On November 10, on your behalf, I attended a meeting of about a dozen chamber representatives from across Nova Scotia and several members of the Provincial Advisory Council to the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce.
The meeting was hosted by the Halifax Chamber of Commerce and the goal was to identify the top policy priorities from each area, in the hope of identifying ways to combine our efforts and have an impact on a provincial scale.
As members of the chamber, we thought you may be interested in knowing the priorities I put forth on our behalf, and also what emerged as top priorities across the province. I will note first that it was a positive gesture for the new Halifax Chamber President and CEO (Patrick Sullivan) to have arranged such a meeting to develop a province-wide approach.
The three top priorities from our chamber were energy policy, reforming the regulatory and tax system, and transportation infrastructure.
On energy, we are concerned that the imposition of a poorly designed carbon tax system could hurt large and small businesses in the Strait region. One reason power rates have been rising in recent years has been the cost of new investments in green energy. These have sometimes been controversial, but have certainly been effective. As a result of these efforts, greenhouse gas emissions from electricity in Nova Scotia are already projected to decrease by twice the national target of 30 per cent by 2030. If a national carbon price is imposed upon Nova Scotia, as has been promised, we think our provincial government should design our own system, rather than risk the uncertainty of having one imposed from outside. Recognizing that Nova Scotia has been ahead of the curve on this issue, this system would, at a minimum, exempt electricity. This position received wide support from other chambers.
The Province has created an Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness. The feeling across the province is that this office, while perhaps well-intentioned, has not been acting with requisite urgency or with a broad enough scope. One only need to read of the issues in the craft beer industry (as outlined in a recent op-ed by Jeremy White of Big Spruce Brewing) for an example of how a growing industry can be held back by regulations that a diligent and reasonable observer would eliminate without a second thought.
Representatives from the office have been to the Strait area for meetings and public sessions with the sincere intention to consult business. To that must be added more focus and decisiveness, and more power to enact timely change.
I was one of several to raise the 2014 Broten Report on “Charting a Path for Growth” through tax and regulatory review. This well-written report recommended significant tax reform in Nova Scotia such as eliminating tax disincentives to growing a business, lowering personal taxes, and a revenue neutral carbon tax with electricity exempted. The report made a compelling case that such reform would promote growth in our economy. The principle recommendations have not been implemented, but the blueprint is there and is certainly still relevant.
Many of our members depend upon the strength of our industrial sectors, as well as our tourism and cultural sectors. For these, and others, transportation infrastructure is vitally important. Your chamber has developed policies supporting investment in road, rail, air, shipping, and pipeline infrastructure for our region, and expect that such investments would lead to significant, broad based growth in our regional economy.
Other issues that arose across the province included immigration, rural broadband access, and municipal cooperation. There appears to be general approval for efforts within Nova Scotia to improve our approach to immigration, and agreement that immigration should continue to be encouraged through our business communities. Rural broadband was a high priority for many, though it is difficult to predict whether significant provincial investment will be forthcoming. Municipal cooperation is an issue everywhere, though many chambers report that new councillors throughout Nova Scotia have been elected with mandates to cooperate more with their neighbours. So, there is reason for optimism.
Your chamber will continue to pursue province-wide cooperation on these matters, and others that may benefit our members. We view such cooperation as vital to reaching the goals set forth in the One Nova Scotia Report, a document that continues to serve as a valuable blueprint for growing our provincial economy. On the heels of a very successful Fall Dinner and Awards Gala where we celebrated business success with over 150 of our members, we know there is strength in numbers – together we can make changes to improve our communities and our businesses. Let us know what your priorities are via our Facebook poll (https://poll.fbapp.io/policy-priorities-for-the-strait-area) or by replying to this letter.
We invite your feedback on all of these points, and hope that you will continue to help make our region a great place to live, work, and invest.
Together in business,
Adam Rodgers, past-president,
Strait Area Chamber of Commerce,