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Recently, the staff of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce attended the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce’s 2024 Annual Conference in Halifax. Events such as this allow us to share best practices, create contacts for supports and coalesce around issues of common concern. This conference and the role of the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce in general is representative of the role of any chamber of commerce in that the connection provided by sharing and discussing successes and concerns, in providing and learning best practices, and the overall sense of working together towards shared goals is a benefit needed in today’s business world.

The Halifax Chamber of Commerce was an excellent host, and a highlight was their partnership with SURGE for the “Accessibility Ready Lunch” to discuss the progress of the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act, passed in 2017. With New Brunswick presenting similar legislation last month, this was a very timely session to understand not only the broad range of considerations within the legislation, but equally, the opportunities presented to businesses through enhancing accessibility. We look forward to continuing to work with government, stakeholders and the business community on this priority.

After a very successful 2024 Atlantic conference, I thought it helpful to share an overview of our advocacy efforts within this larger Atlantic business community and demonstrate the power of coming together to effect change.

A Transition Message of Much Needed Context

The Honourable Perrin Beatty, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, who announced he will leave the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on August 31, attended the conference and spoke to our collection of Atlantic chambers. Mr. Beatty spoke passionately of the many strengths Canada offers and how he recognizes these most acutely when he travels internationally. Our standard of living and resources offer endless potential for trade and development of business opportunities.

Perhaps even more profound, he noted, was the respect and reverence other nations hold for our form of democracy and the benefits they recognize in our open and fair society. We were reminded that these principles, along with the ability to engage with people from different political or social positions in productive discussions, should never be taken for granted. He also noted our physical proximity and long-standing special relationship with the largest market in the free world, the United States of America. Our access to such a vast population must be utilized and continually developed through the recognition of shared goals. We can sometimes get mired in our issues and lose sight of our many advantages as Canadians.

What We Heard – Need for Alignment, Action and Support

It was a time of renewal across many chambers, and as a result, the energy and commitment to the work of chambers was high, but the obvious concerns were prevalent. Most recently, the chambers of Fredericton, Greater Moncton, and the Saint John Region united to call attention to the urgent actions needed within our province to address the long-standing housing crisis. It is simultaneously daunting and uplifting to hear of the same concerns from chamber representatives of the other Atlantic Provinces. Under the heading of best practices, it is especially encouraging to hear of the positive development numbers reported by the provinces of Nova Scotia and PEI. The fact that these chambers are concerned and struggling to keep up with the demand for housing, reaffirmed the need for our province to match the actions of its fellow provinces to assure a competitive ecosystem for housing development.

In keeping with the Atlantic theme, it is equally as obvious that in terms of health care, we are all in the same boat, but we all search to identify health care professionals from the same talent pool. It was also a very fitting time to be in the Halifax region as nearly a year to the day since the start of the terrible wildfires, the realities and concerns of climate change were also foremost for many of the chamber representatives. There does exist an entrepreneurial spirit throughout Atlantic Canada, however, recognizing the shared potential for green energy projects.

Employee identification and retention was a leading topic of chambers based on member feedback, especially concerning our higher education institutions, which act as vital talent pipelines. We learned about TPM – Talent Pipeline Management – business-created system which provides employers and their education and workforce development partners with strategies and tools to co-design talent supply chains that connect learners and workers to jobs and career advancement opportunities. By identifying the industry-specific needs as the opportunity for a specific population of talent, businesses (even competitors) with similar needs can collectively address their workforce concerns while offering clear career pathways for talent. Based on the success of other jurisdictions, we intend to explore this potential system for industries and workforce development within the Fredericton community.

Resolute Action

Another major function and benefit at the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce conference are the Atlantic Policy Resolution sessions. Individual chambers submitted original policies for presentation to the entire conference to introduce our current work and improve the resolutions before submission to the national conference. The Fredericton Chamber of Commerce has been actively engaged in issues of immigration regulations and the international student program. We view the policy resolution process as an opportunity to incorporate the principles we encourage through our advocacy, specifically the call for action and alignment of resources to support our educational institution and students, both domestic and international, to assure our local businesses prosper.

Recently, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced that international students will be able to work off-campus for up to 24 hours per week starting in September 2024. The federal government temporarily waived the previous 20-hour cap on work hours for international students during the COVID-19 pandemic to ease labour shortages. This followed a previous announcement of January 22nd, that Canada will reduce the number of new international student permits by 35 per cent this year as part of a temporary two-year cap on foreign enrolment.

A rapid increase of international students experienced nationally over the last few decades may have started with the understanding that Canada could offer a high-quality education while supporting international students, but we must recognize that many students, especially international students, are facing concerns beyond their education such as the cost of housing and other related costs.

Through our policy resolution entitled, Experiential Learning as Educational and Cost of Living Supports for International Students, the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce points to an opportunity for the federal and provincial governments, universities and local business communities to work together to continue to develop supports for all students, both domestic and international.

We know businesses need to identify future employees, and that numerous systems support cooperation with higher education institutions to develop pathways to employment. We also know that for decades, Canadian universities have been incorporating experiential learning, which is an umbrella term to describe practice-based education.

The incorporation of experiential learning applied in addition to an international student’s 24 working hours can address primary education needs, while simultaneously providing paid hours to sustain themselves and offering businesses employee identification opportunities.

Our resolution presents that the federal government create a waiver in which up to 16 hours per week of paid employment for international students (off-campus during the school term) beyond the 24-hour restrictions can be considered for educational programing as an independent study credit: experiential learning.

Moving Forward

This resolution joined numerous other resolutions submitted by chambers across Atlantic Canada addressing topics such as international trade regulations, protections of marine species, and analysis of government programs. The commonality amongst all these resolutions was the willingness of attendees to share experience and knowledge to support fellow Atlantic chambers of commerce.

Our specific resolution, and our continued efforts moving forward will exemplify the proactive and innovative opportunities that represent the necessary alignment of resources and actions on important issue areas such as health care, housing, immigration and climate change. This philosophy encourages all stakeholders to engage in an issue of identified importance, to utilize known best practices to advance existing and potential solutions within numerous issue areas. On this issue as with so many others, identifying what we know and who can contribute, can lead to so many opportunities for positive actions.

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