A Canadian plan to ‘Build Back Better’

On April 19, the first Canadian woman to hold the federal finance minister portfolio delivered the longest and arguably most significant budget in Canadian history. At more than 740 pages, Finance Minister Chyrstia Freeland’s first budget was both heavy and weighty for a Liberal government seeking to support Canadians and steer the economy out of the pandemic. It also didn’t hurt that the budgets’ massive spending spree helped position the government for the looming election.

The 2021 budget laid out the government’s plans to bridge struggling Canadian workers and employers into the post-pandemic recovery, while at the same time priming the Canadian economy for a green and inclusive recovery.

The signature program of Canada’s post-pandemic stimulus program is not the traditional infrastructure investments most recovery packages are built on, though billions has been allocated to infrastructure.

The government had telegraphed since the fall, that it would be investing in a national childcare program to help get women back into the labour force following a recession that disproportionately impacted women, young workers and racialized Canadians.

Overall, more than half a million Canadian workers have been laid off or faced reduced hours due to the pandemic. This includes more than 280,000 Canadians who found themselves unemployed for at least six months or more.

The Liberal government made a number of substantial investments to support the tenuous labour market and workers who find themselves unemployed or underemployed.

Support for unemployed workers

Support for unemployed workers includes up to an additional 12 weeks of the Canada Recovery Benefit, now to a maximum of 50 weeks. The first four of these additional weeks will be paid at $500 per week. 

As the Canadian economy reopens, the intention is for the remaining eight weeks to be paid at $300 per week – available until late September 2021. 

The support also extends to the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, which has been extended by four more weeks, to a maximum of 42 weeks, at $500 per week.

The government is also seeking to make Canada’s Employment Insurance program more accessible and simpler for Canadians as the job market starts to improve in the year ahead.

Included in the changes is equal access to benefits across all regions, including through a 420-hour entrance requirement for regular and special benefits, with a 14-week minimum entitlement for regular benefits.

The Employment Insurance program would also allow claimants to start receiving benefits sooner by simplifying rules around the treatment of severance, vacation pay and other monies paid on separation.

The government also announced it will be conducting targeted consultations with Canadians, employers and other stakeholders to inform any permanent changes to improve access once the recovery is in full swing as part of the Employment Insurance program.

The program would also push Canada to establish a $15 minimum wage, indexed to inflation, for federally regulated sectors.

What about the skilled trades?

The skilled trades featured prominently in the government recovery plan, including through the development
of a new Apprenticeship Service to be delivered by Employment and Social Development Canada.

The program is set to begin in 2021-2022, and the government claims it will help 55,000 first-year apprentices in construction and manufacturing Red Seal trades connect with opportunities at small- and medium-sized contractors or employers.

With a total investment of $470 million over three years, the Apprenticeship Service provides eligible employers with up to $5,000 for all first-year apprenticeship opportunities to cover upfront costs such as salaries and training.

This incentive is doubled for those employers who hire underrepresented Canadians, namely women, racialized Canadians and persons with disabilities.

Employment and Social Development Canada will also be responsible for a Sectorial Workforce Solutions Program to help design and deliver training relevant to the needs of businesses, especially small- and medium-sized businesses, and to their employees. This funding is also intended to help businesses recruit and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce – something that has been at the core of this government’s workforce agenda.

The government contends that this investment will help connect as many as 90,000 Canadians with the training they need to access good jobs in sectors where employers are looking for skilled workers, including clean energy and construction.

One of the more modest investments ($55 million) still merits mention given the applicability to the growth potential of the energy efficiency sector – the Community Workforce Development Program. This program is geared toward supporting communities as they develop local plans to connect employers with training providers to develop and deliver training and work placements to upskill and reskill jobseekers to fill jobs in demand.

There are two streams through which funding will be delivered.

The first is a national stream focused on priority areas such as de-carbonization and supporting a just transition for workers in transforming sectors like energy, which would dedicate 75 percent of funding to projects that support underrepresented groups.

The second is a regional stream, delivered by Service Canada regional offices, in partnership with regional development agencies, and focused on regional priorities.

As with all public sector programs and government investments, the devil is in the details. Therefore, it will be critical for mechanical insulators and the building trades to be more broadly engaged in program design and roll out to ensure mechanical insulation is top of mind for decision-makers crafting criteria and developing these plans.

Other budget initiatives worth noting include: $4.4 billion to help homeowners with green retrofits through interest-free loans of up to $40,000; $2.5 billion to build and repair 35,000 housing units for vulnerable Canadians; and $1.9 billion to renew the National Trade Corridor program to invest in infrastructure that contributes to Canadian exports, internal trade and alleviate transportation bottle necks.

Canada and the U.S.: A green new relationship

Energy efficiency and mitigating climate change have become two underpinning priorities of the new relationship between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As two leaders aligned on the need for a green recovery, climate change and “clean growth” are seen as common ground for Biden and Trudeau to rebuild the Canada-U.S. relationship that strained during President Donald Trump’s term.

Since first elected in 2015, Trudeau has reprioritized action on greenhouse gas emissions and placed a greater emphasis on energy efficiency projects. Heat and Frost Insulators have been at the forefront of this green shift, providing the Canadian government with several recommendations.

The two largest recommendations include expanding energy efficiency programs to include deep energy retrofits, incentives for industrial sector and zero-carbon heating and cooling systems. 

The second of those suggestions included energy audits to incentivize deep energy retrofits for commercial, industrial and large residential buildings.

Heat and Frost Insulator advocacy on this file came to fruition late last year. In December, the Canadian government laid out generational investments to position the Canadian economy for a green recovery, focused on “clean growth.”

The Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy strategy included commitments to work with the building materials sector and other stakeholders to develop a robust, low-emission building materials supply chain.

In turn, this would support continued work with provincial and territorial governments to develop a new model ‘retrofit’ code for existing buildings by 2022. It would also invest $2 billion in financing commercial and large-scale building retrofits, which will be repaid by energy savings costs.

President Biden invited Prime Minister Trudeau and other world leaders to the Leaders’ Summit on Climate on April 22-23. Trudeau’s government used the spotlight afforded by the Summit to promote Canada’s plan for a green recovery, including a new target for greenhouse gas reduction of between 40 percent and 45 percent below 2005 levels – an improvement from the previous target of 36 percent.

The Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy strategy could see some investments in the recent federal budget, but these were largely targeted at homeowners seeking to improve energy efficiency, clean fuel production and clean technology.

Overall, this is a key plank of Trudeau’s clean industrial policy for Canada’s green recovery and a pillar of the
motto shared by both leaders: Build Back Better.

The federal Liberals see the green economy as a recovery measure from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Healthy Environment and Healthy Economy strategy that was unveiled by Trudeau’s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson in December and was bolstered through new investments in the budget. The budget did not make any significant new investments to support deep energy retrofitting of large-scale buildings – either industrial or residential.

However, Canada’s Infrastructure Bank has been engaging stakeholders, including the Canada Building Trades Union, regarding the $2 billion the government provided to the bank to leverage private sector investment to accelerate energy audits and retrofitting of Canada industrial sector.

Eastern Canadian International Vice President Paul Faulkner participated in this meeting and Canada’s mechanical insulators will continue to engage the Infrastructure Bank to ensure mechanical insulation helps to propel this green shift and recovery.

The on-going collaborations between Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and American President Biden demonstrate a growing continental approach to greening their respective economies.

For the past four years, Prime Minister Trudeau was trying to get the United States to get caught up on climate change.

Now that President Biden and Vice President Harris have accelerated the U.S. approach with aggressive targets, Canada is arguably now having to work hard to keep up to the United States.

This all bodes well for those skilled trades, like mechanical insulators, leading the way for a more efficient economy.

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