Opinion: Maximizing West’s economic potential key to building economy

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With the return of Parliament, the federal government must turn its attention to developing a serious plan to grow our economy. As part of this plan, the government must focus on policies that allow Western Canadian companies to scale and gain access to growing global economies seeking secure natural resources that the West can provide.

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

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Although they already account for almost 40 percent of Canada’s GDP, there is still untapped potential. Successfully and sustainably bringing Western Canada’s immense natural wealth to international markets will boost prosperity nationwide.

The federal government must recognize that with the accelerating change facing Canadian businesses, companies must 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.

We currently have one million vacancies in Canada, facing west the lowest unemployment rates in Canada. To grow our economy, the government must address the worsening labor and talent shortages.

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At the federal level, this means working more closely with provincial, territorial and local governments, as well as with the private sector, to better understand labor market needs across the country.

In short, Canada needs a comprehensive strategy that addresses immigration, reskilling and upskilling, new training approaches, and talent pipeline management systems all working together.

Rooted in the West, Canada’s agricultural sector is a world leader in quality, innovation and sustainability. With over 100,000 farms and 85 percent of Canada’s arable land, the continued competitiveness and sustainability of the western agricultural sector is critical to Canada’s economic expansion.

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But the agricultural sector continues to be constrained by external regulations. The sector needs a regulatory system that is robust, adaptable and evidence-based. Enabling innovation and economic growth, particularly exports, must be a top priority for regulators. As Parliament resumes its work, the government must continue to support and incentivize agriculture and the value-added food sector. This includes continuing to work with Western Canadian companies on research, product development and commercialization of the sector.

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

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We must make large, strategic investments in Canada’s trading infrastructure to grow and sustain our economy. We cannot wait a decade to move projects forward. Because of its strategic location, Western Canada can catalyze major economic growth if we are willing to remove barriers and renew and strengthen infrastructure to meet long-term goals. Government must commit to a trade gateway strategy that sets the tone for investment at all levels of government and in the private sector.

As the world transitions to a lower-carbon future and the geopolitical environment realigns in response to Russia’s 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 essential minerals can play for countries in need.

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It is critical that the government improves Canada’s regulatory environment to help attract the investment capital needed to create new energy assets, including liquid natural gas and hydrogen. Government must act with a sense of urgency and clarity to ensure we leverage our ability to meet global energy and natural resource needs. By stepping out of the way, responsible sourcing, value-added processing and end-use manufacturing is promoted 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 also result in a more prosperous Canada.

Tamara Vrooman is CEO of Vancouver Airport Authority and Susannah Pierce is President and Country Chair Canada for Shell Canada. You are Co-Chair of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Western Executive Council.

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