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Tech group makes pitch to Liberals as part of wider push to shape recovery plan

Proposal pushes avoidance of traditional recovery tools, including massive construction spending


September 3, 2020
By Jordan Press/The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — A group of tech companies is making a pitch to the federal government to help startups grow as part of a COVID-19 recovery plan that Liberals are crafting, while some feminist groups are feeling frozen out.

The proposal from the Council of Canadian Innovators calls for the Liberals to avoid traditional recovery tools like massive construction spending, in favour of addressing shortfalls in the knowledge-based economy.

That kind of strategy would include training programs to help workers upgrade their skills and move to high-growth industries to meet new labour demands.

Ben Bergen, the council’s executive director, said none of the ideas are difficult but taking them up will require a rethink of traditional public policy after it’s been thrown for a loop by a non-traditional economic crisis.

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“This is a pragmatic approach for Canada to pursue a prosperity strategy that will help pull us out of the crisis that we see ourselves in … but also catapult us into the 21st century in terms of our ability to actually compete,” said Bergen, whose group represents 120 of Canada’s fastest-growing tech companies, from Ceridian to Skip the Dishes.

The pitch is one of many heading to public servants and politicians in the lead up to a throne speech later this month that is to outline a recovery plan the Liberals have said will include a focus on greening the economy.

A network of health care professionals has backed a proposal to create nearly 500,000 construction and social services jobs over the next 10 years through spending on affordable housing.

The Canadian Labour Congress and business groups have emphasized that any economic recovery needs to focus on helping Canadians return to decent work.

There are also calls for billions more dollars in annual spending on child care to help get women back into the labour force, to improve conditions and wages in long-term care facilities and to revamp the employment insurance system so people who don’t have traditional jobs can participate in it.

Diana Sarosi with Oxfam Canada said any recovery plan must take into account the disproportionate economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on women, who have seen their employment numbers fall faster than men’s and their work return more slowly.

A feminist recovery means looking at industries reliant on women’s labour, like long-term care, that aren’t valued, leading to a lack of investment, she said.

“It can’t be … that we want all women to quit their jobs and move into other jobs,” Sarosi said, “but understanding that there are different sectors that are already green and part of the future-of-work agenda that aren’t going to be automated and become obsolete.”

Feminist groups have in recent days voiced frustration at having been unable to engage with the government since the pandemic hit, Sarosi said.

“And there’s real frustration that is the reason why programs and recovery initiatives aren’t as feminist and gender-responsive as they could be,” she said.

The government has promised to provide a spending update or a full budget this fall, after projecting in early July a deficit of $343.2-billion. That figure is likely to grow, because the Liberals have proposed tens of billions more in new spending since.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the idea of providing Canadians with a basic income is part of discussions for a recovery plan.

A group of 50 senators has called for creating what’s known as a guaranteed minimum income, which is essentially a no-strings-attached benefit for individuals that typically replaces myriad targeted aid programs.

Trudeau said the elements of such a program exist, citing the Canada Child Benefit and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which has paid out $71.25 billion to 8.66 million people since the outset of the pandemic.

“We’re starting to relaunch the economy and we’re trying to get people back to work,” Trudeau said in a radio interview on RED FM’s The Harjinder Thind Show.

“But we’re going to have make sure that every step of the way, we’re still keeping people safe and building back our economy in the right way. And that means we’re going to talk about a lot of different things, including universal basic income.”

With files from Lee Berthiaume