Liberal majority met with lukewarm reaction from big business

The reaction to Canada's first Liberal majority government in more than a decade is likely to be mixed from the stock market and Canada's business community.

New government likely not the best result for oilpatch, but infrastructure spending poised for bonanza

Reaction to the Liberals big win from the business community is likely to be mixed, as the promises of infrastructure spending will be welcomed, but the oil patch's response could be frosty. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The reaction to Canada's first Liberal majority government in more than a decade is likely to be mixed from the stock market and Canada's business community.

Canada's oilpatch was clearly pulling for another Conservative government, as the Tories have been a close friend to the energy industry over the years.

Oil industry reaction

The Tories campaigned hard in favour of expanding Canada's pipeline network, while the Liberals had a more nuanced, case-by-case approach: in favour of TransCanada's Energy East pipeline that would stretch across the country, but lukewarm on their proposed Keystone XL expansion down to the U.S. and downright frosty against Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway project in B.C.

Shares in both those companies and other energy firms were higher on the TSX on Tuesday, but it's not clear there's any link to the election result since oil was also higher on the day.

Indeed, other oilpatch CEOs had expressed concern about a Grit government ahead of the vote.

We are eager to sit down with Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party and get to work on the issues that matter most to Canada's small businesses- Dan Kelly, CFIB

Grant Fagerheim of Calgary-based oil and gas producer Whitecap Resources Inc. said he was "very concerned" about the possibility of Canadians electing another Prime Minister Trudeau.

Fagerheim cited the National Energy Program introduced in 1980 by the Liberal leader's late father, as a point of concern for Canada's oilpatch.

He said it took 15 years for the industry to recover from the program.

Infrastructure spending

Other sectors could be poised to do well, notably anything tied to infrastructure building. One of the centrepieces of the Liberal platform was a pledge to spend $60 billion to fill Canada's yawning infrastructure gap, updating the country's roads, bridges and railways so that businesses can use them more efficiently.

Charles St. Arnaud, the Canadian economist for Japanese investment bank Nomura, said that money will help grease the wheels of the economy. "These planned increases in infrastructure spending would provide some support to the economy," he said. That spending, pledged over a decade, is likely to give the broader economy a shot in the arm right where it needs it, as long as the shovels hit the ground quickly enough.

CIBC's chief economist Avery Shenfeld agrees that time is of the essence, and thinks the infrastructure spending needs to be job No. 1 for the new government. "If infrastructure spending takes too long to get going, sometimes by the time you are spending, the economy has healed on its own and you don't need it," Shenfeld said. "You want to spend that money when the economy is soft, when there are unemployed workers to put to work on the projects."

The $60-billion figure represents only about three per cent of the government's total spending, so a wholly reasonable sum for the government to afford without going deeper into debt, St. Arnaud said.

The small business community was cautiously optimistic to the news, as the Liberals made some promises that small businesses like to hear on the campaign trail, including lowering EI premiums and improving access to skilled labour and training programs. "We are eager to sit down with Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party and get to work on the issues that matter most to Canada's small businesses," Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly said.

Personal finance implications

Many promises were made out on the campaign trail, and personal finance experts said there could be some positive implications for Canadians from the Liberal win.

The party campaigned on a promise to roll back the expansion of TFSA contribution room to $10,000 a year. But Pramod Udiaver, co-founder and CEO of Invisor Investment Management Inc., said in an interview that he doubts that will be retroactive to the current tax year, but moving forward, losing that promised room "could cause some concern."

He says the impact of that, however, should be more than offset by other offerings, including a pledge to reduce the tax burden on middle income earners, and work with provinces to beef up the Canada Pension Plan. 

"All parties recognized retirement savings are a major concern," Udiaver said. "The question is how do you deal with it?"

One area of the economy that should see a direct impact from Monday's vote is the bond market. " We would not be surprised to see bonds sell off a bit," St. Arnaud said, as the Liberals have pledged to pay for their promises through modest deficits.

Deficits mean the government will be borrowing more money, which means government debt already out there is slightly less attractive as an investment.

With files from The Canadian Press


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