Joy Thomas

The first day of The ONE National Conference in Halifax kicked off with a welcome address from Joy Thomas, President and CEO of CPA Canada. (Jay Cameron)

Accounting | Events

Day 1 at The ONE National Conference: Blockchain, cannabis and change management are hot topics

Themed Sustainability Through Adaptability this year, the annual event brings CPAs together to recognize change and prepare for the future of the profession

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From buzzing about blockchain and cannabis to discussing the future of financial leadership and organizational disruption, there was something for every CPA during the first day of The ONE National Conference

Vernon JosephVernon Joseph at The ONE in Halifax on October 1 (Zahra Zaman)


The day kicked off with a welcome address from Joy Thomas, President and CEO of CPA Canada, followed by a moving performance and inspirational talk from keynote speaker and classical violinist, Kai Kight. Next, Vernon Joseph, The Buzz Around Blockchain session speaker and security consultant of Network Test Labs Inc., led his audience through the ins and outs of blockchain, emphasizing the important role accountants play in its success and the need for CPAs to get up to speed with the technology.   

“We are really relying on the accountants to make sure everything is safe and secure in terms of the accountability of what we are doing within the blockchain,” he said. 

“…You need to understand what the technology looks like, you need to understand the fundamentals of blockchain and you need to understand the fundamentals of the transactions within the blockchain, as well as the contracts that are written. That’s the proactive steps you need to do to be ahead of the curve,” he added. “It’s going to get a lot more complicated if you don’t jump in right now.”

Session attendee Cheryl Blahey, CPA, and CFO of Canadian Grain Commission in Winnipeg, agrees that CPAs play an essential role partnering with other key players in order for blockchain to work efficiently.  

“It’s going to be overwhelming and expensive,” she said. “If industry, if clients, if accountants, etc., they all play a role in partnering together and sharing information, money, resources…that is how it’s going to happen.

“Organizations can’t do it alone.” 

Jennifer Gervès-Keen Jennifer Gervès-Keen talks change management at The ONE (Nancy Xiang)


Speaker Jennifer Gervès-Keen, founder of executive coaching and leadership development firm, JGK Consulting, drew the audience in with the engaging session, Leading a Change Ready Organization. According to Gervès-Keen, there are five human skills essential to the success of change management: resilience, empathy, curiosity, cross-functional thinking and communication. An audience poll revealed that 44 per cent of attendees identified cross-functional thinking as the biggest gap their organizations face when weighing these skills against each other.  

“Cross-functional thinking is going to be one of the biggest pieces from a human skill perspective, moving forward…,” Gervès-Keen said. “When you connect with other people and create opportunity for silos in your business to work together, you create a stronger business from the inside out.” 

As chief operating officer and associate registrar of College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia, Kellie Skelhorn, CPA, CMA, found value in the leadership-focused sessions, with the greatest takeaway being dealing with change as an organization. 

“I really liked the definition that was given to describe the difference between change and transformation,” she said. “We often hear that we are very much change fatigued. But is it change or is it transformation? I think there’s a lot more education we can do around the difference between the two, because change is always going to happen. It’s a fact. But, how can we adapt to that better?”

Mark Castaneda and David Dalziel Mark Castaneda (right) and David Dalziel (Nancy Xiang)


A packed session, The Green Rush: What Should CPAs Know About the Canadian Cannabis Industry?, gave insight into Canada’s global stance and the role for finance professionals in this industry.

Moving from small-scale start-ups to billion-dollar companies is the next stage for Canadian cannabis businesses, said session speaker Mark Castaneda, CFO for Tilray Inc., a vertically integrated and federally licensed cannabis cultivator, processor and distributor.   

Castaneda positioned Canada as having a head start as the first G7 country to recreationally legalize cannabis, with companies accessing capital to build business. He projects the $115-billion global industry to grow to an estimated $200- to $300-billion in the next five years. 

“Canadian companies will be well ahead of others around the world…and investors are taking notice of that,” he said. “It’s going to be like the global alcohol [industry]. There will be several that participate, but there will be a few major players.”

Two challenges the industry faces are from a regulatory perspective, as well as finding the right talent to lead up-and-coming businesses set on a path to profit, added David Dalziel, session moderator and partner, Audit & Assurance, Deloitte.

“With [the IFRS] biological asset reporting, we are trying it to get it down to the gross margins but it’s a struggle for CFOs to educate the investment community,” said Dalziel. “The other [struggle] is talent…there is a search for talent in the cannabis industry, as the number of organizations grow from infancy into [large-scale] companies.”


The ONE National Conference runs Oct. 1 and 2 in Halifax. To stay up-to-date on other issues impacting the industry today, browse through CPA Canada’s upcoming events, from personal development courses and symposiums to networking opportunities.