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A large majority of Canadian businesses are sluggish when it comes to the adoption of Generative Artificial Intelligence (Gen AI), according to the results of a recent report by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab (BDL).

 

The 38-page report details how a multitude of barriers, along with a lack of trust in the new technology, could impede the adoption levels needed to improve Canada’s economic growth.

 

Locally, the report shows that 11% of businesses in Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge are "using", or "planning to use" Gen AI, compared to 18% in Toronto or 15% in Ottawa. 

 

The report, Prompting Productivity: Generative AI Adoption by Canadian Businesses, underscores how Gen AI (referring to Large Language Models bases and the practical applications built on top of them) can help tackle one of the most significant economic challenges facing Canadian prosperity and standard of life — low productivity — while also exploring what is holding Canadian businesses back from adopting AI technologies.

 

The results detailed in the report, compiled from a survey of 13,327 businesses in January and February of this year, shows that larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to adopt Gen AI compared to smaller businesses. Overall, the data shows that one in seven businesses (roughly 14%) – mostly larger businesses and industries with highly educated workers – are Gen AI adopters. 

 

Patrick Gill, BDL's Senior Director of Operations and Partnerships, and the report's lead author, says he's surprised more small businesses haven't been embracing this new technology. 

 

“I’ve never run into a small business owner who wasn’t run off their feet and wearing multiple hats or wish they could replicate themselves,” he says. “But that’s the nice thing about this tool. With little or at no cost a small business owner or team can leverage this to fill in some of their existing skills gaps.”

 

According to the report, the top three industries adopting AI includes information & culture (31%), professional services (28%), and finance and insurance (23%). The two lowest to adopt are agriculture, forestry, and fishing (8%) and construction (7%).

 

Building trust an issue

 

Patrick says historically, larger businesses usually face more barriers adopting new technologies due to the fact their operations are more complicated and often have technology ‘stacked’ on top of each other.

 

“Smaller businesses usually face less of a challenge,” he says. “Their biggest challenge has usually been ‘Do I have the money right now to invest in a new technology?.”

 

Besides potential costs, trust is also a key issue.

 

“Public trust and the perception of AI will definitely play a crucial role in the adoption of the technology going forward,” says Patrick, noting a survey released last year indicated that Canada was the third most pessimistic country in the world and that only 38% of Canadians view AI in a positive light, slightly ahead of those in the U.S. and France.

 

Patrick says the Business Data Lab report also indicates that people are nervous about what the adoption of Gen AI will mean for their jobs and notes most agree change will come in the way they conduct their jobs, versus losing them outright.

 

“Right now, the technology is predominantly being used to augment workers’ abilities and not to replace them entirely,” he says, adding many are looking at Gen AI as a tool that can accelerate production and improve quality and services in effort to reduce costs. “That’s incredibly important during this time of a high-cost operating environment.”

 

From a global perspective as interest in Gen AI continues to grow, the report indicates that Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. Low productivity and business investment puts Canadians’ prosperity and living standards at risk and its GDP per capita is now significantly below the U.S. and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average.

 

Businesses must ‘innovate or die’

 

“Gen AI is a generational opportunity to boost Canadian productivity at a time when our performance is steadily headed in the wrong direction. The time to prompt productivity and act is now. Canadian businesses must innovate or die, and that means embracing Gen AI,” says Patrick. “While adoption has begun in every industry, it’s likely not fast enough for Canada to be competitive on the global stage, especially since three in four Canadian businesses still haven’t tried Gen AI yet.”

 

Based on two adoption scenarios (“fast” and “slow”), the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s BDL projects that Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses will reach a tipping point of 50% in the next three to six years.  This may seem fast but is probably not fast enough to keep pace with global leaders. Businesses in the U.S., China and several European countries are investing heavily in AI, likely outpacing Canadian investment.

 

“Those who move first basically set the standards and capture the largest market share,” says Patrick. “And everyone else is perennially playing catch up.”

 

He hopes the findings in the BDL report may gently ‘nudge’ businesses into more experimentation when it comes to adopting Gen AI. 

 

“There are so many low costs and no cost options available, so experiment and give it a try,” says Patrick, explaining how AI can assist with creating emails, marketing, and promotional content, and well as new visuals. “Use and test it and eventually you’ll find a way.”

 

Click here to the read the report.

 

 

Key findings from the report

 

  • Roughly 1 in 7 Canadian businesses (14%) are early Gen AI adopters. They are found within every Canadian industry and region, but are more likely to be exporters, larger businesses, industries with highly educated workers or emerging enterprises.
  • Larger businesses are nearly twice as likely to use Gen AI than small businesses.
  • 18% of Ontario businesses are ‘already using’ or ‘plan to use’ Gen AI (Toronto rate was 18%, while KW-Cambridge was 11%).
  • On its current trajectory, Gen AI adoption by Canadian businesses could reach a tipping in the next 3 to 6 years — likely too slow to keep pace with global competitors.
  • Depending on the rate of adoption, Gen AI could grow Canada’s productivity between 1% and 6% over the next decade.
  • The factor of “trust” will be important for future adoption, with public interest and acceptance of AI likely being positively correlated with countries’ business adoption rates. Global IPSOS surveys reveal that Canadians are less knowledgeable and more nervous about AI than citizens of most other countries.
  • Most businesses using Gen AI are predominately looking to accelerate content creation (69%) and automate work without job cuts (46%).
  • Interestingly, replacing workers is not the primary driver of adoption, with only 1 in 8 businesses (13%) that use Gen AI cite its value for replacing employees. 
  • Roughly 3 in 10 businesses cite hiring skilled employees and access to finance as top challenges to adopting new technologies.
  • Almost 3 in 4 Canadian businesses (73%) have not even considered using Gen AI yet.
  • Public interest and perception of the technology are likely additional major barriers to adoption by businesses. 
  • It is recommended that Canadian businesses move fast to adopt Gen AI to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. This means starting with small-scale pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI before gradually expand to larger initiatives based on successful proofs of concept, all while training and preparing employees for its adoption.
  • For its part, government can support Gen AI adoption by upskilling workers, setting adoption targets, tapping the private sector, and among other actions, ensuring regulation is proportionate and risk based.

 

Recommendations for business

 

Innovate or die: Canadian businesses need to move fast to gain a competitive advantage over global competitors. With Gen AI so accessible and applicable for every type of business, there is little excuse for Canadian businesses to sit on the sidelines. 

 

Pilot projects that measure uplift: Start with small pilot projects to validate the feasibility and impact of Gen AI. Compare metrics (e.g., efficiency, costs savings and revenue generation) before and after its implementation.

 

Change management and employee training: Prepare employees for the adoption of Gen AI. Provide training sessions, workshops, and resources to help them understand the technology and develop new workflows. 

 

Strategic alignment: Align Gen AI adoption with overall strategic goals. Identify where Gen AI can enhance existing processes, improve customer experience, or drive innovation. 

 

Data infrastructure and governance: Invest in robust data infrastructure and governance practices. High-quality data is essential for training Gen AI models. Ensure data privacy, security, and compliance. 

 

Talent acquisition and retention: Attract and retain talent skilled in Gen AI. Recruit data scientists, machine learning engineers and domain experts who can develop and deploy Gen AI solutions. 

 

Investment in cloud infrastructure: Leverage cloud platforms for scalable computing power. Cloud services facilitate model training, deployment, and maintenance, allowing businesses to experiment and iterate efficiently. 

 

Leverage public resources: Move faster by basing policies on the federal government’s Guide on the use of Gen AI or tapping available funding, such as the NRC’s (National Research Council of Canada) IRAP AI Assist Program.

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Debating policies to create evidence-based solutions that will benefit the business community and province’s economic growth played an important role at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent 2024 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Timmins.

 

Approximately 100 delegates representing Chambers provincewide made the trek north, including Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher and incoming Board Chair Murray Smith.

 

“Ensuring businesses have the legislative backing and supports they need to succeed and prosper is at the core of what Chambers and Boards of Trade do and the policies approved at this event assists our network in creating a roadmap to make that happen,” says Greg. “The conference also provides a great opportunity to connect with other Chamber leaders and share ideas and best practices.”

 

This year, 28 policies were approved by the delegates covering a wide variety of issues that can directly affect businesses including labour, education, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, manufacturing, and housing.  These policies now become entrenched in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s policy ‘play book’ to guide its ongoing advocacy work at Queen’s Park.

 

The AGM, held April 25-27 and referred to as A Northern Experience, featured sessions related to the creation of a more prosperous business climate for success in Ontario’s north surrounding labour and supply chain issues touching on the needs of the growing EV market in the southern part of the province. Guest speakers included Minister of Mines the Hon. George Pirie, plus representatives from the mining and renewable energy sectors.

 

Another session focused on the OCC’s Economic Reconciliation Initiative, created in partnership with the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, and provided delegates the opportunity to share challenges and opportunities with OCC representatives that they have regarding building relationships with Indigenous Peoples and businesses in their communities.

 

The OCC will now review their findings and report back to the Ontario Chamber Network with feedback and potential solutions.

 

Economic growth imperative

 

The need to create economic growth was at the heart of a video message shared with delegates from Canadian Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Perrin Beatty, who urged the government to modernize its regulatory framework.

 

“Requiring federal regulators to apply an economic and competitive lens would encourage manageable regulations and reduce the interprovincial trade barriers affecting over 1/3 of Canadian businesses,” he said, adding doing this would ‘fortify’ Canada’s economic foundation. “Modernizing our regulatory framework would cost the government little or nothing at a time when Canadians and businesses from coast to coast are struggling with affordability. The government should be looking to relieve financial burdens wherever possible.”

 

Beatty also stressed the need for strategic and long-term investment in infrastructure to create a “resilient network” of gateways and corridors. 

 

“As the world increasingly needs what Canada can provide, it’s critical that Canadian businesses are able to get their goods and services to market reliably,” he said. “If we have learned anything from 2023 is that supply chains are only as strong as their weakest link.”

 

As well, Beatty also called on the need for the government to provide financial supports, like the CEBA (Canada Emergency Business Account) program during the pandemic, that require more tailored, strategic, and innovative solutions.

 

“The issue isn’t about how to bail out small businesses but how to build them out,” he said, adding collaboration between the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce, as well as local Chambers, is needed to make change happen. “The work of the Canadian and Ontario Chambers, and the rest of the Chamber network has never been more important than it is today. Canada has never more greatly needed what we as a network of Chambers can offer.”

 

Click here to see the OCC Policy Compendium.

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

The AGM provides an opportunity for Chamber leaders to come together to discuss and debate key policies that shape the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) advocacy agenda for the coming year. The Cambridge Chamber presented three policies which received overwhelming support from delegates:

 

  • The first policy calls for the Province, in consultation with municipalities, police boards, and businesses communities, to use economic analysis principles when it comes to current and potential crime diversion programs that could reduce crime and in turn make it safer for businesses to operate. As well, the policy recommends that underperforming programs that don’t adequately serve communities of all types be identified and that funding be prioritized accordingly, and that the efficacy of these programs be evaluated in the context of other wrap-around services available in each community. Also, the policy calls for the implementation of a system to measure the long-term impacts of these program investments and insists municipalities continue to use Special Constables in urban areas instead of fully sworn officers to reduce tax burdens.
  • The second policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored,calls for the establishment of timelines for the Province’s new Building Ontario Fund (formerly the Ontario Infrastructure Bank) to commence investments into projects. It also calls for a strategy put in place to ensure these investments in major projects are in municipalities and regions across Ontario.
  • The third policy, which the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored, recommends the Province initiate a major review of provincial-municipal fiscal arrangements to ensure cost-effective program delivery and maintenance/expansion of infrastructure.
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The federal Liberals 2024 budget landed last week to mixed reviews, especially among Chamber of Commerce leaders.

 

While Deputy Prime Minister Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland kept her promise to keep the deficit from growing without raising income taxes on the middle class by tabling Budget 2024: Fairness for Every Generation with a projected deficit of $39.8 billion, slightly below the $40 billion projected last fall, the document contained few surprises.

 

“Most of the major new spending was announced by the government over the last few weeks, and the government’s projections for the deficit are largely in line with previous predictions. Instead of using a revenue windfall to reduce the deficit more quickly, the government chose to use it along with changes to the capital gains tax, to fund this new spending,” said Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a release. “What’s still missing is a clear plan to promote productivity and restore economic growth in Canada. Canada continues to slip further behind our competitors in both of these categories.”

 

This sentiment is shared by Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher, who says business operators regularly share their frustrations with him regarding the difficulties they continue to face trying to conduct business.

 

“Their concerns do not seem to reach the ears of the those who make the decisions,” he says. “The reality of it is the framework around how this current federal government wants to address the issues of the day are not conducive to solving the problem but probably more conducive to deepening the problem.”

 

Housing affordability crisis

 

Among these issues is the housing affordability crisis, which the budget addresses by putting special emphasis on generational fairness and helping younger people – Millennials and Generation Zs — with programs to help renters and first-time home buyers. While this may bring some relief, Greg says there are other ways to address the issue in a less costly manner.

 

“There is no secret to building more homes. You must create a market for home builders to access and ensure interest rates are acceptable for homeowners to borrow money and you must simply reduce the costs to developers in building the product we desperately need. None of these issues have ever been addressed by any level of government to this point,” he says, adding despite any incentive programs local political bureaucracies often create barriers for development. “You can throw all kinds of mud up against the wall, but none of it is going to stick when it’s already dry.”

 

Besides housing, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce says the budget should have addressed the need to build better resiliency surrounding supply chains by providing targeted financial support for small and medium-sized businesses. It has recommended the federal government work with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure and explore contingency plans for key trading partners and assess potential vulnerabilities.

 

“I think those are just sensible things our federal government should always be doing to ensure the flow of goods and services can happen because every issue that all levels of government deal with requires a strong, vibrant economy in order to find solutions to those problems,” says Greg. “Building a more resilient supply chain shouldn’t even part of a budget, it should be a core element of the government’s role.”

 

Despite these concerns, both he and Beatty both welcomed the budget’s move to support interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, something the Chamber network has been seeking for several years.

 

“Strengthening our internal trade could elevate GDP growth by up to 8% and fortify Canada’s economic foundation,” said Beatty in a release. “It shouldn’t be easier to trade with Europe than it is within our own country.”

 

Economic survival imperative

 

Besides interprovincial trade, the budget’s promised investment of $2.4 billion towards building AI infrastructure and adoption advancement also came as welcomed news.

 

“The investment in AI infrastructure and support of start-ups in the AI field is good for business,” says Greg, adding he was disappointed the budget didn’t contain more regarding the co-ordination of broadband investments with the private sector. “The government has done nothing to extend broadband coverage to remote and rural communities and the fact of the matter is if you don’t have internet, you can’t do business. You can’t function without the most advanced technology.”

 

Overall, he says the 2024 federal budget sends a clear signal the current government is forgoing economic survival in favour of more social programming, a move that doesn’t bode well for conducting business in Canada.

 

“While I support taking care of those who can’t care for themselves, and every business I know supports initiatives to help others, we also have to recognize the No. 1 objective of any level of government is to ensure a strong and vibrant economy,” he says. “There are very little initiatives in this budget signalling that Canada wants to develop a robust economy.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

Several measures announced in the federal budget to assist Ontario’s business community. These include:

 

  • Addressing the housing affordability crisis by investing in building more homes, making it easier to own or rent, and creating new programs to supply low-income affordable housing for those who need it most. The government is proposing a combination of tax measures, low-cost financing and loans, utilization of public lands, streamlined approvals, and programs to assist homebuyers and renters directly.
  • Building AI infrastructure and advancing adoption through a $2.4 billion investment. A significant portion of this investment is dedicated to building and providing access to computing infrastructure. An additional $200 million is allocated to support AI start-ups to bring new technologies to the market and accelerate adoption in critical economic sectors.
  • Advancing economic reconciliation through a national Indigenous Loan Guarantee Program and funding for Indigenous Financial Institutions that will accelerate capital for Indigenous-owned businesses and projects, support project development, reduce the cost of borrowing, and enable Indigenous communities to benefit from natural resource projects.
  • Supporting interprovincial trade through the creation of the Canadian Internal Trade Data and Information Hub, intended to enable all levels of government to work together to eliminate barriers to trade and labour mobility.

 

The Ontario Chamber network is calling for further action in the following areas:

 

  • Co-ordinating broadband investments with the private sector to avoid duplication and maximize the impact of public programs to enhance redundancy resiliency within broadband networks, collaborating with provinces and territories to establish future federal goals for broadband connectivity, assess opportunities for promoting competition and private sector investments in the sector, and expedite funding commitments while improving coordination with stakeholders to address gaps in private sector expansion plans.
  • Bolstering Canada’s life sciences ecosystem by creating new funding streams to encourage innovation and high-risk ventures, working with stakeholders to review approval processes, and enhancing regional collaboration.
  • Building more resilient supply chains through targeted financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises, working with the private sector to invest in digitization infrastructure, expanding capacity across all modes and channels of distribution, exploring contingency plans for key trading partners, and conducting an assessment to identify bottlenecks and vulnerabilities.
  • Implementing broader Employment Insurance reform to reflect the needs of today’s workforce by ensuring the governance, programs, policies, and operations are viable and sustainable, responsive, and adaptable, non-partisan, inclusive, and relevant for current and future generations of Canadian employers and employees.

 

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While economic and technological shocks will always be a constant feature of our world, experts say small businesses must continue to adapt and innovate to stay competitive and satisfy consumer preferences.

 

“The adoption of technology should be the priority for small businesses and the adoption of AI where it can help bolster their business should also be a priority,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, noting 98% of Canadian businesses qualify as small businesses.

 

In its recent report entitled, A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce touches on this issue as it explores the integral role small businesses  in play in Canada’s economy and sheds light on how these businesses can thrive despite major economic forces working against them — including the rising cost of doing business, the highest borrowing costs in over two decades and increased pandemic debt loads.

 

The report, which defines ‘micro businesses’ as having 1-4 employees, ‘scale businesses’ as 5-19 employees, and ‘mature businesses’ as 19-99 employees, shows how small businesses of all sizes, ages and industries are already investing in technology to better access data and applications from their computers, tablets, or mobile phones — whether in the office or on the road — to connect better with their customers and employees. However, as the report indicates, a business’s size is important to its ability to not only adopt technology, but also take advantage of a variety of technology tools. The report finds that even more change is essential.

 

Greg agrees and says the need for smaller businesses to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) is especially imperative.

 

“In all probability, smaller businesses are less likely to adopt AI technology because they may be fearful of it,” he says. “But the fact of the matter is it may be the only tool that can bring them up and allow them to compete.”

 

AI and digital technologies

 

According to the report, across all industries, a higher proportion of small businesses planned to invest in AI and digital technologies. While 62% of micro firms (compared with an average of 55% for all small firms) expressed plans for the latter, 30% of mature firms were keen on investing in AI compared with the all-industry average of 24% for all small businesses. Scale and mature businesses were more likely to adopt multiple technology tools, especially those in finance and insurance, professional services, and wholesale trade.

 

“If they (small businesses) don’t get knee deep in AI from a business perspective, they may be missing the boat that was inevitably sent to save them,” says Greg.

 

The report also highlights trends to help small businesses adapt to how Canadian shoppers have evolved. While online shopping accelerated as a result of the pandemic, roughly 75% of Canadian shoppers still visit physical stores for key items like groceries, clothing, automotive, electronics, home and garden, and health products. To meet consumer preferences, businesses need to implement on and offline sales strategies to reach customers.

 

In the report, the critical importance of having an enticing online commercial presence is highlighted, with 83% of Canadian retail shoppers reporting they conduct online research before they visit a store. Having physical stores near customers also supports online sales, with nearly one in 10 Canadians making purchases online from retailers located nearby.

 

“There is still an opportunity for small businesses to capitalize on local business by advertising and marketing themselves locally,” says Greg. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a strong online presence and look for every opportunity in which AI can help advance your cause.”

 

Canadian Chamber President & CEO Perrin Beatty says the findings in this report provides yet another signal that more focus is needed to support growth, especially among small businesses.

 

“We can start by reducing red tape, investing in infrastructure, and enabling an innovation economy,” he said in a press release. “These fundamentals of growth will increase Canadian businesses’ ability to compete and attract investment that will benefit Canadians, their families, and our communities.”

 

Click here to read the report.

 

 

Highlights of the report:

 

  • In June 2023, there were 1.35 million businesses in Canada with paid employees. The over- whelming majority (98% of the total) were conventionally classified as “small” businesses, which collectively employed over 11 million people.
  • In the “small business” category, micro firms are by far the most common businesses type in Canada. In fact, if all businesses in Canada were sorted by employment size, the median firm would have fewer than five employees, which underscores the importance of improving our understanding of the business realities of all small firms, but especially micro firms.
  • Nearly half of all small businesses are in the following four industries: professional, scientific, and technical services; construction; retail trade; and health care and social assistance.
  • Immigrants to Canada own a disproportionate share of private sector businesses (263,850 businesses, or 25.5% of all private sector businesses) compared with their share of population (23%). One strong factor is immigrants’ high share of micro businesses (30%), in contrasts with their underrepresentation in both scale and mature enterprises.
  • The past few years have offered women more flexible work arrangements, encouraging them to find more in-demand and higher-paying jobs, while government efforts to increase the availability of affordable childcare have helped women’s labour force participation to rebound. With the transition back to the office, barriers that perpetuate gender-based differences in labour force participation threaten this progress.
  • An underrepresented group in terms of business ownership (2.2%) compared with their share of the population (22%) is persons with a disability. Given the prevalence of disability, this gap signals tremendous untapped potential for entrepreneurship, but also one with significant potential effects on socio-economic outcomes, including labour market participation.
  • The LGBTQ2+ population (4% of Canada’s total population according to the 2021 Census) is also somewhat underrepresented as business owners (3.3%), lagging most as owners of mature businesses (0.6%).
  • Although they are 5% of the country’s population, Indigenous people’s share of businesses owned remains less than half of that (2.2%), although they appear to be doing better on ownership of mature businesses, the largest type of small business.
  • The most recent data (June 2023) show that, compared with pre-pandemic conditions in December 2019, the number of businesses increased by 7.3% for large firms, 5.0% for medium firms and only 2.9% for small firms.
  • Retail sales data show that e-commerce enjoyed a massive spike early in the pandemic but have since moderated as Canadians go back to in-person shopping. The share of total retail sales from e-commerce increased rapidly from 3.7% in January 2020 to peak of 10.7% just four months later in April 2020. With the lifting of pandemic related restrictions and stores have reopened for in-person shoppers, this figure has since moderated to 5.7%.
  • In addition to age, variation by industry showed a strong trend in technology adoption. Overall, average adoption shares across all industries and all technology tools were lowest for micro firms (12%), followed by scale (16%) and then mature firms (22%). Small businesses — particularly scale and mature — in finance and insurance, information and culture, professional services and wholesale trade were consistently among those reporting the highest technology adoption rates.
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The collective strength of the Chamber network took centre stage as Chamber representatives nationwide gathered in Calgary recently to debate and approve policies aimed at boosting Canada’s economy.

 

Several hundred delegates were in attendance Oct. 11-14 at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s CCEC Conference and AGM to not only discuss policies but hear from several high profile political and industry leaders, including Treasury Board President Anita Anand who spoke about the economic concerns facing businesses and taxpayers, and her plans to launch a spending review to find savings.

 

“The key has to be on efficiency, process and purpose,” she said, noting the need for the government to pivot on the economic front. “There are continued lessons to be learned in terms of how we can improve. I know we have to continue to build an economy that works for everyone.”

 

Her sentiments were echoed by Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty who stressed the need for filling infrastructure gaps to meet the needs of the nation’s growing population.

 

“We require infrastructure that’s both resilient and sufficient so when increasingly frequent climate change emergencies and labour disruptions occur, we can continue to supply ourselves and our allies,” he told delegates. “Canada has a great many economic, and green growth ambitions, but only ambition matched with action results in achievement.”

 

The Canadian Chamber leader also spoke about the power of the Chamber network when it comes to lobbying the government to do what is necessary for businesses to succeed.

 

“We only accomplish so much because of our partnership with you. You, the provincial, territorial and local Chambers, and Boards of Trade, are the engines that drive responsible growth in Canada.”

 

Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher says the AGM and conference play an important role in developing policies that will benefit businesses, and in turn, create an environment for communities to prosper.

 

“These policies are valuable advocacy tools when it comes to urging both the provincial and federal levels of government to make decisions that will benefit the economy, and in turn, the places we live and work,” he says. “Having the Chamber network work as a collective group to inspire change is a very valuable asset.”

 

Cambridge Chamber policy approved

 

This year, of the 66 policy resolutions presented by Chambers and Boards of Trade nationwide, 62 were approved by 293 voting delegates on hand. The policies – which now become part of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s ‘official playbook’ - touched on the following areas: natural resources, energy, and environment; transportation and infrastructure; finance and taxation; agriculture; digital economy; human resources; as well as international and indigenous affairs.

 

The Cambridge Chamber’s policy resolution, entitled Created Systems to Provide Adequate Child-care Spaces to Ensure Parents – Particularly Women – Have Equal Opportunities to Enter the Workforce, received overwhelming support and resulting in the approval of several recommendations calling for the Government of Canada to undertake the folllowing:

 

  1. Work with provincial/territorial governments to explore all prospective ways that could increase compensation for ECE workers in effort to attract more workers into the child-care sector with the goal of reducing waitlists at licensed child-care centre, setting the stage for more parents – particularly women - to enter or re-enter the workforce.
  2. Work with provincial/territorial governments to examine all potential solutions to ensure there are systems in place, possibly financial, to ensure adequate child-care spaces are available to provide parents – particularly women – the opportunity to enter or re-enter the workforce.
  3. Recognize the critical role of private sector in delivering childcare services and advocate for a continued role for entrepreneurs and businesses to provide childcare through public debate on the subject, and through the CCC’s advocacy with federal policymakers.

 

Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored policies approved

 

Collaboration among Chambers when crafting policies that can benefit the network is key. This year, the Cambridge Chamber co-sponsored two policies submitted by the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce which also received support from delegates.

 

The first resolution, entitled Review of the Canadian Tax System and Business Taxes, was approved, and called for the Government of Canada to:

 

  1. Not implement any new business taxes or increases on existing business taxation levels until a review of the current system, particularly related to competitiveness and productivity, is completed.

 

A second policy resolution, entitled Closing the National Digital Divide, was also approved, and called upon the Government of Canada to:

 

  1. Continue with broadband infrastructure investments across rural/remote areas and First Nations;
  2. To build an inclusive economy for all Canadians, ensure all financial resources allocated to increasing broadband capacity are urgently distributed for addressing the digital divide;
  3. To evaluate the effectiveness of government broadband policy in delivering connectivity, particularly in rural and indigenous areas, there should be an evaluation of connectivity coverage, quality, and adoption.
  4. Commit to businesses and citizens in rural and remote areas that necessary infrastructure to allow them access to competitive broadband speeds will be constructed.

 

Click here to see the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s full compendium of policy resolutions.

 

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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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Terms like ‘The Great Resignation’, ‘quiet quitting, ‘ghosting’ and ‘grey wave’, have become commonplace to describe trends creating upheaval for employers in their quest to attract and retain workers.

 

But finding a solution to Ontario’s job shortages will require a multi-pronged approach consisting of unique ideas that take into consideration the diversity of labour needs among various sectors.

 

In effort to find these potential ideas, the Cambridge Chamber recently brought together a group of business and community leaders – all Members - to discuss their concerns via our MasterMind Series.

 

“Our MasterMind sessions are a great way to get feedback on particular issues that can assist us in developing policies that we can advocate for change at the provincial and federal levels of government which in turn will benefit businesses,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Changes to the immigration system was just one of several areas the group touched upon that would require legislative changes at both the provincial and federal levels. Others included a discussion about the need for potential curriculum changes and the costs surrounding WHMIS training.

 

This discussion inspired the Chamber to develop several recommendations in a draft policy it will present for approval at the Ontario of Chamber of Commerce’s AGM in April. Additional recommendations with a federal focus may be developed for another policy which the Chamber will present next fall at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce AGM.

 

If approved, these policies are then included in the advocacy ‘playbooks’ of both organizations as they lobby the government for changes that will benefit businesses.

 

 

Labour shortages remain a big concern

 

While the pandemic is often identified as the catalyst behind Canada’s continued employment issues, many experts believe our labour force growth rate has been trending downward since 2000 and has been exacerbated by the arrival of COVID-19.

 

In fact, according to Statistics Canada, in 2021 one in five Canadian workers were between the age of 55 to 64 – representing an all-time high of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964). This translates into 1.4 million Canadians between 2016 to 2021 who are 55 or older and looking towards retirement.

 

Adding to this dilemma of a shrinking workforce, according to StatsCan, recruiting skilled workers was expected to be an obstacle for the first quarter of 2022 for 39.9% (approximately two-fifths) of all businesses.

 

The effects may be reflected in the results of an annual labour survey conducted in 2022 by the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters’ (CME) of 563 manufacturers in 17 industries nationwide which outlined the impact labour shortages were having by indicating a nearly $13 billion loss in Canada’s economy over the course of a year.

 

While a job surge at the end of 2022 which saw the unemployment rate drop to 5% in December compared to 5.1% in November was welcomed news, StatsCan says a hike in illness-rated absences resulted in limited worker output. As well, while StatsCan says Canada’s employment rate increased to 61.8% in December, compared to 61.5% the month before, the projected trend shows a drop to 60.9% in 2024 – with the potential to rebound and hit 62.2% in 2025.

 

The effect these fluctuations will have as employers continue to seek employees to fill the nearly one million job vacancies in Canada has yet to be determined, considering the results of a recent poll conducted by the recruitment firm Robert Half indicating half of Canadian workers are planning to seek new jobs in 2023 – nearly double the amount from a year ago. That poll, conducted this past fall from among 1,100 workers from multiple sectors, showed that 50% of respondents would be seeking new employment in the next six months (up from 31% six months ago). The top reasons for this shift not only include higher salaries, better benefits, and perks, but greater flexibility to decide when and where they work.

 

 

Resources needed to improve immigration system

 

As current and potential employees weigh their options and re-valuate their priorities and goals when it pertains to employment, Canada continues its concentrated effort to reach its immigration target of 1.4 million in three years to fill these widening labour gaps.

 

While an influx of immigrants is welcomed news in hopes of easing labour shortages, the need to ensure resources are available to serve this growing population is imperative. Besides an adequate supply of housing, language training is just as important to provide them with a basic tool they need to enter the workforce even faster.

 

Providing necessary resources to assist newcomers was an issue raised during our MasterMind session, as well as extending the current hourly work limit permanently for international students. As well, it was suggested policy changes are needed when it comes ensuring foreign workers who do not hold management positions could bring their families to Canada more easily.

 

 

Recommendations going to OCC

 

The policy - entitled Opening Job Markets for Employers and Employees and co-sponsored by our colleagues at the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce – touches on several areas.

 

The Chamber has recommended the OCC urge the Ontario Government to:

  1. Develop all potential partnerships within local municipalities and community organizations to ensure that language training is made available for new immigrants.
  2. Allow those on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) who can work full time to do so without risking loss of their provincially funded benefits (i.e., prescribed medications) if their employer does not provide those services.
  3. Investigate a form of remuneration (i.e., tax credit) for employers when it comes to providing provincially regulated training, such as WHMIS, and their associated costs.

 

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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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This year, the conversations around proper mental health resources and funding are more important than ever.  A recent poll shows that 40 percent of Canadians have reported their mental health declining over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the continued enormous pressure and strain families, employees and employers have been dealing with. There is no question this pandemic has taken a toll and as we continue to navigate a second wave and ongoing lockdowns, now more than ever it is important we take a moment to remember our own needs and support each other to get through these challenging times. While we are physically apart, no one is alone when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

 

We have put together a list of resources that business owners, employers and employees can use to help navigate and manage mental health when it comes to our daily lives, the workplace and longer term tips and tricks. You can take a look at our full list of health resources here and even more resources from Bell, here.

 

Wellness Together Canada

Wellness Together Canada provides mental health resources and direct access to peer support workers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential chat sessions or phone calls.

 

Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a hub of credible information and resources about maintaining mental health during this time of crisis and supporting people managing a mental illness in this new context.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health by Canada Life

Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health website is a leading source of free, practical tools and resources designed to help Canadian employers with the prevention, intervention and management of workplace mental health issues.

 

Lumino Health Stress and Anxiety Guide from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Lumino Health platform, which is free to use and available to all Canadians, features a wide variety of mental health information and tools, including a Stress and Anxiety Guide that helps Canadians easily navigate to resources that fit their needs.

 

Workplace Mental Health Solutions from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Solutions website provides organizations and their plan members with relevant resources that support all stages and needs, including free mental health e-training and industry-leading thought leadership.

 

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Canadians, and their local restaurants and pubs, already pay some of the highest alcohol taxes anywhere in the world.

 

Next April 1, the government is going to want even more money from cash-strapped Canadians and desperate small business owners.

 

The timing could not be any worse as the global pandemic continues to crater the Canadian economy. Just as households are struggling to make ends meet and local restaurants are disappearing, the federal government continues to apply an automatic tax increase on beer, wine and spirits.

 

But the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and its network, which includes the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, is hoping to help ease some of that burden after launching the Freeze the Alcohol Tax campaign. It calls on the federal government to put an end to the unfair alcohol escalator tax in the next federal budget and give Canadians a much-deserved break.

 

This automatic yearly increase was introduced by the federal government in Budget 2017 without consultation or economic analysis of its impact on consumers, the food service industry, producers and their agricultural suppliers.

 

“To have something that’s automatically increasing is problematic for sure,” says Matthew Rolleman, co-owner of Thirteen Food & Beverage in downtown Cambridge, explaining how any increase will eventually filter down to the customer. “We have to be a viable business and it’s got to come from somewhere.”

 

Alin Dinu, owner of The Easy Pour Wine Bar in Blair agrees, noting the cost of wine he serves often must be adjusted.

 

“I don’t always keep the same prices for guests, unfortunately, but they understand,” he says, adding even a temporary tax freeze would help customers.

 

Helping small business owners and giving consumers even a small break is the goal of the campaign says Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty.

 

 “Surely, amid a global pandemic and a once-a-century economic downturn, there is cause to stop an automatic tax increase to ensure we help everyday Canadians to cope with the impacts of COVID-19,” he says.

 

And although he doesn’t have a problem with the tax in principle during times of prosperity, Matthew says putting a hold on the tax would be a welcomed goodwill gesture during this uncertain economic time.

 

“Anybody in the restaurant business will tell you we definitely need all the help we can get, there’s no question,” he says. “It would be a good time now because we need all hands-on deck.”

 

Matthew says although his patio was busy throughout the summer, he’s not sure what the coming months will bring. Alin concurs and says Easy Pour’s new patio, which seats about 20 under current COVID-19 restrictions, has been very busy. However, he is unsure how long it can remain open.

 

“People aren’t super excited about coming inside right now,” says Matthew. “There is such uncertainty.”

 

To help drive the Freeze the Alcohol Tax campaign, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has partnered with Beer Canada, Spirits Canada and various Canadian hospitality industry.

 

“Hotels, restaurants and bars having been hit the hardest by the pandemic, with over a million jobs lost and thousands of restaurants closed permanently. Keeping the escalator tax in place does nothing but cause harm to businesses and the thousands of Canadians they employ,” says Luke Chapman, Interim President of Beer Canada.

 

This sentiment is echoed by Jim Wescott, president of Spirits Canada.

 

“Canadians wouldn’t stand for automatic tax increases on their take home pay, and they shouldn’t stand for it on their favourite Canadian whisky or cocktail that they enjoy as they socialize or celebrate key life moments with family and friends,” he says. “Canadians elect parliamentarians to scrutinize how money is collected as well as spent, and taxes going up without such scrutiny is completely undemocratic.”

 

The campaign is supported by:

 

Arterra Wines Canada

Barley Council of Canada

Beer Canada

Big Rig

Boston Pizza

CWB Franchise Finance

Firkin Group of Pubs

Foodtastic

Grain Growers of Canada

Northland Restaurant Group

Ontario Federation of Agriculture

Restaurants Canada

Service Inspired Restaurants (SIR Corp)

Spirits Canada

St. Louis Bar and Grill Restaurants

The Beer Store

 

For more information on the Freeze the Alcohol Tax campaign, visit: www.freezethealcoholtax.ca

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