Sault Chamber sees influence, opportunity in budget


Wednesday’s Federal Budget took steps to acknowledge and move on several items that the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC) has been calling for over the last several years. The next steps will be to ensure that the Sault and local industry is ready to position themselves to tap into programming and funding opportunities.

The Chamber was pleased to see the proposal of legislative and regulatory amendments to improve the enforcement of trade remedy measures, address the circumvention of duties and better account for market and price distortions. In 2016, the SSMCOC partnered with the Chambers in Windsor-Essex and Hamilton to bring a joint resolution forward to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC) outlining a number of steps needed to assist Canada’s steel industry and just this week, the Sault Chamber was called as a witness to the federal government’s Standing Committee on International Trade, which is looking at challenges faced by Canadian steel producers, specific to unfair trade.

SSMCOC CEO, Rory Ring notes that “the recognition that trade remedies need to be enforced and amended is a clear demonstration that our steel industry policy resolution, and that Chambers of Commerce as a whole, are having an influence on the Hill. Further, being requested to be part of the House of Commons Committee hearing on international trade is a clear sign that the advocacy efforts that we have been undertaking on behalf our steel industry is having an impact on decision formulation. Without the support of Terry Sheehan, this would not have been easily accomplished. We will still need to keep the pressure on, but we believe this issue is moving in the right direction.”

Innovation had been expected to be a main feature of the 2017 budget, but with limited funds available in a difficult file, the Chamber recognizes that it is not easy to bring about transformative change. Still, the Chamber urged more investment and private sector involvement in new programs, so it welcomes the new investments that were announced. In particular, the SSMCOC sees opportunities in the announcement that $950 million over five years will be provided on a competitive basis to support a small number of innovative industries. The competition to determine which clusters to support will be private-sector led and will launch in 2017. These clusters could be advanced manufacturing such as steel and steel-related products, agri-food, digital technology, etc.

SSMCOC President Paul Johnson sees this as an opportunity for several local sectors including steel and agri-foods.

“The partnerships that we have formed during the work on our steel resolution and the many private sector partners from across Ontario and Canada that have come to the table to talk and work collaboratively as advocates for the steel industry over the last year are good first steps,” says Johnson. “We see considerable opportunity here to encourage continued growth of that partnership in order to develop steel as a Canadian super-cluster.”

In October of 2015, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce partnered with other Ontario Chambers to release a report outlining several steps needed to strengthen and enhance the competitiveness of the agri-food sector. Johnson adds that he is pleased to see agri-business specifically identified as an innovation sector and believes that there are several local businesses that stand to benefit from increased investment in this sector.

The Chamber was not expecting any changes to the Small Business Tax rate this year although it maintains that the federal government will need to place this item back on its radar very soon, in particular, to ensure future competitiveness in light of growing indications of ongoing deregulation and lowered taxes in the U.S. under the new administration. The deferral of decreases in the Small Business Tax rate (from the current 10.5% down to 9%) was not mentioned. In the previous budget, there was no date or estimate given for the duration of the deferral.

For years, skills and workforce development has been the number one issue for Canadian business. The SSMCOC fully recognizes that a highly skilled workforce is the most important competitive advantage and it is very pleased with the additional investment in skills.