with other levels of government to reduce barriers to labour mobility in the country and provide incentives for workers to relocate to high-demand jurisdictions.

There are countless ways to boost manufacturing, but it all begins with a plan. Alberta’s political leaders first must acknowledge that Alberta isn’t attracting the investment needed to sustain growth into the future, and that needs to change. This election is an ideal time to present ideas to voters for growing the sector, creating jobs and diversifying the economy.

Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME) is the voice of Canadian manufacturing. CME represents more than 2,500 companies who account for an estimated 82 per cent of manufacturing output and 90 per cent of Canada’s exports.