Volkswagen executives and federal, provincial and native authorities officers not too long ago celebrated their partnership within the subsequent Canadian giga-factory in St. Thomas, Ont., to supply automotive batteries. The announcement guarantees as much as 3,000 new jobs and to revitalize Canada’s automotive sector.
It’s excellent news for Canada. We’d like extra world corporations keen to put money into the nation. However the $13-billion authorities funding doesn’t add up.
Did Canada and Ontario pay an excessive amount of cash for Volkswagen’s battery plant?
Matching and even beating aggressive bids is frequent sufficient, particularly within the automotive business, however the quantity concerned might possible pay for not solely all vital capital expenditures to determine the plant and all its gear, but additionally any associated working bills for a number of years.
So why the huge subsidies?
They’re vital when a rustic has little else to carry to the desk.
Financial productiveness is a measure of the speed at which the output of products and companies are produced per unit of enter (for instance, labour, capital and uncooked supplies).
Whereas Canada ranks among the many high international locations to dwell in, our productiveness doesn’t even hit the highest 10 in comparison with different international locations within the Organisation for Financial Co-operation and Improvement (OECD). That productiveness grade is a proxy for the way properly we compete — which is poorly — the place productiveness is a measure of GDP per capita.
Canada is at the moment ranked 18th, its GDP per hour labored at 42.5 per cent of No. 1-ranked Eire.
In comparison with the USA, Canadian productiveness has diminished by 9 per cent between 2000 and 2022, falling to roughly 72 per cent of that of the U.S.
The explanations for Canada’s diminished productiveness? Whereas the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic and labour shortages have had an influence, this concern pre-dates the pandemic. In 2019, Canada ranked 18th as properly.
Extra related is the better variety of small enterprise in Canada as a share of general employment. OECD knowledge recommend massive firms make investments extra in productivity-improving know-how and coaching.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
However even then, lots of Canada’s largest organizations are comfortably a part of secure oligopolies (banking and telecommunications firms, for instance), with much less business stress to be extra aggressive.
Canada’s trades and apprenticeship packages, the place lots of the individuals who implement productivity-enhancing measures would come from, are additionally much less developed, particularly compared to European international locations.
Impacts development, prices
Productiveness rankings are admittedly summary. You would learn all of this and say: “So what? Most individuals who need to work can get jobs, and firms like Volkswagen are coming anyway! Why is that this an issue?”
First, organizations struggling to search out succesful individuals, alongside staffing shortages, can deter or delay development and alternatives to scale up. Prospects who can’t get what they need whereas companies wrestle with capability could go elsewhere, and labour shortages result in larger wages and better costs for items and companies.
Subsequent, overseas funding. Volkswagen will use a lot of its authorities funding in direction of automation and productivity-enhancing know-how.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
However the deal additionally units a harmful precedent. Different corporations could take a look at Canada’s productiveness document, and extra particularly on the lack of different large-scale functions of know-how, and keep away from investing right here with out vital subsidization.
An identical undertaking introduced in 2022 with Stellantis NV and its companion LG Power Options acquired $1 billion in subsidies. They’re now indicating the assist isn’t sufficient and are demanding way more.
Latest authorities budgets tabled in Canada spotlight the necessity for a give attention to productiveness, and different international locations usually are not standing nonetheless. U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union deal with earlier this yr emphasised productiveness, whereas his Inflation Discount Act promised $500 billion in associated new spending.
Canada’s productiveness struggles are seen in lots of areas: Our health-care system is stretched to the restrict. Public transit is a few generations behind different developed markets. All this regardless of Canada being among the many most closely taxed international locations on this planet.
On the intersection of presidency and the personal sector is our dismal efficiency on large-scale infrastructure initiatives, corresponding to pipelines, transportation and vitality. Canada’s skill to maneuver assets to market, allow employees to commute effectively and execute large-scale initiatives takes twice as lengthy and prices twice as a lot when in comparison with comparable initiatives in Europe and different markets.
In his guide Past Reengineering, famous American enterprise thinker Michael Hammer mentioned previous success and development have been the results of demographics. Whereas this is perhaps an exaggeration, it isn’t a lot of 1.
Australia, a resource-driven economic system very like Canada’s, has improved its productiveness over the past 20 years and is now performing 5 per cent higher than Canada.
Companies certainly have a task to play in upping productiveness, however authorities should prepared the ground. One space to start out: funding and tax incentives for investments in know-how. Proper now the method is cumbersome and funding quantities lag behind the U.S.
Moreover, firms lack expertise with the information and abilities to use this “free cash.” Authorities must streamline the applying course of and velocity up the switch of funds.
It should additionally put money into technical trades schooling; velocity up licensing and visa processing for overseas employees; incentivize coaching and analysis and improvement; and drastically develop infrastructure and health-care funding. The core goal must be not solely to allow organizations to function at full capability however to enhance the skills of that capability.
Canada wants to enhance the way in which we work. Bettering our productiveness rating will take years, however by taking steps in schooling, within the personal sector and in authorities, we will hopefully entice the kind of undertaking Volkswagen is committing to — and with out huge subsidies.
Growing productiveness and bettering the way in which we work is the one sustainable, long-term technique to extend nationwide wealth. Not less than then if we select to write down a cheque, we will afford it.
Barry Cross doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.