Going into Wednesday morning’s Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC) ‘Business Breakfast with the MP’, it was already expected that last week’s federal budget, the first under the new Liberal Government of Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, would dominate the discussion… And rightfully so, as there was lots to discuss.
As the government moves from a $10 billion deficit to $30 billion, the Chamber was asking ‘What is there in this budget that will help Sault Ste. Marie deal with its present economic situation and build for the future?’
The subject of the current situation at Essar Steel and the ongoing issue of ‘steel dumping’ (the practice by foreign producers of either heavily subsidizing their steel imports into Canada or selling at a price lower than the cost of production) was tackled early in Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan’s candid discussion with SSMCOC Executive Director Rory Ring.
Sheehan noted that the Government took the step of specifically including a point regarding the issue of unfair trade practices in its 2016 budget. In the budget, the government indicates that it is taking steps to improve its ability to effectively remedy dumped and subsidized imports, including through specific legislative amendments. He added that the government will further consult stakeholders to ensure that Canada’s trade remedy system offers Canadian businesses the ability to respond to changing global trade conditions.
As discussion shifted, Ring noted the significant emphasis on infrastructure investments in the budget and questioned whether Sault Ste. Marie would see a fair share of the dollars available with the government appearing to place significant emphasis on infrastructure projects in major centres. Sheehan advised that the government’s plans for infrastructure would be rolled out in two phases with the first phase being heavily invested in spending on transit, affordable housing, and bridges and roads, all of which would be available for the Sault to tap into. He also spoke specifically to the fact that the government would look at investments in projects like the Port of Algoma as essential for the long term well-being and diversification of Sault Ste. Marie.
Sheehan noted that he, along with six other Northern Ontario Liberal MPs, had formed a ‘Northern Caucus’ and were meeting regularly, and while the Ring of Fire (a planned, large-scale mining and smelting development project in the mineral-rich James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario) did not receive specific mention in the recent budget, he assured the audience that that the project was very much on the group’s radar and was being very actively discussed.
A noticeable absence from the budget according to Ring was any further reductions in the small business tax rate. He noted that the previous Conservative government had legislated that the small business tax rate would fall by 0.5% per year from 11% to 9% in 2019. The rate is currently at 10.5%, and the Liberal government appears to be deferring any future decreases for an unknown period.
Sheehan response to this was that while the small business tax rate would continue to sit at 10.5%, at least for the present, the loss in any planned small business tax rate cuts would be offset in several ways. He suggested that the government’s plans to put more disposable income in the hands of families through tax cuts for the middle class and through the child tax benefit, increasing employment through infrastructure investment and cracking down on the underground economy would each ultimately benefit small businesses by way of increasing business and revenues.
The March 30th Breakfast with the MP was one of three business breakfasts that the SSMCOC hosts annually with the community’s elected officials. The Chamber sat down earlier this year with Mayor Christian Provenzano and will be hosting a session with MPP David Orazietti on May 25th.
Ring said that “the opportunity to come out to an event and be able to ask questions of the MP, or the Mayor or MPP for that matter, is a valuable opportunity for our members. It gives the Chamber and our membership a chance to discuss, very specifically, the challenges facing business and our local economy as well as some of the opportunities that we know are out there.”