Budget 2021: Takeaways for construction
The federal government tabled its first budget in more than two years April 19. A number of new and enhanced programs will support construction and the industry’s workforce across the country, but Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced relatively little in new infrastructure funding.
Sean Strickland, the executive director of Canada’s Building Trades Unions (CBTU), said he would like to have seen more fresh spending commitments to address gaps “caused by reduced private sector investment,” but CBTU was pleased with the attention paid to supporting the skilled trades.
“The creation of the new Apprenticeship Service through [Employment and Social Development Canada] will encourage more employers to hire and start apprentices — including additional incentives for hiring those from underrepresented groups,” Strickland said in a release. “Investing in re-training, upskilling and just transition for workers in transforming sectors like energy, will position Canada better, as we look ahead.”
Over three years, Ottawa plans to spend $470 million to establish the Apprenticeship Service that will help Red Seal apprentices find jobs. It will also provide employers with $5,000 training subsidies, or $10,000 subsidies for women or BIPOC apprentices. $960 million will also be set aside for the Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program to help job seekers train for jobs in in-demand sectors, like construction.
“We applaud the government’s efforts to encourage young people to seek careers in the trades, and the steps being taken to encourage employers to hire apprentices,” said Andrew Pariser vice-president of the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON), in a release. “Our industry is at risk of a sharp labour deficit and we need to get more youth into the industry. These programs will certainly help with that effort.”
Likewise, the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) said it is “highly encouraged” by Ottawa’s support for apprenticeships, and that the proposed Apprenticeship Service lines up directly with industry initiatives to build a more diverse workforce.
At the same time, the CCA said the budget does not speed up the flow of infrastructure dollars previously committed — a reference to slower than expected spending under the 12-year Investing in Canada Plan.
“The budget endorses the valued role of the heavy civil, institutional, commercial and industrial construction sector to building back better.” Mary Van Buren, the CCA’s president, said in a release. “However, an equal commitment is needed to facilitate the quick and unfettered roll-out of these proposed investments.”
The national organization continues to stress better communication and coordination between all levels of government to deliver projects more efficiently and minimize boom-bust spending cycles.
The Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) also took positives and negatives from the budget. It pointed to the added $1.4 billion over 12 years through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund for rehabilitating of stormwater systems as welcome, but noted the lack of new money to help municipalities with state-of-good-repair projects was disappointing, especially given the havoc COVID-19 has wreaked on city budgets.
A round up of other notable investments in construction or infrastructure in the proposed budget:
Long term plan for affordable housing topped up
The federal government has tweaked its housing and infrastructure plans in today’s budget, but held back on an overhaul.
In the first budget in more than two years, Freeland is topping up the Liberals’ 10-year, $40-billion housing strategy with an additional $2.5-billion commitment.
Some 60 per cent of that will go toward construction of 4,500 new units under the so-called Rapid Housing Initiative, which seeks to provide vulnerable Canadians with affordable homes.
The budget’s plan to build or repair 35,000 units in total makes only a small dent in the 1.6 million Canadians in need of housing assistance.
The 739-page document also reiterates an eight-year, $15-billion pledge from February for public transit projects ranging from new subway lines to electric buses.
The budget further sets aside $23 million over four years for Infrastructure Canada to conduct what it calls the country’s first-ever national infrastructure assessment, partly to identify next steps toward a long-discussed, never-developed high-frequency rail link between Toronto and Quebec City.
Ottawa adds $1B to rural broadband fund as more work remotely
The federal government says it will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026.
The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.
It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.
Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.
The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, with the details first released in the November fiscal update.
The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion projected by the federal government’s November fiscal update.
Liberals pledge $18 billion for Indigenous communities
The government plans to spend more than $18 billion over the next five years to try to narrow the socio-economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and help these communities fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
Freeland says in an advance text of her budget speech the government has made progress in righting the historic wrongs in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, but a lot of work remains be done.
In its 2021 budget blueprint, the government says the new funding will address inequalities faced by Indigenous people and advance reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit and the Metis.
The government proposes to spend more than $6 billion for infrastructure in Indigenous communities, and $2.2 billion to help end the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The budget pledges to provide Indigenous communities with an additional $1.2 billion this fiscal year to support their response to COVID-19 pandemic including money to hire nurses, provide mental health assistance, address food insecurity and support children.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has announced more than $4 billion in COVID-19 funding for Indigenous communities and organizations supporting them since the beginning of the pandemic.