Five big B.C. business issues Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government needs to address

November 1, 2015

By Timothy Renshaw, Business in Vancouver |

Economic promise abounds in the Liberal red river unleashed across the country by the October 19 federal election.

But election campaign promises chronically fall short of voters’ expectations, especially the outsized ones now being borne by Justin Trudeau’s new majority Liberal government.

Ottawa’s attention and investment are needed on several key files if B.C., its resource riches, Asia-Pacific Gateway trade doors and burgeoning innovation and technology capacity are to achieve their potential.

Here are five that warrant priority status from Trudeau’s federal Liberals during the party’s first term in office and why.

Human resources/immigration

Better labour market data and intelligence to secure the right human resources needed to build the economy in B.C. and across the country

Why | Something strange has been happening to B.C. immigration numbers this year: they’ve fallen off a cliff. Immigration lawyer Richard Kurland thinks the reform of the temporary foreign worker program is playing a big part in the decrease.

“It’s all about the temporary foreign workers leaving Canada,” Kurland, a partner with Kurland, Tobe told Business in Vancouver earlier this month. “There are also no new temporary workers coming in.”

For a decade, the Conservative government allowed the TFW program to expand and apply to more kinds of workers, from highly skilled tech workers to low-skilled restaurant workers. Workers were allowed to stay for four years, and then to reapply. Many aspired to immigrate permanently to Canada.

New restrictions on the use of TFWs came into effect in June 2014 after media stories detailed abuses of the program. Examples included allegations of employers withholding wages from temporary foreign workers and disregarding applications from qualified Canadians. At the same time, the number of TFWs ballooned, especially in B.C. and Alberta, while permanent resident numbers remained flat.

Unavailable still is the detailed labour market data experts say is needed to craft a fair TFW program that fills labour gaps, and some business groups have argued that the TFW program should be reformed to make it easier for low-skilled workers to stay in Canada, a path that had been open to highly skilled TFWs.

Along with the rest of the country, B.C. faces the challenge of an aging workforce and increased burden on health care while economic growth is predicted to be modest at best in the foreseeable future.

Young people entering the workforce today are dealing with a different reality than their parents faced: they have higher post-secondary education debts, earn less then their parents did and must pay “hundreds of thousands more for the privilege of living in an average home,” according to University of British Columbia professor and political activist Paul Kershaw.

Meanwhile, despite Canada having one of the best-educated populations among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development member countries, businesses continue to complain of a “skills mismatch” between the jobs they need to fill and the workers available.

And there are populations who have been left out of the workforce: First Nations communities continue to have higher unemployment and lower high school completion rates than their non-indigenous B.C. counterparts. Canadian women currently make 20% less than men and, in B.C., fill just 6.6% of corporate board seats compared with the 17% national average.

Liberal Plan | The Liberals promise to reverse what they say was the Conservative trend to “reorient [Canadian immigration] away from welcoming those who choose to make Canada their new and permanent home,” targeting the expansion of the temporary foreign worker program as evidence of this direction. The Liberal platform promises to accelerate processing times for Express Entry, an economic immigration category many businesses hoped would make up for the lack of the temporary foreign worker program. Other promises include a $1.5 billion annual increase in skills training, including a $50 million increase to an existing aboriginal skills training program and increased funding for youth employment programs.

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