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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Welcome Focus on Tourism, Small Business, Women, Training, and Local Communities

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce released the following response to the Government of Ontario’s 2021 Budget, Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy.

 

“Ontario’s 2021 Budget means supports for the hardest-hit sectors and communities including right here in Waterloo Region, much needed aid for women who have been deeply impacted by the pandemic, and initiatives that will create a strong economic rebound related to tourism, training, and vital infrastructure such as broadband,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Leading up to Budget 2021, the Ontario Chamber Network was calling for policies that mitigate the immediate impacts of the crisis and lay the groundwork for a robust and inclusive economic recovery. Resources need to be focused on those hit hardest by the pandemic, where they will have the greatest impact.

 

“Ontario’s business community welcomes the 2021 Budget, which gives businesses much-needed supports to confront the current health crisis while laying the foundation for a strong and inclusive economic recovery,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC.

 

Some of the things called for in the Ontario Chamber Network pre-Budget Submission included:

  • Targeted support for the hardest-hit sectors and communities;
  • Demand-driven skills programming;
  • Enhanced access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs;
  • Bold action on interprovincial trade;
  • Strengthening of municipalities’ fiscal capacity; and
  • A sensible path to getting Ontario’s finances on track post-pandemic.

 

“Women’s fulsome participation in the labour market is a precondition to our economic recovery and future prosperity. We greatly appreciate the new supports for women, as they have been among those disproportionately impacted by the crisis,” said the report’s author Claudia Dessanti, Senior Policy Analyst of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A taskforce for inclusive economic growth, further supports for child care, a job training tax credit, relief for the tourism industry, and support for survivors of domestic violence are all welcome initiatives that will help turn the tides on the impacts that were so severe and immediate for women in Ontario. Budget 2021 addresses many of the supports we called for in our recent report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.”

 

Some of the measures welcomed by the Ontario Chamber Network in the 2021 Budget are:

 

Support for inclusive growth:

 

  • A taskforce for inclusive economic growth. The COVID-19 crisis has disproportionately affected women, racialized individuals, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and other communities in the province. The new taskforce will examine how to increase women’s participation in the workforce, which will support economic recovery.
  • Temporary Job Training Tax Credit. Studies suggest about half a million jobs are not expected to return in Canada after the pandemic, the majority of which are occupied by women. Financial support for underemployed individuals to access training and reskilling will be particularly important for lower-income workers, new immigrants, and Ontarians living in Indigenous, rural, remote, and northern communities.
  • Child care support. Access to affordable child care is a long-standing issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Enhancing the CARE tax credit for 2021, extending financial support for virtual learning costs, and investing in new child care spots will help ease the burden for Ontario families and allow more women to re-enter the workforce.
  • Supports for women fleeing domestic violence. The increase in domestic violence incidences during the pandemic has forced many women to leave their homes and communities, jeopardizing their safety and livelihood. Support for women in transitional housing and underserved areas will help provide safety for women in vulnerable situations.

 

Supports for business:

 

  • Doubling of the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. The grant has helped many organizations survive the crisis thus far and making this an automatic top-up instead of asking businesses to re-apply will reduce the administrative burden on both businesses and government.
  • Additional resources for the Digital Main Street Grant. Many small businesses, particularly in rural and remote regions, have benefited from the supports of this grant to get their business online. Expanding the program will help more businesses digitize and prepare for the economy of tomorrow.
  • Invest Ontario Fund. Additional funding in Invest Ontario over the next four years will be important to create jobs and investment across the province.

 

Support for tourism:

 

  • Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant. The OCC recently wrote to the Ontario government about how the tourism industry is not eligible for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. This new grant is welcome news for hotels, travel agencies, hunting and fishing camps, and other organizations that did not qualify for the original grant.
  • Local Tourism Tax Credit and Tourism Recovery Program. Many of the chambers of commerce and boards of trade are active in the tourism industries within their local communities. These additional supports will be critical to support a revival of tourism after the pandemic.
  • Support for alcohol producers & local distilleries. Ontario’s vineyards, cideries, and small distillers have been greatly impacted by the pandemic as tourism stalled this year.

 

Support for communities and municipalities:

 

  • Broadband investments. The pandemic has put the spotlight on the digital divide for people and businesses, particularly in remote and rural communities. Additional funding to connect all Ontarians, including businesses, to reliable broadband by 2025 is welcome news. 
  • Regional Opportunities Tax Credit. Additional resources towards this program will allow rural and remote communities to invest in projects that create local jobs and economic growth.
  • Property reassessment for municipalities. Pausing the property tax reassessment gives municipalities and businesses more capacity and time to adjust to the economic uncertainty and challenges caused by the pandemic.
  • Expansion of the Ontario Together Fund. The Ontario Together Fund has successfully leveraged Ontario’s business community to address pandemic-related challenges and support relief efforts.
  • Access to vaccination appointments. The Ontario Chamber Network welcomes support to help seniors and people with disabilities get to their vaccination appointments. The faster the population is inoculated, the sooner we can focus on recovery.
  • Strategic Priorities and Infrastructure Fund. Renovations to local buildings and sports facilities will also be integral to local economic growth and recovery initiatives.

Read the Ontario Chamber of Commerce full pre-Budget submission here.

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Like many parents, the pandemic forced Alexandra Allen to drastically alter her family’s routine when it came to child care as she and her husband came up with ways to juggle work and their children’s needs.

 

Trying to work a full-time job while also being a full-time child-care provider is enough to make you go crazy,” says the Cambridge mother referring to the period when she pulled her two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter out of daycare after the centres were first allowed to reopen last June, relying instead on family supports.

 

However, when they returned to the YWCA child-care centre they attend at a local school in the fall, Alexandra says this proved difficult since she was required to still pay for her spots even if the children were unable to attend due to illness.

 

“It became financially taxing in November, especially when it got colder and the kids couldn’t spend as much time outside,” she says, adding even a case of the sniffles meant keeping the child at home. “There needs to be bigger help.”

 

Rosalind Gunn, Director of Marketing and Communications at YWCA Cambridge, agrees and says the need for a national child-care strategy to foster economic growth and stability was first identified in 1967’s Royal Commission on the Status of Women, but little has transpired since that time to address those concerns.

 

“It’s actually not a new problem. Just like so many other social services or conditions of living, the pandemic has only really exposed the fault lines,” she says. “There have always been these issues.”

 

She says our region, which has seen at least 40% of its child-care operators remain closed since the start of the pandemic, was already experiencing a shortage of spaces and estimates before COVID-19 there were only 216 child-care spots available for every 1,000 kids looking for space.

Rosalind says many operators have stayed closed due to lower enrolments since the ratios were reduced in the beginning and that many parents - whether they were working from home, lost their jobs or had safety concerns – started keeping their children out of daycare full time.

 

“Even though we’re now able to operate at full capacity, many providers don’t want to do that because they don’t want to risk any outbreaks,” she says, adding more staff is needed to ensure the safety of fewer children which leads to higher costs. “It’s sort of the perfect storm.”

 

For Alexandra, who works as a volunteer program co-ordinator at Hospice Waterloo Region, she says having family members help them out in the summer was a luxury that many parents aren’t fortunate enough to have.

“But by the end of summer, we had grown really tired of making it work so we put the kids back in child care by September,” she says. “Right away it was challenging.”

 

Alexandra says she’s fortunate Hospice Waterloo Region let her adjust her work schedule accordingly, but that her husband, who does shift work at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, isn’t able to do the same.

 

“It would be nice if some money could flow towards child care so that parents like us don’t have to struggle so hard,” she says. “It’s a tough situation for parents who want to keep working.”

 

Rosalind agrees, explaining that since women make up approximately 40% of household incomes and that the COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate economic impact on women, there is already a significant ripple effect occurring.

 

“We know that investing in child care brings money into the entire economy and bolsters everyone,” she says, noting for example that subsidized daycare in Quebec results in $147 being put back into the economy with every $100 of publicly invested money. “There is a direct link there with child care.”

 

However, there is a glimmer of hope for change. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent report The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario, both the federal and provincial ggovernments are supporting licensed providers with funding to absorb added costs, including nearly $147 million through the Canada-Ontario Early Learning and Child Care Agreement and $234.6 million through the Safe Restart Agreement.

 

Also, in the last election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to address shortcomings in the system by creating 250,000 additional child-care spaces across Canada, with at least 10% reserved for care during extended hours, and establishing a national secretariat to lay the groundwork for a pan-Canadian child-care system.

 

“We’re all really latching on to this opportunity to keep pushing for actual tangible change,” says Rosalind, adding support for change from organizations like the OCC and Canadian Chamber of Commerce is helping.

 

Earlier this month the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Council for Women’s Advocacy released a statement offering five recommendations to the federal government to support women and foster economic growth due to the pandemic.

 

These included: working with province, territories and stakeholders to ensure schools and daycares remain open through subsequent waves across the country; establishment of an inclusive Task Force to focus on child-care capacity and support through the ongoing crisis; removing tax barriers for child care; providing enhanced opportunities for women-owned businesses to meaningfully access public procurement contracts, including federal government diversity targets specifically for women-owned business and female workforces; and supporting job pivots for women, including training, upskilling and job transitions.

 

As well, the OCC’s The She-Covery Project report recommended several child-care reforms, including increased investment, subsidizing parents and providers, prioritizing equity, and addressing the shortage of early childhood educators. Also, the report suggested both the federal and provincial governments ‘explore’ creative solutions ranging from in-program changes to workplace-based child care.

 

“There is hope when we’re seeing such cross-sector acknowledgement that there is a need for child care that is good for the entire economy,” says Rosalind. “I do think there is hope for change.”

 

Read The She-Covery Project report at: https://occ.ca/wp-content/uploads/OCC-shecovery-final.pdf

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