Advocacy in action: 6 key policy issues from 2017

Posted by: Kaitlyn Mason on December 18, 2017

Throughout 2017 we were busy advocating to make Calgary the best place in the country to live, work, and grow a business. Here are some of the key issues that we advocated on throughout the year.

Layered cost impact

After consulting with small- and medium-sized businesses in Calgary, one thing has become all too clear: government policies are making it harder for businesses to succeed.

Minimum wage increases, rising municipal property taxes, and Alberta’s carbon levy have all been put in place at a time where unemployment remains high, and consumer spending low. Each individual policy may not cause a healthy business to close its doors. Layered on together however, these policies are causing harm. We call this the layered cost impact.

We surveyed businesses to calculate how these policies are impacting Calgary businesses, their employees, and the broader community.

Based on what we heard, we put together a comprehensive assessment and a holiday wishlist that will assist governments with mitigating the layered cost impact, the resulting unintended consequences, along with achieving social policy objectives.

Tax competitiveness

On the municipal front...

Calgary businesses celebrated a win early in 2017, when City Council – working with the Chamber – announced a $45 million program to cap business property tax increases at 5%. Without the tax relief, approximately 6,000 businesses in Calgary suburbs would have faced significant property tax increases, some as much as 200%.

We applaud the City for extending business tax relief through 2018, and look forward to working with the City to find a long term solution.

Meanwhile, at the federal level...

This summer, Finance Canada announced some of the most sweeping changes to the business tax laws seen in decades. Given the significance of the proposals, we made it our mission to advocate on this issue, and ensure the consequences of the proposed measures were fully understood.

Our advocacy efforts included an in-depth blog that outlined the proposed changes, hosting a roundtable with Minister Kent Hehr and members, and a webinar with experts from PwC and EY to break down the technical details. Based on our consultations, we submitted recommendations to Finance Canada that could assist with tax reform while mitigating costs to business.

On November 7, 2017 Chamber President and CEO, Adam Legge, presented Calgary’s business concerns to the Senate Committee on National Finance. Based on the feedback that they heard throughout Canada, the Senate Committee released a report recommending the federal government withdraw their proposals.

During Small business week (October 16-20, 2017), the federal government announced they would be scaling back the tax changes originally proposed.

As a recommendation included in the Chamber’s 2018 Budget submission – which was presented to the Standing Committee on Finance – the federal government announced that they would be supplementing the tax changes with a reduction in the small business rate.

Labour

The Alberta Government announced changes to the Employment Standards Code (ESC) and Labour Relations Code (LRC). Together, these acts legislate most of the employer-employee relationship, and changes to them could have far-reaching effects for our business community.

We were an active voice on this issue, submitting three formal letters on proposed changes based on 297 survey responses, creating a tool to allow members send a prepared letter to their MLA, and providing an in-depth analysis on what the proposed changes could mean for business.

In the fall, the Alberta Government introduced Bill 30, proposing to make significant changes to the Workers Compensation Board and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standards. We submitted a letter to the Alberta Minister of Labour tabling the business concerns with the WCB review panel’s recommendations, and a blog outlining how Bill 30 could impact your business.

Energy

Energy-related policy developments were specifically impactful for Calgary businesses in 2017. On January 1, Alberta’s economy-wide carbon levy took force at $20/tonne. Given the complexity around the impacts of the levy, we developed an FAQ to ensure your business understood all of the implications.

In our layered cost assessment, we calculated how the carbon levy was impacting Calgary businesses, and recommended the Alberta Government recycle more of the carbon levy’s revenue to reduce corporate and personal income taxes.

The Minister of Natural Resources established an Expert Panel to review and prepare recommendations on how to best modernize the National Energy Board (NEB). The Chamber hosted a roundtable of Calgary business which informed a national submission to the Panel.

While many of the Panel’s recommendations were both reasonable and practical, others which included the recommendation to move the headquarters to Ottawa could reduce the regulator’s effectiveness. We provided a submission to the Minister outlining Calgary’s business concerns, along with co-sponsoring an approved Canadian Chamber resolution recommending the NEB’s headquarters remain in Calgary.

International trade

2017 was full of potential developments that could impact Canadian trade. From providing early updates on Canadian trade missions to Washington, to potential border adjustment taxes and NAFTA negotiation issues, we made sure you were aware of all the important developments.

We also worked throughout the year to ensure Canadian and Alberta Chamber resolutions promoted greater trade within North America, debating and voting down policy resolutions that recommended Canadian border taxes, and those that looked to base future policy decisions on and addressing trade deficits.

2017 Municipal Election

In September, the Chamber launched a solutions-focused platform of ideas to get Calgary working again. Titled A Calgary that Works, the platform was developed with wide ranging contributors , including small business owners, top executives, and leaders in academia, community and arts.

With the sole purpose of creating an environment that allows businesses to grow and create jobs, our platform was based on three pillars: building an Efficient, an Equitable, and an Entrepreneurial city. Each pillar contained one practical recommendation and we look forward to working with the City to achieve these.

The three pillars

  1. Efficient: The Chamber recommends that City Council contain annual spending increases within a “Smart Spending Bandwidth” – the combined rates of inflation plus population growth. This will ensure necessary services continue to be provided, while guarding against inefficient program delivery, and climbing property tax bills.
  2. Equitable: The Chamber recommends the business and residential tax rates be locked to a fixed ratio, with a goal of achieving a 2.85:1 ratio during the next City Council term, and a 2:1 within 10 years.
  3. Entrepreneurial: The Chamber recommends City Council put in place a face track process when outdated, or a lack of, regulations are preventing a business from operating. A task force of innovative business leaders should be created to recommend to the City how they can better encourage and embrace new and disruptive business models.

Candidate engagement

Along with our platform, we also launched a website where candidates could fill out our survey questions, add a biography, and commit to implementing our recommendations if elected.

The final element of our advocacy efforts was a Mayoral Town hall that we hosted on October 2, 2017, featuring Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Bill Smith, and Andre Chabot. The Town Hall gave members the chance to ask questions directly to mayoral candidates, and gauge how each candidate stood on business issues.

By the numbers

Throughout the election campaign:

  • Our ideas were covered in over 50 news stories.
  • We had over 10,000 visits to our elections website.
  • 54 candidates filled out our survey (63% of candidates).
  • 33 candidates endorsed our recommendations.

In 2018, we will build off our municipal election advocacy work, and begin identifying policy recommendations for the 2019 provincial election.

Looking ahead

In 2018, we will continue to work with all levels of government to identify and address the issues that are making it harder for business to be successful.

Read our Policy Director Zoe Addington's final blog of 2017 for insights into some of the direction your Calgary Chamber's policy work will take in the new year.