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 provide 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 want extra international companies keen to put money into the nation. But 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 trade, however the quantity concerned may possible pay for not solely all obligatory 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 obligatory when a rustic has little else to convey to the desk.
Economic productiveness is a measure of the speed at which the output of products and providers are produced per unit of enter (for instance, labour, capital and uncooked supplies).
While Canada ranks among the many prime nations to stay in, our productiveness doesn’t even hit the highest 10 in comparison with different nations within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). That productiveness grade is a proxy for the way effectively we compete — which is poorly — the place productiveness is a measure of GDP per capita.
Canada is presently ranked 18th, its GDP per hour labored at 42.5 per cent of No. 1-ranked Ireland.
Compared to the United States, 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 causes for Canada’s diminished productiveness? While the impression of the COVID-19 pandemic and labour shortages have had an impression, this concern pre-dates the pandemic. In 2019, Canada ranked 18th as effectively.
More related is the larger variety of small enterprise in Canada as a proportion of general employment. OECD information recommend giant corporations make investments extra in productivity-improving know-how and coaching.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
But even then, a lot of Canada’s largest organizations are comfortably a part of secure oligopolies (banking and telecommunications corporations, for instance), with much less trade stress to be extra aggressive.
Canada’s trades and apprenticeship applications, the place lots of the individuals who implement productivity-enhancing measures would come from, are additionally much less developed, particularly compared to European nations.
Affects progress, prices
Productivity rankings are admittedly summary. You may 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 seek out succesful folks, alongside staffing shortages, can deter or delay progress and alternatives to scale up. Customers who can’t get what they need whereas companies wrestle with capability could go elsewhere, and labour shortages result in increased wages and better costs for items and providers.
Next, 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
But the deal additionally units a harmful precedent. Other companies could take a look at Canada’s productiveness report, and extra particularly on the lack of different large-scale functions of know-how, and keep away from investing right here with out important subsidization.
An analogous challenge introduced in 2022 with Stellantis NV and its companion LG Energy Solutions acquired $1 billion in subsidies. They at the moment are indicating the assist isn’t sufficient and are demanding way more.
Recent authorities budgets tabled in Canada spotlight the necessity for a deal with productiveness, and different nations should not standing nonetheless. U.S. President Joe Biden’s State of the Union handle earlier this yr emphasised productiveness, whereas his Inflation Reduction 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 nations on this planet.
At 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 capacity 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 ebook Beyond Reengineering, famous American enterprise thinker Michael Hammer mentioned previous success and progress have been the results of demographics. While this may be an exaggeration, it isn’t a lot of 1.
Australia, a resource-driven financial system very like Canada’s, has improved its productiveness during the last 20 years and is now performing 5 per cent higher than Canada.
Businesses absolutely 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. Right now the method is cumbersome and funding quantities lag behind the U.S.
Additionally, corporations lack expertise with the information and expertise to use this “free cash.” Government must streamline the appliance 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 growth; and drastically broaden infrastructure and health-care funding. The core goal needs to be not solely to allow organizations to function at full capability however to enhance the abilities of that capability.
Canada wants to enhance the best way we work. Improving our productiveness rating will take years, however by taking steps in schooling, within the personal sector and in authorities, we will hopefully appeal to the kind of challenge Volkswagen is committing to — and with out large subsidies.
Increasing productiveness and bettering the best way we work is the one sustainable, long-term technique to extend nationwide wealth. At least 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 group that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.