Ensuring Canadian businesses are on the leading edge

Opinion editorial by Marc Garneau, Federal Liberal Leadership Candidate

Canada escaped the worst of the global recession thanks in large part to its abundance of natural resources. But so much dependence on one sector leaves us in a very tenuous position. We are currently at the whim of global price fluctuations and when the prices of basic commodities go down, Canadians will bear the brunt of it. We need an economy that is diversified and competitive in various sectors, in advanced manufacturing and in knowledge-based sectors, as well as natural resource sectors.

Why? Because a strong, diversified economy will create jobs and will enable Canada to better weather the economic storms on the horizon.

So how do we do that? In part, by investing in Canadian skills and Canadian businesses. The global economic playing field is changing at a staggering rate. New technology, new machinery and new consumer demands mean Canadian businesses and the jobs in the marketplace must keep up. Adapting to this constant change is ultimately what will push us ahead of the competition or, frankly, we will be left behind. Complacency is not an option.

Unfortunately, we do not do a good enough job on this front. While Canada has very high post-secondary education rates, Canadian businesses have failed to continue to invest significantly in workplace training.

Only one in three working Canadians receives workplace training today.And, according to the latest Conference Board of Canada report, Canadian businesses invest less than $700 per employee per year compared to more than a $1,000 in the US. That doesn’t make us very competitive. Without ongoing training on the latest technologies and equipment, it is no wonder a U.S worker’s annual output growth consistently outstrips that of Canadians.

To be successful in the global economy, we must ensure Canadian businesses and Canadians themselves are on the leading edge. This is particularly true of small- and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of our economy. Today, some 98 per cent of all businesses in Canada are small- and medium-sized enterprises, and they employ almost half of all Canadians in the private sector. Their success is our success.

This is why I have said it’s time to get serious about helping Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses to invest in their employees. Therefore, I am proposing to cut Employment Insurance payroll taxes for all small- and medium-sized businesses that invest in training their employees. A payroll tax cut for investments in employee training could save a small- or medium-sized business thousands of dollars a year and help Canadian businesses invest in the critical training that will make it more competitive.

While my solution may cost the federal government in the short term, I believe it will save money in the long term. Better trained Canadians make businesses more competitive and reduce the likelihood that employees will claim Employment Insurance in the future. It is an investment that makes Canadians more employable, gives them valuable skills and makes Canada’s overall economy stronger.

At the end of the day, the economy is driven by the ideas and the skills of its people. Bio-sciences, aerospace, software apps, advanced manufacturing, even our extractive industries of oil, mining, forestry and agriculture excel on the knowledge and skills of their workers.

To create jobs, to bridge Canada’s productivity gap and to accelerate Canada’s economic growth we must invest in ourselves - in Canadians. The current market pace will not slow down for us. We must adapt and demonstrate that not only are we ready for it, we are ahead of it.

Marc Garneau is Canada’s first astronaut, a former Captain in the Canadian Navy, the former President of the Canadian Space Agency, and a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

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