The St. John’s Board of Trade has a new chair, but that doesn’t mean the organization will back down from its stance on the province’s spending problem.
“The spending of the province is a difficult thing, there’s no easy answers here, but we’re calling on the politicians to make the tough decisions and to make the tough choices we need in order to get to the right place as a province with our fiscal situation,” says Andrea Stack, who replaced Dorothy Keating as chair following the board’s annual general meeting in conjunction with its annual business development summit and trade show on Thursday at the St. John’s Convention Centre.
Stack takes on the role at a time when the organization’s relationship with the government — and by extension, with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE) — is strained following Keating and the board’s publicly stated position that it was irresponsible for the government to have negotiated a collective agreement with the union that included a no-layoff clause.
That set off a war of words between the two parties, which included threats on the part of NAPE president Jerry Earle to endorse a boycott of board of trade member businesses.
Stack makes it clear the board’s issue has never been with NAPE, but with a provincial government that has taken some actions to address the fiscal situation, but hasn’t acted on its promise to get spending under control.
“That was two years ago and we really feel like they haven’t addressed that enough and that’s what we’re looking for,” she says.
And despite what some critics may believe, Stack says, as the advocacy group for the St. John’s business community, the board wants the fiscal dialogue between stakeholders and partners to be respectful.
“I think Newfoundlanders are resilient, smart individuals and that we can come up with the solutions and there are opportunities out there — we’ve heard a lot about that this morning from our speakers — and I think that we need to start looking and talking about solutions and having the positive conversation to get where we need to be.”
Also on the board’s radar in the year ahead is a focus on the province’s ageing demographic and how it will affect the business community.
“A lot of business owners are set to retire over the next number of years and we need to know there’s going to be people there that are there to take over the businesses. When we look at the demographics, there’s definitely solutions, but we need some planning to come into place.”
The board is also looking closely at immigration and what is needed in the business community to get people to not only come to the province, but stay here. To that end, the board recently launched a connector program that aims to connect young professionals or graduates with more experienced business owners.
“That is there now to help young professionals that don’t necessarily have the network, they didn’t grow up in St. John’s and they don’t have the connections, or maybe they grew up in the St. John’s and don’t have the connections in the business area that they’re interested in,” says Stack, noting the initiative has since been expanded to Grand Falls-Windsor and Corner Brook through those towns’ respective chambers of commerce.
The rest of the board of directors include Pennecon chief legal officer Janis Byrne as senior vice-chair, Wadden Peddigrew Hogan law partner Andrew Wadden as first vice-chair and KMK Capital CEO Justin Ladha as second vice-chair.
Jennifer Clement, partner at KPMG, replaces Deloitte’s Kendra MacDonald as secretary-treasurer.
New to the board as directors are SNC Lavalin recruitment adviser Alex Gibson, Strategic Deliverables Consulting management consultant Glenn Janes and McInnes Cooper regional lead partner Neil Pittman.