Summoned to an economic roundtable meeting at Hunni’s Urban Boutique in Langley on Friday, Anita Huberman thought it was just another gathering of local business people.
She was surprised to walk in and find Prime Minister Stephen Harper, two local MPs, and six other business leaders from Langley and Abbotsford.
Huberman, the CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, was given the opportunity to sound off on issues important to the area.
That she did.
One of her lead points of concern was cross-border shopping – the number of people heading south rather than shopping locally.
One of the key problems is an 18- to 20-per-cent tariff on products imported to local shops from the U.S., Huberman said, making them more expensive to buy here.
Harper wanted some guarantees that retailers would reduce the prices of their merchandise if those tariffs were reduced, Huberman said.
He was also concerned about what kind of impact that would have on the federal budget.
She also raised the issue of free trade agreements with India and the European Union.
“He’s hoping for some developments this year, but it’s a slow process with India,” Huberman told The Leader Tuesday. “The EU will happen more quickly, he feels.”
Huberman is also asking for a national $10-a-day subsidy for child care for people making less than $40,000 annually.
“We want a child care policy,” Huberman said. “We’re the only developed nation in the world that does not have a child-care policy.”
Harper pointed out the provinces cannot expect the “Cadillac” child-care policy the federal government funds for Quebec.
“He said he understood the economic rationale,” Huberman said.
Harper urged chambers of commerce to hold the government’s feet to the fire on the issue.
She pointed out that a resolution asking for a national child-care subsidy didn’t get the blessing of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
It will be reintroduced in September, she said.
Huberman also raised the issue of climbing fees for retailers when credit cards are used.
Harper told her it’s very difficult to manage Mastercard and Visa.
He said when certain types of protectionism are introduced, the free market can be compromised.
“It wasn’t something that he felt he could comment on at this point in time,” Huberman said, “even though he knows it’s a critical concern to business.”
Harper was joined at the economic roundtable discussion by Langley MP Mark Warawa and MP James Moore, the minister of Canadian Heritage and official languages.
Joining the politicians at the meeting were Christi Hunniford and Curtis Stratuliak, the owners of Hunni’s Urban Boutique, as well as another Langley businessman, Satya Bernhausen of Bernhausen Specialty Automotive.
Also in attendance were Gerri Charles, the owner of Abbotsford’s Champagne and Lace, Soon Kim of the Newgen Group of Companies, which is based out of Abbotsford, and Eric Hou of Asia Pacific Farms, which is based out of Aldergrove.
Huberman said the meeting was such an “amazing opportunity” with just the seven business leaders getting a chance to speak with the prime minister.
She said she is optimistic the federal government will act on some of the local concerns.