Andrew Scheer’s Opportunity: Economic Competitiveness

September 16, 2019

Andrew Scheer’s Opportunity: Economic Competitiveness

In these early days of the election campaign the Liberals, the NDP and the Greens are working hard to force Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to defend his record on social issues. Mr. Scheer has parried relatively well, in this author’s opinion, but must now counter if he is to take control of the CPC narrative and – he hopes – the national debate that will frame the ballot-box question.  

One opportunity to move from defence to offence lies with giving voice to the economic challenges faced by Canadians right across the country. The CPC campaign team is certainly aware of this – but with perhaps too narrow a lens.

The initial focus has been on middle-class families struggling with the rising cost of living (the youin the CPC slogan “It’s Time for You to Get Ahead”). In his campaign launch press release Mr. Scheer stresses that “Canadians are working harder and harder, but they’re just barely getting by and just can’t seem to get ahead.” He adds that under Prime Minister Trudeau, “instead of ‘sunny ways’ and ‘real change,’ you got four years of higher gas prices, massive deficits, mounting debt, and a carbon tax that makes everyday essentials more expensive.”

While this focus on speaking directly to voters is core to the CPC campaign, especially in these early days, there may be opportunity in expanding the narrative to include the health of the companies that hire workers, invest capital and turn Canada’s abundance of natural resources into the products that run the global economy. Mr. Scheer could expedite policy announcements that speak to business competitiveness or combine the household, pocketbook announcements with supporting good jobs in Canada.  

Canadians are well-informed at this point that the oil & gas sector is constrained by the lack of available pipeline capacity and it is costing Canada billions of dollars in forgone revenue each year. The awareness is not just limited to resource-rich Alberta. In January an Angus Reid poll found that 61% of Ontarians believe that “the lack of new oil pipeline capacity is a crisis.” Angus Reid then found in June that 61% of Ontarians support the Government’s most recent approval of Trans-Mountain pipeline.

But how many Canadians, besides those directly affected by the lay-offs, know that the forestry sector is contracting? That investments in new mining operations are way down? That companies, not just Canadians, are struggling to keep pace with the evolving landscape of environmental regulations, trade negotiations and the ever-accelerating pace of global innovation?

The World Economic Forum’s 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index illustrates the issue. Canada ranks 14th, well behind the U.S., which ranks 2nd. In the report, Canadian executives identify the six most problematic factors of doing business in Canada as follows:

·      Inefficient government bureaucracy;

·      Tax rates;

·      Insufficient capacity to innovate;

·      Inadequate supply of infrastructure;

·      Tax regulations; and,

·      Policy instability

The Trudeau Government has worked over the past four years to address these concerns – for example through investments in infrastructure and innovation and expanding accelerated capital cost allowances - but there remains a sense in much of corporate Canada, especially in the natural resource sector, that these efforts have been overshadowed by increasingly stringent regulatory requirements and by more favourable tax regimes elsewhere, most notably south of the border.

The Scheer campaign team may feel that giving voice to C-Suite concerns undermines their insistence that Trudeau is in bed with the well-heeled and well-connected. But the reality is that the health of Canadian companies is the health of the economy is the health of the Canadian worker and his or her family and community. While Mr. Scheer has given voice to creating and protecting good, middle-class jobs, linking the chain all the way up to business competitiveness may be an opportunity for Mr. Scheer.