NORTH Vancouver businesspeople got an opportunity Friday to sit down and discuss the economy with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
After visiting the Seaspan shipyards the previous day to announce details of an $8billion naval contract, Harper came to the warehouse of ecolifestyle firm Lavish & Lime to chat with small businesspeople from around the Lower Mainland.
"It was very casual, very relaxed," said Colin Campbell, co-founder of Lavish & Lime. "The Prime Minister sat in the middle of the semi-circle and asked how things are going.
"The big thing for us was consumer confidence," Campbell said. "There was a general consensus around all of the businesses that consumer confidence is decreasing. It was something he acknowledged. In the grand scheme of things Canada is doing remarkably well if you look globally. But he recognized the individual consumer is going through tough times. Generically, he was saying as a means of hopefully improving things it's all about reduced taxation so individuals have more disposal income."
Later in the 75-minute conversation, the group discussed their migration away from the major banks towards credit unions and the Business Development Bank of Canada, and the overall lack of streamlining and transparency in federal small business programs.
"It was a useful experience for me, definitely, to look into the whites of his eyes and get a response. He was scribbling notes, which is a good thing," Campbell said.
As a green-focused company, Campbell also asked Harper if he had any New Year's resolutions for environmental protection. Harper said he planned to use fewer disposable cups.
"It was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek question," Campbell said. "In the context of pulling out of Kyoto, it really makes that seem insignificant. But we had a limited amount of time and I didn't see the appropriateness of sidetracking it. That wasn't the purpose of the meeting."
Another North Vancouverite got an unexpected chance to hobnob with Canada's federal leader later that morning.
Dana Craighead of Miller Automotive was moving some classic cars outside of the business while the Prime Minister toured a nearby heritage project.
"One of the RCMP security saw the cars we have and fell in love," said Craighead. The two got to talking about the shipbuilding contract and Craighead mentioned his son Dustin was a Seaspan deckhand.
Moments later, "he wanted to know if the Prime Minister could come in and look at the cars and I said, 'Yeah, we could probably have that arranged.' Prime Minister Harper came in and I had a 15-minute one-on-one with him just about muscle cars - just yakking away about cars. He was a regular everyday guy."
The prime minister was drawn to the handful of vintage Corvettes, said Craighead, but picked a 1969 AMX as his favourite because his parents used to own one.
"Regardless of his policies, he was a really nice human being," Craighead said. "I don't get star-struck. I used to do set preparation for the movie industry and some of them are quite arrogant and rude because they think they're special. But he could have been the guy next door."
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