Labor shortages are impacting investment plans and generating “tens of billions” in lost sales at a majority of companies in Canada, according to a report by one its largest business advocacy groups.

The Business Council of Canada released a poll of 80 of its members on Friday that found two-thirds claiming the labor crunch is forcing them to cancel or delay projects, while 60 per cent say it’s led to revenue losses. Nearly a third say they’ve been forced to relocate work outside of Canada or led to a loss of market share. In total, the survey found 80 per cent of these companies are reporting trouble filling positions.

The numbers underscore the extent to which lack of workers has become the primary concern for Canada’s business executives, and the biggest constraint on the nation’s economic expansion. They also illustrates the importance of maintaining high levels of immigration into the country, according to Goldy Hyder, chief executive of the business lobby group.

“Businesses are looking for whatever options they have to make sure they’re having full capacity,” Hyder said in a telephone interview. “It’s time we catch up to where we need to be in order to compete.”

Immigration has always been a driving force of labor supply in Canada, which competes for economic immigrants with destination countries like Australia, the UK and US. But now with record job vacancies of more than a million and an aging workforce, Canadian employers have become even more reliant on migrant workers. 

International migration has helped push Canada’s population growth to almost twice the pace of every other Group of Seven country, rising 5.2 per cent from 2016 to just under 37 million people in 2021. In the first three months of this year, the country’s population grew at the fastest rate for a first quarter since 1990. 

Half of the firms surveyed said Canada should increase its annual intake of permanent residents, while the rest support the government’s current plan to bring in more 1.3 million newcomers over the next three years.

The 80 companies surveyed employ nearly 1.7 million people in more than 20 industries. The shortages exist in every region, and are worst in three most populous provinces Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. The poll was taken in the first quarter of 2022.