We have had the opportunity to welcome several Cabinet Ministers and both Pacific and National caucus to the Okanagan, a clear demonstration of the commitment by our government to listen and work with us to support and grow our local and regional economy.
I want to thank Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Alaina Lockhart, MP, for spending a week here in the Okanagan and getting to know the people and the issues in our riding.
Together, Alaina and I attended the Canadian Accelerator Summit and the BC Tourism Industry Conference, where we met with a number of great local businesses, and stopped by Okanagan College to speak with some of the folks auditioning for Dragons’ Den.
We also had the opportunity to celebrate International Women’s Day by sitting down and talking with local women entrepreneurs from our community.
The number of private businesses majority-owned by women in the small and medium sized enterprise landscape has grown in Canada, and women in Canada are more involved in business start-ups than in most other OECD countries, yet they are less likely than male entrepreneurs to seek to grow their businesses and to export.
Alaina’s visit provided an opportunity to discuss the barriers that are preventing growth, and to highlight the proposals in Budget 2018 that will help women entrepreneurs access talent, networks, expertise, and $1.4 billion in financing through the new Women Entrepreneurship Strategy.
Our community also welcomed Minister of Defence, the honorable Harjit Singh Sajjan, back to the Okanagan.
While here, the Minister announced the launch of the Full-Time Summer Employment program for CAF Reservists, supporting our commitment to employing new and recently enrolled members of the Reserves; and participated in a roundtable with our Okanagan orchardists to discuss issues surrounding the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).
According to the Canadian Horticulture Council, Canadian farmers feed 36 million Canadians and people around the world, employ 2.3M Canadians, and contribute $108 Billion to Canada’s GDP.
Additionally, last year’s federal budget committed to growing agri-food exports to $75 billion by 2025.
Both Minister Sajjan and I recognize that in order to maintain growth and expand exports, our growers must be able to count on programs like SAWP to fill their labour needs in time for their growing and harvest seasons. We are working to improve current delays and ensuring our growers are supported.
Rounding out his visit, Minister Sajjan also had the opportunity to visit the UBC Okanagan campus for a discussion of innovation in advanced manufacturing and composite materials and a tour of STAR research labs.
As the Minister observed, cutting edge equipment for our CAF women and men often starts in the lab through collaboration between academia and industry. That is why Budget 2018 is providing historic funding for research and innovation through collaboration, support UBCO researchers and encouraging innovative approaches like UNCO’s Learning Factory.
Thank you to everyone who took the time out of their busy schedules to make these visits worthwhile. You have once again demonstrated that the Okanagan is a driving force in Canadian entrepreneurship and innovation and making an essential contribution to economic growth for the benefit of the whole country.
Stephen Fuhr is the Member of Parliament for Kelowna-Lake Country