Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The decision to retighten restrictions in Ontario in hopes of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and a rapid increase in hospitalizations has once again left businesses scrambling to make ends meet.

 

But with these latest restrictions, which includes cancelling in-door dining in restaurants and implementing capacity limits in the retail sector until Jan. 27, the lack of solid financial supports to assist businesses get through this latest wave is creating a great deal of frustration.

 

“If the government wants businesses to be compliant and agreeable with restrictions and be part of the solution to end this pandemic, then they are going to have compensate business,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The Province has done a very poor job of doing that from the onset of the pandemic.”

 

A similar sentiment is shared by his counterpart at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

“We are all doing our part. Now, the government needs to do their part,” said Ontario Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rocco Rossi in a Jan. 3 media release. “What additional steps does the government plan to take over the next 21 days and beyond?”

 

Greg says he welcomes the introduction of an Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant announced Jan. 7 that will see eligible small businesses receive $10,000 throughout these current closures as well as electricity-rate relief but believes more supports are needed.

 

“It may be enough for three weeks they are proposing, no question about it,” he says. “But if the closures are going to be in place longer than three weeks, which I hate to even say, they’re going to have to up the ante substantially. Businesses are at their most vulnerable time right now and business owners are at their wit’s end and at the end of their bank accounts.”

 

An application portal for this program is expected to open in the coming weeks and eligible businesses include:

  • Restaurants and bars;
  • Facilities for indoor sports and recreational fitness activities (including fitness centres and gyms);
  • Performing arts and cinemas;
  • Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions;
  • Meeting or event spaces;
  • Tour and guide services;
  • Conference centres and convention centres;
  • Driving instruction for individuals; and
  • Before- and after- school programs.

Also, those eligible businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and are subject to closure under modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen will be pre-screened to verify eligibility and will not need to apply to the new program. 

 

“The government can’t hesitate and must ramp up supports as quickly as possible, and as robust as they possibly can,” says Greg.

 

Greg says the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program unveiled before Christmas, which aims to provide eligible businesses with rebate payments equivalent to 50% of the property tax and energy costs they incur due to current capacity limits, doesn’t work for many businesses.

 

“Right now, many businesses that don’t have a separate tax or hydro bill because it’s included in the rent they pay will be ineligible to get that recovery,” he says, adding the mid-January timeline announced by the Province before it activates the portal for businesses to even apply just adds to their growing financial burdens. “The portal was already available after the government initiated a property tax and hydro rebate program a year ago. They should have opened this up right away.”

 

In response to these restrictions, the Ontario Chamber Network sent a letter Jan. 6 to Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy calling for the following:

  • Extend the Small Business Support Grant for a third round targeted towards all businesses whose revenues are directly and/or indirectly impacted by current public health restrictions. Eligibility should include businesses previously eligible for the Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant and businesses losing revenue because of restrictions affecting their clients (e.g. food service suppliers); 
  • Work with the federal government to increase rental subsidies provided under the newly expanded Local Lockdown Program like the enhanced Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program for businesses directly or indirectly impacted by public health restrictions; 
  • Immediately open the recently announced portal which would allow businesses to access rebates for property taxes and utilities, accompanied by rapid disbursements for eligible business expenses; 
  • Expand access to rapid antigen tests and PCR testing, with priority given to Ontarians unable to work from home, both to limit unnecessary isolation time and allow workers to demonstrate eligibility for paid sick days and other supports; 
  • Work with financial institutions and the federal government to forgive loans for businesses most severely impacted by public health restrictions. 

While the urgency for immediate assistance is needed, Greg says he fears these supports won’t be released quick enough to assist businesses, noting many of whom were starting to realize significant growth in the latter part of the summer and early fall.


“There are so many small businesses that have mounted a great deal of debt and it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to survive,” he says, adding for many it will be like starting from square one. “And we all know the survival rate for small businesses in the first five years is low.”

 

As well, he says businesses that have been around for a decade or two and were in ‘growth mode’ prior to the pandemic are also facing tough times ahead.


“It’s all been taken away from them now and the government just doesn’t seem to be there for them,” says Greg.


While he says while stricter health measures may be needed with this more easily transmissible COVID-19 variant, the line between science and politics has become somewhat blurred.


“There is a divide between science and politics and the two can never come together simply because politicians are trying to please the masses and science is trying to avert the predictable and therein lies the difference,” says Greg. “For the most part, I think government has been trying to take the science data and apply it to political realities and that’s never going to create a good scenario for anybody.”


He says there were measures the Ontario Chamber Network called upon the Province to take prior to the start of the second wave, such as mask mandates requiring surgical-grade and N95 masks being a requirement in public.


“Again, we still don’t have that,” says Greg. “I think there were other measures they should have invoked many months ago that would have probably put us in a better position going into this latest wave. The reality of the situation is the government has become so reactionary they tend to take longer to make decisions.”

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While COVID-19 has created a uniquely difficult situation for Ontario’s municipalities, it has also exposed areas to improve municipal fiscal governance.

 

Local governments do not have the fiscal autonomy they need to make them competitive and maintaining the status quo could be devastating for communities in a post-COVID economic recovery. The impact of the virus and the resultant public health measures have meant that most municipalities are seeing a decline in revenue and increase in expenditures.

 

In response, as all levels of government look to balance debt and deficits while protecting the well-being of our communities, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released its latest report, Better Budgets: Bolstering the Fiscal Resilience of Ontario’s Municipalities, which identifies 14 recommendations for both the Province and municipalities which can bring immediate and long-term relief to communities across Ontario.

 

“Municipalities in Ontario are facing a triple threat this year: an ongoing pandemic that has been devastating to local economies, reduced revenue from closed or limited services, and increased spending on public health and human services. The Financial Accountability Office estimates the pandemic will collectively cost municipalities $2.7 billion in 2021, on top of the expected $4.1 billion impact of 2020,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “In Budget 2021, the Government of Ontario committed to a long‐term economic growth plan. It is imperative public policymakers do everything they can do to ensure communities like ours do not get left behind in recovery.”

 

During the June 28 edition of our Chamber Chat, Cambridge City Manager David Calder and CFO Sheryl Ayres took a closer at the report and provided some great insight on the merits and viability of some of these recommendations, while identifying misconceptions relating to others.

 

“I commend the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on their work on Better Budgets,” said David, adding the report contained some ‘old chestnuts’ municipalities having been trying to change for many years when it comes managing finances. “It’s a good variety. Some we can support and some that might not be as supportable.”

 

Greg said for many years there has been ongoing discussion centred on the ‘restrictiveness’ of municipalities’ ability to raise revenue, noting changes are clearly needed, especially when it comes to Ontario’s property tax system.

 

“We have to undue to the system so to speak and make sure taxes are applied appropriately,” he said.

 

Sheryl agreed the current property tax system, which has been in place since the 1990s, is need of a full review.

“In doing that, they also need to look at other revenue tools that municipalities can use in addition to property taxes,” she said, noting that 91% of tax dollars go to the Provincial and Federal governments, leaving the remainder for municipalities. “Yet, we’ve got the greatest portion of expenses related to the assets that we own, and we are closer to the people in terms of the local services we provide. I believe we need a comprehensive review of the whole tax system and how it’s allocated across three levels of government, ensuring there is transparency and equity in how the funds are raised from the residents of Canada.”

 

David said the downloading of services to municipalities is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

 

“We need to review who should be providing what services and whether there are ways to be more cost efficient in the supply of those services,” he said. “It’s a very complex conversation but one that needs to take place.”

David said municipalities have been looking for ways to be more autonomous for many years in effort to make better decisions at the local level.

“We’ve got to figure out where do we want to be in that spectrum,” he said. “There needs to be discussion around trying to make sure we control our delivery a little bit where appropriate.”

 

The OCC report agrees and states the Ontario’s post-pandemic recovery and long-term success will depend heavily on unleashing the economic potential of its municipalities.

 

“Given that local governments in Ontario cannot run budget deficits, their current options for fiscal sustainability are limited to tax increases, service cuts, and the use of reserves,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy of the OCC. “Now is the time for municipalities and the province to explore alternative means of achieving fiscal sustainability.”

 

Key recommendations outlined in the report include:

Undertake a comprehensive and forward-looking review of Ontario’s property tax system to ensure the system is more equitable, efficient, and predictable for businesses.


Adhere to the ‘pay-for-say principle’ to ensure that all responsibilities are accompanied by adequate funding.


Enhance and incentivize regional collaboration across municipalities.  

 

The OCC report was created in partnership with KPMG Canada. Read the report.

 

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Small businesses across Canada need to voice their concerns to show decision-makers that they are “too big to ignore”. Show your support, watch the video and share.
 

 

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Today Cambridge will Elect its Political Leadership for the next 4 years.

 

 

 

 

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Get ready, they'll be knocking on your door looking for your vote. HOWEVER thisyear you don't need to go out and vote, you can vote in your jammies. That's right, ONLINE and Telephone voting is here in Cambridge. Odd that we are technically so far ahead of those other areas of our Region. Look, the internet is over 25 years old (in our homes), this is the 21st Century, I should be able to vote in my pajamas, its about time!

 

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We often take criticism, but generally from the Minority. We aim to listen to our Members and represent their views. A recent survey showed 66% are opposed to the Region of Waterloo's LRT plan and 81% are in favour of there being a question on the ballot about it in the fall Municipal Election. Lets see if Council listens to the Chamber and by the way, the Majority.....

 

 

 

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Yes it's true, there is a growing number of people who look at tax cuts or no increase as being NEGATIVE, believe it or not. Some people actually say they want to pay more. I am totally perplexed, never in the history of time have people said lets pay more, have they? I'm I missing something? Have I gotten off on the wrong planet? I sure hope I didn't.

 

 

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