2019 In Review
December 11, 2019
2019 was a year of political upheaval, uncertainty, and change. We had a provincial election in the spring, a federal election, a provincial budget release in the fall and a municipal budget with property tax implications. As the year comes to a close, here is a look back at some of our key accomplishments, and a look ahead at 2020.
Our work across Canada
Canadians for Natural Resources
In May 2019, the Canadian Global Cities Council (CGCC), a coalition of eight metropolitan chambers of commerce and boards of trade from coast-to-coast launched the Canadians for Natural Resources initiative. The Calgary Chamber-led coalition set out to highlight that we are at a critical point in Canada’s history. We cannot afford to think only in terms of “pro-energy” or “pro-environment”. We must recognize that we can and have done both. Canada has the potential to be a world leader in both natural resource development AND fight global climate change at the same time.
As part of the Calgary Chamber’s commitment to this important ‘AND’ conversation, Sandip Lalli, our President and CEO, took this message in June to the World Chambers Congress in Brazil, and to New York City at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in September. The Calgary Chamber is a proud signatory of the Chambers Climate Coalition and is committed to doing our part to reduce global emissions.
On October 2, 2019, the CGCC held the inaugural Natural Resources Summit in Calgary, which brought together leaders from across the country to advance this important ‘AND’ conversation. The purpose of the summit was three-fold: to demonstrate the diversity of Canada’s natural resources sector, to showcase the innovative and collaborative work that is taking place in the sector, and to reaffirm Canada’s potential to be a leader in natural resources development AND a leader in the global fight against climate change.
We delivered on these goals and learned some very important lessons along the way. Our top takeaway is that Canada needs more Canada. Through collaboration and nation-building, and by rallying to the ‘AND’, we can make our country a leader on the global stage. Our work now begins on creating the framework and proposal for a vision for our natural resources.
Federal election platform
In September, the Calgary and Edmonton Chambers of Commerce joined forces to release our federal election platform, speaking with one united voice about how Albertans and Canadians can secure a more prosperous and competitive future. We outlined five key election priorities: develop climate policies that stimulate competition, increase trade within and beyond our borders, modernize our tax system, close the skills gap, and address our fiscal imbalance.
Sandip Lalli, and Janet Riopel, President and CEO of the Edmonton Chamber, and four other Chamber CEOs brought these concerns to Ottawa before the federal election. The Calgary Chamber of Commerce will continue to work closely with our elected leaders to make meaningful progress on these issues. Now, more than ever, we must look at both sides in order to tackle the most pressing issues facing our society.
Bill C-69 and Bill C-48
Bill C-69 along with Bill C-48 dominated the conversation and the Chamber’s work to start the year. From the moment the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources announced public hearings on C-69 in February, until the eventual Royal Assent of both bills in late June, the Chamber worked to represent our energy industry’s concerns around both bills. We also joined efforts with the Alberta Chambers of Commerce on Bill C-69 to increase advocacy capacity for the issue. We were disappointed by the federal government’s decision to pass both bills into law and will continue to advocate for policies that improve the competitiveness of our business environment.
Trade and market access
Canada got some welcome news to start the summer as the year-long tariff feud with the United States over steel and aluminium came to an end in May 2019. The U.S. imposed tariffs on imports of steel (25 per cent) and aluminium (10 per cent) disrupted supply chains and added extra costs to business on both sides of the border, and acted as a major barrier to the new North American Free Trade Agreement.
During the period that the tariffs were still in place, the Calgary Chamber advocated against retaliatory measures in a submission made to the Canadian federal government and provided alternative business-friendly responses that would better protect open and between Canada and our largest trading partner.
While the Canadian government did ultimately move forward with retaliatory measures, all tariffs have now been removed and we look forward to all governments swiftly progressing towards the ratification of the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). We’re encouraged by the latest update from Mexico that it’s one step closer to becoming a reality.
Our work in Alberta
Provincial election platform
A large part of the Calgary Chamber’s advocacy efforts on the provincial front focused on our provincial election platform. Our platform, released in late January 2019, provided nine recommendations across five key principles: fiscal responsibility, regulatory and tax reform, trade, good governance, and workforce skills development.
Since taking office in April, the Government of Alberta has acted on many of our recommendations, including working towards balancing the provincial budget, reducing the corporate tax rate, reducing regulatory burdens and taking a leadership role in removing interprovincial trade barriers.
Red tape reduction
In late July, the Calgary Chamber presented a submission to the Associate Minister of Red Tape Reduction on steps the government can take to ease burdens placed on the manufacturing, technology, energy as well as alcohol, gaming, liquor, and cannabis sectors.
With the release of the provincial budget in October 2019, we saw additional, tangible steps towards boosting competitiveness and providing a responsible fiscal plan. The government’s efforts to returning to surplus by the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the adoption of Enhanced Capital Cost Allowances, and working towards the reduction of regulatory burdens are important steps.
Further, we understand the current strategy of taking a broad-based approach to the corporate tax rate, however, the decision to eliminate targeted tax credits that have benefitted many businesses in Calgary was disappointing. We will continue to monitor the issue, and if the current strategy does not create growth for businesses in our city, we will continue the call for tax programs that are aimed at increasing competitiveness particularly in innovation and technology.
We will remain closely engaged with the government to ensure businesses of all sizes benefit, and to make progress on our remaining key asks including long-term fiscal planning, limiting operational spending growth, implementing a “layered cost” economic impact assessment and a comprehensive tax review.
Our work in Calgary
Supporting small business
With over 1,400 attendees at our expo, over 90 businesses showcasing, and around 400 people at our awards gala, this year’s Small Business Week was the most successful the Chamber has seen. Throughout the entire week, we celebrated and experienced first-hand the tireless, passionate and hard-working entrepreneurs that move our city forward. Routine Inc was this year’s Small Business of the Year award winner, and we are already looking forward to next year’s event.
Event centre support
The Calgary Chamber has long encouraged City Council to be bold and think big with respect to investments in our arts, entertainment and sporting infrastructure. This year, we saw City Council do just that and make massive strides to make the Rivers District Master Plan a reality. The Chamber has been a strong supporter of the Event Centre, part of this larger plan, which took a step forward this year. The Chamber was very encouraged to see Council invest in Calgary’s future and continues to support this new Event Centre under the seven project principles which include that public funds must be used for the public good.
Budget 2020 and property taxes
Non-residential property tax increases continued to cause uncertainty and pressure on the Calgary business community, and therefore was a key focus for the Calgary Chamber’s advocacy efforts in 2019. The high vacancy rate in the downtown office space and the corresponding drop in assessed property value resulted in drastically increasing costs for businesses, especially those located outside the downtown core. Adding to the pressure of these increases is the uncertainty caused by several structural issues with the property tax system as a whole.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce has advocated for three ways the City can improve our property tax system and create certainty for business. The first is a reduction of the non-residential to residential tax ratio, the second is the sale of city-owned lands that are not generating revenue, and the third is fiscal responsibility and restraint to ensure we’re working within our means.
On Friday, November 27, City Council voted in favour of a shift in the non-residential to residential tax ratio to 52 per cent residential and 48 per cent non-residential, exactly in line with our ask.
This was an important first step towards a more equitable property tax system. However, it was only one of the three key components for long-term structural changes. As we head into 2020, we will further call upon and continue to advocate for further changes, and urge the City to work with the provincial government to find long-term solutions.
Ready for 2020
For the past 128 years, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce has been at the heart of Calgary business, and we know this city and its business leaders are extraordinary. We know that every action or inaction at the municipal, provincial, or federal level can have a profound effect on their ability to compete and thrive. This is why the Calgary Chamber is committed to remaining the voice and Podium of Record for the Calgary business community going into 2020.
At the Calgary Chamber, we’ll be kicking off 2020 in a strong way with Canada’s Agriculture Summit, which is taking place on January 16. The purpose of the summit is to explore one clear, crucial concept: that Canada can nourish the world AND have sustainable agricultural practices while remaining globally competitive. This is the natural extension of our Natural Resources initiative and it further rallies us to ‘AND’ conversations.
As we mark the start of a new decade, there has never been a more important time for businesses to take the lead in solving the most urgent issues facing our society. As Calgary’s corporate community and business leaders, it is time to put politics behind us and move towards a better future by doing what we do best as businesses: to be the visionaries of our future economy and our future communities.