Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

I am a small business owner based in Cambridge, Ontario.  Along with my partners, we operate two manufacturing operations employing a total of about 25 people.

 

I am proud of all of the response of our political leaders to this crisis on all levels – local, provincial and federal.  They have taken a sober and analytical approach to the immediate needs of the citizens of this country.

 

Their willingness to commit funds, resources and support to our front line workers, small businesses and all in need will get Canada through this ordeal.

 

As a business owner, my top priority is always looking ahead to determine how I can not only succeed; but avoid unexpected disruption to my team; and minimize our potential for risk of any kind.

 

This is where I think the business community needs more support from our leaders.

 

The question of when we should re-open for business is open for debate.  The leaders in Canada, USA and abroad have differing opinions on this matter. 

 

There is only one question on my mind – what is required for me to do business in a way that will be safe for my team, clients and supply chain?  This is the question that must be answered prior to our return to regular business.

 

There is no doubt in my mind that the scientists of the world will determine when it should happen; using the tools and expertise available to them.  It brings me comfort to know that our Canadian politicians are being guided by science in their decision making process on these issues.  

 

However, there is another component to this decision that I think we are neglecting.  Whenever we return to work, it will be to a new business landscape.  There are new risks, new considerations and a higher expectation from the community for business owners to provide a safe working environment.  As a community, we need to determine what will be required to have in place prior to a return to “regular” business. Until we have a vaccine / “herd immunity”, do workers require masks to be safe?  Do we need to require hand sanitizer at entry points to work areas and require all team members to use?  In Taiwan, there are some common practise expectations for citizens that have allowed them to maintain a very low infection level of COVID without restriction on children being at school, or businesses operating normally.  What can we learn from their example that can help us to prepare to resume our work?

 

If Toyota, Honda, or even my business or a local hair salon re-opened in two or four weeks without making any adaptations to how the risk of COVID transmission is controlled; how will we have made progress against this disease?

 

The saying “time heals all wounds” has never resonated with me.  Time doesn’t heal all wounds; but time does offer us the opportunity to prepare for what is coming at  us next.  We know that the economy will have to resume prior to COVID being completely eradicated.  The question is – what will we as a community do to mitigate the risk of another peak of infection as we make that return to the new normal?

 

There is no question that children will have to return to school; I am less concerned about when that happens than I am about what the plan is to keep them safe and healthy once they are there.  We have the example of how Taiwan has made this work; kids wearing masks and having plastic cubicle style dividers between desks during meals.  Will we use this time to learn from their example and adapt our own action plan for what is required to be in place prior to resuming their in class education?  My hope is that we do. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is starting to gather experts and business owners to start this discussion.  I am proud to be a part of this discussion; I look forward to learning and planning together with others to determine how we as a business community can plan to get back to business.  This is new territory for everyone – consumers, business owners, employees, politicians, government, youth and seniors.  If we can agree on the supports that are needed to re-open in a safe manner, the time spent until that happens can be spent planning and making the required changes to how we do business to accommodate the new reality we live in.  If as a community we neglect this opportunity to plan and adapt, we are destined to repeat this cycle of the pandemic again in the not so distant future.

 

This is work that our Chambers of Commerce, professional associations, industry associations, regulatory bodies or governing standard registrars, perhaps the labour unions and school boards are well poised to do.  They have connections to business in their sector, a communication channel with a broad range of companies in a vertical market, and the support of their members.  If we all pressure these organizations in our own industries to get to work on our behalf, we can start planning for the future.

 

It’s time to change the question from “when can we re-open” to “what is required for a safe and healthy re-opening in my workplace to get through this crisis”?

 

Let’s get to work.

 

Kristen Danson

Managing Partner

MitoGraphics Inc. / Swift Components Corp

519 240-4205 Direct

 

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Never in the history of trade negotiations have we seen a country’s largest, most important business  association openly call its government’s trade proposals “dangerous” and say they should be withdrawn. That is exactly what the U.S. Chamber of  Commerce did yesterday.

 

Canada’s negotiators have done their very best in a challenging environment. They have reached out to Canadian people and business, they have extended a warm hand of friendship to their U.S. and Mexican counterparts and they have tabled sensible, generous proposals to improve NAFTA. But, we all have to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will withdraw from NAFTA, based on the poisonous proposals U.S. negotiators have presented.

The craziest is a sunset clause that would terminate NAFTA after five years unless all three parties agree it should continue. Imagine the uncertainty of having all three countries debate the merits of trade every five years. How could anyone plan to build a factory with a useful life of 30 years? NAFTA would cease to exist for the purposes of long-term business investment.

 

The second troubling proposal concerns the rules of origin. Currently, 62.5% of a car or a truck must be produced in the U.S., Mexico or Canada for it to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. The U.S.’s proposal would require that 50% of the vehicle be produced in the U.S. This would be immensely harmful to the North American auto industry. It’s impossible to replace long-established multi-billion- dollar supply chains so most companies would simply pay the generally low U.S. tariffs. Manufacturers would then source more inputs from Asia.

 

The third concern is the administration’s proposal to eliminate Chapter 19, the process for dispute  settlement for anti-dumping and countervailing duties.
 
This comes at a time where the U.S. wants to impose a ludicrous 300% tariff on Bombardier jets, which is above even what Boeing had asked for. Chapter 19 is a critical safety net because it enables an independent, binational panel of five arbiters, agreed by both parties, to determine whether or not the duties have merit based on U.S. domestic laws. This is a must-have for Canada.

 

The final jaw-dropping proposal would drastically reshape NAFTA’s procurement rules. U.S. negotiators are proposing a “dollar for dollar” approach to North American procurement markets. That would mean “the total value of contracts the Canadians and Mexicans could access, together, couldn’t exceed the total value that U.S. firms could win in those two countries.” This is quite simply the worst offer ever featured in a trade agreement and is worse than basic access to government procurement offered under the WTO. Canada would be better off with no agreement at all than signing on to this nutty nonsense.

 

At the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, we salute the government’s efforts on NAFTA. The government has done everything possible: our negotiators have been outstanding, Minister Freeland and the entire Cabinet have invested enormous time in building relationships in the U.S., and the PM has invested his political capital and considerable charm to go to bat for NAFTA.

 

ut, if the U.S. administration is not serious about negotiating a mutually beneficial agreement, then we believe no deal is preferable to a bad deal. This is because a trade agreement will last many years. The Trump administration, we’re not so sure…

 

 

For more information, please contact:

Hendrik Brakel

Senior Director, Economic, Financial & Tax Policy

613.238.4000 (284) 

hbrakel@chamber.ca

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We remain optimistic that NAFTA 2.0 could be a huge boost to the economies of North America because there is so much to be gained. But we’re also starting to worry: anti-trade rhetoric and posturing could veer the talks towards trouble. There are a lot of contentious issues to resolve in an unreasonably short deadline. Trade, in general, and NAFTA, in particular, are massively unpopular with Trump supporters.

 

And the decision-making in Washington D.C. around trade issues has become increasingly chaotic, with U.S. business groups pushing back aggressively against nationalists in the administration. We’ve already seen an executive order to withdraw from NAFTA, where President Trump told the Washington Post, “I looked forward to terminating. I was going to do it.” It was the uproar from U.S. business that forced the Trump Administration to reverse its position.

 

And again this week, the U.S. government appeared poised to make a dangerous decision on steel tariffs. The Commerce department was supposed to brief Congress on the tariffs last Friday, but the meeting was cancelled. Officials are now scrambling to alter the decision after ferocious blowback from U.S. business.

 

The lesson is clear: the most important group advocating trade is not politicians or (god help us) economists. It’s the business community because businesses understand the real world consequences, the jobs that depend on trade. These folks have a very powerful message that resonates with the general public as well as local members of Congress and Senators. And they are the most credible on the benefits of trade.

 

It’s exciting to see business at the forefront of this campaign, and we need your help. The Canadian Chamber is organizing visits to key U.S. states, including Tennessee, Texas and Georgia. (We’ve already been to Virginia and South Carolina.) We’ll be meeting local businesses and U.S. political leaders to raise awareness of the benefits of the Canada-U.S. relationship and to point out the risks of damaging it.

 

Our CEO, Perrin Beatty, recently pointed out, “When you go to Washington and meet politicians on Capitol Hill, you’re just another foreign lobbyist. But when you go out to their congressional district in Memphis, with Canadian business leaders who are investing in the local economy, importing their goods and hiring their workers, then you are priority number one.”

 

Participants are needed to make this strategy effective. Businesses, large and small, in all sectors are invited. We would also appreciate if you could provide us with information about your relationships in those states— the key suppliers, major investments, etc. Canadian firms with local offices in these states can help by alerting the local branches of our visits and asking them to participate in events or perhaps host site tours, etc. If you’d like to participate or join any of our delegations, please email us.

 

We’re also playing a direct role in Canada’s NAFTA negotiations. Our CEO met last week with the Cabinet Committee and our Vice President is on the Chief Negotiator’s consultative committee. Our framework NAFTA brief has been submitted to the Global Affairs department. We’ll be providing additional information to our trade negotiators in the coming weeks and months. If you have trade issues that you want us to bring to Canada’s NAFTA negotiators, please email us.

 

Let’s put the power of the network behind NAFTA. Our economies and our jobs depend on it.

 

For more information, please contact :

Hendrik Brakel

Senior Director, Economic, Financial & Tax Policy

613.238.4000 (284) | hbrakel@chamber.ca

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Poor Europe! She suffered years of economic stagnation and austerity. Costly government bailouts and a drawn-out banking crisis sapped her confidence. Terrorism and an unprecedented surge of migrants poisoned political debate and encouraged extremists. The final insult came when the British voted to leave her.

 

By the end of 2016, popular wisdom was that Europe’s politics were so shattered and her people so fed up, that upcoming elections would see right-wing extremists swept to power from France to the Netherlands, Austria and Italy. Even the gentle Scandinavians were eager to elect loons!

 

Except that didn’t happen. The elections came and went. The Austrians and the Dutch elected moderates by healthy margins. The Trudeau-like French centrist Mr. Macron won the French presidency by a staggering 30%, in a victory so crushing that his opponent Mme. Le Pen announced her intention to change the name of her political party. Far from a wave of Trumps, Europe is governed by sensible moderates (with the exception of Orban in Hungary).

 

And recently Europe’s economy has gone from strength to strength. All 28 members of the EU saw growth last year, and this will continue through 2017 and 2018.

 

In the first quarter of 2017, the European Union’s economy grew at a healthy 1.9%, more than double the U.S. quarterly growth of 0.7%. European business confidence is near an all-time high for manufacturers and services. More importantly, business is spending – European investment will grow by 3% this year and 3.5% next year. And best of all: European consumers are a happy bunch with low debt levels and money to burn. Last week, consumer confidence hit the highest level since June 2007. Happy days are here again!

 

Canadian businesses see the opportunities. Hudson’s Bay will invest $570 million in Europe this year and are targeting sales growth of 20%. The CEO Jerry Storch says profits will grow even faster than sales.

 

So far in 2017, some of Canada’s fastest growing export markets can be found in Europe. Exports to Germany are up 9%, sales to France are up 14% and the Netherlands are up 10%. And Canada’s investments in Europe are even larger. The total sales by Canadianowned companies operating in Europe exceeds $100 billion. That’s more than triple the value of Canada’s direct exports to the region.

 

Investors have noticed that Europe has her confidence back, and she’s even got a bit of swagger. When Mr. Trump promoted Brexit to other EU countries, the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said “I’m going to promote the independence of Ohio and Texas.” Europe has also started flexing her muscles and is about to embark on a new defence spending spree.

 

And thanks to far-sighted trade ministers, Ed Fast and Chrystia Freeland, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will come into force soon. We’ve all been so focused on the NAFTA renegotiation and those fabulous 3 a.m. tweets. Let’s not lose sight of a spectacular opportunity for Canadian business. With 500 million people and GDP of $18.5 trillion, the EU is the world’s largest economy, so a return to stability and growth will have a stimulating effect on the whole global economy. Welcome back Europe!

 

For more information, please contact :

 

Hendrik Brakel Senior Director, Economic, Financial & Tax Policy

613.238.4000 (284) | hbrakel@chamber.ca

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