Chamber helps members deal with new laws, carbon tax issue

The past year was an active one for the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce, as they helped members deal with the new cannabis laws, lobbied against the upcoming carbon tax, and held events such as the WEYBEX Awards, the President’s Dinner and the Farmer Appreciation Banquet.

Chamber manager Twila Walkeden shared comments on how this year went and the plans they have for the coming year as they serve their membership.

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“The chamber grew in the past year,” said Walkeden. “We did see some members depart, but we always gain new members.”

Currently, at the start of the new year, there are 195 members in the Chamber of Commerce.

During the year, the chamber has brought in various speakers to talk to the members, and one of the services they provided was a seminar for how small businesses should prepare for the new cannabis laws, which took effect on Oct. 17.

“We had a company come in from Edmonton who specializes in training businesses. A lot of businesses realized their policies needed upgrading. That’s an example of where the chamber can provide resources where the businesses wouldn’t be able to on their own,” said Walkeden, noting larger firms in the community, such as those with a national corporate presence, have the resources on hand to deal with an issue like this, “but small businesses don’t, and they needed to understand what the new laws were about and what their responsibilities are as employers.”

A successful edition of the WEYBEX awards for business excellence was held, and two businesses, Vortex Plumbing and Crescent Point Energy, advanced on to the ABEX provincial awards ceremony. Neither of the businesses won in their respective categories, said Walkeden, but the exposure they got from winning locally and being nominees at the provincial level was a very good opportunity for them.

An important milestone this past year was having Weyburn named for the second year in a row as the “Best Place to Live on the Prairies”, by MoneySense magazine, after they did a comprehensive survey of some 415 communities across Canada, including all major cities. Weyburn’s national ranking went from fifth to 33rd, but the city is still No. 1 for the Prairies, as well as the best place to raise a family on the Prairies.

An important aspect of the chamber’s role is to lobby on their members’ behalf to the three levels of government, and Walkeden noted they had meetings with representatives from all levels, including with MP Dr. Robert Kitchen at the federal level, and MLA Dustin Duncan at the provincial level. Locally, they also met with the RM and City of Weyburn on various local issues.

“Some of the discussions we had at the provincial level included the carbon tax and the PST changes, which were then partially reversed,” said Walkeden.

At the municipal level, an important issue the chamber discussed with the City was their revamping of the development levy. The City gave the chamber a draft of the bylaw wording, and the chamber had discussions about what the impact on small businesses would be.

“We were able to give them an indication of how much burden small businesses can take if they want to add to or expand their business. The City needs to understand where the break-even point is. They certainly took into consideration all of our points,” said Walkeden, adding they are satisfied with the levy that the City has adopted as their policy.

“We’ve always enjoyed good relations with the City and RM,” added Walkeden.

Looking ahead at 2019, the impending carbon tax will be a major issue, and Walkeden noted the chamber will be watching the outcome of an appeals court hearing in mid-February for the province of Saskatchewan.

The Weyburn Chamber of Commerce agrees with the position taken by the Saskatchewan Chamber in opposing the carbon tax, and in suggesting there are better ways to address the environmental issues without hurting the economy, such as looking at the “Made in Saskatchewan” policy developed by the province.

The chamber will also be watching for the provincial budget when it comes down in March, and are hopeful for an announcement soon regarding the new acute-care hospital for Weyburn.

“It’s needed here, and we hope there will be an announcement in the near future about that,” said Walkeden.

New for the Weyburn Chamber in 2019 will be “Coffee with the Chamber” informal roundtable discussions on various issues, which will be held in the chamber’s boardroom at their Third Street office downtown.

For the initial session, a local oilman will be discussing the current situation facing the oil industry, and “what we can do to weather the storm,” she said, noting local businesses are being impacted by the downturn in the industry, but maybe don’t completely understand why, such as why there is such a huge gap in oil prices.

The breakfast information sessions offered by the chamber is being renamed “Handshakes and Hashbrowns”, said Walkeden, and will continue to be offered by the chamber. The first one of the new year will be in February, with a presentation by the Petroleum Technology Research Centre, which will touch on the impact of the oil industry on the local economy.

A change is also coming for the Chamber’s Fair Parade in July, as it will be moved from its usual Monday time slot to Thursday, July 4, as the chamber seeks to work with the Weyburn Ag Society more on future events.

The change came about primarily because Monday will be Canada Day, and the chamber didn’t want to hold the parade on the national holiday. The Weyburn Fair will be a seven-day event this year, from June 30 to July 6.

“We’re not trying to compete with the Ag Society, but to work with them to bring more people to the city to enjoy their events,” said Walkeden.