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Freeland talks immigration, housing, and the clean tech economy at Calgary Chamber event

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland was in Calgary on Nov. 9 to talk about the state of Canada’s economy to Calgary’s business leaders.

The Minister, in conversation with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Deborah Yedlin, spoke about the issues and opportunities facing the Canadian economy going into 2023.

Minister Freeland spoke to the Chamber about the 2022 Fall Economic Statement, which was released at the beginning of November. The prognosis is challenges lay ahead, with a world-wide slow down in economic output.

“You are business people, you know that this is challenging time in the world economy, and we all don’t know what new curve balls the world economy has in store for us all,” she said.

“So really, it behooves us to keep our powder dry, to be sure Canada and the federal government is in a position to respond.”

The minister outlined in broad detail some of the programs and incentives that the Liberal government is going to be introducing in 2023, particularly around the clean tech industry.

Among those is the continuation of the Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) tax credit, and a $15 billion Canada Growth Fund to de-risk and incentivize clean investment.

Minister Freeland pointed to the development of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as one of the important transition fuels, and as source of economic opportunity for the nation.

She pointed out the opportunities for Canadian LNG producers to deliver a product that is demanded by Canada’s global partners in Europe and in Asia, but also as a way of decrease the reliance of those partners on authoritarian regimes like Russia.

“Even as we develop our natural resources, whether they are critical minerals and metals or LNG, we need to do it in a sustainable way,” Freeland said.

“We need to do it in a way that meets the highest environmental standards that treats our obligations to the Indigenous people in Canada in the right way, and I think that that is what Canadians require of us.”

Speaking to the clean tech industry, Minister Freeland called the transition to clean energy as big a shift as the Industrial Revolution.

“We’re plugging our big, modern, industrial economy into a whole new set of power sources, and we’re going to need to appreciate how big and diverse our countries,” she said.

Skills recognition needed to meet business needs

Yedlin asked Minister Freeland about the federal government’s thoughts on immigration and skill re-certifying.

The questions reflected the Chamber’s recent release of parts one and two of a four part report series on the topics of immigration, re-certifying immigrant education into a Canadian context, and ensuring greater cross-Canadian recognition of post-secondary certifications.

“I see Canada’s ability to actually welcome new Canadians as one of our greatest strengths in the global economy today, and one of our greatest, maybe our single greatest competitive advantages,” said Minister Freeland.

“Right now in the western industrialized world, everyone is facing a real demographic challenge, and really we are the country in the whole world—the industrialized country—that is the most enthusiastic about welcoming immigrants.

“We shouldn’t take for granted that our openness as a country to immigration just kind of happens by itself, and we need to be sure that we’re doing the right things to make that continue to be possible.”

Among the Chamber’s recommendations to the Alberta provincial and Canadian federal government is an expansion of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program, and the creation of limited-eligibility family sponsorship programs focused on economic benefits of family re-unification.

The Chamber is also asking for a review of obstacles that prevent foreign credential and experience recognition.

Minister Freeland spoke to the issue of credential recognition in health care as an example of what the government needs to do better.

“We all know that we have a shortage of healthcare professionals, and I bet you every single one of us knows in our circle of friends and acquaintances someone with health care skills who came to Canada from another country and is not working in healthcare—so let’s fix that,” she said.

She put some of the emphasis back onto provincial governments to ensure that there was sufficient recognition Canada-wide for credentials.

“If someone is good enough to be a nurse in Nova Scotia, I bet you that person could be a great nurse in Alberta, and if Ontario thinks someone is a good welder, I think they can be a good welder in Alberta, too,” Freeland said.

Yedlin pointed to the Alberta started New West Partnership economic partnership as a template for what that model could look like.

“We can actually copy and change it and expand it across the country, so we’re happy to work with you on making sure that that’s possible because from an economic standpoint if we want to increase economic growth and productivity, you actually do need to increase labour mobility,” she said.

Housing needed to meet immigration

Minister Freeland said that part of continuing to make immigration possible is ensuring that Canada continues to have sufficient housing starts.

“We need to build enough homes for the Canadians who are already here and for new Canadians, and that can be challenging.”

“People can be in favour of building homes, in theory, but not so in favour of greater density in their neighbourhoods. We really as a country need to kind of get our act together and really step up the pace of home building because we’re a growing country.”

Mayor Jyoti Gondek responded to Minister Freeland’s comments during the Mayor’s Urban Design Awards Wednesday night, stating that the need for housing is an “absolutely correct statement.”

“It is something that council has been working on for quite some time, and our Municipal Development Plan prioritizes densification.”

“I would say that with continued partnerships with the federal government, we can not only deliver housing, we can deliver affordable housing which is the key right now.”

Mayor Gondek pushed back at the federal government’s current national housing plan.

“Perhaps the federal government would be interested in revisiting their national housing strategy and making sure that their plan—their action plan—doesn’t prioritize mortgages alone, because the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation should just be the Canada Housing Corporation.”

“Whether you’re renting, whether you’re earning, that’s the change they need to make.”