Last year was a rough one for the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, but CEO Steve McLellan is confident they’re ready to move forward in 2015.
He said that between trouble with the railway getting crops to market, a need for replacing old infrastructure and rectifying the labour deficit, this year is going to be a busy, but hopefully, productive one.
It was a good season for crops last year, but producers had a hard go with the transportation angle.
“A lot of people worked hard. The rail companies, the shippers all worked hard to get it out of the province, but were challenged in doing so,” said McLellan. “Cold weather and too much product to get into the available space, but we’re working with the rail companies and some of the agriculture companies to make sure it does’t happen again.”
A study was commissioned with the commerce board of Canada to get a better idea of the value of rail service in the province and with that information, they’ll now be able to make recommendations to shippers to move their products more fluidly in the future.
“We know that we’re shipping more oil than ever on rail. We know that we’ve also got the capacity and expectation to continue to ship more things like potash and grains and so on,” said McLellan.
“And so as we do that, as our product supply increases, we need to make sure that we have the conduits to get it to market. We’re an inland province, we need rail and there’s lots of opportunity to make it more fluid.”
As for the labour shortage, the province took a hit when the federal government made drastic changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program, but McLellan is confident Saskatchewan will persevere. The decision was bad for both employers and foreign workers who wished to stay in the province, but businesses have found ways to work around it.
“Sometimes that means shorter hours, sometimes it means business closure, but often it means creative solutions that just make it less profitable perhaps, and harder for the businesses, but they’re not folding because of it,” McLellan said.
Problems with old infrastructure is also a concern in the province. Some of the waterlines in Regina, for example, are around 100 years old, and with more people travelling on the roads, the wear and tear is becoming much more significant.
“As we all grow, as our infrastructure gets older, we need to find ways to create new infrastructure. We need to renew those that are there, from water and sewer to roadways, and what we’re suggesting is there needs to be a new way of looking at it,” said McLellan.
“New creative opportunities for private sector funding, perhaps, or community-based bonds, that sort of thing, need to be looked at because the ability of the federal and provincial governments to cost share this is nowhere near what the need reflects.”
He said when you have to build new infrastructure, as well as replace much of what is already there, it may be expensive but he’s confident creative solutions will be found.