July 21, 2021
WHAT THE LEGACY IMPACT of COVID-19 will be is hard to envision, when we are still deep within the crisis. At the time of putting pen to paper, Ontario and Nova Scotia are both in lockdown, Alberta is experiencing soaring cases, and across the country, the new variants of the virus are proving to be a strong opponent to obtaining herd immunity through the vaccination rollout.
As predicted, the federal government’s plan to finish the fight against COVID-19 was the focus of Budget 2021. The largest line item in the budget was a commitment of $30B for a national childcare program over the next five years; $8.3B annually thereafter. A long-standing issue, the plan will create childcare spaces for Canadian families at an estimated $10 per child. Access to childcare remains an issue for skilled trades workers, who don’t fit the nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday work schedule and we will continue to work with the government to ensure childcare means childcare for all workers.
There were some items missing from the budget, notably new, significant investments in infrastructure, a national pharmacare program, federal health transfers to the provinces, a wealth tax and a universal living wage. By all indications, the budget will likely pass, meaning a rumoured federal election will be pushed out to late summer, early fall.
While the need to invest in infrastructure to build back from the pandemic was missing, there were some highlights in the budget that are wins for Canadian workers, including extending COVID-19 support:
- Up to 12 additional weeks of Canada Recovery Benefit to a maximum of 50 weeks.
- Extending the Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit an additional four weeks, to a maximum of 42 weeks
The pandemic shone a light on the need to revise our outdated Employment Insurance system and while the Canada Recovery Benefits were a Band-Aid, a long-term fix is needed. The Building Trades have advocated on reforms to EI extensively, and continue to meet with the government about this issue, including a recent appearance in front of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities to outline our recommendations for change. Budget 2021 included $3.9 billion over three years, starting in 2021-22, for a suite of legislative changes to make EI more accessible and simple for Canadians over the coming year while the job market begins to improve. In Budget 2021, the Government of Canada proposed to simplify eligibility rules around the allocation of monies on separation for a period of one year, from September 2021 to September 2022. While CBTU welcomes this temporary adjustment, we continue to call on the government to make this a permanent change.
Other Budget highlights include the establishment of a new apprenticeship service through Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) that would help 55,000 first-year apprentices in construction and manufacturing Red Seal trades connect with opportunities at small- and medium-sized employers. ESDC is currently clarifying the impact this will have on our union training centres and CBTU will continue to work closely with them on the rollout of this program.
While a large infrastructure stimulus was not present in the budget, it did include funding for Infrastructure Canada to establish a National Infrastructure Fund to support natural and hybrid infrastructure projects to help improve well-being, mitigate the impacts of climate change and prevent costly natural events.
We would have liked to see the inclusion of skilled labour mobility, Community Benefits Agreements tied to national infrastructure spending and new infrastructure stimulus.
However, there is a lot in the budget that will help to continue to build Canada’s skilled trades workforce. We need to ensure that the funds that have been committed flow out the door, putting shovels in the ground and people to work, faster.
Of utmost importance though, is keeping our workers and job sites safe. This means getting the vaccine – whatever the brand – whenever it is available to you. It means ensuring every job site and every worker has the personal protective equipment they need, that it is used properly, and enforced consistently. We need to ensure that an economic recovery means a low- to non-existent spread of the COVID-19 virus or more harmful variants.
A safe workplace will mean construction continues to be kept open, building Canada, safely.
By Sean Strickland
Executive Director, Canada’s Building Trades Unions