FORT FRANCES—The Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce held its 72nd-annual general meeting last Thursday-Saturday at La Place Rendez-Vous, seeing a total of 40 registered attendees and presenters come here from all corners of the region.
In addition to getting up-to-date on topics relevant to economic development, the region, and Chamber of Commerce business, the NOACC board got down to passing a number of resolutions Saturday morning, including a call for a review of Canada Border Services Agency procedures and requirements for entering Canada.
Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce president Christine Denby said the resolution was noteworthy as it was brought forward by Chamber member Jerry Fisher, owner of Grassy Narrows Lodge who also represents the Northwestern Ontario Tourism Association (NWOTA).
“He came to us and had already researched it all. It was great how important he sees the Chamber and NOACC as a mechanism for lobbying,” Denby noted. “It was one of the few that got passed that quickly because it was so well-written.
“I really like the idea that one of our members came to us and said, ‘Here, endorse this,’ and it went right to NOACC and it’s going to go somewhere,” added Denby.
“It shows something’s being done. We’re not just doing ‘Quest for the Best.’”
The resolution stems from “the economy of Northwestern Ontario is severely impacted by the attitude and actions of the three western Ontario ports of entry [Fort Frances/Rainy River/Pigeon River], with incidents of business owners, property owners, and tourists not being allowed in Canada to respectively run their business, use their property, or vacation in the area.
“This is due to stricter enforcement of the minor criminal policy at the three port of entries than elsewhere in Canada, with no standard protocol for addressing individuals with minor criminal offences.
“There’s also been reports of complaints from visitors and tourist operators regarding ‘rude, disrespectful, and unprofessional behaviour’ on the part of CBSA staff at these ports.”
With the resolution, NOACC recommended that:
•CBSA implement standardized practices for the enforcement of minor criminality laws across all Canadian ports of entry;
•CBSA clearly communicate, in writing, any and all relevant changes in enforcement policies and practices six months prior to implementation;
•CBSA and associated federal agencies investigate and implement a system of policies and practices that allow visitors with a minor criminal background to visit Canada;
•CBSA hire and train qualified agents for the three ports of entry to administer and process visitors with “special circumstances” on a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour basis; and
•the Government of Canada implement a series of short-term solutions to address selected categories of “minor criminality” and thus facilitate border crossing (e.g., surrendering driver’s licence, surrendering passport, utilizing an bondsman, photographing and fingerprinting, etc.) for those that have paid their debt to society.
NOACC delegates passed a total of 12 new resolutions that will become NOACC policy for the next two years. They incorporate areas important to northern business, including business and municipal tax rebates, increased supply and reduced pricing of electricity, and the adoption of competitive mining strategies and clean coal technologies in Northwestern Ontario.
NOACC also supported the establishment of a Northwestern Ontario Policy Institute, Regional Development Authority and Enhancement Committee, and unanimously favoured an increase in the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund from $60 million to $100 million per year.
“As a Chamber, it was a great opportunity to see NOACC, as the ‘Voice of Business in Northwestern Ontario,’ truly in action,” said Denby.
The full wording of NOACC’s resolutions will be posted on its website (www.noaccvoice.com) in the near future.
Also during the meeting, the 2007/2008 NOACC executive was elected for a one year term. They include president Barry Streib (Thunder Bay), president elect Sabrina Donahue-Lake (Dryden), vice-president Katherine Alton (Geraldton), vice-president Dick MacKenzie (Sioux Lookout), and vice-president/finance Dennis Buset (Thunder Bay).
< *c>Other business
In addition to NOACC business, attendees heard several presenters all day Friday, including:
•Pat Brett, referendum resource officer with Elections Ontario, who explained the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) referendum;
•Abitibi-Consolidated regional manager Doug Murray, who spoke on the recent attacks on the forestry industry by Greenpeace;
•an update on the “Common Voice” initiative by Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association vice-president Gary Gamsby;
•a presentation on trends, opportunities, and priorities in the labour market from the North Superior Training Board;
•an update on Ontario Chamber of Commerce activities by Scott McCammon, OCC vice-president of communications and stakeholder relations;
•an update from provincially-appointed Northwestern Ontario economic development facilitator Dr. Robert Rosehart; and
•Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Ken Boshcoff, who gave an update on issues, such as the “Buy Canada” protectionism policy for transportation he’s lobbying for.
And as a show of thanks, the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce made donations to the Fort Frances Museum in the names of each of the presenters.
During the dinner Friday night, at which some attendees dressed the part of the conference theme “We’re looking for the ultimate tourist,” they also heard keynote speaker Jack Allston talk about “Global Trends of Economic Development: Impact on Northern Ontario and Its Business Community.”
Winnipeg comedian Dean Jenkinson entertained afterwards.
“As a Chamber, we thought it was a great success,” said Denby, speaking of the annual general meeting in general. “Delegates who attended our mix-and-mingle at the Fort Frances Museum [on Thursday evening] were very impressed by our facility.
“Delegates and guests had nothing but good comments for the meeting and Fort Frances in general,” she added. “There were many good presentations, excellent networking opportunities, as well wonderful entertainment provided by comedian Dean Jenkinson [on Friday evening].”
Delegates met Saturday morning to discuss more NOACC board business and pass the aforementioned resolutions, then departed around noon to go back to Thunder Bay, Geraldton, Atikokan, Dryden, Kenora, and Sioux Lookout.
(Fort Frances Times)