Federal budget lays out a new vision for Canada

Environment, economy, and inclusivity central to the new budget

Last year CaGBC, along with a core group of industry members, called for a green recovery that would prioritize green building. More importantly, it asked decision-makers to take this unprecedented opportunity to re-engineer a Canada that is more inclusive, equitable, and climate-forward.

Today’s budget indicates that the government is on that path. It sets out the government’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 36 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, putting it on a trajectory to net-zero emissions by 2050. 

CaGBC strongly supports the federal government’s plan to invest in a green recovery and tie those investments to climate targets and social justice issues. CaGBC had three key priorities coming into the 2021 budget. Those priorities included workforce development, building retrofits, and leadership on zero carbon building. The new budget, along with the previously announced programs, demonstrates positive momentum in these critical areas.

Workforce transition

A green recovery that prioritizes green buildings needs more skilled workers. Green building is a growing sector and provides an opportunity for workforce recovery and innovation. Our research indicates the potential for 1.5 million green building jobs by 2030 if we meet our emission targets. However, existing workers will need to upskill to deliver low-carbon buildings at scale, and the industry can attract new entrants from diverse background by advancing innovative approaches to retrofit and construction.

The budget prioritizes workforce training programs around high-growth sectors and employer demand. Green building should benefit from this, as government programs like the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s Commercial Building Retrofits Initiative and Infrastructure Canada’s Green and Inclusive Communities increase demand for green building and low-carbon skills.

The budget announced programs to help transition COVID-19 impacted workers, and attract youth, women, Indigenous and racialized workers, particularly:

  • Helping Workers Transition to New Jobs: $250 million over three years to Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to scale-up proven industry-led, third-party delivered approaches to upskill and redeploy workers in growing industries. This initiative will help approximately 15,500 Canadians connect with new work opportunities.  
  • Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program: $960 million over three years to Employment and Social Development Canada to help connect up to 90,000 Canadians with the training they need to access good jobs in sectors where employers are looking for skilled workers. 40 per cent of supported workers are from underrepresented groups, including women, persons with disabilities, and Indigenous people.
  • Apprenticeship Service: $470 million over three years to Employment and Social Development Canada to help 55,000 first year apprentices in construction and manufacturing Red Seal trades connect with opportunities at small and medium-sized employers. To boost diversity in the construction and manufacturing Red Seal trades, this incentive will be doubled to $10,000 for employers who hire underrepresented individuals.
  • Community Workforce Development Program: $55 million over three years to Employment and Social Development Canada to support communities to identify and connect high-growth employers with training providers to develop and deliver training and work placements to upskill and reskill jobseekers. Streams would focus on either regions or priority areas like decarbonization or a just transition for workers into transforming sectors like energy. This initiative will benefit approximately 25,000 workers, 250 businesses, and 25 communities.

The Retrofit economy

For Canada to meet its carbon emissions targets, the building sector will need a continuous pipeline of projects, especially building retrofits, with stringent carbon emissions targets.

The fastest way to meet the building sector’s carbon reduction targets is to focus on retrofitting mid-size and large commercial and institutional buildings. In keeping with CaGBC recommendations, the federal government has rolled out programs designed to trigger the growth of shovel-ready low-carbon projects from coast to coast to coast over the last several months.

“Even before the budget, $3.66 billion in funding was announced for building retrofits between the Canada Infrastructure Bank, and programs with Infrastructure Canada and the Green Municipal Fund,” said Thomas Mueller, President and CEO of CaGBC.  “With a range of 10 per cent to 30 per cent carbon emissions reduction, the projects funded and financed by these initiatives will help kick start the green recovery.”

The retrofit program outlined in the 2021 budget goes beyond commercial buildings to also focus on homes. The Deep Home Retrofits program will see $779 million deployed over five years ($414 million in subsequent years with a maximum of $4.4 billion) to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to help homeowners complete deep home retrofits through interest-free loans worth up to $40,000. It includes a dedicated stream of funding to support low-income homeowners and rental properties serving low-income renters, including cooperatives and not-for-profit-owned housing.

Leadership on zero carbon construction

Prior to the budget, the government announced that the Treasury Board Secretariat would prioritize zero carbon for all federally-funded buildings and building projects as part of the updated Greening Government Strategy. This shift aligns with CaGBC recommendations that asked the federal government to take a leadership position to achieve zero-carbon performance.

The new budget solidifies this focus by continuing to use and expand federal procurement to support the Greening Government Strategy so that public dollars prioritize the use of lower carbon materials, fuels, and processes.

The budget also drives low-carbon building construction in the private sector by advancing climate-based investment decisions and by strengthening Canada’s supply chain of low-carbon materials, products, and services. They will accomplish this through programs including:

  • Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures: The government will engage with provinces and territories, with the objective of making climate disclosures, consistent with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures, part of regular disclosure practices for a broad spectrum of the Canadian economy.
  • Net Zero Accelerator: Building on the support for the Net Zero Accelerator announced in the strengthened Climate Plan, the government will invest $5 billion over seven years to provide support for projects that will help reduce domestic GHG emissions across the Canadian economy, transforming key sectors such as steel, aluminum, and cement.
  • Zero-emission Technology Manufacturing: Reduce by half the general corporate and small business income tax rates for businesses that manufacture zero emission technologies such as energy storage equipment.

“We are pleased to see the federal government continue its green building leadership by supporting the construction and retrofit of federal buildings to zero carbon standards, and by de-risking investment for other levels of government and the commercial sector,” said Mueller. “This commitment will spur innovation, resulting in the development of a robust supply chain of low-carbon products, technologies and services, which will, in turn, create more jobs for Canadians.”

Looking ahead

To achieve its climate goals, and in the process, improve people’s lives, the Canadian government must ensure that climate is front and centre in all government decisions. Canada has come far in its efforts to bring climate change issues to the mainstream, but momentum cannot be lost. Every investment must consider climate change, and we welcome the government’s effort to develop and apply a climate lens that ensures climate considerations are integrated throughout federal government decision-making. But we must be vigilant and ensure that climate is not regulated only to specific programs or ministries.

Budget 2021 provides a new vision of a future Canada. To ensure that vision is realized, climate solutions and carbon emissions must be the focus – for every sector of our economy and for every government decision and investment. This shift in thinking is the only way to ensure Canada meets its climate goals, creates new jobs, and reinvigorates the economy while creating healthier, low-carbon communities for all to enjoy.