Still flush with the success of recent ideas accepted by Ottawa, business groups are madly bending the ears of mandarins and ministers as the November federal budget draws near, amid an atmosphere that hasn’t been as warm since Louis St. Laurent ran his cabinet like the chairman of a corporation board. “You have to wonder,” says Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sam Hughes, “whether the current government enthusiasm for the private sector is real or political expediency. I think it’s a bit of both.” Whichever it is, business’ message is this: Economic recovery is coming, continue restraint, give job-creating incentives to business.
Last week, with Finance Minister Jean Chrétien, the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, led by head Taylor Kennedy, laid out a 33-page document that suggested: new methods to compute the three-percent inventory allowance; improved research and development measures; tax return consolidation so firms could write off losses in associated, innovating companies. “R&D measures in the last budget were fine as far as they went,” says the CMAjs Laurent Thibault, director of economics and communications, “but it was like giving a man the down payment for a $ 1 -million house. It gets him in, but it doesn't keep him there.” This week, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce meets with Chrétien to say that if the government wants economic stimulation, a personal tax cut would be the best route. Highest priority, says Hughes, is to reduce the $ 12billion federal deficit. “That is so important
that business would seek very little relief: We would join in on the restraint.”
But Chrétien hasn’t just been sitting back waiting for business to come calling. He met earlier this month in Toronto with businessmen assembled by the Board of Trade and in Winnipeg with a group headed by Soo Line Mills (1969) Ltd. Chairman Sol Kanee. At week’s end, he attended a Vancouver lunch hosted by William Hamilton, president of the Employers’ Council of British Columbia, and Monday he gathered more views in Calgary. For its part, the 15th Annual Review (and first under chairman Sylvia Ostry) of the Economic Council of Canada this week rejects the argument that business and consumer spending can take up the slack caused by government restraint. It, too, calls for stimulus through sales-tax or personal-incometax cuts. Through it all, Chrétien treats the advice with the deadly mien of a man who cannot yet comment. Budget-making demands secrecy, so he does little but question, sit back and listen. His unpaid advisers won’t know if he heard them as well Roderick McQueen
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