Greetings, Chair, members of the committee, and fellow witnesses.
I hope to give you a tip-of-the-spear view today of where we see the world and how Budget 2013 can hopefully solidify Canada's economic recovery and set us on the right path for the future.
We are the Canadian building trades. We represent skilled tradespeople who go to work every day on Canada's infrastructure, energy, mega, and even small construction projects.
The construction industry represents just under 12% of GDP. We represent about 550,000 workers—all voluntary members, by the way—and we thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
What helped us survive the recession? The same two things that will help Canada grow and solidify gains in 2013 and beyond: infrastructure and the energy sector. We need a budget in 2013 that makes a significant overhaul of labour market initiatives and skills policy to ensure investment in our country isn't foregone because Canada can't build it. If we're serious about energy superpower status, we need to get the people thing right. If we don't, other jurisdictions will.
What are these labour market and skills policy fixes we need to get right? First of all, labour market development agreements with provincial jurisdictions should prescribe and measure training goals for new Red Seal apprentices. Also, graduating current students into journeypersons is needed to ensure growth. A shrinking workforce and a broken training system is a recipe for disaster in the economy. Allocate existing unaccountable LMDA funding to provincial governments differently so that employers are encouraged to hire construction apprentices, either financially or through a tax incentive. We submit that no more money be spent on redundant websites or studies by provinces, the content of which already exists in the public domain.
The federal government should be interested in getting value for money already allocated for distribution to the provinces in these deals. Given that the Government of Canada is a funder of provincial education systems, there should be financial consideration given to those who have tangible results to show. Minister Oliver's common-sense plan for regulation reform in the energy sector needs to be coupled with practical labour market solutions.
There is no possibility that our economy gets built out with an underperforming labour market. I stress this is a free solution, as these labour market deals already exist. The policy leadership required is free, and we see no reason not to proceed.
Primarily, the Government of Canada needs to ensure that barriers to employment for Canadians are low. For example, there needs to be sufficient incentive for companies to hire young Canadians who otherwise would not work and contribute to society, provided that these positions lead to real jobs.
We submit that a procurement policy be in place on federal government construction sites, encouraging contractors to hire young Canadians or aboriginals registered in the Red Seal trades. Some of the energy partners we work with in Alberta require training plans to be submitted to them regularly. This requirement is part of the commercial terms between the purchaser of construction and the companies that actually do the work. It's been wildly successful in Alberta in training and retaining young people at large energy projects. Some sites, like Suncor and Shell, have 30% apprentices on site. These kinds of innovative programs would work when Public Works is buying construction; it costs nothing to implement and it serves a public policy goal. If it's sound public policy to get the best price for work, which it is, it is sound public policy to make sure that people get trained on the work paid by tax dollars.
I said it in the Financial Post 14 days ago, and I'll say it again: there's a pending demographic time bomb in construction. Massive retirements, coupled with relatively new entrant numbers and increasing economic demand on our industry, could cripple growth. Check out my HUMA testimony from May if you want more details on who, where, what, when, and why.
In this context, there are primarily two levers that can be pulled by the Government of Canada: the apprenticeship and training system, and immigration. The apprenticeship system is largely managed by the provincial jurisdiction, but is completely funded by the Government of Canada. StatsCan tells us that registrations are trending upwards, which is a good thing, but that graduation rates from apprenticeship curriculum in Canada is fairly low and is not on the rise. There is little or no incentive for people to progress through the curriculum.
I'm getting the one-minute hook.
The federal government has tried to assist through the implementation of the apprenticeship incentive grant. Currently, it covers only years one and two. We think it should be extended to years three and four and the benefit amount should be increased. If we take a look at some of the other things the Government of Canada spends money on—no offence to the research and development community—$2.6 billion is allocated to SR and ED tax credits, $89 million is spent on apprenticeship and employment tax credit issues. There's a real discrepancy there.
It's free to reallocate money from one program to another, so if we're really concerned about skills shortages, if we're really concerned about these kinds of things, we'll take a look at money we're spending and make sure we're getting value for money.
Just quickly, the last thing I would say is that the mobility of Canadian workers impacts productivity. If we want to improve productivity in our country, it's a really good idea to look at a system that encourages mobility for skilled trades workers from one part of the country where there is a shortage of work to places where those workers would be in demand. So let's take a look at that.
I've handed out my policy to the Minister of Finance—at Starbucks, and on his policy retreat, etc.—so he has it.
I think it's time: you could talk to our employers.
Thanks very much.