MP Wayne Stetski (back row, third from left) was in the valley for a Small Business Forum on March 1st. He will be relaying the information he gathered to the appropriate cabinet ministers. Photo by Nikki Fredrikson

Nine members of the business community had the opportunity to sit down with Member of Parliament Wayne Stetski and District of Invermere’s Mayor Gerry Taft to discuss concerns and challenges they’re facing on Wednesday, March 1st at Circle Caf in Invermere. The small business forum was the second of three forums Mr. Stetski is hosting in the Kootenay-Columbia riding.

One of the larger topics covered at the forum in Invermere was surrounding agriculture in the area, and the challenges with transportation of goods, regulations on herbicides and pesticides, and lack of young people involved in the industry.

I learn from every community and of course every community is quite distinct. I hadnt seen or been reminded for awhile now about the concerns around inter-provincial trade. It was interesting to hear the concerns both about the meat products and vegetable products, some of the challenges going back and forth just between Alberta and British Columbia. It is absolutely ironic that it can be easier to send produce to China than it can be at times to cross provincial borders. So that definitely needs fixing from a federal perspective, said Mr. Stetski.

Lin Egan of Winderberry Nursery brought up her concern that there needs to be more regulation on chemicals used on crops. Mr. Stetski told The Pioneer that it is a federal government responsibility to make sure chemicals that are approved are safe, which he said requires a great deal of rigour.

Ms. Egan also brought forward that if more young people don’t get involved in agriculture, the industry won’t be sustained. Mr. Stetski said agriculture needs to be encouraged in as many different ways as possible. For himself, agriculture is one of his three areas of focus as an MP and he created a private members bill to put a focus on local food.

One of the things I did to try and put a spotlight on it is introduce the private member’s bill in Parliament that would recognize the Friday before Thanksgiving every year as National Local Food Day. There’s a spotlight on just about everything else in Canada so it seemed appropriate to shine a spotlight on local food and celebrate that every year, said Mr. Stetski

Locally, Mr. Stetski said there is going to be a fair bit of funding through the Columbia Basin Trust for the Kootenay region. The funding will go into an agriculture stream to help promote and support the industrys growth in the area.

Knowing that there’s funding to help move innovation along, potentially in agriculture, I think will help encourage young people, said Mr. Stetski.

Another issue brought forward at the forum was the lack of industrial and commercial properties for businesses to grow and expand into.

You need to have commercial land, industrial land available or you really can’t expand your business. On the one hand, thats certainly important. On the other hand, there is land in the agricultural land available; what we need to do is move toward more agriculture, said Mr. Stetski.

A solution discussed to combat the lack of industrial land was for the community to work with the province to turn the old highways gravel yard in the Industrial Park into commercial land. This is already a project the District of Invermere has been working on, but has to wait until the land passes environmental checks.

Another one of the issues brought forward was regarding the provincial sales tax in border communities and the challenges business owners are having with the system itself. This wasn’t the first time Mr. Stetski heard about these issues as they were concerns brought forward at his forum in Fernie.

The second part of that seems to be a difficulty just in paying your PST. Some of the businesses in Fernie mentioned the same thing, that they found the system really quite complicated. The provincial government could look at other ways to simplify, said Mr. Stetski.

Reducing the tax or completely removing the PST tax in border communities is something Mr. Stetski said the provincial government could consider. By doing so, the government would lose the tax money from the area and executing the tax removal would be difficult to do.

The one concern that was brought forward to Mr. Steski that surprised him to hear was the challenges local businesses are facing when applying for the Canada-B.C. Job Grant. The grant program allows for non-profits and small business to get funding to have a summer student aged 15 to 30 to join their workforce.

It appears to be a timing issue and I do appreciate that the concern that was brought forward was that by the time you’re notified you have the grant money, it’s too late often to get hold of some of the people you’d like to hire, said Mr. Steski. What I’m going to do with that concern is talk to the government about trying to back up the whole process.

Moving forward, Mr. Stetski will hold one more small business forum in his riding; he will then compile all the concerns heard at each event. From there, he will create recommendations and send letters to the applicable ministers and ask for them to respond to these issues.