Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce is easing its way back into hosting traditional events.

 

After more than 20 months since the pandemic began, the Chamber is set to host its first in-person Business After Hours event on Dec. 13 at Four Fathers Brewing Co. in Hespeler.

 

Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher says is an important step for the organization.

“It’s a priority for the Chamber to start getting back to in-person events,” he says. “But whether they will be ‘normal’ as we all remember them, that probably won’t happen for some time.”

 

In fact, Greg expects future Chamber events will be of the ‘hybrid’ variation to a certain degree, providing Members the chance to attend in-person or remain in a virtual setting.

 

“That’s going to be for the benefit of everybody,” he says. “But we will certainly provide Members with value in regard to our content the best that we can.”

He says having an in-person Business After Hours event is important to many Chamber Members.

 

“It’s important for people doing business in the community to have an opportunity to meet safely with others face-to-face,” says Greg, noting the importance of following strict safety protocols and restrictions set out in the Province’s Reopening Ontario Act.

 

As a result, participants will not only have to register in advance, but proof of vaccination is required as well as identification that matches that material.

Just like restaurants, the provincial QR code will also be utilized at the event.

 

“Most of our events take place in other venues, such as conference centres, restaurants or meeting rooms that are not ours,” says Greg, noting regulations set out in the Act apply to these locations.

 

As well, the Cambridge Chamber Board of Directors recently passed a mandatory vaccination policy for the Chamber office for staff and visitors arriving for meetings or programs. Those with a valid COVID-19 vaccination exemption, or having valid documentation to present, will be required to take a rapid antigen screening test before entering. These tests will be provided by the Chamber at no cost.  

 

“These are precautionary measures put in place on behalf of the staff because our staff want assurances they are working in a safe environment and we’re doing whatever we can do to make sure that happens,” says Greg, adding like many businesses, the Chamber office is also covered under the Reopening Ontario Act and is entitled to invoke a vaccination policy.

 

Creating a safe environment will also be key at the Business After Hours event which is why the Chamber will provide colour-coded lanyards to participants when they arrive.

 

“Each colour will indicate that person’s comfort level of contact,” says Greg, noting that physical distancing and masks remain important. “Some people are very anxious to get out and meet others in-person, and others are anxious to get out and meet but aren’t quite comfortable enough to do so.”

 

Business After Hours takes place from 5-6:30 p.m. For more, visit https://bit.ly/3pdiUVI

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The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

The terms ‘hybrid’ and ‘flexible’ have become commonplace as companies and businesses formulate plans for their staff to return to a work environment that’s going to be far different than the one many left when the pandemic first struck in March of last year.

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

“We’re seeing a ton of anxiety out there right now as more and more employers start thinking of having people come back to the office,” says Frank Newman, who operates Newman HR. 

 

A survey conducted by KMPG Canada in the spring as vaccinations began to ramp up showed that 81% of Canadian workers were worried their employers and managers were not equipped to handle a return to work properly, and nearly two thirds of those surveyed wanted to go back to their workplaces but COVID-19 remained their core reason for reluctance. In fact, 68% said that working alongside colleagues who may be sick or asymptomatic was a top concern.

 

People have gotten very comfortable and generally quite productive working at home,” says Frank, adding the comforts of home and no commuting have become big draws for many. “I would say people are 90% to 95% as productive as they were working in the office. But clearly, we’re missing some of those creative exchange of ideas that come from sitting next to someone or from random conversations.”

 

In effort to quell the concerns of returning employees, he has been recommending to clients they create an open dialogue with their team to identify their worries or fears.

 

“It’s a little like when an employee returns from a maternity or parental leave. We just assume everything is the same but what we don’t realize is that they have undergone a bit of profound psychological change and I think we kind of had that experience working at home,” says Frank. “Companies have to try and understand what might have happened in employees’ lives while they were away. Some of us may have had loss and some of us may have had catastrophic things happen.”

 

Therefore, he says employers need to create or enhance their Employee Assistance Plans, especially around access to counselling, financial or legal supports – not just health, RRSPs and dental benefits. 

 

“I think more companies have recognized how stressed people have been,” says Frank, noting some employees may be reluctant to access these supports fearing word may spread in the workplace. “These programs are run with the highest sense of ethics in place in terms that nothing gets shared, even with your HR department. There shouldn’t be any fear about utilizing an EAP program if you have one.”

 

As well, he says vaccination policies are a huge concern and appear to be ‘all over the map’ in some workplaces and stressed that whatever stance a company takes regarding its own policy, it should be clearly defined for the employees.

 

“You want to make sure you’re talking about why you’re doing a policy, regardless of what it is because people need to know,” says Frank. “We want to keep people feeling safe at work.”

 

He says optimism appears high right now regarding bringing workers back and expects to see even more people return starting in January.

 

“I’ve got clients in virtually every sector. And the most challenging time right now is in the restaurant and food services industry,” says Frank, explaining vaccination passports and the fact fewer people have been dining out are continuing factors hitting this industry hard.

 

Also, he says workplaces with an office and a production/manufacturing component also may see the natural divide between the two widen since the office workers likely were allowed to work from home during the pandemic.

 

“Companies have to be thoughtful about how they show appreciation to those people who’ve been at the workplace every day,” he says, adding celebrating the return of employees in a positive way would also be beneficial. “I like the idea of giving something tangible, like a gift card perhaps.”

 

Frank says connections must be cultivated as people return to their offices.

 

“What we’ve learned from this whole process is that finding ways to connect with people is so important,” he says.

 

For more information, visit Newman Human Resources or contact Frank Newman at 519.362.8352.

 

Things for employers to consider as outlined by the Harvard Business Review:

 

Do:  

  • Ask - anonymously, if necessary – how people are feeling about returning to the office so you can respond directly to their concerns

  • Allow people to experiment with different ways of working so the shift to in-person or hybrid work doesn’t feel sudden. 

  • Continue to be compassionate — to your team members, and to yourself.

 

Don’t:  

  • Assume people are going to tell you that they’re feeling anxious

  • Neglect to make clear why in-person or hybrid work is beneficial to employees (not just to the company).

  • Make promises you can’t keep, such as assuring people their careers won’t be impacted by working from home or that they can do so indefinitely.

 

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Providing the necessary supports to businesses is vital, especially as work continues to rebuild our economy in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by getting people back to work. 

 

One way to ensure the economic development of Canada is well positioned is by creating more opportunities for entrepreneurial newcomers who can not only help fill existing labour shortage gaps but work towards reshaping our business landscape by opening new businesses and assisting existing ones in need of solid succession plans as aging business owners look towards retirement. 

 

With that in mind, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has developed a policy through consultations with Members via its MasterMind series entitled ‘Promoting the need for Entrepreneurship Immigration’ which calls for the Federal government to examine ways to ensure that a percentage of the 1.2 million immigrants slated to be brought to Canada by our government over the course of the next three years be linked to the entrepreneurship stream.

 

The policy won approval at the recent 2021 Canadian Chamber AGM & Convention which attracted more than 250 Chamber policymakers and officials nationwide virtually over a two-day period. The approved policy now becomes part of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s mandate when it lobbies at the legislative level with the Federal government.

 

“This policy will target individuals who are entrepreneurs and business builders who come to Canada with money in their pockets to not only invest in this country, but more importantly to invest in their own businesses here that will create opportunities for other Canadians,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’re always looking for companies that want to expand into Canada, but why don’t we look for people who want to bring their businesses and business ideas here? It’s a market that’s been left untapped and we hope this policy receives serious consideration at the Federal level.”

 

An estimated 181,000 of small business owners according to a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey conducted last year said they were seriously considering closing due to the pandemic and at least 200,000 were facing closure. Coupled with the fact many small business owners on the verge of retirement have not created viable succession plans – a CFIB survey conducted in 2018 indicated more than $1.5 trillion in business assets will be in play over the next decade as 72% of small business owners leave their business – there exists many potential opportunities for new immigrants with an entrepreneurial spirit.  

 

A current shortage of workers, especially in the construction, manufacturing, and hospitality industries, has set the stage for skilled immigrants in these fields to enter the market and possibly use their entrepreneurial know-how and practical work experiences to create new opportunities in these sectors. 

 

The Federal government has been attempting to make strides in addressing the ongoing shortage of skilled workers in Canada which has been only amplified by the pandemic. 

 

In February of this year, it announced an invitation to approximately 27,300 workers with Canadian experience to apply for permanent residence. This followed on an earlier federal announcement in the fall of 2020 to bring to Canada an additional 1.2 million immigrants over the course of the next three years: 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and 421,000 in 2023. 

 

While this influx of newcomers is welcomed and needed considering there are growing concerns centred on Canada’s falling birth rate, a more focused approach to create an ‘economic immigration policy’ that not only provides ample assistance to newcomers but also ensures the needs of existing Canadian groups, including Indigenous entrepreneurs seeking their own opportunities, are not negatively impacted, would be beneficial.

 

“We have an immigration policy that is geared towards our economy. It’s a point system, largely generated on the skills newcomers bring to the table,” says Greg, referring to education and various qualifications. “The problem is there are holes within the economic system that are not being filled.”

 

He says the current system often seems to focus on professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and engineers but needs to be widened. 

 

“We need to look at people who have businesses and would like to move them here have business ideas and the skills to develop those ideas in Canada,” says Greg.

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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce release second pillar of their ‘Ontario Business Matters’ federal election campaign: Healthy People and Prosperous Communities

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) called on the next Parliament to take decisive action to support healthy and prosperous communities as the foundation of a robust and inclusive economic recovery.

 

In its Second Pillar of its Ontario Business Matters federal election platform, released today, Healthy People and Prosperous Communities, the Cambridge Chamber and OCC underscore the importance of strategic investments in health care, childcare, reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and reskilling opportunities for those hardest hits by the pandemic.

 

“The COVID-19 crisis has strained Ontario’s health care system and the economic impacts of the pandemic have been disproportionate for women, Indigenous peoples, newcomers, and racialized peoples,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “Targeted policies – such as making childcare more accessible and affordable for families as well as advancing re-skilling opportunities for those hit hardest by the pandemic – will be critical to Canada’s rapid recovery and long-term growth.”

 

The campaign also notes the need to address growing health care needs, support the province’s aging population, and prepare for future crises. It also calls on federal parties – along with businesses to do better to confront Canada’s racist legacy and the enduring implications of the residential “school” system.

 

“When people are healthy and prosperous so too is the economy and business. We all must do better when it comes to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, including the business community, as outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations on Business and Reconciliation,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC.

 

Recommendations under this pillar include:

 

  • Advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
  • Increasing health transfers to Ontario to address growing healthcare needs such as the surgical backlog and limited cancer screening, support the aging population and prepare for future crises.
  • Improving accessibility and affordability of childcare by working collaboratively with the province to reduce childcare costs and improve access for families.
  • Advancing opportunities for women and equity seeking groups in economic recovery such as enhancing reskilling and education programs for those displaced by technology adoption and pandemic-related job losses.

Through the Ontario Business Matters federal election campaign, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and OCC, along with over 155 local chambers and boards of trade, are sharing pressing policy issues related to Ontario business that need to be front and centre in the federal election.

 

For more information about the Ontario Business Matters campaign, please visit website.

 

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On a warm summer day, the patio at Thirteen in downtown Cambridge is a popular spot.

 

The pedestrian-friendly space created by the temporary closure of Main Street between Water Street South and Ainslie Street North has enabled the restaurant and its neighbouring eateries to create an inviting atmosphere for residents and visitors as Ontario’s reopening continues in wake of the pandemic.

 

But despite this great potential, Thirteen co-owner Matt Rolleman has only been able to operate the restaurant five days a week due to a staffing shortage.

 

“The staff we have is great and they’ve worked so hard, but I would have to put everyone into overtime all the time if we wanted to remain open seven days a week,” he says. “Right now, we don’t use our second-floor restaurant at all. We definitely don’t have the staff for that.”

 

He’s not alone. Many industries – from construction to manufacturing to hospitality – are having difficulty finding workers.

 

According to Statistics Canada, as reported by the Financial Post in early June, an estimated 632,700 positions – approximately 4.1% of jobs in Canada - were vacant in March. This translates, according to the article, approximately 100 basis points higher than pre-pandemic levels.

 

Matt says by the fall his ultimate hope is to be able to run the restaurant at pre-COVID-19 levels.

 

“But it’s going to be a struggle,” he admits, adding while searching the job site Indeed Canada looking for staff, he’s noticed many people working in local restaurants seeking opportunities in other establishments.

 

“There’s been a lot of upheaval. Some people who’ve been out of the restaurant industry for the past year have decided they are not coming back and that’s just the way it is.”

 

Canadian Tire owner Kerry Leroux has also found himself facing a few hurdles when it comes to finding employees.

 

“We are in a constant state of hiring. We’re always looking for people,” he says. “You’re also in a constant state of training as well which makes it very difficult on the other staff, so we have to get them trained as quickly as possible.”

 

He says some retail businesses will put new employees right to work on the floor with virtually no training which is something he doesn’t do at his store which usually employs about 150 workers (about 40% of whom are full time).

 

“That’s really not fair to the employee or the customers when you do that,” says Kerry, adding this is the first time he’s experienced an employment situation like this since taking over the operation of the Pinebush Road store 10 years ago.

 

Like many, he finds it difficult to understand why there are so many job vacancies, considering

Canada’s unemployment rate in May was 8.2% which translated in the loss of 68,000 jobs.

 

But Brendon Bernard, a senior economist at Indeed Canada Corp., was quoted in the Financial Post explaining that the natural push and pull between the number of people seeking employment and available jobs has been thrown into turmoil by the pandemic.

 

Factors in this ‘upheaval’, according to the article, include a spike in demand for products and services in sectors that were already struggling to find qualified workers and potential health risks frontline workers face being exposed to COVID-19.

 

Couple these factors with enhanced employment benefits from the federal government, such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and the pressure has been reduced for people when it comes taking what are considered as lower-paid jobs.

 

“Once the CERB was announced by the Feds that really slowed down the number of people applying for jobs,” says Kerry, noting that providing the benefit to students during January and February which are the slowest months in the retail business also didn’t help

“It made no sense at that time of the year for the government to hand over $500 a week to a student living at home,” he says, adding the money might have had more impact if it had been directed towards their education costs instead. “I think they (government) looked at it in the wrong way.”

 

For Mehrzad Salkhordeh, part owner of dB Noise Reductions Inc., a Cambridge-based engineering company that offers a variety of noise reduction solutions, he says the CERB has made it difficult for many small businesses.

 

“I think for the younger generation - not to stereotype or categorize – it won’t hit them until it hits them,” he says, adding the tax implications of collecting the benefit will eventually be felt. “When they do their taxes next year, they will see the impact and then they will start looking for opportunities. For them, I think next year is going to be wake-up call.”

 

Currently, he too has had trouble filling positions and says ongoing border closures has resulted in fewer qualified immigrants entering the workforce as well as international students from taking part time jobs in many sectors.

“I’m hoping with the vaccinations and with better progress we seem to be having with COVID-19 that things will go back to being a bit more normal,” says Mehrzad, adding there is a need now for the government to motivate and accommodate small businesses.

 

He says offering higher wages seems like an easy fix but doing so will quickly impact the bottom line for most small businesses.

 

“I think $20 an hour is a pretty good starting point for someone with no experience who is starting fresh. But I know you can’t live off $40,000 a year and feed a family and pay rent,” he says. “As a person I understand that. But as an employer, if I want to pay this person $25 an hour, I must raise my pricing and servicing and will not be able to maintain the business.”

 

Kerry says offering incentives – such as profit sharing and good benefits - and promoting how his store is ‘different’ from other retailers is imperative when it comes to finding workers.

 

“There’s a lot of jobs out there and people are coming in with very specific questions on what this job can do for me, and that’s fair,” he says. “I want them to ask those questions because I want them to see the differences between one or the other.”

 

Matt agrees finding the right person is vital but says even without CERB, which is scheduled to end on September 25, hiring workers will remain difficult taking into account new and larger employers in our Region, such as the suspected Amazon facility in the works near Blair.

 

“These opportunities are great and will employ a lot of people in terms of secure jobs. But I look at them as an opportunity for me to lose some staff,” he says, adding at his restaurant COVID-19 fears have lessened among staff due to ongoing and strict safety protocols. “There’s enough going on in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge right now so if someone wants to leave a job and find another job, they can do it relatively quickly depending on what they are looking for.”

 

According to Statistics Canada in March:

  • 4.1% of jobs in Canada – roughly 632,700 – were vacant
  • Canada’s unemployment rate was 8.2%, with another 68,000 jobs lost
  • Hospitality sector posted a vacancy rate of 7.4% (roughly 68,400) unfilled jobs
  • Construction sector posted a vacancy rate of 5.8% (roughly 58,300) unfilled jobs
  • Transportation & warehousing posted a vacancy rate of 3.9% (roughly 30,600) unfilled jobs
  • Retail posted a vacancy rate of 4% (roughly 75,300) unfilled jobs
  • Healthcare & social assistance sector’s job vacancy rate was 4.8% (roughly 104,200 jobs)

 

Source: Financial Post

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With travel and tourism in general still off the agenda due to the lingering impacts of COVID-19, many people have been transforming their own backyards into the ideal ‘destination spot’.

 

The term ‘backyarding’ has become a very familiar one for those who specialize in the home and garden industry, especially over the course of the last few years.

 

“Backyarding has grown phenomenally both on the backyard garden side of things and the home gardener aspect of it as well as the bird feeder side of the business for us,” says Ian Graham, General Manager of Pinebush Home & Garden Ltd. “People are spending a tremendous amount of time in their backyards.”

 

He says the pandemic has only amplified the situation, noting a significant increase in business at the Sheldon Drive wholesale facility which offers bird feeders and garden tools and is a subsidiary of B.C.-based West Coast Seeds.

 

“We had already slated ourselves for some serious growth going into 2020,” says Ian, outlining how the company moved from Mount Forest to its brightly coloured 30,000-square-foot facility in Cambridge nearly two years ago with plans for product expansion related to its parent company in B.C. “Then COVID-19 hit, and we could barely keep up with things out west, so we’ve had to postpone doing it (expansion) until the next calendar year.”

 

And although June and July are a slower season in the seed business, since most planting is conducted in the spring, he says business has remained steady not only this summer but throughout the pandemic for him and the handful of his employees who work in Cambridge.

 

“There was already a movement towards sustainability, and about growing your own food,” says Ian, noting the pandemic has only enhanced it.

 

“Gardening and birding are very much people’s passions,” he says, joking how he

has installed eight to 10 bird feeders in his own backyard.

 

“It can be very addictive,” says Ian.

 

The results of a 2020 HomeStars report indicated that using their extra time at home to create a ‘backyard oasis’ has been a popular pastime for many.  

 

According to the report, the results of which were published in April by Realtor.ca, show nearly half of survey respondents took the time to make many outdoor updates, such as adding landscaping, fencing, building a deck, or creating ‘kitchens’ or ‘living rooms’ outdoors.

 

As well, pool and hot tub installations are also near the top of the backyard ‘wish list’ of many homeowners, just ask Cambridge Pool Supplies owner Melissa Deverell.

 

“Last year the pandemic was still very new to everybody,” she says, taking a break between helping customers at the family-owned business on Dundas Street North. “At first, people weren’t leaving their homes because they were scared, but we became overwhelmingly busy once people realized we could still help them out curbside.”

 

 

However, fast forward a year and Melissa says the picture has dramatically changed.

 

“It’s been absolute insanity. In all the years I’ve been here, I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she says, describing the demand for pools, hot tubs and supplies which quickly skyrocketed, noting they installed their first pool at the end of March. “Everybody seems to be spending money on their homes that normally they may have spent on themselves.”

 

Melissa says business became so brisk she and her sister, Becky Smith, called in their mother, Anne, who retired from the business several years ago, to help.

 

The company has even left the deadline for its pool opening services ‘open ended’ to assist folks who have been late out of the gate getting their pools ready.

 

“I’ve had to hire extra people,” says Melissa, noting this is the busiest year she’s experienced in the eight years of owning Cambridge Pools and Supplies and that keeping up to the demand while following provincial restrictions does offer its challenges.

 

“There’s nothing easy trying to run a business curbside, especially when it’s supposed to be so interactive,” she says, adding having customers back in the store and the support of the community has been wonderful.

 

Among the more popular items being sold at the store, besides pool toys and ‘fun’ signs, patio furniture is near the top of many lists.

 

“Usually, we only pick up a couple of pieces a year. But this year, we brought in a whole line of furniture,” says Melissa.

 

As well, she says many customers are paying even closer attention to the quality of their water because of COVID-19.

 

“We’ve had more people come in and get their water tested and learn more about water chemistry and what are the proper parameters to ensure their families are safe,” says Melissa. “It’s a question that should have been asked years ago.”

 

She says going forward, she expects some changes will remain in place at the store, such as keeping a hand sanitizer station at the front door and a plexiglass shield at the front counter.

“It changes your whole mindset,” says Melissa, referring to the impact of COVID-19. “I don’t know what the next year is going to be like, but I know once a pool is installed that’s maintenance for life.”

 

For more, visit  https://www.cambridgepoolsupplies.com and https://www.pbhomegarden.com

 

PULLOUT: The top-10 home improvements in 2020 according to HomeAdvisor:

 

1. Interior painting

2. Bathroom reno

3. Flooring

4. Landscaping

5. Kitchen renos

6. Exterior painting

7. Smart home technology

8. Roofing

9. Fencing

10. Deck or Porch

 

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