Published On: Thursday, 18 July 2019

Kelowna Chamber: Gloves Off in Ottawa - Election Promises Begin

June saw an uptick in the rhetoric coming out of Ottawa – you can tell there is an election on the horizon. The Senate made some long-awaited decisions on pipeline & tanker legislation, and the party in power began releasing major statements around oil, trade, big pharma, mortgage equity stakes and more. The big news was the approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline extension. Shovels, anyone? We hear work starts in September, good news for Okanagan, BC and Canadian business. Two days later the Senate voted for a tanker ban in northern waters, which would effectively kill any future northern pipeline.

Sometimes it feels like Kelowna is so far away from Ottawa that some of these decisions don’t really affect us, but of course, that’s just not true. While we were all still in recovery mode from Raptor-mania, we got the news that federal Liberals were rejecting many of the Senate’s eye-popping 188 amendments to Bill C-69, in a Motion passed June 13. [Bill C-69 enacts the Impact Assessment Act, the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, amends the Navigation Protection Act, and, makes consequential amendments to other Acts.]

The President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber, the Honourable Perrin Beatty didn’t mince words in his reaction to the evisceration of the Bill’s amendments proposed by the Senate: “The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is deeply disappointed with today’s (June 12, 2019) announcement that the federal government will reject a number of the Senate’s improvements to Bill C-69. These amendments are essential to avoid driving investment away from major Canadian infrastructure projects.”

“While the current regulatory regime, CEAA 2012, should be replaced because it continues to discourage investment in Canada’s mining sector, the government has prescribed a cure that is worse than the disease.” Beatty called it a dark day for a nation of builders and called on Parliament to defeat C-69.

Kelowna Chamber member JDS Mining and its President/CEO Jeff Stibbard spoke to us on the issue of curtailing investment in Canadian exploration. Stibbard has over 30 years of experience in mine design, construction and operations, and is active around the world. He knows what it takes to get exploration funding into Canada, and how it can be lost through wrong-minded government policies. He says, “As a mining business owner, mining and energy project developer on behalf of others and their capital around the world Bill C-69 does not make the development probability of resource projects in Canada any more certain or predictable as advertised in the headliner statement. I and my Canadian resource development colleagues are always in favour of the real goal in achieving a cleaner environment and stronger economy.”

“The stated purpose of the bill of establishing objective criteria and definite review timelines is laudable, but the resulting expanded broader range of criteria and input to be considered is contradictory. This adds time and conflict and detracts from investor confidence to develop in Canada. This is proven: note the recent trend of investment capital leaving the country in favour of investing abroad and foreign capital significantly decreasing deployment to Canada. My business directly reflects this as a result of this current narrative associated with Bill C-69.”

While those fireworks were going on the federal government delivered its second big pre-election announcement, the plans for a National Pharmacare system. The Chamber supports fair and equitable access to healthcare, including the drugs needed by Canadian families. At the same time, approving an annual price tag of $15 billion to provide zero cost drugs to Canadians equals an increase in taxes, and that includes business tax. Businesses are already in many cases, paying toward their employees’ drug purchases and healthcare plans. June 15 was the payment deadline for the first installment of the Employer Health Tax in BC and the reactions of business people are still echoing as they detail how the EHT is curtailing profit sharing and new hires.

A more sensible and affordable approach, says the Chamber, would be a “fill the gaps” plan which picks up where private healthcare plans leave off – it’s estimated about 15% of Canadians need a “gap filler” program. That would cost far less than $15B a year and would leave intact the already established private healthcare companies which are operating in the country. We support the comments of the national Chamber’s Dr Trevin Stratton when he says, “The advisory council mistakenly believes the average business will save $750 per employee per year under its proposed system. The idea that a single-payer system will relieve employers of an important cost pressure is simply not true. A single-payer plan will likely result in increased deficits and taxes, both of which are not in the interest of employers or Canadians.”

June saw our Chamber submit and spin off five of our home-grown policies for consideration by the Canadian Chamber at their annual policy AGM in September in Saint John. We authored all five, but being limited to a submission of two, our valley chambers stepped up to assist. Greater Westside Board of Trade took on our “Beyond Preclearance” policy which we tabled in Burnaby at the BC AGM in May. The Penticton and Wine Country Chamber submitted two of our policies, one around reverse vending machines to increase recycle rates, and one on accelerating transportation infrastructure in the region, as they also have a big interest in faster business and goods traffic, as well as highway safety concerns. Our own chamber submitted a policy on attracting an aerospace cluster in Kelowna with partners from private enterprise and post-secondary institutions, to draw students from around the world to address pilot and aircraft mechanic shortages; and reducing the capital cost allowance and GST on new-built rental housing to increase supply.

We also presented all these issues (and more) to BC’s Select Standing Committee on Finance & Government on June 12 in Kelowna prior to Budget 2020.

In July, Kelowna hosts a southern interior Regional Consultation – a Policy and Positions meeting with the BC Government. Chambers from the Shuswap to the US border will attend – plus the BC Chamber – and will workshop issues specific to our region then determine how to work collaboratively with the range of ministries involved to address change. Taxation, housing and transportation top the list of hot topics.

Finally, we aren’t letting go of our interprovincial trade policy which could positively impact beer and wine trade out of and into BC. This policy was one of our stars in 2018 both provincially and nationally. The federal government included mention in its economic outlook for 2019 and a Minister of Internal Trade was named. Not much else has happened, but the issue is now part of the national “Vote Prosperity” campaign of the Canadian Chamber. We fully support the Vote Prosperity campaign. What will the Council of the Federation say about the issue July 9-11 in Saskatoon? Premiers may talk tough or promise to improve interprovincial trade. But we predict they won’t actually remove any barriers.

We join the Canadian Chamber in its call for a full review of the CFTA (Canadian Free Trade Agreement) to establish an agreement that allows for actual free trade in this country.

Well, that’s enough policy for one column. Time to attend some member networking events and take the pulse of our businesses to hear what’s going on in their business lives this summer.

On that note, I want to welcome our newest members who have joined our active Chamber since last month: Ceridian; Help Plumbing & Heating Services; Sage Executive Group Real Estate, Okanagan ValleyView Homes; Cannary Packaging; John Antle Mortgage Alliance; TKI Construction. And we thank Mission Group for changing membership from Bronze to Basic; and the Kelowna Yacht Club for moving from Silver to Classic.

Dan Rogers is Executive Director for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce