For MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones's second visit to the Squamish Chamber of Commerce in 2019, she was accompanied by the Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion, Mary Ng.
The stop in Squamish was part of Ng's series of meetings with small businesses and entrepreneurs from Vancouver to Whistler.
"Like many Canadians, my parents were immigrants who came to this country... They too were entrepreneurs," Ng said, as she shared that her first job was delivering Chinese food.
"We must not forget that our shared prosperity and the good quality of our life is based on our strong economy, and small businesses are at the heart of it. They contribute to the growth of great communities in our country," she said. "Local economies are built on the success of Canadian small businesses, and the importance to the local economy like here in Squamish can't be overemphasized."
As they opened the question and answer period, the crowd asked about how the province is supporting female and young entrepreneurs.
Ng said only 16 per cent of small businesses in Canada are owned or led by women, but she has been mandated to double that number by 2025 with a $2-billion investment. In turn, the potential boost to the Canadian economy is $150 billion.
The Squamish Chamber of Commerce's executive director, Louise Walker, said Squamish has a higher-than-average number of women-led businesses and entrepreneurs.
Another audience member asked about the bottleneck effect created by the delay of granting micro-cannabis licenses. When Minister Ng said it was the first she'd heard of this concern, Goldsmith-Jones responded with a smile and said, "Welcome to Squamish." The group laughed.
As the minister and MP spoke of the benefit of small businesses exporting, Ng said only 12 per cent of small businesses in Canada export their products. Of that 12 per cent, 70 per cent of those exports are to the United States. Ng said most of the work to export internationally is done when a business can export to the U.S., so why not open up your market options more.
One woman in the audience, who works in tech, said not all businesses have products they can export, especially if they are service-based. Ng responded that all businesses stand to benefit.
"In a community, there is that dependency," Ng said.
Kirby Brown, the general manager of Sea to Sky Gondola and the chair of Tourism Squamish, asked about how to assist the temporary foreign worker program.
"It's quite tricky still for small businesses who don't have the resources and the money to spend," Brown said. "The working holiday visa program, to me, is a bit of an easier one because it allows an employee... to become an employee for whoever they want."
The working holiday visa, he pointed out, is restricted to younger people and a maximum of a few years. Changing that could be an easy fix to labour shortages, Brown said, as the minister earlier pointed out that Canada's low unemployment rate means a shortage of available potential employees.
Goldsmith-Jones said the global express entry program is also good for bringing expertise to rural communities.
"In our community, even being slightly remote makes it hard to find. We have fast-tracked specialists who want to come here and have a job here," she said. "Minister [of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship] Hussen's statistics on immigration are quite astonishing at how bringing one person creates the other 30 jobs in the pipeline that we have the labour for, we just lack that expertise. That has helped businesses to grow extremely well."
Ng and Goldsmith-Jones said business owners and entrepreneurs can find more information about eligible programs at www.innovation.canada.ca.