National construction and engineering associations have submitted their wish lists for the 2018 federal budget, putting an emphasis on apprenticeship training intiatives and streamlining the infrastructure funding process.
As part of the House of Commons Standing Committee's 2018 pre-budget consultation, the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) and the Association of Consulting Engineering Companies — Canada (ACEC) made their submissions for the committee's consideration.
Michael Atkinson, president of the CCA, said a few of the items in the association's submission have been consistently included over the last few years. One of those is apprenticeship training.
"There has always been a concern...that employers are not as involved in apprenticeship training as the government would like to see. They would like to see more employer engagement in apprenticeship, hiring apprentices and CCA agrees with that objective," he said, adding CCA does not agree with measures requiring that a prescribed number of apprentices are employed on a federal government project. "We think that because the vast majority of construction employers are small businesses that you have to find a way to introduce them to apprenticeship through meaningful tax incentives."
One tax incentive that the federal government has for the employer, as opposed to the apprentice, is the Apprenticeship Job Creation Tax Credit, Atkinson explained, which is a tax credit for employers who hire Red Seal trades for their first and second years only.
"We're recommending that tax measure be expanded, that it be available to employers who hire apprentices in the third and fourth year as well and that it be applied to all provincially recognized apprenticeship programs, not just Red Seal trades," he said.
"We feel that would be a significant way to try and enhance employer engagement in the apprenticeship training program."
Another item included in the pre-budget submission is to change the employment insurance (EI) policy to permit unemployed construction workers to obtain an advance from their approved benefits of up to $2,000 to support their employment search outside of their province for a temporary period.
"In the past there have been programs like that which provided incentives for EI recipients but it was for permanent relocation only," said Atkinson. "We're talking about a situation where somebody is unemployed in one province and there is work in another province and they are on EI. The EI system could help them seek employment in that other jurisdiction even though the employment would be for a temporary period."
One of the new CCA recommendations this year is that Infrastructure Canada create a "single-window" for municipalities to more efficiently access infrastructure funding and to consolidate similar programs to make it easier for municipalities to determine which fund is more suited for their project.
"It's not going to cost the government anything more," Atkinson noted. "It's all about trying to simplify the application approvals process."
John Gamble, president and CEO of the ACEC, said while the government does recognize the importance of infrastructure and has committed to significant investments over the next decade, ACEC wants to ensure those investments have the best possible outcomes and return on investment for Canadians.
"It's very important that we prioritize investments and those infrastructure assets that are going to create economic wealth and grow the economy," said Gamble.
"The government's commitment includes some elements of green infrastructure and community infrastructure that some people would argue are not true core infrastructure.
"The challenge for the government will be to balance those investments with those that are actually going to create the wealth. That will make those types of investments sustainable in the long-term."
The ACEC pre-budget submission also calls on the government to adopt the Senate Standing Committee on National Finance's recommendations for federal infrastructure programs outlined in a report entitled Smarter Planning, Smarter Spending: Ensuring Transparency, Accountability and Predictability in Federal Infrastructure Programs.
ACEC is recommending the government implement a national corridor to accommodate multiple infrastructure assets and connect the country.
"The advantage of this would be creating more certainty in the environmental approvals process and it would actually result in all these assets cumulatively having a smaller environmental footprint," said Gamble.
"I think that is something the government needs to look at because the longer they delay, the harder it is to put such an ambitious program together."
ACEC is encouraging the government to adopt and encourage Qualifications-Based Selection (QBS) for the procurement of engineering and other professional services, a longstanding issue for ACEC as well as the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.
"When you're asking people to design infrastructure assets, we have to get away from this notion that the lowest price is the best price. The right price is the best price," explained Gamble.
"Typically engineering and architectural services end up being less than two per cent of the entire cost of the infrastructure asset, so what we're proposing is spend smarter there, make good decisions there, because you have to live with those decisions for decades."