All recoveries are local

3 minute read

Parties are jockeying for position in the House of Commons as we head into the summer. The ballot question for the next election—widely anticipated for late summer—is likely to be: ‘who is best prepared to lead Canada’s recovery?’ The Trudeau government has recovered from early pitfalls on vaccine procurement and the public is more optimistic, but rebuilding regions and industries that experienced the pandemic differently will be a big challenge.

The matter is complicated for all parties. Recovering jobs lost in retail, personal services and hospitality won’t be solved by ramping up new construction projects, unless significant assistance is available to support workers’ transitions.

For their part, the Liberals have a head start. They have staked ground on ensuring a green recovery focused on helping women get reconnected or better connected to job opportunities, especially for those early in their career. It will be difficult for the Conservatives or the NDP to attack those principles head-on, so it is more likely they will opt to exploit regional divisions.

The government made two recent announcements that hint at what localizing the recovery could look like. In March, Prime Minister Trudeau and Quebec Premier Francois Legault were together announcing a $100 million investment in an electric vehicle manufacturing plant. A week later, $826 million was committed to connecting rural communities in eastern Quebec to high-speed internet. Just this past week, the Government of Canada and the Government of Alberta agreed to spend $1.3 billion on a hydrogen plant in the Edmonton region that aligns with both governments’ climate agendas.

For opposition parties, principles and broad national programs may not be enough to blunt the effectiveness of a government that is willing to spend its way to re-election. They will have to focus on local promises that matter to provinces and regions on a city-by-city and town-by-town basis. The key will be targeting ridings that are important to their overall electoral chances.

The tourism and hospitality sector has been hard hit across Canada, but a seasonal influx of cash from overseas is essential in Atlantic Canada. The oil and gas sector continues to be challenged in Alberta, and other natural resources and agriculture will need special attention in the prairies. Forestry has been a flashpoint in BC and prices for lumber have soared all over North America. Advanced manufacturing and tech fared well during the pandemic, but with more seats at stake, hyper-regional commitments could be the norm across Ontario and Quebec.

The battle lines between urban and rural communities among the parties will also continue to deepen in 2021. The Liberals will look to “out-progressive” the NDP with a renewed focus on urban centres and a ‘broadband first’ approach to rural communities. The Conservatives will need to do more to protect ground gained in suburbs in 2019. They must also defend against the Liberals in big cities across the prairies, as new parties emerge to further challenge their lock on the party’s base.

Over the weeks ahead, expect to see more local projects announced, delivering more local headlines for the Liberals as the election draws near. The Conservatives and NDP would be wise to take note as they map out their own strategies for the upcoming election – an election that apparently nobody wants, but now seems inevitable.

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