If you’re like me, the thought of another election campaign is exhausting. After several years of non-stop political wrangling in Alberta, everyone is in need of a break. However, there are a few pieces of unfinished business, when it comes to driving Canadian manufacturing growth, that should be addressed in the upcoming federal campaign.
Edmonton manufacturers will be watching closely because, as you’ve likely read in this space in the past, the sector faces some significant challenges. As a general rule, and Alberta is certainly no exception, Canadian manufacturers are undercapitalized relative to their global competitors. Local manufacturers don’t invest as much as their global counterparts; perhaps because they face a generally high cost of doing business and low labour productivity – and face labour shortages in the long-term.
In the Edmonton region, the big economic prize is petrochemical development. With a few significant Industrial Heartland projects waiting in the wings, the stakes couldn’t be higher. We compete with jurisdictions around the world for those investment dollars, so the policy mix from all levels of government has to be just right.
So, what are manufacturers looking for from Trudeau, Scheer and Singh?
We need to reduce the cost of doing business in Canada. Manufacturers need comprehensive tax reform to modernize the tax regime to boost investment, exports and productivity. The federal government should work with provinces to streamline regulatory processes and reduce red tape. And, once and for all, we need a government that is serious about eliminating the internal trade barriers that cost the economy $86 billion every year. A healthy, efficient internal market will drive exports.
Premier Kenney showed impressive leadership in unilaterally dropping many Alberta government exemptions to the Agreement on Internal Trade that allowed it to prevent out-of-province competition on procurement.
The federal government should use the tax system, without risking public dollars, to encourage technology adoption and scaling up. It can help address labour productivity by expanding and simplifying the Canada Job Grant. Immigration rules should be reviewed and reformed where necessary in order to increase the entry of both entry level and highly skilled workers into Canada.
Finally, manufacturers need the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) ratified and implemented. The modernized trade deal has some significant wins for manufacturers, so the sooner we can make it operational, the better.
These suggestions, when pieced together, form the backbone of a Canadian advanced manufacturing strategy – the kind of plan all federal leaders should be presenting to voters at election time. Canadians need a clearly articulated plan to grow the economy, improve our competitiveness relative to other jurisdictions in the world, and drive investment in innovation and technology.
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.