There is an employment issue across the country — an increasing labour shortage. As well, most jobs, including new ones, are in the small business realm.

Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism Diane Ablonczy spoke to the Kings-Hants Conservative Association Tuesday evening, June 24.

She noted, “small business is the backbone of the economy.” The majority of workers are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises. “If you make small business vibrant and growing,” she said, “you’ll have a strong economy.”

But there is a growing labour shortage, she said. “In some parts of the country, you can’t go down the street without seeing ‘help wanted’ signs.”

Citing the recent research work of Brian Lee Crowley of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), Ablonczy said the labour force is due to peak this year, with an intake of 250,000 people. However, by 2011 that will decline to about 70,000, and 20,000 by 2015.

Immigration is a solution, but an intake of 250,000 immigrants doesn’t take into consideration non-working family members. As well, she noted, “every developed country is competing for them. There’s huge competition.”

Ablonczy pointed out as well that Crowley found Canada’s social programs are aimed at serving those who are not working, not long-term employment and labour needs. “So the government has to rethink its social responsibilities.”

Not an issue

Ablonczy said, “unemployment is not going to be an issue when we have about full employment.” In this situation, the emphasis will be on worker retention, labour skills, and value chains within and outside the country.

Responding to a question on job training and education, Ablonczy said the government has put additional funds into that field, but acknowledged that it’s up to individuals to show incentive to take advantage of them and join the workforce.

As for the new immigration rules that would help application processing fit the country’s employment and social needs, Ablonczy said that those given preference would not have to leave their immediate families at home. That would be counterproductive in seeking qualified people and would be inhumane.

Speaking on tourism, Ablonczy said the value of the national tourism industry in the economy exceeds that of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It’s one of the four growth world sectors, along with energy, telecommunications and information technology.

International tourism will double by 2020, she noted, and “Canada is uniquely positioned to get a big chunk of it.”

Ablonczy has represented a Calgary riding since 1993, first with the Reform Party, then the Canadian Alliance, and now the Conservatives. She told the audience that she got into politics because she was tired of public deficit financing and was upset with the way politicians were acting.

Proud of accomplishments

Ablonczy said she is proud of the accomplishments of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, including the $200 billion in tax cuts that have helped buoy the economy despite the current problems in the United States. As well, the government has paid down $37 billion of the national debt and there is a $33 billion infrastructure strategy.

The armed forces have been revived, Ablonczy noted, and Canada is staking its place at the table in the international scene.

Working with people of whatever political stripe, Ablonczy said the aim is to ensure growth in a big country with a small population and a big economy.

Responding to a question on the Liberals’ suggested carbon tax policy, Ablonczy said that no one knows the consequences yet. In some countries where it was tried, consumption declined initially only to level off again.

As well, Canada contributed only two per cent of the CO2 emission, so Canadians have little effect on the overall picture and given that Canada is a big, cold country, the carbon use is only going to go up regardless.

At the same time, efforts have to be made to protect the environment, she said. After all, the growing tourism industry depends upon it.

“We want to do our part,” she said. “But we want to be smart about it.”