MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Trade Agreements in the Legislature

Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about Trade Agreements in the Legislature. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.

With thanks to the member, I’d like to pay tribute to the hard work, the ingenuity and the gutsy attitude of small businesses — small businesses who can benefit from the opportunities and the protections that free trade agreements are intended to provide.

After all, in B.C., one in five jobs is generated through trade, and $39 billion worth of goods were sold globally in 2016. Small business represents 98 percent of all businesses in B.C., and collectively, they create over a million jobs. In 2015, there were 388,500 small businesses in B.C., with over 80 percent operating with less than five employees.

[Mr. Speaker in the chair.]

This government is working to build a strong economy in every corner of the province, where small businesses thrive, workers have well-paying jobs and people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. With the kind of statistics I’ve just outlined, it is clear that supporting small businesses to succeed, first at home and then on to distant horizons, will mean a better B.C. for everyone.

The Canadian free trade agreement website outlines the top five benefits of the new deal. I’d like to focus on the benefit to local businesses. To quote the CFTA, it “will help Canadian businesses scale up at home so they can more effectively compete globally.”

May the House please consider the recent rollout of the Ministry of Agriculture’s $5 million fruit tree competitiveness fund. Family-run orchards and the sector as a whole will be supported to modernize their practices and share their oh-so-delicious apples, cherries and other fruits with more customers at home and around the world. The fund’s three key focuses include research on cultivars and disease and pest management; new infrastructure; and export-market opportunities and market-development research. By the way, the fund will also help with the successful replant program, which I’m sure that the member for Penticton, opposite, will appreciate.

We’re talking about 800 growers, who produced nearly 129,000 metric tonnes of fruit in 2016, worth $116 million. This sector is challenged in the marketplace, and this fund is shining a light to a bright future for the fruit tree sector at home and abroad.

I’d also like to highlight the successful export navigator program. Thirty-six agribusinesses, 21 manufacturers, consumer goods and clean tech businesses topped the more than 100 B.C. businesses that were helped to navigate the export process and access the right services to expand their local businesses and create new, well-paying jobs in their communities. Six regional advisers are on the job throughout B.C., including in my home, the Comox Valley, where the program was originally developed by the province, in partnership with Small Business B.C., federally funded Community Futures offices and the Comox Valley Economic Development Society.

It’s so important that all sides of the House stand up for our local businesses that are competing in the national and international markets. This is why our government is helping all B.C. export businesses to diversify and expand into new markets worldwide.

As I sail across the Salish Sea on a ferry or fly over our snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, I continue to be in awe of the vast beauty of British Columbia that we are entrusted to steward. As we move further into the 21st century and strive towards a more sustainable low-carbon economy, it is critical that we support our local businesses to innovate, embrace technology and diversify so that our businesses and economy are better placed to withstand whatever challenges the future may hold.

I am confident that this government is on the job to help us along that path, to support the people of this province and to build a strong and sustainable B.C.