Former Quebec premier Jean Charest says he’s surprised that Canada’s aging workforce isn’t a bigger focus in the federal election campaign, warning that if the issue isn’t addressed quickly, it could spell trouble for the country’s future.  

“I’m a little surprised, disappointed that in this election campaign there isn’t more said from the leaders on what Canada needs to do to upscale its workforce to remain competitive – especially with an aging population,” said Charest, now partner at McCarthy Tetrault LLP, who was speaking from the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show in Toronto on Wednesday.

“If we don’t address this issue rapidly, we’re going to run into big problems.”

Charest’s comments come as sectors that include the automotive and aeronautical industries, where many workers are approaching retirement age, try to evolve in a rapidly-changing landscape.

General Motors Co. for example, last year announced plans to shutter a number of plants worldwide as looks to shift its focus to electric and self-driving vehicles. It spared its Oshawa, Ont. plant from closure after the automaker and union agreed to overhaul of the facility earlier this year. However, more trouble for the company and its workers ensued last month after GM workers in the U.S. went on strike over benefits and pay, which lead to a number of temporary layoffs in Canada.

Charest emphasized that as industries change, skills retraining and upgrading need to be “actively supported” and incorporated into the country’s work culture in order for the labour force in order to stay competitive.

“The issue that I care a lot about that I think is key to the future of Canada is the ability for us to attract talent, workers,” Charest said. “But not just trade people, or professionals, or researchers – even non-skilled workers.”

“If Canada gets that right – if we’re the country that’s able to figure that much out – then we’ll be ahead of the game.”