The Star asked some of Canada’s top business leaders what they want to know from the candidates vying to be the country’s next prime minister.
In the second instalment of this ongoing series, three business luminaries posed questions to the leaders of the five major federal political parties. The Star received answers from the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic party leaders.
In their own words, here are questions from Zita Cobb, businesswoman and social entrepreneur who launched Shorefast with her brothers and is innkeeper at the Fogo Island Inn; Ed Sonshine, founder and CEO of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust; and Prem Watsa, founder, chair and CEO of Fairfax Financial Holdings.
(Questions and answers have been edited for length.)
Question from Zita Cobb:
Canada has a tyranny of assets and riches. We are fortunate that our centres of finance and commerce have strong economies, thus attracting people from other places and receiving a large share of immigration. Yet there are thousands of other communities outside these financial centres that are not yet mobilized as economic engines for the benefit of their residents and the benefit of the national economy.
What policies would you put in place to facilitate the creation of strong local community economies in the places we live? How would you ensure all communities have high-speed internet, access to capital and supports for local entrepreneurship?
Answer from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau:
Our approach to economic development takes into account the spirit and uniqueness of our regions, towns and cities.
We will help almost 160,000 small and medium-sized businesses adopt new technologies and digitize their offerings, and create jobs for almost 30,000 young people.
We have invested more than $8 billion to accelerate the delivery of high-speed internet and wireless service across Canada. This year alone over 400,000 more Canadians will have access to high-speed internet.
Finally, we are adding $450 million to scale up access to venture capital; adding new regional development supports to help growing businesses; providing 100-per-cent writeoffs for small businesses that invest in new equipment, software or machinery; and expanding access to up to $500,000 in low-interest lines of credit for small businesses.
Answer from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole:
High-speed internet is essential for Canadians to learn, work and compete. With inflation rising, families and businesses are struggling to make ends meet. There are still communities that don’t have access to high-speed internet because Justin Trudeau has been slow to bring high-speed to more of the country.
Canada’s Conservatives will put a stop to the endless delays and become a true partner to the provinces, delivering broadband from coast to coast. We will get rural broadband built over the next four years and take real action to reduce how much Canadians pay for this essential part of our lives by promoting investment and competition in the market, holding big telecoms accountable, and ensuring Canadians have access to reliable internet regardless of where they live.
Answer from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:
Communities across Canada have been left without services like high-speed internet and intercommunity transit. With more people working from home, rural communities are attracting more people. The need to support families in these communities will grow. I will deliver.
With a new public company, we will deliver quality, affordable telecom to every community, and ensure public transit services that connect rural areas. We’ll help graduates stay and work in rural and northern communities and provide stable, long-term funding to help build and protect rural communities. Our universal pharmacare, dental, long-term care and child-care programs will ensure a standard level of service in all communities.
Question from Ed Sonshine:
Affordable housing has been a big issue for many years. Are any of the leaders prepared to acknowledge that government itself is the biggest blockage to prices coming down? Barriers range from the difficulty and length of time needed to get approvals (municipal and provincial jurisdiction), to the various fees, contributions and levies imposed on all new construction, again, primarily municipal and provincial, to the extent that about 25 per cent of the cost of a newly constructed unit is composed of these various charges. Where the federal government does have a measure of control, HST (this a 13-per-cent tax in Ontario) is levied on all new-construction rental housing, including affordable housing.
While we hear promises of producing enormous numbers of affordable housing units, how will each party actually achieve those goals?
Every Canadian deserves a place to call home. And for many — young people in particular — the dream of owning their own home feels like it’s moving further out of reach. The Liberal Party has the most aggressive and ambitious plan to build and revitalize more homes that are an affordable and safe place to live.
The plan will accelerate new construction, make it more affordable and viable for first-time home buyers, and make the process of buying a home fairer and more transparent.
One of the key innovations is a new $4-billion housing accelerator fund, which will grow the annual housing supply in the country’s largest cities every year, creating a target of 100,000 new middle-class homes by 2024-25. This application-based fund will support municipalities that grow housing supply faster than their historical average; increase densification; speed up approval times; tackle NIMBYism and establish inclusionary zoning bylaws; and encourage public transit-oriented development.
There is a housing crisis in Canada. We are not building enough homes to keep up with our growing population and homes are getting harder and harder for Canadians to afford. It is made worse by foreign investors sitting on their investments and leaving homes empty.
Canada’s Conservatives have a plan to bring public transit to where people are buying homes and increase density near public transit infrastructure. We will release at least 15 per cent of the 37,000 buildings owned by the government for housing, and we will ensure Canadians have a path to home ownership by making it easier for families to get a mortgage. Finally, Canada’s Conservatives will never tax the capital gains on the sale of a principal residence.
As part of ensuring there are 1.7 million new and updated homes everyday people can afford, we will build 500,000 new homes.
By giving CRA more resources, we’ll fight money laundering in real estate, drive out big foreign investors with a new federal speculators tax, and help first-time home buyers and renters so everyday families can look for houses on an even playing field. We’ll waive federal taxes on the construction of affordable rental units, work in partnership with provinces and municipalities to set up fast-start funds for community, co-ops and affordable housing providers.
Question from Prem Watsa:
As a poor immigrant to Canada 48 years ago, I could not believe the opportunity in Canada. Having built Fairfax over the past 35 years and being fortunate to travel all over the world, I found that business-friendly countries have done well while business-unfriendly countries have done poorly. My sense, studying Canada’s economic history, is that we are a G7 country mainly because of our business success.
Do you agree with this statement and what have you done or will you do to make Canada more business-friendly?
We want to lay a foundation on which Canadians and Canadian businesses can grow and prosper while providing support when times are tough. That has been evident throughout the pandemic with the wage and rent subsidy programs for businesses and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and Canada Recovery Benefit for millions of Canadians.
Thanks to that rapid and unprecedented action, our job market has rebounded faster and stronger than the U.S., and we have avoided many new bankruptcies.
Moving forward, we will launch a $1-billion COVID-19 proof of vaccination fund to support provinces and territories that implement a requirement for proof of vaccine credentials, allowing businesses to reopen safely.
Prior to the pandemic, Canada had the lowest small-business tax rate in the G7, and was one of the most desirable places to live, with a fast-growing population thanks to smart immigration policy. Those advantages remain true today and as we come out of COVID-19 we are in a unique position to build back better and stronger.
Over the course of the pandemic, millions of Canadians lost their jobs, with women accounting for more than half of year-over-year employment losses. To get our economy back on track, Canada’s Recovery Plan will recover one million jobs and get as many people back to work in good jobs, in every part of Canada, in every sector, as quickly as possible. We will support the hard-hit hospitality and tourism sectors with our Dine and Discover program, and we will help small businesses get back on their feet with our Rebuild Main Street tax credit.
Canada cannot be an economic success if workers don’t share in the prosperity. When the pandemic began, businesses had to close.
The NDP pressured the Liberals to increase the CERB to keep money in the pockets of workers and create the wage subsidy to allow businesses to keep workers on the payroll. Without these and other supports, many Canadians and businesses would have defaulted on loans, missed rent and failed to make ends meet.
Our planned expansions to Canada’s health-care services will also attract more businesses and make it easier and less expensive for them to attract and hire workers.
Compiled by Christine Dobby, Toronto-based business reporter for the Star.