As Canada begins to build back better, investments that achieve multiple benefits stand to expedite recovery and amplify impact. Just as the United States once did with its New Deal to respond to the Great Depression, a key ingredient to Canada’s long-term recovery will undoubtedly be infrastructure investment and development.
In a recent speech to the Canadian Club of Toronto, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna pointed out that every tax dollar invested in new infrastructure needs to perform a triple duty beyond the infrastructure itself – growing the economy, combatting climate change and promoting social equality.
Focused, targeted investments in Canada’s post-secondary education infrastructure are one critical way to achieve these multiple objectives while strengthening our pandemic response and labour market resilience. We need to bolster our education and training infrastructure, including things like new buildings, retrofits, digital learning infrastructure and research infrastructure to help our economy become robust and resilient.
Despite a slight increase in employment in October, the overall health of Canada’s labour market remains a real concern. Youth and Indigenous unemployment, under- and precarious employment are just a few worrying trends. The Liberal government has responded by pledging to create one million jobs, in part through direct investments in infrastructure.
Investments on campus help to create thousands of middle-class jobs in sectors like construction, engineering and manufacturing, while the resulting infrastructure is used to train the next generation workforce. The last federal infrastructure program targeted at post-secondary institutions created 37,000 jobs in communities across the country. Projects also offer experiential learning opportunities for students and apprentices, critical during a time when many placements are otherwise being postponed or cancelled outright.
Combatting climate change is also a key consideration for Canada’s long-term recovery and prosperity. At the intersection of skills development and business innovation, investments on polytechnic campuses contribute to clean, green and low-carbon communities. Buildings like The Arbour at George Brown College – Ontario’s first mass-timber, low-carbon institutional building – stand to provide a unique learning environment to students, unlock community space for the surrounding neighborhood and contribute to Canada’s climate change commitments.
Preparing for a green future also requires investments in research infrastructure that contribute to sectors like forestry, fisheries, wildlife and conservation – those critical for driving Canada’s climate and sustainability agenda. These facilities also serve as an important resource for businesses, helping them rethink their processes, products and environmental impact.
All Canadians need to benefit from and be included in our immediate response and long-term recovery. Investments in education and training spaces that consider all learners – both in a digital and physical learning environment – are critical to enabling labour market resilience and promoting inclusive growth.
Spaces like the Mamidosewin Centre in Ottawa and the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre in Edmonton provide a variety of programs and services that are respectful and reflective of Indigenous cultures. They serve as community gathering places where Indigenous and non-Indigenous students can network, study and share their learning experiences. Investing in this type of infrastructure will help improve access to and support for education and training in communities across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also created additional demand for digital infrastructure, as a way to ensure the continuity and access of training. Several institutions have developed virtual labs replicating the classroom experience, enabling access to the equipment, software and other technologies needed to complete course work.
Preparing Canada’s workforce and promoting a culture of lifelong learning increasingly requires a combination of physical and digital spaces. Now is a time for big ideas and innovative solutions.
Investments in our education and training infrastructure will perform a necessary triple duty – spur job creation, contribute to climate resilience and support an inclusive talent pipeline along the way. As we pull our way out of this pandemic, investing in post-secondary infrastructure will no doubt be an important part of Canada’s long-term recovery. These investments will also help us respond to disruptions with more speed and resilience – both now and into the future.