Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

In the changing landscape of business, where uncertainty and rapid change are constants, effective leaders must adeptly manage chaos to ensure organizational resilience and success.

 

Navigating through tumultuous times requires a strategic and agile approach, says Linda Braga, Business & Executive Development Specialist with LMI Canada, which has provided leadership development for more than 50 years.

 

“I think there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there,” she says, referring to issues that now exist in workplaces surrounding remote working, labour shortages and retention. “I think leaders are still adapting to managing the workplace and the whole side of leading and actually developing their people because we are successful through our people.”

 

Unfortunately, Linda says developing employees now often takes a ‘backseat’ as company leaders navigate these issues, some of which have been magnified by major shifts in the workplace.

 

“There are four generations in the workplace right now and each come with different attitudes and different viewpoints,” she says, noting older employees prefer having that ‘physical’ presence in the office while younger ones are looking for more of a ‘social’ connection. “It’s about leaders being flexible and adaptable, and having more of an open mind to solicit feedback from their people. Empathy is huge right now.”

 

However, this could prove to be difficult considering statistics show that at least 60% of small and medium-sized businesses owners are aged 50 or older and many will soon be leaving their companies, making it harder for some to adapt to these dramatic workplace shifts before they retire.

 

Self-care important

 

To manage the chaos effectively, Linda leaders should first look at how they manage and lead themselves.

 

“I think it’s important they are able to put on their own oxygen masks first because they’re very busy dealing with the day to day trying to keep their companies running and keeping their employees happy,” she says, adding ‘self-care’ is something they should take seriously.

 

Linda says often leaders have difficulty asking for assistance, especially from their employees.

 

“Just because you’re a leader or manager, or a company owner, doesn’t necessarily mean you have all the answers and know everything,” she says. “That’s what I feel separates really good leaders from managers is that they empower their people.”

As well, when it comes navigating uncertainty and rapid change, setting goals is key for leaders.

 

“It’s important for our leaders and managers to have crystal clear goals, which they need to communicate,” says Linda, noting there is a big difference between efficiency and effectiveness. “They can be really good at being effective and doing things the right way. But are they doing the right things? Even as a leader, are you hitting your own goals? All leaders should be able to look at themselves in a mirror and be self-aware.”

 

 

Some key methods for business leaders to manage chaos:

 

 

Develop a Resilient Mindset:

Successful leaders should acknowledge that change is inevitable, viewing challenges as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. Embracing uncertainty allows leaders to respond with flexibility and creativity.

 

Establish Clear Communication Channels:

Leaders must provide regular updates, share relevant information, and foster a culture of open dialogue. Clear communication helps employees understand the situation, reduces anxiety, and builds trust in leadership.

 

Prioritize and Delegate Effectively:

Leaders must prioritize activities based on their impact on the organization's core objectives. Delegating responsibilities to capable team members ensures that tasks are handled efficiently, preventing overwhelm at the leadership level.

 

Encourage Adaptability:

Business leaders should encourage employees to embrace change, learn new skills, and remain agile in the face of uncertainty. An adaptable workforce is better equipped to navigate chaos and contribute to innovative solutions.

 

Invest in Technology and Automation:

Leveraging technology and automation can streamline processes and enhance organizational efficiency. Implementing digital solutions allows businesses to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and minimizes the disruptions caused by chaotic events.

 

Build a Diverse and Inclusive Team:

A diverse team brings varied perspectives and skills to the table, enhancing the organization's ability to address challenges creatively. Inclusion fosters a collaborative environment where team members feel valued, increasing their commitment to overcoming chaos together.

 

Conduct Scenario Planning:

Business leaders should engage in proactive scenario planning to anticipate potential challenges and devise strategies to address them. This foresight enables quicker and more effective responses when chaos unfolds, reducing the negative impact on the business.

 

Cultivate Emotional Intelligence:

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate uncertainty with empathy, providing support to their team members and maintaining a positive organizational culture.

 

Learn from Mistakes:

Successful leaders acknowledge mistakes, learn from them, and apply those lessons to improve future decision-making. This adaptive learning approach contributes to organizational resilience.

 

Strategic Resource Allocation:

Business leaders must strategically allocate financial, human, and technological resources to areas that will have the most significant impact on maintaining stability and achieving long-term objectives.

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The evolving nature of work continues to shape the employee landscape due to unprecedented changes driven by technological advancements, shifting societal expectations, and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As a result, organizations must adapt to emerging employee trends to foster a resilient and engaged workforce.

 

One way to accomplish this suggests Frank Newman, owner of Newman Human Resources Consulting, is to keep in touch with employees through engagement surveys.

 

“Listening to the pulse of your organization is going to be more important than ever,” he says. “Employers may also want to think about their work culture and in terms of what attracts people, and they want to make sure they are managing leadership effectively.”

 

Among the many trends employers must embrace is creating a more welcoming work environment, especially when it comes to Canada’s growing immigrant population.

 

More than 430,000 immigrants were brought to Canada in 2022 by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), with an additional target of 485,000 this year and a further 500,000 in 2025. IRCC data indicates in 2022, 184,725 of these new permanent residents came to Ontario.

 

“There is a large talent pool available, and employers have to be thoughtful in how they bring new talent into their organizations from our immigrant population,” says Frank. “The whole concept of diversity, inclusion, and equality is rising in terms of what’s important for companies and for individuals. If you’re not having that positive and diverse work culture, that’s going to hurt you in the long run.”

 

AI gaining importance

 

He says the introduction of AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Copy.ai and Kickresume, have not only benefitted Canada’s newcomer population by helping them become more proficient and fluid in the English language, but have become valuable assets for businesses as well.

 

“I think we are going to see more employers looking for people who have some AI experience,” says Frank. “Being able to say you can demonstrate use of those tools is a good thing for potential job candidates.”

 

However, there are potential downsides such as the creation of AI generated resumes and materials that can help a candidate embellish their qualifications.

 

“There are tools to test a document to see if it’s been AI written and you may now see many sophisticated employers doing just that,” he says. “They may also be thinking of asking a potential employee to provide writing samples.”

 

Managing performance key

 

Another trend is the emergence of ‘The Great Stay’ phenomenon, which experts say has been replacing the ‘Great Resignation’ experienced during the pandemic as employees re-evaluated their priorities and migrated to other opportunities.

 

“I’m not sensing The Great Stay too much in this region and am still sensing a fair bit of fluidity, but having people stay longer is always a good thing because it’s less costly,” says Frank, noting it can cost at least three times an employee’s salary to replace them considering the recruitment process, training, and upskilling. “Employers still have to focus on managing performance if people are going to stay longer and they have to invest in leadership and coaching if you want to maximize your investment.”

 

He notes employees may also be a little reluctant to move due to the ‘shakiness’ of the economy.

 

“I think employers may want to continue to monitor salaries which have stabilized quite a bit and want to make sure they are staying around that 3-4% annual change,” says Frank. “But I think in general, employers are cautiously optimistic about things going forward.”

 

 

Job Market Trends 

 

Hybrid Work Models

Employees now seek a balance between the flexibility of remote work and the collaboration offered by in-person interactions. Organizations that embrace hybrid models will likely attract and retain top talent, offering employees the autonomy to choose where and when they work.

 

Employee Well-being Takes Centre Stage

Organizations are placing a heightened focus on mental health, work-life balance, and holistic wellness programs. Employees value employers who prioritize their well-being, leading to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

 

Continuous Learning and Development

With the rapid pace of technological advancements, the demand for upskilling and reskilling is on the rise. Employees expect continuous learning opportunities to stay relevant in their roles and advance their careers. Forward-thinking organizations invest in robust training programs and partnerships with educational institutions to foster a culture of continuous development.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

Employees prioritize working for organizations that are committed to fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces. Companies that actively address and rectify disparities in hiring, promotions, and pay will not only attract diverse talent but also create a more innovative and collaborative work environment.

 

Emphasis on Employee Experience

Employee experience encompasses the overall journey of an employee within an organization. Companies are investing in enhancing the employee experience, from onboarding to offboarding. Personalized employee experiences, feedback mechanisms, and inclusive company cultures contribute to higher employee satisfaction and retention rates.

 

Remote Employee Engagement

With remote work becoming a staple, maintaining employee engagement is a challenge for many organizations. Companies are leveraging technology to create virtual team-building activities, foster communication, and build a strong remote work culture. Employee engagement tools and platforms play a crucial role in keeping teams connected and motivated.

 

Job Search and Career Success Hinge on Ethics

Employers are still looking for candidates who create undeniable value, not just put in clocked times, who have above-average communication skills, have a strong work ethic, will be reliable, possess the ability to think critically and above all, will fit their culture. Regardless of the uncertainty ahead, the key to creating job search luck will be the same as it has always been: preparation of hard work. 

 

 ‘The Great Stay’

The current global economic situation, the state of China and other major economies, as well as the ongoing geopolitical conflicts will see recession talk intensify, leading companies to focus on vital roles and hold off on hiring for roles that aren’t ‘must-haves’. Taking these factors into consideration, the next year it will be ‘The Great Stay’ as opposed to the ‘Great Resignation’ when many people switched jobs/careers during the pandemic.

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The much-anticipated introduction of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care plan and its goal to introduce its $10 a-day program by 2026 has created a higher demand for spaces as regulated child-care facilities struggle to find qualified staff, which in turn has impacted the economy as parents, many of them women, forgo entering or re-entering the workforce to stay home with their children.

 

“As the plan was introduced right at the beginning of 2023 fees have been cut in half and that has opened up the opportunity for a lot more families to access care that couldn’t, or didn’t, in the past,” says YWCA Cambridge CEO Kim Decker, noting the long wait lists it has created at the organization’s four school-based centres. “We now have parents calling us when they find out they are pregnant to see if they can get their kids on the list for child care because there just aren’t enough spaces.”

 

She says the national plan is being implemented in different ways by provinces and territories, explaining the political ‘will’ of each is dictating what level of success they will reach. In Ontario, which committed to reach $10 per day and create 86,000 new spaces by 2026 when it secured a deal last March with the Government of Canada, Kim says the plan has fallen short.

 

“It’s a status quo funding model and there’s no real opportunity for growth,” she says. “There needs to be a growth plan that accompanies this.”

 

Child-care ‘deserts’ created

 

Kim says the national plan was put in place to not only reduce fees for parents, but create spaces, particularly for those living in underserviced areas. Quoting a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Kim says 53% of younger children in the province reside in child-care ‘deserts’, adding that Kitchener-Waterloo was identified in the report as being underserviced, despite a push by the Region of Waterloo to the Province to provide more spaces.

 

“Right now, we know that from 2024 to 2026, we will only get another 200 spaces,” she says, adding other local licensed child-care providers are also experiencing space shortages.

 

Kim says the economic impacts of these shortages are being amplified as more companies continue to call employees back to the workplace, explaining that many parents had taken their children out of child care when the pandemic hit but now can no longer find them spaces.

 

“This has disproportionately impacted women because if a family has choices, I will say in most cases it will be the women who will have to make the decision to give up their careers and stay home,” she says. “It’s going to affect the economy and women need to be a big part of our economy if it is going to remain strong.”

 

Chamber submits national policy

 

In effort to alleviate the problem, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has submitted a national policy to be considered by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce network at its AGM this fall in Calgary, Alta. Included among our recommendations is a call for the federal and provincial/territorial governments to work together to investigate the possibility of providing subsidization for ECE (early childhood educators) wages and the creation of a fully funded pension and benefits plan in effort to attract more workers into the child-care sector with the goal of reducing wait lists.

 

Labour shortages in terms of attraction and the retention of qualified ECEs has compounded the issue of growing wait lists. As noted in a recent response released by the YWCA Ontario Coalition to the Province regarding its CWELCC discussion paper on the child-care funding formula, the group identified the fact the plan is based on operating capacity rather than licensed capacity. YWCA Ontario’s response states many Ontario child-care operators are operating below licensed capacity due to recruitment and retention issues yet must still bear the costs of maintaining rooms and unoccupied spaces which makes it difficult to hire additional staff to fill those empty spaces.

 

YWCA dealing with staffing crisis

 

“We are in a staffing crisis right now,” says Kim, adding the local YWCA has used reserved funds to hire someone to work with its director of child-care services on recruitment and retention. “We need to be able to staff the spaces we already have.”

 

The Province has set a wage floor of $18 an hour for ECEs, with Ontario’s Minister of Education Stephen Lecce recently announcing an increase of $1 a year annually up to $25.

 

“That’s not going to work,” says Kim. “It needs a whole new way of thinking and a whole new strategy, and a real commitment to paying people what they are worth.”

 

The Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario has called for a minimum of $30 an hour for ECEs and $25 an hour for non-ECE staff members. Either one or two of the workers in a child-care room are required to be an ECE, depending on the age of the children.

 

“They have the responsibility for our youngest learners and creating a foundation and baseline for them going forward. It is a really important job and for a very long time, we’ve devalued the work child-care workers provide in our community,” says Kim, adding how local child-care workers were one of the first groups to return to work a few months after the pandemic began in 2020, allowing parents to get back to work sooner. “I think the pandemic also shone a light on how the whole care economy has been underpaid for a really long period of time and child care is part of that.”

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As businesses continue to look forward as they develop staffing plans to tackle 2023, they may also wish to take a quick look back at new policies that have now been added to the Employment Standards Act, 2000.

 

These include the right to disconnect legislation first unveiled in Ontario Bill 27 in December of 2021, and the electronic monitoring policy outlined in Bill 88, Working for Workers Act, 2022, and added to the ESA in April of last year.

 

The new policies – the subject of much discussion since they were first introduced - directly affect employers that employ 25 or more employees as of January 1 of any year and must be in place before March 1 of that year.

 

We reached out to Meagan Swan, an employment law expert at Pavey Law LLP in Cambridge, to offer insight on what these new policies mean for employers:

 

 

Q. What should employers be thinking about when it comes to timelines surrounding these ESA changes?

 

Meagan:  Employers were supposed to have these new policies in place last year, but as we know for some employers it takes a new year to really start thinking about what needs to be done in 2023. If an employer now has 25 employees, inclusive of all the employer’s business locations, as of Jan. 1, these policies are to be in place by March 1 of each year and provided to their employees within 30 days.

The government has been very reasonable about rolling out the new requirements and giving lots of notice in advance. As we start a new year, employers need to think, ‘do I now meet the employee threshold’ and ‘if I do, how do I create the right policy for my business’. 

The timelines each year do give employers a buffer to ensure they have any new policy reviewed before implementing them with employees.

 

 

Q. What are some of the steps employers should be taking regarding these policies if they haven’t already?

 

Meagan: The first step is to make sure they have the necessary policies in place by March 1 that work for their business. However, employers need to understand that these new policies do not give any new rights to employees. They are basically setting out what the expectations are when it comes to electronic monitoring and the right to disconnect. These policies are all about being transparent. 

An employer can tailor these policies to their business.  For the Right to Disconnect policy, an employer can outline the expectations for when an employee is required to review or respond to emails after hours or engage in other after-hours activities. 

An employer can also include exceptions in their policy to address urgent work that may arise. 

Communicating these expectations to employees is likely not new.  Rather, we are now requiring employers to have these expectations outlined in writing. I have seen some employers implement standard form policies – because there are lots of templates online – and then they end up restricting themselves more than necessary because many are very employee focused. 

These standard form policies don’t consider or address each employer’s specific business or its needs, so it’s important to obtain advice regarding the use of any template to see if it’s the right fit for your business. 

An employer should ensure their policy includes those exceptions and considerations needed for their own operations. Simply, an employer should consider obtaining professional assistance when creating their policies.

 

 

Q. What type of penalties could employers be facing surrounding lack of policy implementation?

 

Meagan: The government has not updated the regulations to include any specific penalties related to these new policies.  As of now, the standard complaint process to the Ministry of Labour is available to employees if an employer had not complied with its requirement to implement the policies.  This type of complaint will likely trigger a visit or communication from an ESA officer to investigate whether the employer is compliant.  If not, an Order requiring the employer to become compliant will likely be issued.

 

 

Q. Were there many changes to the Employment Standards Act in 2022 and did the pandemic play a role?

 

Meagan: COVID-19 has really pushed the government to implement new regulations through the ESA. For example, we had the Infectious Disease Emergency Leave (IDEL) regulation implemented to temporarily change the ESA rules related to reduction of hours, pay and layoffs.   We all know that the pandemic also required many employees to work remotely.  

Many of these employees began feeling the stresses of remote work and maintaining a balance between their home and work life. I believe the government was reacting to these pandemic related issues by implementing the requirement for employers to have Right to Disconnect and Electronic Monitoring policies in their workplace.

Many employers were hesitant at first and believed these polices would be onerous or would take away their ability to manage their own business.

But in reality, most of my clients have been able to implement policies that fit their business and it is now very transparent to employees what the expectations are for remote work and the monitoring of work.   

 

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Keeping workers safe and healthy is an important component of any well-run company.

 

However, managing the protocols and requirements that surround it is often an area that creates frustration for many businesses.

 

“A lot of companies put health and safety on the backburner prior to the pandemic,” says Ray Snow, President of Heartzap Safety Training & Equipment in Cambridge, noting the costs that often surround it. “But now they realize they can’t put it on the backburner and have to address it and that’s what we’re seeing now.”

 

He says companies that had once been shut down during the pandemic are seeing a larger Ministry of Labour (MOL) presence of in the community and are paying close attention.

 

“MOL is at construction sites and knocking on company’s doors seeing if they have their policies in place and are they following health and safety rules, and nobody today can afford to have their operations shutdown again.”

 

For that reason, he recommends businesses revisit their health and safety policies and protocols to make sure they are up to date.

 

“But not everyone has that ability,” says Ray, noting larger corporations have the staff to manage health and safety compared to SMEs. “An SME may have a health and safety committee, but they may not have a designated staff person that does health and safety management on a regular basis.”

 

He suggests an outside health and safety audit, which Heartzap provides, is a viable alternative to ensure a business is meeting the correct standards and practices, possibly saving them money in the end. According to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, the average cost of a lost-time injury is $106,500 - $21,300 in direct costs (WSIB premiums) and $85,200 in costs to the company of the injured employee.

 

“We’re not there to point out all the faults. We’re there to help and grow with you,” says Ray. “Health and safety has always had that negative ‘cracking the whip’ connotation. It’s really more about education.”

 

Through a wide variety of virtual training courses, something Heartzap has offered for several years prior to the pandemic in a blended online and in-class format, he says companies can ensure staff working remotely can remain up to date on their training as part of any work-from-home policies.

 

“The shift is changing in the world and in Canada on how people learn. They don’t necessarily have to be in a classroom all day long,” says Ray, noting keeping current on rapidly changing health and safety guidelines has been a big concern for Heartzap clients. “As much as the government did a great job creating templates for everybody, they still required somebody to go look at them on a bi-weekly or weekly basis because it changed so much. The biggest concern now is getting people up to speed.”

 

He says the costs surrounding health and safety training have risen, just like they have for most businesses and that supply chain issues have affected the availability of products causing potential delays in delivery.

 

“I think everybody is kind of two and half years behind in health and safety in terms of training or policy work or reviewing their facilities, but everybody wants it done today,” says Ray, noting like many sectors, staffing shortages are causing delays. “We only have so many staff to get out there and get the job done.”

 

As a result, he recommends businesses don’t wait until the last minute when it comes to reviewing or updating their health and safety policies.

 

“If you want it done for the fall or winter, don’t wait for the fall and winter to come.”

 

To learn more, visit Heartzap Safety Training & Equipment.

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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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Ontario’s economic outlook remains uncertain for businesses and households as labour shortages, high energy costs, supply chain disruptions, and inflation continue to hit home. Ontario's business community needs a clear and predictable path forward to support economic recovery and growth. 

 

In preparation of the budget’s release, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released the 2022 Ontario budget submission with recommendations to the Government of Ontario to ensure a strong and sustainable recovery. 

 

“In the upcoming budget, we would like to see the government direct sufficient resources towards the hardest-hit sectors, while laying the groundwork for a sustainable and inclusive economy,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The submission notes that the crisis has created new problems and exacerbated pre-existing ones. Government must work to resolve these longstanding issues to ensure Ontario remains an attractive destination to start and grow businesses.”

 

OCC’s 2022 provincial budget submission provides recommendations to the Government of Ontario under the following categories: Economic Recovery; Resilient Communities; and Modernizing Regulation and Fiscal Policy.

 

Some key highlights include proposals to:  

  • Support entrepreneurship and small business growth with targeted business supports and access to public sector procurement.
  • Strengthen Ontario’s workforce by boosting immigration and training programs.
  • Make housing more affordable through increased supply and regulatory reforms.
  • Advance regional transportation and broadband infrastructure projects.
  • Bolster our health care system and address major backlogs in diagnostics and cancer screenings. 
  • Seize Ontario’s opportunity to lead in the global green economy. 
  • Remove barriers to interprovincial trade and labour mobility.

 

“The pandemic has made it clear that we cannot have a strong business community without a resilient health care system. Budget 2022 needs to focus on immediate measures that support business predictability and competitiveness while building health care capacity to withstand current and future challenges,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

The recommendations outlined in the OCC’s budget submission were developed together with businesses, associations, post-secondary institutions, and the Ontario Chamber Network.   

 

Read the submission: https://bit.ly/3usBZa9

 

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A decision by the Government of Ontario to lift vaccine passport requirements on March 1, 2022 came as much-needed relief to many and a positive signal to businesses that better times may finally be ahead.

 

But it’s a move that may be fraught with questions and concerns since Ontario’s current Roadmap to Reopen Plan indicates that certain high-risk settings are required to have vaccination policies, or proof of vaccination requirements, in place.  Further, under the current rules, other settings, can “opt in” and choose to continue to require proof of vaccination, even though they are no longer legally obligated to do so. 

 

We discussed these changes, and related issues, with Tushar Anandasagar, of Gowling WLG’s Employment, Labour and Equalities Group.

 

Mandatory Workplace Vaccination Policies (Employees)

 

On February 17, 2022, the province announced that it was considering the elimination of mandatory workplace vaccination policy requirements that are currently in place in various high-risk sectors. When these requirements were first introduced, the province stipulated that policies would meet the compliance requirements under law if they allowed employees to choose between proof of vaccination and/or proof of a medical exemption, or submitting to an education campaign and undergoing regular Rapid Antigen Testing.

 

According to Tushar, a business that complied with provincial proof of vaccination requirements is unlikely to face legal consequences. “If the employer implemented a bare minimum statutory compliance policy that gave the employees all the options stipulated by the Province - like saying the speed limit is 100 and go do the speed limit - I don’t think an employer is going to be penalized for having done the speed limit."

 

However, if the province eliminates mandatory vaccination policy requirements after March 1, businesses could face additional legal exposure, particularly if the business implemented a policy that went beyond the provincial requirements for employees.  “If the provincial requirements fall away, businesses in the high-risk sector that choose to maintain their policies could face additional legal consequences because they will be exceeding the provincial requirements.”

 

Proof of vaccination issues (Customers / Patrons)

 

The province eliminated proof of vaccination requirements that were previously in place for restaurants and similar settings, earlier this month.  However, the current rules provide certain businesses that were previously subject to vaccine passport requirements with the ability to “opt in” to require proof of vaccination on a day-by-day basis, if certain requirements are met.

 

“At this stage, it is unclear whether the province’s announcement will affect the current ‘opt-in’ rules beyond March 1, 2022,” says Tushar.  “On a purely theoretical basis, I don’t think the province will completely eliminate the proof of vaccination system that was developed at great expense just a few months ago – even though the (COVID-19) numbers are dropping.”  Tushar adds, “rather than eliminating this option, we could see an expansion of the current Stage 3 opt-in rules, which could make this protocol available to businesses outside of the limited sectors noted in Regulation 364/20.”

 

Even though there is currently an opt-in protocol for certain businesses, those that choose to opt in could face legal challenges from customers.  “Ontario has a free and open court system – so there is always an element of ‘use at your own risk’,” Tushar says.  He adds, “However, I think a plaintiff would face an uphill battle based on the current rules, since there is currently a legislative provision that allows for this, assuming the business is eligible and meets all of the province’s opt-in requirements.”

 

Tushar says the more expected risk for businesses who decide to keep proof of vaccination requirements in place will likely relate to managing public relations, including negative feedback popping up on social media. “That has been an ongoing concern that businesses have been dealing with since Day 1 of the pandemic,” he says.

 

Tushar and his team at Gowling WLG continue to diligently sift through the latest legislative changes as restrictions around the pandemic in Ontario ease.  We will be working with the legal team at Gowling WLG to bring you updates on a variety of issues over the coming weeks. 

 

For further information or specific questions about the recent changes to Ontario’s Reopen Plan, please contact Tushar directly at [email protected].

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From food and clothing to automotive parts and medical supplies, the list of freight transported by truckers to keep our supply chain operating is practically endless.

 

But keeping those trucks rolling since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a major challenge to those who make their living in this sector.

 

“This has definitely created the greatest turmoil in the industry,” says Rena Hawkins, President of Cambridge-based H-Four Logistics Inc. “But there have certainly been other challenges.”

 

Part of the transportation sector since 1994, she has seen many changes in her industry, including a growing shortage of drivers which has continued to worsen for the last decade as many choose retirement. According to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Canada is currently facing a shortage of 20,000 drivers.

 

“Being a truck driver is not an easy job and it’s not an attractive job for someone with a young family,” admits Rena, noting good wages can be made but that restrictions regarding hours of service and flexibility makes it tough to earn a higher salary.

 

“They’re not working 40 hours a week; they’re working 60 to 70 hours a week to make that money which makes it hard for young people to want to get into this industry.”

 

Factor in the pandemic, and she says the situation has only grown more difficult, especially in the beginning when carriers she booked travelled to the United States only to discover shipping and receiving facilities closed due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

 

“The driver could wind up sitting there for 24 hours waiting to offload or upload. Who’s going to pay that driver? Is it me, my customer, or the shipper?” says Rena, noting a lot of negotiating and understanding was needed on all sides to find solutions. “Everybody really had to pitch in and help cover those costs for the drivers, so they weren’t out of pocket because obviously it wasn’t their fault.” 

 

She says that issue sorted itself out once the summer months arrived and transmission levels lowered.

 

“Now, the biggest challenge of course is the vaccination mandate, which means there are now 10% of drivers who are not in the market and can’t cross the Canada/U.S. border,” says Rena, adding even though that number doesn’t appear to be high it will impact the supply chain. “Imagine if you have a company with 100 employees and are relying on those people to make sure your operation is running smoothly. Even if you lose 10 of those people, you’re going to have glitches in that operation,” she says. “It’s a very fragile balance.”

 

Rena says a possible solution could surface in which non-vaccinated truckers deliver to the border where they upload or unload to vaccinated Canadian drivers in the U.S., noting a premium rate of pay could be offered as compensation to the drivers who must spend more time south of the border. 

 

“However, that is just going to inflate the transportation rates right across the board, not even factoring in the cost of fuel,” she says, noting the recent protest in Ottawa has clearly put a spotlight on the whole industry.

 

“I feel whatever side of the fence you sit on regarding the mandate issue, there seems to be a lot of appreciation now for the drivers and the work they do,” says Rena. “I think people are really seeing the impact they have on our daily lives.”

 

She hopes a ‘silver lining’ could emerge from this turmoil by inspiring a new generation of drivers to enter the industry. 

 

“They seem so excited about these truck drivers and I’m hoping new drivers will start looking to get into the market.”

 

In terms of the future, Rena remains optimistic of what’s down the road for her sector.

“We’re pretty creative people and will find solutions that will keep things moving,” she says, adding examples of ‘pivoting’ seen in the hospitality and restaurant sectors early in the pandemic is something her industry can take to heart. “They kind of laid the groundwork on how to get creative and make changes to have a sustainable business so our industry can look at what they’ve done and try to apply that kind of thinking to our business.”

 

Learn more about  H-Four Logistics.

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A shortage of rapid antigen screening kits threatens to hamper the ability of local Chambers to assist Waterloo Region businesses stay safe over the next few weeks, says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Since the start of April, the Cambridge and Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chambers have been working with Health Canada and the Province to provide free self-screening kits to small and medium-sized businesses throughout our Region.

 

Since that time, more than 700,000 of the kits have been distributed, not to just to Chamber members but all SMEs with less than 150 employees. The goal of the program was to identify asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals from spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

“Up until December, everything was running very smoothly, and people were ordering kits and they were keeping workplaces safe,” says Greg, noting a provincewide shortage has altered that at very critical time for businesses. “There are a number of workplaces that are in a very vulnerable situation that are essential and it’s very important they screen employees every couple of days. You can’t have an essential business close their doors for 14 days.”

 

The Chamber initiative, which began as a pilot program and was quickly implemented provincewide by other Chambers through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce network, is waiting on a delivery of approximately 150,000 of the kits to fulfill orders placed by businesses through its Chambercheck.ca portal.

 

“But the fact of the matter is we have at least 1,600 businesses who are now waiting in the cue to get their kits and we don’t have any,” says Greg, noting that leaves approximately 70,000 employees in Waterloo Region without access to rapid screening until at least mid-January.

 

“Even when we receive our order that still won’t be enough because to test that many employees we need at least 280,000 kits,” he says, explaining proper screening requirements call for employees to use the kits at least twice a week.

 

The Chamber’s last order of 50,000 kits – a week’s supply - arrived Dec. 6 and was quickly allocated to businesses or re-allocated to other businesses (including restaurants) if they were not picked up. 

 

“We know there are many workplaces that have to have them,” says Greg, adding a decision by the Province to distribute a single box of screening kits containing five tests to students over the Christmas break may not have been the best method. “It’s a great idea, but not enough has been handed out. Five tests aren’t enough and there isn’t a real strategy attached for their use and to even retain some tests for going back to school. Just handing them out is no real strategy.”

 

He says distributing through workplaces has been a great way to reach more people. 

 

“We’ve always said from the very beginning of this to the Province that about 63% of Ontarians are in workplaces so if you make rapid screening kits available for employees you have the potential to reach 63% of the population,” says Greg, noting not all employees may wish to take part in the screening program unless it was mandated. 

 

He says it would have proven cheaper for the Province to distribute more screening kits to workplaces and even curtail the resale of the kits for exorbitant amounts online.

 

“The BESTWR (Business and Economic Support Team of Waterloo Region), along with the Chambers, started encouraging the Province to do rapid screening in May of 2020 and it took them almost a year to get out and going because we stepped up to the plate and said we would do the pilot program,” says Greg. “We literally wrote the playbook so they could pass it on.”

 

He says running the free screening program through the Chambers has also ensured all the necessary safety protocols are followed.

 

“We have all the safeguards in place to make sure these kits are being used correctly and continue to be accessible to answer any questions if businesses have had a problem,” says Greg. “It really has been a seamless program, but now we’ve seen an unnecessary pause during the most critical time for these businesses.”

 

For information, visit Chambercheck.ca

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