Act on affordability issues

If the Liberals want a comeback, they need to act on affordability issues. And that starts with building major projects, writes Margareta Dovgal.

Fall marks eight years since the Liberal Party of Canada swept in a majority win, bolstered by a campaign focused on change. And change there has been, from cannabis legalization and national child care to weathering a global pandemic.

What’s front and centre today, however, is the sense that everything is intolerably expensive, projects can't get built and wages haven’t kept up with a rising cost of living.

The crisis before us isn’t unexpected—alarm bells have been sounding for ages. It isn’t exclusively down to the federal government either, with much of the responsibility for housing, for example, in the hands of municipalities. The same goes for provinces regarding business conditions made worse by unbalanced natural resource regulations and one of the highest carbon taxes in the world.

Nevertheless, a mature government with nearly a decade under its belt can’t avoid accountability for national affordability and economic performance.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is already leveraging the situation, pulling support from demographics that "should" be voting Liberal. His message, like the Liberals back in 2015, promises change.

There’s a vast gulf, rapidly widening, between the homes we need and the ones we’re building. The same could be said of highways, pipelines, mines and export infrastructure.  

Our economic productivity is lagging, affecting Canadian incomes. Core to that is building more, particularly high-value major projects that deliver energy and minerals to the world.

Remarkably, it takes about 18 years for Canada to build a single mine. This sort of regulatory sclerosis explains why Canada is only in the 23rd place when it comes to global ease of doing business and falls to 64th when it comes to construction permits.

These are among the reasons why Dr. Vaclav Smil, perhaps the world's greatest interdisciplinary expert on energy and its role in the economy, says Canada is in danger of falling out of the G20, and "is now more economically primitive than Bulgaria, Serbia or Panama."

The next federal election will hinge on who is perceived to have the greatest commitment and most credible plan to release affordability pressures and grow the economy. 

Right now, the Conservatives can only say the right things. The Liberal government has an opportunity to act before Canadians' minds are firmly established.

If they want to regain ground in public opinion (or simply do the best thing for our economy), they need to urgently and aggressively get to work. That should start with coordinating with provinces and territories to get more homes and major projects built, even if it means playing tough with cities. 

My advice to the government: take every measure to improve business confidence so that more high-paying jobs can be created and maintained.

Progress on this front will drive not only decisions at the ballot box, but also the engagement of volunteers and organizers across the country next time we’re in an election. 

Margareta Dovgal is Managing Director of the Vancouver-based non-profit Resource Works Society. This article is a lightly edited excerpt from a larger article in The Hub.

Do you like this?