Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

The race is on to determine who will represent Cambridge residents for the next term at City Hall.

 

Although the municipal election will be held Oct. 24, advanced voting begins Oct. 6 providing many of those seeking a seat on City Council a limited amount of time to garner support in their quest to make a difference in how our community remains a great place to live and do business.

 

“I think every level of government is important to business,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “There are federal, provincial, and municipal regulations that mitigate the growth of business and business owners need to pay very close attention to every level of government and participate by voting or campaigning, or supporting, or whatever they need to do to stabilize their business within the confines of Canadian democracy.”

 

 

In Cambridge, three new councillors will be seated at the table with the potential for several others if the incumbents fail to retain their positions. But whether the prospect of massive change around the council table is enough to sway more residents to vote remains uncertain since traditionally, municipal elections garner a lower voter turnout than provincial or federal races. In the last municipal race in 2018, voter turnout in Cambridge was 32.4% compared to the provincial average of 38.30%. Compare this to the recent provincial election which experienced a voter turnout of about 43.5%, one of the lowest in decades.

 

“Media tend to focus on national or provincial elections, and of course those are organized by political parties who are able to mobilize an enormous amount of activity and intention because they can spend a great deal of money and voters can easily identify who the political operatives are,” explains Dr. Dennis Pilon, Associate Professor, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies – Department of Political Science at York University. “When you look at it from the point of view from the voters, the challenge they face is that it’s very difficult to get informed about what’s really at stake. For voters to work out what each individual (municipal) candidate represents without a party label is somewhat challenging.”

 

As well, Dr. Pilon is candid when he talks about the legislative controls at the municipal level, noting even their ability to determine land uses can be circumvented by developers through the Ontario Municipal Board process.

 

“When we look at how the founders of our country and current federal and provincial politicians look at local government, they deliberately made it the weakest level of government,” he says. “It has very little independent power and has almost no fundraising capacity and is completely controlled by the provincial governments.”

 

Despite that, Greg notes the fact municipal governments are responsible for many elements –waste collection, police, fire service, roads, water and sewer, snow removal – that provide business owners with the ability to operate their businesses.

 

“They make the community safe and habitable, so the people you need to run your business want to live in your community,” he says. “I think businesses should encourage their employees to get out and vote because local government is the one level of government that truly affects their everyday lives.”

 

But inspiring people to vote in a municipal election can be difficult.

 

“It’s not that people don’t care and are not passionate,” says Dr. Pilon. “But often it takes a huge issue to catalyze the public and give them a focus for their concerns.”

 

For example, he says the proposed construction of the controversial Spadina Expressway in Toronto in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and more recently the amalgamation plans outlined in former Ontario premier Mike Harris’ ‘Common Sense Revolution’ in 1995 mobilized an enormous amount of people.

 

“You have to have a big issue that’s going to affect the majority of people, and thankfully, we don’t have those big issues,” says Greg, adding even the approval of the LRT didn’t garner as much concern as expected. “When there are those neighbourhood issues, they generally don’t drive people to the polls.”

 

Dr. Pilon agrees and notes that even the current housing and homelessness issues facing most communities is likely not enough to inspire more people to vote.

 

“Historically, when we look over the 20th century, the market has had an uneven ability to respond to housing needs again and again. It’s not a new problem and not one that municipalities have the finances to deal with so there you’ve got this mismatch,” he says, adding it’s a difficult issue for local candidates to succeed with at the ballot box. “There will be no accountability on the issue because there’s very little that municipalities can do.”

 

Dr. Pilon says ‘dramatic events’ that rise above the ‘noise’ are needed to mobilize voters at the local level, which is difficult due in part to media cutbacks.

 

“A lot of local newspapers have taken a hit over the past decade, so people aren’t receiving as much local council coverage and that makes it difficult for them to find out what’s going on,” he says.

 

To encourage more voter participation, Dr. Pilon recommends several potential changes including allowing the formation of ‘slate’ parties in Ontario, similar in nature to what is allowed Vancouver, B.C., as well as reforming campaign finance laws to prevent developers from having too much ‘pull’.

 

“Another reform that would make a big difference is stop reducing the size of councils,” he says, referring to Premier Doug Ford’s reduction of wards in Toronto. “What kind of impact is that going to have on representation?”

 

In terms of representation, Greg says a party system is not the answer at the municipal level.

 

“People are there representing their neighbourhoods and community, their friends and family and the businesses they shop in,” he says, adding a party system doesn’t lend itself to this type of scenario and that leaving their own political ‘baggage at the door’ is key for a successful council candidate.

 

“You’re not looking for someone with a platform of ideas as much as someone who has leadership and communication skills and can deliver on the interest of the neighbourhood. You want an individual who is compassionate and understanding and can also communicate well to upper levels of government to make sure that the community’s broader needs that may relate to provincial or federal issues are understood and addressed as best they possibly can.”

 

To learn more about the 2022 Municipal Election, visit the City of Cambridge.

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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) welcomes the return of the Legislature and looks forward to working with Premier Ford, his new cabinet, and all parties to champion the province’s competitiveness, productivity, and growth.

 

To put its members’ concerns’ front and centre as the Legislature returns, the OCC today released its Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity, which provides a letter to each provincial cabinet minister outlining key policy priorities.

 

“Businesses across Waterloo Region are looking to the government to develop policies that will spur local and regional economic growth and job creation,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.  “The government must create the right conditions to support business stability, predictability, and confidence. There must be a balance between short-and long-term solutions to address our current and future challenges.”

 

Some key highlights in the Chamber network's Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity include:

  • Addressing Ontario’s labour market challenges by boosting immigration, removing barriers to labour mobility, and introducing workforce development strategies for key sectors such as construction, health care, tourism, and hospitality, and transportation.
  • Bolstering our health care system by developing a health human resources strategy, delivering on digital health, and addressing backlogs in routine vaccines, diagnostics, and cancer screenings.
  • Continuing to prioritize lowering the administrative burden on business and ensuring that regulation is streamlined and effective.
  • Planning for Ontario’s long-term energy needs to ensure businesses and residents continue to have access to reliable, clean, and affordable energy for generations to come.
  • Propelling housing affordability through increased supply and regulatory reforms to fuel the industry and help organizations attract and retain talent.
  • Advancing regional transportation connectivity and fare integration as well as broadband infrastructure projects in collaboration with the private sector.
  • Modernizing public procurement to support small businesses and equity seeking entrepreneurs to diversify the supply chain.
  • Seizing Ontario’s opportunity to lead in the global green economy by minimizing uncertainty, supporting cleantech, mobilizing clean energy solutions, and strengthening climate adaptation.

 

“The past few years have been characterized by tremendous uncertainty: a prolonged pandemic, record-high inflation, supply chain disruptions, labour shortages, and geopolitical turmoil. If we want our economy and people to emerge stronger amid so much uncertainty, Ontario must focus on creating the right conditions to support competitiveness, productivity, and growth,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “We are providing all Ministers with a blueprint for steps that can be taken to ensure we are bolstering Ontario’s prosperity – we look forward to continued collaboration with the Government of Ontario and all parties over the next four years.”

 

The OCC’s blueprint letters includes both policy asks where immediate action is required to support business and foundational recommendations for long-term prosperity and were informed by OCC’s diverse membership.

 

READ THE LETTERS.

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The pain at the pumps consumers continue to feel as prices climb above $2 a litre won’t be dissipating anytime soon, warns Dan McTeague, President of Canadians for Affordable Energy.

 

“The problem is a shortage of oil,” says the former Liberal MP and long-time energy ‘watchdog’.

 

He says Russian President Vladimir Putin knows the world is vulnerable right now and has made it geopolitical and weaponized oil supplies in Europe through the invasion of the Ukraine, which has only magnified the issues already facing the other two major energy links in the world – namely Canada and the U.S. and OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries).

 

“We’ve completely destroyed the Canada/U.S. relationship,” says Dan, referring to the political decision to ‘kill’ proposed pipelines in North America and notes that OPEC, which cut oil production to keep prices at a certain level, is looking towards Asia and markets of the future.

 

As well, factor in a slowdown of world economies during the two years of the pandemic which resulted in a decrease in the demand for oil, resulting in oil companies putting a stop on drilling for new supplies or slowed, or even stopped, some refineries. Now, these same companies continue to have a tough time ramping up production to keep pace with demand.

 

It’s a dire situation, which Dan says he discussed in the fall of 2021 in an interview with Driving.ca, long before Russia launched its Ukrainian invasion. In the article, one of the things he points to is the introduction of the Trudeau government’s Clean Fuel Standard (CFS) which he bluntly referred to as ‘another tax dressed up as a clean-air credit’ that is going to cost average Canadians even more at the pumps. The CFS is set to be introduced Dec. 1 of 2022.

 

Taxes, of course, remain one of the largest components of fuel prices in Canada accounting for at least 34% of the average pump price.

 

Breakdown of gas taxes in Ontario:

  • Federal excise tax - 10 cents/ per litre
  • Federal carbon tax - 11.1 cents/ per litre
  • Ontario tax - 14.7 cents/ per litre
  • GST/HST - 22.9 cents/ per litre.

This translates into a total amount of 58.6 cents/per litre worth of taxes in Ontario, on top of the base price of which near the end of May was 139.6 cents/ per litre. On average, this is in line with many provinces, except for Alberta which is 29 cents/per litre and Manitoba at 43.8 cents/per litre. Overall, Canadians are paying an average of 51.2 cents/per litre of taxes.

 

But is there a solution? Ideally, supply and demand would have to become more balanced which could be accomplished in several ways:

  • The war in Ukraine ends and countries begin buying Russian oil again;
  • OPEC ramps up oil production;
  • Other oil producers increase production;
  • People start driving less;
  • Society as a whole embraces greener energy solutions that don’t involve oil.

 

Dan believes the world is still a few decades away from turning fully away from oil and natural gas.

 

“We’ve got to get real about building pipelines again,” he says, adding we need to be more realistic when it comes to our current energy needs.

 

He says as it stands, there is not much business operators can do as they continue to deal with disrupted supply chains and expenses, especially around transportation costs.

 

“I think food costs are the next shoe to drop because of course fuel affordability is gone, and with it now comes everything else,” says Dan.

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The COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis have created an unstable environment for Ontario business. Inflation, labour shortages, and supply chain backlogs have been exacerbated by the global state of emergency.

 

In effort to outline our policy priorities for the next four years, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released Vote Prosperity.

 

“Businesses continue to face a myriad of challenges on their road to recovery,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “Balancing short-term needs with critical long-term investments will be key in supporting growth and predictability. This is a watershed moment for Ontario’s future economic prosperity, and we want to underscore the importance of continued collaboration between government and industry to get us to where we need to go.”

 

Business competitiveness results in more prosperous communities, higher consumer confidence, high-quality jobs, and a more resilient economy. This requires:

  • Boosting confidence and predictability
  • Implementing pro-growth policies
  • Building resilient communities
  • Supporting entrepreneurship and innovation

The recommendations outlined in OCC’s Vote Prosperity were developed together with businesses, associations, labour, post-secondary institutions, as well as chambers of commerce and boards of trade from across the province.

 

As the indispensable partner of business, we look forward to putting our members’ issues front and centre this election. To ensure the next provincial election advances business competitiveness, we have developed Vote Prosperity. Read the full plan.

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The collective power of the Chamber movement to assist businesses succeed was front and centre at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent AGM and Convention.

 

Approximately 150 delegates, the majority representing Chambers and Board of Trades from across the province, gathered at the Pearson Convention Centre April 28-May 1 in Brampton to network, hear from Ontario political leaders, and debate policy issues to assist them in their advocacy work with government on behalf of businesses.

 

“Ensuring businesses have the legislative backing and supports they need to succeed and prosper plays an important role for all Chambers and Boards of Trade,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher, who led a strategy session on delivering Chamber services across a diverse membership base and was joined at the event by in-coming Chamber Board Chair Kristen Danson. “The conference is a great place to share new ideas and connect with other Chamber leaders from around the province.”

 

This was the first in-person AGM the OCC has held since the pandemic and featured appearances by the Ontario leaders of the Liberals (Steven Del Duca), NDP (Andrea Horwath) and Green (Mike Schreiner), as well as the Hon. Prabmeet Sarkaria, President of the Treasury Board of Ontario. All four spoke about the strength and importance of the business community and what their parties can do to help our economy.

 

Also, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Perrin Beatty was on hand to offer an update on the Chamber network from a national perspective.

 

“It’s great for the Chamber network to hear from all sides of the political spectrum,” says Greg, noting potential policy resolutions are formulated from a wide range of issues and concerns.

 

This year, 34 resolutions were up for debate on a variety of topics ranging from improving supports to employers, to the creation of a construction strategy for tiny homes.

 

The Cambridge Chamber’s policy calling for the creation of a ‘backstop’ for the implementation of mandated workplace vaccination policies was among 32 that received approval from delegates. The approved policy calls for the Ministry of Labour to include elements within the articles of the Occupational Health & Safety Act to provide protection against discriminatory legal actions aimed at businesses that wish to implement such a policy.

 

“It’s important that businesses have the protections they need in order to operate in the manner which they feel works best for them,” says Greg.

 

The approved policies now become part of the OCC policy ‘playbook’ in its efforts to advocate for change with provincial and federal levels of government.

 

Besides adopting policies, the conference wrapped up with an awards ceremony to recognize the achievements of Chambers and Boards of Trades.

 

The Cambridge Chamber, in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce, was presented with the Chair’s Award for Innovative Program or Service to recognize the success of their rapid screening kits program which has been adopted by Chambers provincewide. Since April of 2021, the program has resulted in the distribution of more than one million kits to more than 7,500 businesses throughout Waterloo Region.

 

“This program has made a huge difference to thousands of businesses in our region, and we couldn’t be more pleased,” says Greg.

 

For more information about the kits, visit https://chambercheck.ca.

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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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The next Ontario election maybe three months away, but it’s more than clear political leaders have already begun to jockey for position as COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift and numerous announcements pertaining to proposed legislative changes surface.

 

Whether it is promising more money for transit projects or getting rid of licence plate sticker fees, these types of political announcements says Darrell Kennedy, a political science instructor at Conestoga College’s School of Interdisciplinary Studies, are part of our democratic process.

 

“They (politicians) are vying for our votes,” he says, adding this type of tactic is often framed in a negative way. “I tell my students we should be more concerned about holding them to their promises as opposed to why they are making promises.”

 

When it comes to the politics leading up to the June 2 election, Darrell says the key issues surrounding the campaign may hold a few surprises.

 

“I think there is a lot of noise surrounding this election and I think much of that noise involves COVID-19,” he says. “However, we underestimate how forward-thinking people are. They are tired of talking about COVID-19, and they want a way out.”

 

Darrell says despite varying opinions regarding how Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives approached the pandemic, the electorate – as well as those in businesses impacted by it – have already made up their minds over the course of the last two years regarding this issue.

 

“I don’t think this election is going to be swayed either way on what your opinion is of how Doug Ford handled COVID-19,” he says, noting he expects it will still be used as a ‘weapon’ by the other parties. “I think it is going to be a war of attrition and as we approach June, we are going to see the Ford government use Ontario’s opening up as a way to take away votes from the other parties.”

 

Darrell says the opposition parties could almost be classified as ‘victims’ of their government position during the last two years because they have an obligation to oppose the government and have done just that – referring to COVID-19 as a political ‘hot potato’. 

 

“I think the stars of have kind of aligned for the PCs in that when this election occurs in the next three months, they are going to be able to offer things to voters,” he says. “I think the other parties right now only have a few tools in their toolbox they can use to attack Doug Ford and a lot of it is in the past.”

 

Darrell says there are many issues political contenders could be focusing on, noting that housing is a key concern for his students – most aged 18 to 25 - as opposed to COVID-19 or even the environment.

 

“They grew up with it,” he says, referring to concerns surrounding climate change. “A lot of the younger generation have a fear about not being able to own a house or even having adequate shelter.”

 

The Ontario Housing Affordability Task Force, which recently outlined more than 50 recommendations in a report, says housing prices have nearly tripled in the last decade in Ontario. According to the report, the average house price in this province at the end of 2021 was $923,000 compared to $329,000 10 years ago. The task force has called for the construction of 1.5 million homes in the next 10 years.

 

“I hope housing is the issue people latch on to because it affects business as well,” says Darrell. “If you can’t afford the house you are living in you can’t afford to spend money in the community you are living in.”

 

To be successful in the election, he recommends Ontario’s political leaders focus on housing and childcare and other ‘regular’ issues that may have been brushed aside during the pandemic but are very important to young families.

 

But just as important, Darrell says the party that does not spend the campaign ‘demonizing’ the others in the media could be very successful.

 

“I think people are starting to get a little bit more wary of how the media portrays different groups and we all have a sense of which parties they may lean towards,” he says. “I think we kind of underestimate the electorates’ knowledge of the difference between the parties.”

 

Darrell says forward thinking is the best tactic for a successful political leader to use.

 

“Ontario has a lot of things it needs to do better and solve,” he says. “But I think the party that focuses more on those sorts of things as opposed to how COVID-19 was handled is going to turn out to be the winner.”

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Pain points throughout Ontario’s economy are impairing business operations, and now consumers are feeling the pinch too. 

 

The frustration is palpable. From the grocery store and trucking industry to their pocketbooks, Ontarians are experiencing the very real consequences of labour shortages, global supply chain disruptions, and inflation. 

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) recently released the sixth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER) providing regional and sector-specific data on business confidence, policy priorities, and economic indicators, which together provide a unique view on the hurdles ahead. 

 

“Ontario began to see some positive momentum in 2021 thanks to progress on vaccines and reopening. Business confidence, GDP, and employment growth are trending upwards after record lows in 2020. However, the road ahead remains uncertain for businesses and households as labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and inflation are hitting home,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “A staggering 62 percent of sectors are facing labour shortages in Ontario and expect to continue facing them over the next year. This is having real-life consequences on the cost of living, service delivery, and product availability.” 

 

“Our small business Members here in Waterloo Region have proven their strength and resilience over the past two years. Business confidence is rising across the province but for many the additional strain on operations as a result of new variants and additional restrictions continues to dampen their recovery,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.

 

This year’s OER reveals the impacts of the pandemic continue to disproportionately impact small businesses, organizations led by women and people with disabilities, with the hardest-hit sectors being businesses in the arts, entertainment, and agricultural sectors. 

 

“We are seeing a domino effect of structural issues. Jobs are going unfilled, demand is outpacing capacity, and these issues are driving up prices for consumers and uncertainty for businesses,” said the report’s co-author, Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Two years into the pandemic, there is light at the end of the tunnel, but we need a long-term plan that will provide stability and lay the groundwork for economic growth.”

 

Key highlights of the report include: 

  •  1. In terms of regional economic outlook, Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie is looking at jobless rate of 4.5 percent in 2022, compared to 7.3 percent in 2021. Also, it shows an employment change of 5.4% this year compared to 3.7 percent in 2021. The population change of 1.5 percent in 2021 is expected to remain the same in 2022. Confidence in Ontario’s outlook by Region indicates 38 percent of respondents in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie are not confident, compared to 23 percent (39 percent remained neutral). Also, 52 percent of those asked said they agreed there was a labour shortage in Kitchener-Waterloo-Barrie, while 29 percent said they disagreed. 
  • 2. Overall, 29 percent of Ontario businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook in 2021 (compared to 21 percent the year prior), and 57 percent are confident in the outlook of their own organizations (up from 48 percent). 
  • 3. Most sectors (62 percent) are facing labour shortages and expect to continue facing them over the next year. 
  • 4. Inflation of raw material and transportation costs at the producer level is affecting consumer prices, which rose 3.5 percent and is expected to rise another 3.5 percent in 2022. Ontario’s year-over-year housing price growth was above 30 percent in December 2021.
  • 5. Small businesses are more preoccupied with cost relief measures such as business taxes and electricity rates, while larger businesses are more focused on long-term infrastructure, regulatory, and workforce development issues.
  • 6. All regions except Northeastern Ontario saw positive employment growth in 2021, though several regions have yet to offset the major job losses seen during the first year of the pandemic.

 

Read the report: https://occ.ca/oer2022/

 

The sixth annual OER offers unique insights into business perspectives across Ontario. The report is driven by data from our annual Business Confidence Survey (BCS) and economic forecasts for the year ahead. The BCS was conducted online from October 6 to November 19, 2021, attracting responses from 1,513 organizations across Ontario. The OER was made possible by our Landmark Partner, Hydro One, and Research Partners, Golfdale Consulting and Bank of Montreal. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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


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

 

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


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


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


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


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


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

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