McLellan sees many business issues this election

October 4, 2019, 11:41 am
Kevin Weedmark

Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan

Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce president Steve McLellan says there are many business issues he would like to see the parties address in the federal election, and the Chamber has been working hard to get that message to the party leaders.

“We circulated to the leaders our ‘Vote Prosperity’ platform,” he said. “Market access is still the number one issue,” he said. “It’s a critical issue for us. We need to be able to get oil east and west and we need a regulatory environment that encourages that, and we need federal leadership to make sure it happens.

“Indigenous engagement is also a huge issue for us as well as an opportunity for Saskatchewan as a province. We need clarity around duty to consult so that it’s not a burden for economic partnerships.

“Intergovernmental co-operation is important for Saskatchewan and every province. We’re hopeful that whoever wins will find a way to find common ground and forget their party stripes and remember their federal or provincial responsibilities. We need our federal and provincial governments to be able to work together. Anything from mental health to addictions to Indigenous engagement to health care to infrastructure have provincial and federal components, so they need to make sure they can work together and move forward.”

He said that expanding trade deals to include more countries is also important.

“Market diversification is critical,” he said. “Agriculture needs access to more global markets. That’s absolutely critical.

“We have become too reliant on the U.S., China, and India markets. Those are the big three globally, and I get that, but we also need to find other markets, like the old mixed farmers did. If they weren’t making money in pigs they were making money in chickens and if they weren’t making money in chickens they had other revenue streams. With our exports, we need to develop more revenue streams.

“We need trade deals, and we need more money for groups like the Saskatchewan Trade Export Partnership to get to those markets.”

He said he would also like to see the parties come up with a plan to treat regions fairly in economic diversification funding.

“In innovation support, all regional economic development agencies across the country are not treated equally,” he said. “The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in the east, for example, gets a lot more funding per capita than Western Economic Diversification. We need consistent support across the country and we’re not getting that now.”

He said taxation is a big issue for businesses.

“On taxation, we’ve called, with the Canadian Chamber, for a Royal Commission to review our tax system to make sure it’s more streamlined, it’s more productive, focused on enhancing both productivity of business and individuals by not being regressive. We shouldn’t be taxing growth. We’ve got decades and decades of patchwork tax law that makes no sense. Make it simple.

“Lastly, we think there needs to be work done on workforce development. Employment Insurance and all the work that it’s done needs to be much more focused. Good work has been done but there are federal rules that don’t make much sense for Saskatchewan and quite frankly we’re not getting our fair share of the EI dollars on any metric.”

He said the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce has been meeting with candidates and party leaders to highlight the issues it thinks are important this election.

“I’ve met with Andrew Scheer, we’ve met with Ralph Goodale many times, we’ve circulated the ‘Vote Prosperity’ platform to all the federal leaders as well as to some of the candidates we thought would have some influence on their party platform.

“There are new rules this year from Elections Canada. You couldn’t buy advertising without registering which is a bit convoluted, so we’re not doing any advertising this election, but after the election, we will be in Ottawa with other chambers and representatives of Saskatchewan business meeting with the ministers, the prime minister, the people in the PMO. Whether it’s a Liberal or Conservative government, there will be new people in some of the senior positions and we will be extensively engaged with the new government soon after the election.”

He said he believes the federal parties are paying attention to business issues.

“They are paying attention to business. The Conservatives have just announced they will roll back some of the income tax changes that the Liberals made last fall, and that’s very encouraging. The Liberals haven’t been as directly engaged. They’ve offered a program for business startups and grant funding and things like that. We’re a bit lukewarm to that. The Liberals are very concerned about the environment, as are we all, however I think they think businesses won’t vote for them because of our disdain for the carbon tax. People just want different things done, not the carbon tax right now.”

What is the single most important thing McLellan would like to see from politicians this election?

“The single most important thing is they start to respect the intelligence of the voter,” he said.

“The rhetoric we’ve seen, the messaging around why the other guys are terrible has come to an all-time high, and I think it’s disrespectful. It’s disrespectful to the intelligence of Canadians. It’s disrespectful to each other, but they clearly don’t care about that. We should have a law that says no candidate can speak about what the other party did or is doing, they can only speak about what they are doing themselves.

“I believe you have to treat candidates as applicants to a job. When someone comes in and applies for a job in your company you don’t let them tell you how bad the other candidates are, they can only talk about their own qualifications and why they’re able to do the job well. Every MP is applying for a job. Let’s let them talk about how good they’re going to be and what they would do in that role, not how terrible the other candidate is.

“We’ve gone so far on that, we have parties spending all their time talking about what the other guys did wrong instead of what they’re going to do to set it right. That’s the only thing that really matters.

“If there was one thing I would tell all of them, it’s clean up the rhetoric, be more positive so you can engage the people who are disengaged from the electoral process, and treat the Canadian people with a degree of intelligence much higher than they are doing today.”


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