Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

An apparent cooling down in Canada’s real estate market due to higher inflation does not mean the future isn’t bright, say local experts.

 

In its latest report released June 15, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) indicated that despite national home sales falling 8.6% on a month-over-month basis in May, the number of newly listed properties was up by 4.5%.

 

As well, while many Ontario markets saw a dip in prices from April to May, the average price of a home remains 40% higher than before the COVID-19 crisis and numbers were up in many markets in northern and southern parts of the province, and eastern areas of cottage country.

 

The actual (not seasonally adjusted) national average home price, according CREA, was a little over $711,000 in May, up 3.4% from the same time in 2021. However, the report notes this average is ‘heavily influenced’ by sales in the GTA and Great Vancouver markets.

 

Also, according to BDC in its June Monthly Economic Letter, the slowdown in demand and affordability issues hurting markets are counter-balanced by a growing population and many first-time buyers in the market. These buyers account for nearly half of all home buyers and the growth prospects remain high for this group.

 

 

We reached out to the Cambridge Association of Realtors to get its take on the situation, especially how it pertains to commercial real estate. Thanks to Association President Val Brooks, of Royal LePage Crown Realty Services, and her colleague, Rick Lewis, a registered Commercial Realtor with ReMax Twin City Realty Inc, for their input for this Q&A:

 

 

Q.  The rise of inflation, now at 30-year highs, has sparked a market slowdown for home buyers. Do the same factors come into play for those seeking commercial property?

 

A. Inflation has affected all ‘real estate’ markets in general. Factor in interest rates, economic conditions, government policies and of course market changes. It is true that commercial properties and their market values react to broad economic conditions.  Take gas prices as one example affecting the commercial industry on whole. Business statistical data for Canada shows that we have 1.2 million business in Canada of which 97.9% are small business owners who employ between one to 99 staff members.  Of that, 48,325 Canadian establishments exported goods with a value totaling $471.9 Billion. Gas prices are more likely a concern than the housing market slowdown. With home prices stabilizing, it might be seen as a good indicator for businesses overall as they try to keep and attract new employees.   

 

 

Q. As home prices rose as the COVID crisis began, currently standing at 40% higher than before the pandemic, was there a similar trend for those seeking commercial property?

 

A. The commercial landscape during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 did slow down as we adapted to pandemic safety concerns and policies handed down by our governments. However, the market adjusted quickly to the supply and demand by the consumers looking for homes, and subsequently, commercial properties. As real estate prices rose quickly in Toronto, so did the demand on our residential and commercial properties; commercially speaking with such keen interest in the areas of warehousing, storage facilities and transportation.  Because we offered quick access to Toronto, Hamilton, and London via our highway access, along with good lease rates and purchase power, the tri-cities were attractive to those businesses dealing with higher cost in the Toronto area. COVID-19 affected the commercial landscape with a pent-up demand and low inventory complicating your ability to satisfy our clients’ needs.    

 

 

Q. What are some of the trends – especially right here in Waterloo Region - have you and your colleagues been seeing? Does it differ compared to other places like Toronto?

 

A. With more opportunity in the single-family housing market one of the main trends was moving out of Toronto for a larger home with land within the Waterloo Region area. More bang for the dollar, which in-turn pushed our pricing upward. Our rural properties became popular with work from home employees, wanting the country living and open spaces away from the congestion of Toronto living.

 

 

Q. Where do you think the market will be a year to five years from now?

 

A. There will be a continued growth in population in our tri-cities. Focus will be shifted to new developments putting greater emphasis on a more employee driven atmosphere and amenity options. Currently, 300,000 square feet is under construction in Guelph. It will help elevate some of the interest, however, this will not be enough to satisfy the current demand, so we see this being an issue for a few years to come. Large to small businesses will be needing more industrial spaces between 2,500, 5,000 & 10,000 square feet.  We are, and have been, an area of choice that will continue to evolve over the next five years with new exciting and innovative ideas in building construction. We will see subleasing becoming more popular as businesses deal with ownership retirement.  The hope is new businesses will come to the forefront that will assume or expand on these retiring trades.  In general, commercial real estate is on a substantial uptick right now. With interest rates still low, employment at all-time high, the economy is rebounding at a fast pace, and occupancies are at an all-time high meaning low available commercial inventory. It’s hard not to remain confident that for the foreseeable future, commercial real estate is going to remain on an upward trajectory here in the tri-cities.

 

 

Q. What advice can you offer at this point to those seeking to buy/sell a home or commercial property?

 

A. Real estate has been a very stable and good investment with a long track record.  We may see a more stabilized market for a few years with home prices keeping pace with the marketplaces. Commercial real estate will have low inventory both for sale and for lease. Land will continue to be valuable with greater importance on environmental ideology and new construction and innovation will be the future of the commercial landscape. Is it time to sell or stay the course? That has always been the million-dollar question that has us all guessing on the future, however bright.

 

For information, visit the Cambridge Association of Realtors

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As travel levels continue to ramp up towards even higher volumes than they were before the world shutdown due to COVID-19, the Region of Waterloo International Airport is ready to handle any surge.

 

“We’re probably in the top-10 of busiest airports in the country as far as movements but we’re also in the top-20 when it comes the number of passengers,” says Chris Wood, General Manager of the Region of Waterloo International Airport, noting he expects the airport will soon see that passenger ranking move up to the 12th to 13th busiest spot.

 

Chris says the airport is expected to welcome at least 500,000 passengers in 2022, which is slightly less than its initial projection due in big part to the arrival of the Omicron variant but expects to see that number double next year.

 

“We should be able to hit those numbers, with everything being equal,” he says, adding the opening of its new 12,000 square-foot domestic arrivals building in April – part of its $35 million Airport Terminal Expansion Project – is a continued sign of the airport’s importance to the economic vitality of the Region.

 

“Every thriving community has a big, bustling airport. Why should we be any different?” says Chris. “You can’t go to a world-class city anywhere without an airport being part of that.”

 

Currently, WestJet and Flair Airlines are providing a bevy of flights from the airport to a variety of destinations including Calgary and Edmonton, AB, Cancun, Mexico, Winnipeg, MB, and Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. In fact, this summer Flair has unveiled several additional destinations including Charlottetown, P.E.I., Deer Lake, N.L. and Montreal, QC, starting in July.

 

“We do expect Sunwing to return in the winter,” says Chris. “We also have an agreement with Pivot Airlines and expect them to arrive later this fall, but we don’t have a firm date yet.”

 

He says Pivot will offer several flights daily to Ottawa and Montreal, providing a key component in building the airport’s business clientele.

 

“We’ve kind of morphed into a low-cost carrier dream airport because we have a very large and affluent population that has been starved of non-stop service for many years, and we also have a very affluent business community,” says Chris. “But we haven’t really catered as much to the business community.”

 

He’s very candid when it comes to the struggles the airport has had trying to attract more business flyers, noting that smaller business owners and entrepreneurs are more cognizant of their finances so utilizing a low-cost carrier makes sense to them.

 

“But if you’re not paying for your own ticket, it’s more difficult to get people to use the services that are currently here,” says Chris, adding frequent flights a day out of Pearson Airport offered by larger carriers like Air Canada are more convenient for many business travellers.

 

Currently, he says at least 80% of travel at the Region of Waterloo International Airport is leisured based adding the split between business and leisure travel was about 50/50 when American Airlines offered nonstop flights to Chicago from 2011 to 2016.

 

“We saw a lot of people going to Chicago and beyond for business. But if the right type of service comes in, I think the business community would definitely use it,” says Chris, adding Pivot Airlines will be a great draw and caters to the business community thanks to its multiple flights daily to various business locations.

 

When it comes to attracting airlines, he says the process is extremely difficult since airlines must be very strategic where they place their inventory.

 

“The airlines get it. They know there is an opportunity here, but they also know there is more of an opportunity at Pearson,” says Chris, adding carriers like Flair that are destination-based and not interested in connections or using a hub and spoke model, can be easier to attract.

 

“But we’re happy to talk to any airline about service and we’ve got the facility now that can handle them,” he says, crediting Waterloo Regional Council for its continued support. “We can ultimately contribute to the bottom line of the Region.”

 

Chris says the ‘gold standard’ for a regionally operated airport in Canada are Kelowna and Abbotsford, B.C., and that Regional of Waterloo International Airport is quickly approaching those levels.

 

“It’s a model we hope to achieve and we’re getting closer,” he says.

 

To learn more, visit Region of Waterloo International Airport.

 

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The pain at the pumps consumers continue to feel as prices climb above $2 a litre won’t be dissipating anytime soon, warns Dan McTeague, President of Canadians for Affordable Energy.

 

“The problem is a shortage of oil,” says the former Liberal MP and long-time energy ‘watchdog’.

 

He says Russian President Vladimir Putin knows the world is vulnerable right now and has made it geopolitical and weaponized oil supplies in Europe through the invasion of the Ukraine, which has only magnified the issues already facing the other two major energy links in the world – namely Canada and the U.S. and OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

 

“We’ve completely destroyed the Canada/U.S. relationship,” says Dan, referring to the political decision to ‘kill’ proposed pipelines in North America and notes that OPEC, which cut oil production to keep prices at a certain level, is looking towards Asia and markets of the future.

 

As well, factor in a slowdown of world economies during the two years of the pandemic which resulted in a decrease in the demand for oil, resulting in oil companies putting a stop on drilling for new supplies or slowed, or even stopped, some refineries. Now, these same companies continue to have a tough time ramping up production to keep pace with demand.

 

It’s a dire situation, which Dan says he discussed in the fall of 2021 in an interview with Driving.ca, long before Russia launched its Ukrainian invasion. In the article, one of the things he points to is the introduction of the Trudeau government’s Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) which he bluntly referred to as ‘another tax dressed up as a clean-air credit’ that is going to cost average Canadians even more at the pumps. The CFS is set to be introduced Dec. 1 of 2022.

 

Taxes, of course, remain one of the largest components of fuel prices in Canada accounting for at least 34% of the average pump price.

 

Breakdown of gas taxes in Ontario:

  • Federal excise tax - 10 cents/ per litre
  • Federal carbon tax - 11.1 cents/ per litre
  • Ontario tax - 14.7 cents/ per litre
  • GST/HST - 22.9 cents/ per litre.

This translates into a total amount of 58.6 cents/per litre worth of taxes in Ontario, on top of the base price of which near the end of May was 139.6 cents/ per litre. On average, this is in line with many provinces, except for Alberta which is 29 cents/per litre and Manitoba at 43.8 cents/per litre. Overall, Canadians are paying an average of 51.2 cents/per litre of taxes.

 

But is there a solution? Ideally, supply and demand would have to become more balanced which could be accomplished in several ways:

  • The war in Ukraine ends and countries begin buying Russian oil again;
  • OPEC ramps up oil production;
  • Other oil producers increase production;
  • People start driving less;
  • Society as a whole embraces greener energy solutions that don’t involve oil.

 

Dan believes the world is still a few decades away from turning fully away from oil and natural gas.

 

“We’ve got to get real about building pipelines again,” he says, adding we need to be more realistic when it comes to our current energy needs.

 

He says as it stands, there is not much business operators can do as they continue to deal with disrupted supply chains and expenses, especially around transportation costs.

 

“I think food costs are the next shoe to drop because of course fuel affordability is gone, and with it now comes everything else,” says Dan.

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A stroll down the red carpet provided a glamorous welcome to local business and community leaders entering the grand foyer at Tapestry Hall for our recent Business Excellence Awards.

 

The in-person awards event, held virtually the past two years due to the pandemic, brought out approximately 300 people the evening of May 26 to celebrate the achievements and resiliency of the Cambridge and Township of North Dumfries business community.

 

“After the last two years, having the chance to gather together and acknowledge the hard work of our businesses meant a great deal to many people,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “And hosting our awards event at such an impressive venue as Tapestry Hall just added to the night.”

 

Below the spectacular glory of Meander – Tapestry Hall’s ‘living’ sculpture – guests were provided with time to mingle prior to a delicious meal and the awards ceremony, reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones.

 

Local radio personality Mike Farwell, host of The Mike Farwell Show on CityNewsKitchener, was the perfect emcee for the evening which kicked off with a $2,000 donation from the Chamber to his Farwell4Hire campaign that raises money for cystic fibrosis research.

 

This was followed by a special presentation from Ontario Chamber of Commerce CEO Rocco Rossi, who handed that organization’s prestigious Chair’s Award for Innovation Program and Service to Greg and Ian McLean, President and CEO of the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, for creating the rapid screening kit program. The pilot program began here in April of 2021 and was quickly adopted by Chambers provincewide. To date, more than one million kits have been provided free of charge to Waterloo Region businesses and more than 60,000 given to businesses across Ontario through the Chamber network.

 

“The continued success of the program is just another example of how the Chamber network can make a difference when businesses need us the most,” says Greg.

 

Here’s a look at the award recipients:

 

Chair’s Award: Eclipse Automation

Eclipse Automation has become an international company with a global reach employing more than 750 people. But despite that success, it has never lost sight of its ties to Cambridge by remaining a true community supporter. This was very apparent when the pandemic hit and this company, which builds automation systems for some of the largest manufacturers in the world, turned its operation completely around to assist in the battle against the COVID-19 virus by creating face masks and N95-style respirators to address Canada’s critical PPE shortage. This important donation empowered hundreds of these small businesses after the lockdowns and helped prevent even further economic hardship.

 

Community Impact award: Scott Higgins (Hip Developments)

Born and raised in Cambridge, Scott has spent a career truly making our community the best it possibly can be through his passion for not only helping others but trying to make a positive difference that will affect the lives of generations to come. Fearlessly, he has stood by his vision and dream of adapting old buildings into viable realities full of attractive amenities. But he’s more than just a ‘condo’ builder - he’s a community builder who champions the creative entrepreneurial spirit that exists in Waterloo Region. He not only coined the catchphrase the ‘Creative Capital of Canada’ but recently expanded on it through the creation of the Youth Creativity Fund. Working with the Business & Education Partnership of Waterloo Region, this new initiative aims to nurture and share the creative ideas of Grades 5 to 12 students in Waterloo Region – setting the stage for the next generation of local entrepreneurs.

 

WoW Cambridge: Bankim Patel (Baba Bazar)

The kindness continuously shown by Bankim Patel has not gone unnoticed by the loyal customers of his well-known Asian grocery store. Customers to his store have known for a very long time they can count on the owner when needed – even if it that includes driving a customer home because she felt unwell and staying with her until she felt better.

 

Spirit of Cambridge: SM Marketing & Management

When it came to assisting other businesses during the pandemic, SM Marketing & Management didn’t hesitate to reach out and help businesses develop eye-catching social media content to promote themselves. As well, this company also managed to raise money for essential workers who did not receive any bonuses during these tough times through the creation of the ‘In This Together’ campaign. This campaign saw a variety of apparel, including hoodies and t-shirts, featuring logos of local businesses sold with 100% of the proceeds going to those essential workers in need.

 

New Venture of the Year: Drayton Entertainment – The Backstage Pass Program

While the expression ‘pivot’ quickly became commonplace for business leaders everywhere, Drayton Entertainment took this concept to a new level. Recognizing that a ‘return to normal’ would be a multi-year process, it began offering a specialized online subscription service to ensure its patrons would continue to be well taken care of and partnered with hospitality businesses to offer these loyal clients not only a more unique experience, but much-needed support to others in a time of great turmoil.

 

Business of the Year 1-10: Air Power Products Limited

This company always made a conscious effort to not only provide support to many charitable organizations but have strongly done all they can to promote energy conversation and environmental sustainability when organizing their manufacturing processes. For more than 40 years, they have constantly been upgrading to ensure they can offer their clients the best solutions possible. This continued in 2020 when they added Nitrogen and Oxygen generation systems to their portfolio, an innovation that has provided much-needed assistance during the pandemic. This work has kept their employees very busy throughout the pandemic as the company experienced double-digit growth.

 

Business of the Year 11-49: Unified Flex Packaging Technologies

This company has a very specific goal in mind as a good corporate citizen, and that is to produce higher standards of living and quality of life for the communities that surround it while still maintaining profitability. Not only do they hire locally, but they also buy locally through the procurement of components from area vendors contributing to the local business ecosystem. As well, Unified Flex Packaging has used technology through the creation of an easy-to-use customer service portal to ensure they are providing their clients with the best service possible.

 

Business of the Year (Over 50 employees): Collaborative Structures Limited

Besides supporting numerous charitable organizations, Collaborative Structures Limited also continuously strengthens its social responsibility by encouraging and supporting its employees to improve their own socially responsible endeavours and community awareness. They know how employee retention promotes the health and success of the company and are quick to celebrate the hard work and dedication of their staff. As well, since its inception this company has provided exceptional and innovative services to its clients and has been committed to exploring new avenues of business and better building practices that sets it apart in the industry.

 

Outstanding Workplace: BWXT Canada Ltd.

People and innovation form the foundation of the recruitment strategy for BWXT Canada Ltd. Working diligently to attract a diverse and skilled workforce that is reflective of the community that surrounds them has been key to its success. BWXT has created several committees to foster a more welcoming and respectful work environment when it comes to issues surrounding diversity, equity, and inclusion. The recruitment strategy at BWXT is both internally and externally focused and is accompanied by ongoing training and development to encourage employee growth and leadership potential. This company believes in its employees and has created a bonus program based on its financial and safety performance

 

Young Entrepreneur: Elisia Neves (Fabrik Architects Inc.)

Talent and devotion to the success of the community are two qualities that are synonymous when describing Elisia Neves. Establishing her business in 2017 through design collaboration and with more than 20 years of industry experience, she is the perfect example of how one young professional with an entrepreneurial spirit can make a difference. She has taken the lead on many successful projects throughout Waterloo Region and Ontario, while at the same time acting as a mentor to other young female professionals and giving back to the community. She has also become a leader in Pandemic Responsive Building Design through research and practice and is a shining example for young girls, new immigrants, students, and young business leaders of today and tomorrow to look up to.

 

Marketing Excellence: Red Bicycle Paper Co.

When the first lockdown hit, Red Bicycle Paper Co. implemented a ‘promise to re-print at no cost’ program for clients which stayed in place until the company’s last client was finally able to wed in February of this year. Using Instagram to its fullest potential as well as investing in a new and a very streamlined website using a local web designer, helped Red Bicycle Paper Co. remain in the minds of couples looking to tie the knot. The company also managed to move to a new studio space that reflected a warm and welcoming space for clients to be inspired and feel excited again, promoting it via an email marketing campaign.

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The forecast is looking good for the summer tourism season in Waterloo Region.

 

After two years of uncertainties, restrictions and pivoting due to the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism sector is poised for a significant comeback.

 

“Everything is coming back this summer,” says Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region. “There is so much pent-up demand, and it seems like the concerns about COVID-19 are receding and people are feeling a lot more confident to get out and about.”

 

Compared to last year at this time, she says tourism operators in Waterloo Region, including hotels and attractions, have already seen a higher demand in the first quarter of this year.

 

“It’s going incredibly well so far, but there are still labour shortages and supply chain issues,” says Michele. “I know some of our hotels can’t run at full capacity just yet because of these shortages which is a shame because we’ve been hit so hard the last couple of years.”

 

To offset some costs surrounding the implementation of health and safety protocols to keep patrons and employees safe, Explore Waterloo Region and RTO 4 (Regional Tourism Organization 4 Inc.) distributed nearly $600,000 to support 125 attractions, hotels, and other operators in 2020 and 2021 through the Tourism Adaption and Recovery Program (TARP).

 

“Our industry was the first hit, hardest hit and the last to recover is what we say, and we still have those impediments in a way with these labour concerns,” says Michele.

 

She says this summer Explore Waterloo Region is taking a ‘divide and conquer’ approach when it comes its marketing tactics.

 

“As we are easing out of COVID-19 we’re looking to our local operators and BIAs to market our region to local residents,” says Michele. “We as Explore Waterloo Region are expanding a little further out with our marketing focus and trying to encourage people from the GTA to get out of the city and come to a place where it might be a little less urban, but with all the amenities of the big city; close to nature where they can get out and enjoy walking and bike trails and still have incredible culinary and cultural experiences, just with a little less of the crowds.”

 

Michele says the many festivals and attractions Waterloo Region has to offer this summer will be a big draw, such as the Cambridge Scottish Festival and the Canada Day celebrations which features a parade and returns to Riverside Park with fireworks.

 

“People are feeling a bit safer in being groups but still outside,” she says, noting this should be a good summer for domestic tourism due to long lineups at major airports which has been blamed on staff shortages and COVID-19 screening.  “There is still a little bit of concern about travelling internationally so I think this is the summer we really have to take advantage of the opportunity to get people in and around Waterloo Region to come and experience everything we have to offer.”

 

For a detailed look at what’s available, visit Explore Waterloo Region.

 

A few summer highlights in Cambridge:

  • Kin Carnival (May 26)
  • Cambridge Tour De Grand (June 12)
  • Cambridge Celebration of the Arts (June 17 – Civic Square)
  • Host Springs Music Festival (June 25 – Central Park)
  • Cambridge Celebrates Canada Day (July 1 - Riverside Park)
  • Thursday Night Live Performances (July 7, 14, 21 and 28 - Mill Race Park Amphitheatre)
  • Hespeler Village Music Festival (July 9 – Forbes Park)
  • Cambridge Scottish Festival (July 15-16 – Churchill Park)
  • Forbes Park Movie Night (Aug. 18 – Forbes Park)

 

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The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis have created an unstable environment for Ontario business. Inflation, labour shortages, and supply chain backlogs have been exacerbated by the global state of emergency.

 

In effort to outline our policy priorities for the next four years, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released Vote Prosperity.

 

“Businesses continue to face a myriad of challenges on their road to recovery,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “Balancing short-term needs with critical long-term investments will be key in supporting growth and predictability. This is a watershed moment for Ontario’s future economic prosperity, and we want to underscore the importance of continued collaboration between government and industry to get us to where we need to go.”

 

Business competitiveness results in more prosperous communities, higher consumer confidence, high-quality jobs, and a more resilient economy. This requires:

  • Boosting confidence and predictability
  • Implementing pro-growth policies
  • Building resilient communities
  • Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation

The recommendations outlined in OCC’s Vote Prosperity were developed together with businesses, associations, labour, post-secondary institutions, as well as chambers of commerce and boards of trade from across the province.

 

As the indispensable partner of business, we look forward to putting our members’ issues front and centre this election. To ensure the next provincial election advances business competitiveness, we have developed Vote Prosperity. Read the full plan.

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The collective power of the Chamber movement to assist businesses succeed was front and centre at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent AGM and Convention.

 

Approximately 150 delegates, the majority representing Chambers and Board of Trades from across the province, gathered at the Pearson Convention Centre April 28-May 1 in Brampton to network, hear from Ontario political leaders, and debate policy issues to assist them in their advocacy work with government on behalf of businesses.

 

“Ensuring businesses have the legislative backing and supports they need to succeed and prosper plays an important role for all Chambers and Boards of Trade,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, who led a strategy session on delivering Chamber services across a diverse membership base and was joined at the event by in-coming Chamber Board Chair Kristen Danson. “The conference is a great place to share new ideas and connect with other Chamber leaders from around the province.”

 

This was the first in-person AGM the OCC has held since the pandemic and featured appearances by the Ontario leaders of the Liberals (Steven Del Duca), NDP (Andrea Horwath) and Green (Mike Schreiner), as well as the Hon. Prabmeet Sarkaria, President of the Treasury Board of Ontario. All four spoke about the strength and importance of the business community and what their parties can do to help our economy.

 

Also, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty was on hand to offer an update on the Chamber network from a national perspective.

 

“It’s great for the Chamber network to hear from all sides of the political spectrum,” says Greg, noting potential policy resolutions are formulated from a wide range of issues and concerns.

 

This year, 34 resolutions were up for debate on a variety of topics ranging from improving supports to employers, to the creation of a construction strategy for tiny homes.

 

The Cambridge Chamber’s policy calling for the creation of a ‘backstop’ for the implementation of mandated workplace vaccination policies was among 32 that received approval from delegates. The approved policy calls for the Ministry of Labour to include elements within the articles of the Occupational Health & Safety Act to provide protection against discriminatory legal actions aimed at businesses that wish to implement such a policy.

 

“It’s important that businesses have the protections they need in order to operate in the manner which they feel works best for them,” says Greg.

 

The approved policies now become part of the OCC policy ‘playbook’ in its efforts to advocate for change with provincial and federal levels of government.

 

Besides adopting policies, the conference wrapped up with an awards ceremony to recognize the achievements of Chambers and Boards of Trades.

 

The Cambridge Chamber, in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, was presented with the Chair’s Award for Innovative Program or Service to recognize the success of their rapid screening kits program which has been adopted by Chambers provincewide. Since April of 2021, the program has resulted in the distribution of more than one million kits to more than 7,500 businesses throughout Waterloo Region.

 

“This program has made a huge difference to thousands of businesses in our region, and we couldn’t be more pleased,” says Greg.

 

For more information about the kits, visit https://chambercheck.ca.

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While the recent unveiling of a national child-care deal should come as welcome news to many business owners facing labour issues, child-care experts say there are still some important issues that will need to be addressed pertaining to the new plan.

 

“The intention is really good, but we just have to figure out what this will look like along the way,” says Jaime Jacomen, Leader of Operational Excellence at YMCA of Three Rivers, referring to the deal which aims to have $10-a-day childcare in place by September of 2025.

 

The plan, which affects licensed child-care centres and licensed home care providers only, was solidified at the end of March when the Ontario government became the last to sign on resulting in fees reduced up to 25% to a minimum of $12 a day starting April 1. 

 

Rebates are also to be issued to parents of children aged five and under starting in May retroactively to April 1 and further reductions are on tap leading to the 2025 ‘goal’. The federal government has also invested an additional $2.9 billion for a sixth year of the agreement.

 

“I see this $10-a-day plan as a good starting point in helping working parents, but is it enough?” asks Tina Kharian, owner of Gravity Hair Design in Cambridge. “It’s hard to say as we also need to ensure enough daycare spots are available and qualified providers for all families.”

 

The deal outlines the creation of 86,000 child-care spaces (including more than 15,000 spaces already in place since 2019), representing a mix of for-profit and not-for-profit.

While she welcomes the extra spaces, Jaime admits she wonders where they will be created.

 

“It’s a bigger process,” she says, noting increasing child-care access comes along with new school builds.

 

Also, Jaime says the wage plan set out in the deal – which will see minimum-wage floors for child-care workers of $18 an hour and $20 an hour for supervisors, plus an additional $1 an hour until the floor hits $25 an hour – won’t be enough.


“Many early childhood educators are making over that already, so that’s not any additional incentive,” she says. “The government seems to be wanting to address the affordability issue and access for families. But in order to have all of that access, you need to build that early childhood education workforce.”


However, Jaime remains optimistic and says the YMCA’s provincial body has been engaged with the Province about this issue for some time.


“We do think this is something that needs to happen,” she says.


Tina agrees and says a national child-care system is vital for our economy to fully recover.


“As business owners, we should be welcoming this because having affordable, quality daycare for all families will increase labour force participation, especially in our business (hair salon) since most stylists are women,” she says.


The Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 report The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario outlined a series of recommendations to offset both the immediate and longer-term challenges women face. Among these were calls for a short-term child-care strategy to weather the pandemic and longer-term reforms to improve accessibility and affordability.


“We risk turning back the clock on decades of progress if we do not take a hard look at the challenges facing women and plan for recovery with women at the table and a gender and diversity lens on strategies, programs and policies,” said Dr. Wendy Cukier, Diversity Institute Founder and Academic Director of the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub in the report.

 

Here's what parents can expect in the coming months:

  • As of April 1, 2022, families with children five years old and younger in participating licensed childcare centres, including licensed home care, will see fees reduced up to 25 per cent to a minimum of $12 per day.
  • Rebates, retroactive to April 1, will be issued automatically starting in May. The rebate is in place to account for child-care operators that may need extra time to readjust their fees. 
  • In December 2022, fees will be reduced further to about 50% on average.

The deal outlines a plan to further slash rates in the coming years. Here's what the longer-term outlook includes:

  • In September 2024 fees will be reduced even further.
  • A final reduction in September 2025 will bring fees down to an average of $10 per day.
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The lifting of provincial and regional mask mandates is welcomed news for businesses and customers alike.

 

While restrictions remain in place for public transit, long-term care and retirement homes, shelters and jails, the decision to keep masking, vaccination, or daily screening policies in place has basically been left up to individual employers who must also consider their obligation to protect workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

 

When it comes to businesses that wish to keep masking in place, setting out clear expectations in a policy is essential – especially for businesses that are public-facing, says Dr. Nadira Singh, Chair of Business at Conestoga College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.

 

“The first thing you have to be clear about is posting your signage. You have got to let people know you are protecting your staff and your customers,” she says, recommending businesses also post any policies on their social media channels as well. “You want to make sure they feel safe being in your business.”

 

Carrie Thomas, founder of Nimbus HR Solutions Group, agrees and recommends changing the wording on signs to ‘freshen’ that messaging and suggests even moving them to another location in the business to draw renewed attention.

 

“Sometimes, we get so used to seeing something that we don’t see it anymore,” she says. “That’s how humans are built.”

 

Consistency, says Carrie, is key and that really knowing your customer base or employees can assist employers anticipate any potential reactions.

 

“You have to make sure you communicate your policy to them,” she says, noting that conveying to them the policy may be reviewed considering how rapidly public health directives can change may allay concerns, especially if someone is confrontational. “That would not be an untrue statement because many businesses may decide to review their policies on a monthly basis, while others may look at it on a weekly basis.”

 

Having a well-thought-out policy in place that employees can clearly deliver and understand will provide them assistance when working with customers.

 

“As individuals enter a business, hopefully they have seen the signage and will comply. But if they don’t, then we need to ask them for compliance,” says Nadira, adding training employees to read verbal and non-verbal cues has become vital during the pandemic when it comes conflict resolution. 

 

She says offering alternatives to customers, such as providing them with masks if they don’t have one with them or offering curbside pickup, may help. 

 

“You want to make sure you are keeping your customers and that at the end of the day, you are also protecting everybody,” says Nadira.

 

Carrie agrees and suggests keeping the politics surrounding COVID-19 out of any policy decisions, noting talking with employees should be the first step.

 

“You need to talk to your staff and figure out where the comfort level is for all of you,” she says, explaining that focusing any policy on the health and safety of your employees and customers sends a more positive message.

 

She says showing employees they are valued will go a long way.

 

“Trying to find employees is tough right now,” says Carrie. “I said at the beginning of the pandemic, how an employer treats their employees through this is going to determine how easy it is to find staff after it ends. The employers who have taken care of their people during COVID-19 are not the ones who are going to have a problem finding staff.”

 

For more about Nimbus HR Solutions Group, visit https://bit.ly/3DgoWve

 

 

Key pieces to a mask policy:

  • Education & training
  • Creating a clear policy
  • Offering alternatives to customers
  • Referencing Occupational Health and Safety Act regulations

 

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The full impact COVID-19 continues to have on businesses has yet to be determined as our economy slowly rebuilds.

 

But what is apparent is the realization that many workplaces can no longer operate as they once did as many employers navigate labour shortages and the creation of hybrid work models to accommodate employees who wish to continue working remotely.

“Everyone seems to be looking for this return to normal but if you want any semblance of normality than just keep dreaming,” says Julie Dupont, Principal Strategist at Cambridge-based Reimagining Leadership. “Employee expectations have changed, and the Great Resignation is an indication of that.”

While there are some reports indicating this phenomenon may not be as prevalent in Canada just yet compared to the U.S., there is cause for concern considering the results of a StatsCan Labour Force Survey outlined last month in the Globe & Mail indicate that Canadian employers were recruiting for about 875,000 positions.

 

To offset growing labour gaps and the emotional ‘trauma’ ignited by the pandemic, Julie says the need for employers to utilize their emotional intelligence skills has become paramount.

 

Emotional intelligence centres on understanding and managing your own emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively and empathetically with others to overcome challenges and defuse conflict.

 

Julie, who along with Laura Falby, Senior Director of People and Culture at Waterloo Brewing, will explore this topic further by outlining how meaningful dialogue can help create healthier working environments during our virtual event March 29 entitled ‘Emotional Intelligence: Strengthening Workplace Culture’.

 

“I think emotional intelligence skills have been important for a long time, but I think there is a real necessity for them now because people need to connect in different ways in order to feel like they can be human again,” says Julie, adding the many uncertainties surrounding the pandemic has had a huge impact on workplaces, even those where employees have remained on site. “It’s about how you handle the uncertainties out there, not just as a human being but as a leader, that is really going to make a huge impact on being able to get people performing again.”

 

Julie says ‘pampering’ and ‘babying’ employees is not part of it and that encouraging open conversations is key as employees re-enter the workplace or continue to work remotely. 

 

She admits for many employers, learning to use these types of skills may not come easy.

 

“It’s not something that is going to come naturally to anybody,” says Julie, noting these are hard not soft, skills that can be learned. “It is really a series of learned behaviours and the more you do them, with practice, they become easier because you start to change your mindset when you see the results of these conversations.”

 

She says listening to their employees is the first major step employers can take, not just dictating to them new post-pandemic work protocols. 

 

“The missing piece is the listening and really understanding what do your people need from you? Do they have what they need to be able to do their jobs well and feel supported and valued?” says Julie. “By using your emotional intelligence skills, they (employees) will take care of the bottom line, and they will be become more loyal to you and willing to go that extra mile.”

 

She hopes participants at our virtual event will not only be eager to learn more about emotional intelligence skills but realize how using them effectively can directly impact a business’ bottom line.

 

“If your people are leaving, who is getting the work done? How much does it cost the company every time an employee leaves or has to hire someone and get them up to speed?” says Julie. “What’s the cost savings or cost avoidances around that?”

 

‘Emotional Intelligence: Strengthening the Workplace’ takes place Tuesday, March 29 from 11 a.m. to noon. To register, visit: https://bit.ly/3Jn7lUM

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