The Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is praising Red Deer as a business-friendly community.
Richard Truscott met with Mayor Tara Veer on Wednesday afternoon, during which time they discussed issues like business property taxes, municipal spending, red tape and labour shortages.
“As a relative measure, Red Deer does pretty darn good,” Truscott said later about the city’s performance.
He cited the results of the CFIB’s annual Communities in Boom report, which has ranked Red Deer as one of the top entrepreneurial cities in Canada. The 2014 report is due out this month.
“Red Deer is in the top 10 again of 100 cities across the country.”
Truscott also spoke favourably about Veer, describing his meeting with her as one of the best he’s had with a politician during his five years with the CFIB.
“I was really impressed with her.
“It certainly seems like the mayor’s heart and her head are in the right place.”
That’s not to say Red Deer businesses are not without challenges. Truscott said labour shortages are the “Achilles heal” of the local economy.
“I think this is probably hitting home here more than in a lot of places in Alberta.”
Tightened restrictions on the temporary foreign workers program that were implemented by the federal government this spring has exacerbated the problem, he said.
“There’s a real need to roll back some of the punitive measures that the government brought in.”
Longer term, added Truscott, it’s important to change Canada’s immigration system to attract people other than the scientists and highly skilled tradespeople who are favoured now.
“We need people across all skill levels in our economy.”
A system that’s sensitive to regional labour needs would also help, he said.
Truscott also praised Red Deer for its sponsorship of a resolution at the recent Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention that called upon the province to seek improvements to the temporary foreign workers program.
The CFIB is concerned about rising municipal operating costs, including in Red Deer, said Truscott. He pointed out that the city’s operating costs rose 116 per cent from 2000 to 2012, during which time its population increased by just 40 per cent.
Veer later responded to this disparity by pointing out that Red Deer has had to boost expenditures for things like snow and ice control, and utilities.
“Because we are a small city becoming a large city, we really are at that watershed moment of having to make very key and required, but extremely expensive, infrastructure investments,” she said.
Veer added that the numbers have been skewed by such developments as Red Deer becoming a contracted ambulance service provider for Alberta Health Services, with the associated staff increases.
“While I agree that the operating costs have outstripped our population growth, there are some instances where we really were responding to a government mandate beyond our decision-making authority.”
Truscott said the CFIB has about 400 members in Red Deer. A recent survey of many of these found that 47 per cent didn’t think the local government was doing a good job of controlling municipal wage levels and 31 per cent were unhappy with their property tax levels.
Conversely, 73 per cent thought municipal bylaws and regulations were adequate or good.