Published On: Saturday, 27 April 2019

Kelowna Chamber: Taxation, Elections, Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and BC Budget 2019

As March rolls in like a lion or a lamb (can’t tell yet – still snowy and coldest February on record in the Okanagan) – the news is all about budgets, taxes, tax reform, election fever and AGMs. Is it the same every month? Maybe it is.

It was encouraging to receive the Canadian Chamber’s “Fifty Years of Cutting and Pasting: Modernizing Canada’s Tax System” last week. Chambers have been pressing for a Royal Commission for quite a long time, and this study will help move that initiative forward. We understand that the federal finance minister is listening – it is an election year, after all – and the document includes important initiatives brought forward by chambers across the country. In November, we heard that the finance minister based some of his Economic Update statements on a range of Chamber policies. Best line out of the document was “the last time Canada undertook a comprehensive review of its tax system, humankind had yet to set foot on the moon.”

We were delighted to be part of a four-partner team presenting Kelowna’s first Economic Scorecard on February 11. We had a full turnout at a Chamber luncheon and pre-media briefing. Now the entire document is posted on the Chamber website, where it will be housed as we invite feedback, lively discussion, and in less than a year, begin planning for the next Scorecard, to be published in 2022. Our three partners were the City of Kelowna, Okanagan School of Business and the University of British Columbia Okanagan School of Management. Kelowna scored in the middle of the pack; 12 social and 12 economic indicators, across a range of 17 similar-sized and positioned cities in Canada, the US and around the globe.

BC Budget 2019 got a B- grade from the Kelowna Chamber.

We thought good things included: Balanced budget, Tackling affordability head-on, Continued investments in housing, Enhanced Child Opportunity Benefits, improving workplace flexibility, CleanBC credits and incentives, Matching Feds’ accelerated capital cost allowance; so that provincial and federal taxes on this item are in sync.

Less good things included: No action to make the spec tax more fair, Double-dipping on the Employer Health Tax & MSP premium payments for 2019, No real action to incent business competitiveness, especially for small- and middle-sized enterprises.

Concerns included: Climbing corporate tax rates – costs which are weighing down the backbone of BC’s economy: now 27 per cent.

The Government did a good job at their required balancing act and identifying challenges that lie directly ahead. We’re concerned about spending increasingly falling on the backs of business; and the questions of “what lies around the corner?” “what can’t we see that is coming?” “are storm clouds gathering?”

Speaking of budgets, the Federal Budget will be tabled Tuesday March 19, and our post budget recap breakfast will be Wednesday morning March 20. We’ll host experts from KPMG LLP who will give us all the deep background from Ottawa; and, did I mention? It’s an election year. Should be interesting.

We supported the Canadian Chamber in their Day of Action on Bill C-69 February 20 (Lots happened during Chamber Week Feb 18-22). Writing letters to our MPs, letter for the Canadian Chamber to take to the Senate Committee. There has been lots of coverage, and clearly, more to come on this hot topic. The heart of the matter urges the federal government to address Canada’s broken regulatory system and the inability domestically to build the energy infrastructure needed to drive Canada’s economy.

Our Top 40 Over 40 Presented by BDO LLP has just hit the media – we’ll be featuring 40 deserving Honourees between now and July, with a bang-up party to celebrate all 40 sometime in late July or early August. We can’t wait to see who makes the cut – we already have a ton of nominees, so there will be no shortage of qualified individuals for our independent judging panel to assess. Stay tuned.

Our Board nomination and election process is now complete, and we’ll be unveiling our new board soon in the media, and in person when they’re sworn in at our 2019 Presidents Dinner April 25. Immediate Past President Carmen Sparg will officiate at that event, alongside incoming President Nikki Csek. Once again, we have a full board, highly qualified, and ready for action in April.

Other current highlights: we host Former Prime Minister Stephen J. Harper right here in Kelowna on March 12. Newly minted author of Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership In the Age of Disruption, Mr Harper will conduct an “In Conversation” address following a luncheon at the Delta Grand which has sold out once; we added more seats and it’s just about sold out again. Short of moving to a football stadium, I think we maxed out. There’s a lot of affection for, and interest in, Mr Harper here in the valley, home as we know to a ton of Alberta ex-pats and one or two conservatives and political junkies.

Shout-out to Kelowna International Airport for all-time high passenger numbers for 2018: YLW broke another record with a 31 per cent increase up to 2,080,372, making it the tenth busiest airport in Canada.

We host the Mayor of Kelowna, Colin Basran, in our Annual State of the City message in early April. A sidebar this year is our reaching out to three former mayors who are living in Kelowna: the venerable Jim Stuart; Walter Gray; and Sharon Shepherd. We’re hoping having four mayors in the room at one time will create some lively interaction and more than a few strolls down memory lane.

And of course, it’s policy time – deadlines looming for the BC Chamber draft policies in March – our Policy Advisory Committee is busy writing, researching, and making numerous phone calls to other chambers with questions, requests for support, and generally trying to create tightly written recommendations to take to the AGM in May and then to government.

I want to welcome our newest members this month: Dr DJ Wombold; Electric Ninja; That Cleantech Copywriter; The Fireplace Den; Associated Painters & Restoration Inc.; Family Enterprise Xchange; Little Owl Academy; A Touch of Austria – Ad Lib Art Gallery; Doortech MFG & Distribution LTD; Primera Projects; Simba Tech Inc. and Create Solar. Welcome all!

Dan Rogers is Executive Director, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce