Corporate Canada sets out its election wish list, but will Ottawa listen?


Leave it to the business lobby to exploit first-mover advantage with its election strategy.

On Monday, more than five months before the federal vote on Oct. 21, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce will release for mass consumption its “Platform for Prosperity,” a seven-point, 45-recommendation roadmap for winning the hearts and minds of the members of 450 local chambers of commerce and boards of trade.

“Canada’s job creators are not thriving,” Perrin Beatty, the Mulroney-era cabinet minister who leads the Ottawa-based Canadian chamber, writes in an open letter to party leaders. “Canadian businesses face burdens those in other countries don’t, which makes it much harder for us to compete.”

If job creators aren’t thriving, they still are hiring.

Statistics Canada’slatest Labour Force Survey,based on a poll of 56,000 households, estimates the economy created about 107,000 jobs in April, the largest one-month increase in comparable data that dates to 1976. The monthly reading is volatile, but StatCan is fairly confident that no fewer than 77,000 positions were created last month, according to the survey’s margin of error. Nearly three-quarters of the working age population has a job, the highest on record. The unemployment rate, which measures the percentage of the men and women in the work force who don’t have jobs, dropped to 5.7 per cent, a number that many economists associate with full employment. The jobless rate in Quebec plunged to 4.9 per cent, the lowest on record. Average hourly wages rose 2.5 per cent from April 2018, the third consecutive annual increase and the biggest since August.

Hiring data don’t get much better than this.

“Those waiting for a pull-back in labour-market momentum will have to wait another month,” said Brendon Bernard, a Toronto-based economist at Indeed, the job-search platform. “StatCan finds the job mark took another leap forward to start [the second quarter], continuing a trend of strong employment growth, defying other lukewarm data.”

It seems that we’re spending and spending and spending, but not necessarily having a very clear vision

The election campaign is setting up to be a strange one.

The Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appear ready to run on the economy, even though economic growthessentially stalled in the fourth quarterand the Bank of Canadareckonsthe first quarter was just as bad. Trudeau and other Liberals flooded social media on May 10 with boasts about how they had overseen the creation of“one. million. jobs.”The Toronto Stock Exchange is more than 10 per cent higher since the start of the year, and the new North American free-trade agreement is mostly sorted. Those are tailwinds that should help the Liberals come election time.

Except at every turn, Liberals will be bumping into entrepreneurs and executives who are dissatisfied. Profits are high, and companies are pushing forward. But some are doing so without a good feeling about what is going on in Ottawa. It makes you wonder what those jobs numbers would look like if the prime minister and the C-Suite were on the same page? Last month, I interviewed Jean-Pierre Vasseur, chief executive of Avenir Global, the Montreal-based firm that runs National Public Relations, after Avenirannouncedthat it had expanded its European reach by purchasing Hanover, a London-based communications agency. Vasseur said he plans to double the size of the business by 2025. When I asked him about the economic outlook, the first thing he talked about was Ottawa.

“I’m not sure where we’re going, I’m not sure there is a plan,” Vasseur said. “It seems that we’re spending and spending and spending, but not necessarily having a very clear vision.”

The Chamber of Commerce consulted its members about what they most cared about and came up with these themes: regulation; taxes; freer trade; support for smaller companies; digitalization; training; and pharmacare. Specific recommendations include: a Royal Commission on taxes; a plan to balance the budget; a pledge to eliminate two regulations every time a new rule is created; help for “high-potential” smaller companies that lack knowledge about international markets; better access to to high-speed networks; co-operation on skills retraining; and a promise that the cost of any new pharmacare program won’t be passed to businesses.

broadband

Finance Minister Bill Morneau

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Look closely at those themes. With the exception of taxes and the deficit, the Trudeau government could make a case that it already is taking the business community’s concerns seriously.

Inthe fall economic statement, Finance Minister Bill Morneaupromised to get serious about over-regulationand set aside hundreds of millions of dollars to help smaller companies make better use of the country’s trade agreements. This year’s budget pledged money for rural broadband and various training initiatives — and it approached pharmacare only gingerly. Much of the deficit is the result of spending on innovation and infrastructure for the purpose of keeping pace in the digital economy and making it easier to get goods and services to market.

Iwrote recentlythat the Trudeau government and the business community are talking past each other. Sometimes I wonder if they even want to communicate.

Absent from the Chamber’s list of election priorities is any mention of climate change and income inequality, meta-issues that frame most everything the Liberals do. And Trudeau and Morneau could trigger a wave of praise from the business community tomorrow by promising a comprehensive review of the tax code, which almost every mainstream economist says is long overdue.

So Corporate Canada and the Trudeau Liberals aren’t really that far apart. Neither appears to want to acknowledge that. I wonder why?

• Email:[email protected]| Twitter:CarmichaelKevin

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