Op-Eds Sep 20, 2022

Maximizing Western Canada’s huge economic potential key to building a stronger economy


By: Canadian Chamber of Commerce Western Executive Council Co-chairs:
Tamara Vrooman, CEO, Vancouver Airport Authority
Susannah Pierce, President and Country Chair Canada, Shell Canada

This op-ed originally appeared in The Calgary Herald

With Parliament set to return shortly, the federal government must turn its attention to developing a serious plan to grow our economy.  As part of this plan, government must focus on measures that enable Western Canadian businesses to scale and access growing global economies looking for safe and secure natural resources the West can provide. 

With its extensive natural resources, Western Canada has long been both a robust economic engine in Canada as well as an established world leader in many crucial economic sectors.

Despite already accounting for nearly 40% of Canada’s GDP, untapped potential remains. Successfully and sustainably bringing the immense natural wealth of Western Canada to international markets will drive country-wide prosperity.

The federal government must realize that, as the pace of change facing Canadian businesses accelerates, companies need to be agile and adapt to remain competitive and generate long-term economic growth. To help them do this, the government should address four key areas.

Addressing the labour shortage

We have a million unfilled jobs in Canada right now, with the West seeing the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. To grow our economy, the government needs to address worsening labour and talent shortages.

At the federal level, this means collaborating more closely with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, and with the private sector, to better understand labour market needs across the country.

In short, Canada needs a comprehensive strategy that looks at immigration, reskilling and up-skilling, new training approaches and talent pipeline management systems all working together.

Maximizing our agriculture advantage

Canada’s agricultural sector, anchored in the West, is a world leader in quality, innovation and sustainability. With over 100,000 farming operations and 85% of Canada’s farmland, the continued competitiveness and sustainability of the Western agriculture sector is vital to Canada’s economic expansion.

But the agriculture sector continues to be constrained by extraneous regulation. The sector needs a regulatory regime that is robust, adjustable and evidence-based. Enabling innovation and economic growth, particularly exports, must be a top consideration for regulators. As Parliament resumes, the government must continue to support and incentivise the agriculture and value-added food sector. This includes continuing to partner with Western Canadian businesses on research, product development and the commercialization of the sector.

Getting goods to market

As Canada’s gateway to over 170 trading economies around the world, Western Canadian ports handle $1 of every $3 of Canada’s trade in goods outside North America. But the capacity of Canada’s west coast to serve much-needed long-term export growth is quickly becoming constrained by shipping terminal congestion and a lack of warehousing and industrial lands.

We must make major, strategic investments in Canada’s trade infrastructure to grow and sustain our economy. We can’t wait a decade to move projects forward. Because of its strategic location, Western Canada can power major economic growth if we are prepared to eliminate barriers and renew and strengthen infrastructure to meet long-term goals. The government must commit to a trade gateways strategy that will set the tone for investments across all levels of government and the private sector.

Supporting western Canadian energy and natural resources

As the world transitions to a lower carbon future and as the geopolitical environment realigns in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western Canada can provide secure and safely-produced energy that growing economies need.  Our new “green helmet” should reflect the role our low carbon energy, natural resources and critical minerals can provide to countries in need.

It is crucial the government act to improve Canada’s regulatory environment to help attract the investment capital needed to create new energy assets, including liquid natural gas and hydrogen. Government needs to act with a sense of urgency and clarity to make sure we take advantage of our ability to support the global need for energy and natural resources. Getting out of our own way will promote responsible extraction, value-added processing and end-use manufacturing here in Canada.

A strong Western Canada is critical to a strong Canada. And Western Canada has the goods the world needs. Adopting these priorities will not only support Western Canadian business, but will lead to a more prosperous Canada.

Tamara Vrooman is CEO of the Vancouver Airport Authority and Susannah Pierce is President and Country Chair Canada for Shell Canada. They co-chair the Western Executive Council of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.