The Honourable Perrin Beatty is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the 200,000-member Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s largest and most representative national business association. Prior to joining the Canadian Chamber in August 2007, Perrin was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME).
A descendant of one of Canada’s most prominent manufacturing families, Perrin grew up in Fergus, Ontario and graduated from the University of Western Ontario in 1971.
Perrin was first elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative in 1972. During his 21 years in Parliament, he served as Minister in seven different portfolios, including Treasury Board, National Revenue, Solicitor General, Defence, National Health and Welfare, Communications and External Affairs.
In 1994, Perrin joined a number of private sector boards and worked as a consultant in the field of communications. He was an Honorary Visiting Professor with the Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario. From 1995 to 1999, Perrin was President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2008, Perrin was named Chancellor of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. In 2013, he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from Western University. In 2016, Perrin received an honorary degree,honoris causa from University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Perrin is also a member of the board of directors of Mitsui Canada.
Representing over 200,000 businesses, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce connects businesses of all sizes, from all sectors and from all regions of the country to advocate for public policies that will foster a strong and competitive economic environment that will benefit not only businesses but communities and families across Canada as well.
With a network of over 450 chambers of commerce and boards of trade, we are the largest and most influential business association in Canada. As the primary and vital connection between business and the federal government, our views are sought after and respected by the government, business leaders and the media thanks to our well-researched reports, analyses, position papers and policy resolutions that reflect a broad business perspective.
What is the biggest challenge that you face as President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce?
The Canadian Chamber’s mission is to promote the success of Canada’s businesses in an environment where the competition increases every day. Our biggest challenge is to ensure that governments understand the business realities and act as our partners in creating economic prosperity instead of creating obstacles to business success.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has to often make tough decisions when it comes to doing what’s best for the Canadian economy. Can you tell us about some of the difficult choices that you had to make as President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce?
The Canadian Chamber network represents over 200,000 businesses of every size and sector in every part of the country. Often, as when Canada negotiates an international trade agreement, different companies or sectors have competing interests. Both the government and those of us who are called upon to advise the government have to make tough choices about what is in the best interests of the country as a whole. These can be extremely difficult and divisive issues to resolve. Another example is when we argue that the government should interfere in the marketplace as little as possible. This often means that businesses that benefit because the government has placed its thumb on the scales to help one company or one region at the expense of others will be unhappy. Governing is about making choices. What’s essential is to ensure that the best interests of Canada as a whole take priority when we make these choices.
How your organization is helping business women?
Our economy cannot afford to leave anyone behind, which is why our organization has a Diversity and Inclusion Policy and a Board Diversity Policy to ensure people from all economic sectors, regions and backgrounds can take part in and benefit from a healthy and innovative economy. We are proud to have reached our goal of having a leadership team that is at least 40% female. Additionally, we have held events like our Global Success of Women Entrepreneurs Roundtable to learn about the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs and where opportunities lie. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is taking the important steps towards working together to enable those who can, should and want to participate in economic growth.
When it comes to deciding what is best for businesses and families across Canada, what do you base your decisions on? What are some of the facts that you take into consideration?
As a national organization, the Canadian Chamber’s responsibility is to serve the best interests of Canadians and of Canadian businesses as a whole. When we look at issues, we ask ourselves what approach is most likely to strengthen Canada’s economy and to improve the competitiveness of our businesses. The reason why we are so passionate about breaking down internal barriers to trade or about building the infrastructure that’s needed to get our resources to market is that when decisions are made that narrow or parochial, we all lose. When we put the broader public interest first, we are all more successful.
What are some of the policies that you are planning to put in place that could benefit small and medium-sized businesses across Canada?
The Canadian Chamber’s role is to advocate federal policies that will provide small and medium-sized businesses with the tools they need to grow. That said, given the importance of SMEs to our economy (they make up 98% of all businesses), we will be enhancing our offerings to small and medium-sized members beyond advocacy to include a digital platform that will:
- Provide information on government support programs and preferred pricing on business products and services.
- Deliver insights and advice from entrepreneurs who have been successful in Canada and internationally.
- Engage SMEs on issues that matter to them and have the potential to impact their success including government policies and Canadian Chamber programs.
- Planand deliver in person and virtual professional development events.
Can you talk about some of the accomplishments that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has done to help SMEs in Canada?
Some of our recent accomplishments to help Canadian SMEs include:
- The federal government streamlining its suite of assistance programs for entrepreneurs from 92 to somewhere in the 30s. This is in addition to a commitment to focus on high-potential, high-growth SMEs, which was called for by the Canadian Chamber in our 2014 report A Path Forward for Entrepreneurship in Canada.
- The launch of the Innovation Canada Portal earlier this year to direct SMEs to federal and regional funding, as well as other support programs. This platform triages them via questions about their location and specifications about their business.
- B7 members identifying scaling up a small business as a priority for their governments for the first time.
- The recent regulatory reforms announced in the Fall Economic Update, which draw heavily on our report on how to improve the regulatory system. If the government follows through, it should help provide some relief from the regulatory burden that makes it so hard for many businesses to succeed.
Small and medium-sized business owners face a lot of challenges on a daily basis when it comes to managing their business. Do you have any advice or suggestions that you could give them to help them overcome those challenges?
I would advise them not to hesitate in asking for assistance from their local chamber of commerce. Also, most medium and large-sized municipalities have resources for entrepreneurs, as do provincial, territorial and federal governments. Finally, whatever business you’re in, never lose sight of the fact that you are there to serve your customers, not the other way round. The most successful businesses I know are also the ones that stay closest to their customers.
What would you say is the biggest challenge that entrepreneurs face today?
We recently surveyed our SME members and they told us that the most important issues they face are regulatory burdens, growing their business, and business taxes, which are extremely complex.
There are a lot of resources and programs available to help entrepreneurs grow their business. With so many available options, it can be somewhat overwhelming to narrow them down and chose the right one. Do you have any advice that you can offer to entrepreneurs to help them in their search?
I suggest the Innovation Canada Portal, which is easily accessible through any search engine. It asks a series of questions about a business including location, sector and area where assistance or information is needed and directs users to resources at all levels of government.
What do you believe is the main key to ensure a successful business?
There is no one way to ensure business success. However, with the right policy tools in place, I would like to think that people with a vision who see a need to fill in the marketplace should be successful if they are willing to put the time and energy into their business.
Can you tell us what your thoughts are on the new deal that was signed between the United States, Canada and Mexico? The USMCA?
While the agreement is far from perfect, it provides a greater degree of certainty for Canadian businesses. For SMEs, it will largely preserve our duty-free market access to our largest trading partner, as well as protect our existing labour mobility access. The agreement also retains the most crucial aspects of dispute settlement and strengthens intellectual property, which is vital for attracting investment by companies into innovation. Although it’s not part of the agreement, we are still hoping to see the tariffs lifted on Canadian steel and aluminum exports to Canada as soon as possible. Canadian exports of these products to the US do not pose a national security threat.
How do you believe this new deal will benefit SMEs in Canada?
As noted above, ensuring tariff-free market access in most products and the labour mobility provisions are important benefits for Canadian businesses.
On a more personal note, what do you enjoy doing on your free time when you’re not busy being President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce?
I think I have the best job in Canada. I get to work with great people who are committed to making a difference. However, I’m also grateful for the time I get to spend doing other things. I have a bike that I don’t get to use as much as I would like, and I enjoy music and reading, as well as being the family’s cook. My favourite activity is to spend a warm summer evening having dinner with family and friends in Muskoka as we watch the sunset over the lake.