Parliament resumes sitting soon and as a minority government, the 43rd Parliament promises to be a bumpy ride. This parliamentary session has the added burden of regional polarization, with western alienation at a boiling point in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and a revived Bloc Québécois in the east. Add these challenges to slow growth, declining business investment and regional friction on climate change — and hang on, Canada.
Canadians have little interest in heading back to the polls and political parties aren’t well positioned financially for another campaign. These realities make it likely that this parliament is going to stick it out, at least for now. To do so will require something we don’t often see in the House — significant cross-party collaboration.
While the campaign period may have led us to believe collaboration is unlikely, Canada’s challenges make it critical. Two issues in particular offer significant opportunity for cross-party collaboration: business innovation and strategic workforce development.
Innovation drives economic growth and social wellbeing in Canada, yet it received scant attention this election. Meanwhile, there was a significant focus on climate change — a topic that absolutely requires innovative solutions from Canada’s best hearts and minds.
If climate change is where our policymaking capital should be spent, let that be the vehicle to put innovation back in the national conversation.
Beyond the market-based solutions that are already on the table, getting Canada to zero emissions by 2050 won’t come with wishful thinking alone. Developing cleaner and renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency in our homes and offices and building out the infrastructure necessary for the wide adoption of zero-emission vehicles is going to require federal investment in both basic and applied research.
Parliamentarians should be looking to the whole of Canada’s higher education ecosystem to deliver solutions. Polytechnics, universities and colleges participate across the innovation spectrum and all must be activated effectively to both experiment with new ideas and partner with Canadian businesses to commercialize and scale those with demonstrated potential.
The second promising area for collaboration is the changing nature of work and its impact on Canadians. While the last election didn’t put a lot of focus on jobs and the economy, these are issues that underlie the more dominant discussion on affordability. We absolutely require a labour market that is functioning at its highest levels in order to achieve and sustain Canada’s superior standard of living. On this, politicians of all stripes can agree.
Canada’s economy is evolving. For example, it’s shifting digital and, at the same time, it’s going green. As our economy changes, we need to ensure youth are being equipped with the most up-to-date skills and that mid-career workers are being offered effective solutions to retrain as forces disrupt the labour market.
For learners and workers in all regions and sectors of the economy, a lifelong approach to education, training and skills development will be essential to our future success.
All parties recognized in their platforms that human capital and workforce development should be priorities — now it’s time to put that at the top of the agenda and get to work. Again, parliamentarians should be looking to post-secondary education as partners in delivery. Whether it’s delivering digital skills to youth, training the current workforce on the most up-to-date retrofit techniques or reskilling workers whose jobs are changing as a result of emerging technologies, our polytechnics, universities and colleges have a solution. While education falls within provincial jurisdiction, developing the workforce of the future is a federal imperative.
Canada faces uncertain times. Cross-party, pan-Canadian collaboration on big issues like innovation and workforce development is going to be essential to our future success. Focusing on these key issues will ensure the next parliament is not a House divided.