Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

What began as a sunny spring day 50 years ago would end in a disaster causing millions of dollars in damages in the city’s downtown core, leaving lasting memories etched in the minds of many long-time residents.

 

The Grand River flood on Friday, May 17, 1974, lives on as a pivotal moment in Cambridge’s history because it showed not only the power of community spirit but the resiliency of local business leaders as they rallied back from this major disaster.

 

“Everybody was helping one another, no doubt about that,” says Murray Garlick, retired business leader and former board president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. (The organization had been created in 1973 by the merger of the Galt and Preston Chambers of Commerce and the Hespeler Retail Merchants Association).

 

Murray, who owned the former Barton’s Men’s Shop at 51 Main St., recalls returning to work after lunch that day from his new home in Blair when he received an emergency message from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). Not only was he Chamber board president at the time, he also was serving as chairman of the Downtown BIA and was that organization’s key contact for the GRCA in case of an emergency. 

 

“I got the call in the early afternoon that we were going to have at least two to three feet of water on lower Main and Water streets,” says Murray. “Driving to the store, water was coming onto Blair Road and by the time I got downtown, the Main Street bridge was shaking because the water was so intense.”

 

The spring melt, plus a 50-mm rainfall across the top of the Grand River watershed had created prime conditions for major flooding.

 

Merchants warned about the flood

 

Springing into action, he began going door-to-door warning the downtown businesses about the looming disaster urging them to start preparing.

 

The Chamber’s general manager, the late Don Faichney, did the same after also learning of the flood around 11 a.m. and asked the Waterloo Regional Police if they had a megaphone to inform residents of the impending disaster. The police did not have one.

 

“I would say half the people I contacted told me I was out of mind,” says Murray, who went back to his store and began moving his stock onto higher racks and to the second level. “By the time I called my wife (Susan), the carpet at the front of the store was starting to get wet and the water began seeping in. We just locked up and headed to higher ground.”

 

According to a 2014 article in the GRCA’s GrandActions newsletter, by 7 p.m. that night, the Grand River was rushing through downtown Galt at a rate of 1,490 cubic metres per second, nearly 100 times the normal summer flow. Floodwaters engulfed parts of Paris, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville, and left about four feet (1.2 metres) of water filling Galt’s downtown core.

 

Murray says many of the merchants who were affected ended up waiting out the disaster at the Iroquois Hotel, which had been located at the southwest corner of Main and Wellington streets and was destroyed by fire less than a year later.

 

He vividly can recall seeing the floodwaters pouring into the former Right House building located at 60 Main St. 

 

“I remember the floodwaters filling up the store and then bursting through the front doors dumping water all over the top of the lower end of Main Street,” he says, adding at that point, it became a matter of ‘wait and see’ until the floodwaters began to recede later that evening.

 

The cleanup began almost immediately, says Murray, describing how he and Don used snow shovels to remove the silt left behind in his store by the floodwaters.

 

“Everybody went back to doing business the best they could and got cleaned up as best they could, and did what they could with their merchandise,” he says.

 

In fact, in a Cambridge Times article Bill Couch, who was the ‘retail chairman’ of the Chamber for the downtown, was quoted as saying approximately 90% of the 45 businesses that were severely flooded were back in business with their doors open soon after.

 

Financial impact hits hard

 

“Many brought their merchandise on to the street since it was nice sunny weather. Some of the goods were very dirty, and they knew they would have to reduce their prices,” says Murray, adding he was grateful when the City finally closed Main and Water streets to traffic. “The silt was so bad on the roads and all these people driving by to have a look were raising all kinds of dust and the merchandise was getting filthy.”

 

During this time, the financial impact of the disaster was being tallied.

 

In a Cambridge Times article published a few days after the flood, Right House manager Elmer McCullogh estimated damage to the store was at least $750,000. Major financial losses were also reported by many larger downtown businesses and industries, including Dobbie Industries Limited, Mannion’s Quality Furniture, and Canadian General Tower Limited.

 

“The monetary figure on our losses will be substantial. Plastic material can be cleaned up, but General Tower got a hard kick in losses of some paper products, materials and cores,” said Gord Chaplin, former president of the company, in a Cambridge Daily Reporter article. The late Francis Mannion was also quoted in that same article stating his company suffered at least $100,000 damage to the building and stock.

 

Being located on a floodplain, many businesses did not have flood insurance.

 

“It was just too expensive,” says Murray.

 

In the end, the total damage amount in Cambridge was pegged at approximately $5.1 million (the equivalent of $33 million in 2024), with approximately $2.9 million suffered by small businesses and residences, with industries facing $1.9 million in damages. These figures do not include cleanup.

 

Calls for compensation surfaced almost immediately, as the scope of the disaster continued to unfold.

 

Former Ontario Premier, the late Bill Davis, toured the area four days after the flood and eventually heeded demands for financial relief by unveiling a compensation formula where the Province agreed to provide $4 for every $1 raised by the Grand River Disaster Relief Committee.

 

“The province feels a deep sense of concern for those whose properties who have suffered from the Grand River flood, and the measure of relief we are announcing today is a direct reflection of that concern,” he was quoted in a Cambridge Times article.

 

Public inquiry held

 

As well as compensation, calls for a public inquiry were also growing as anger over how the disaster unfolded grew, much of it aimed at how the GRCA handled the situation when it came to warning of the disaster.

 

To assist, the Chamber’s general manager sent out a questionnaire to all citizens who suffered flood damage to gauge how they were warned of the impending disaster. Of the 546 that were sent out, 320 responses were returned with the results indicating a severe lack of notice had been received.

 

“One can understand the bitterness of the large number of victims who had no notice or had inadequate notice. A flood warning system must be devised to give citizens reasonable notice of a threatening flood,” wrote the Hon. Judge W.W. Leach in the conclusions of his 1974 Flood Royal Commission Report. “I have been critical of the City Engineering Department, the City Administrator, the Police, and the Fire Department, for the role they played in the flood warning system. However, in all fairness to them, once the city was in flood, they performed outstanding services to the citizens. This extended right through the clean-up.”

 

Despite any controversary in the aftermath, Murray can still recall some lighter moments during the disaster, including how he found his friend, the late Aubrey McCurdy, wading through three feet of water in his flower shop trying to retrieve flowers for a Saturday wedding.

 

“I told him he had to leave, and he said, ‘No, I have to finish this’,” laughs Murray.

 

And even when Aubrey told a Cambridge Daily Reporter journalist a few days later his store suffered a $10,000 loss, he still found a reason to remain positive.

 

“The flood did have its good points,” he was quoted as saying. “It showed how unified merchants are and highlighted a spirit of co-operation never seen before.”

 

 

Grand River Flood facts

 

  • GRCA issued a prediction for Galt at 9:15 a.m. for a five-foot (1.24 metres) rise of water during the afternoon to a probable height of 16.7 feet (5 metres).
  • The flood affected at least 75 businesses and caused approximately $6.7 million in damage (the equivalent of $36.9 million in 2023) across the Grand River watershed, cleanup not included. 
  • By noon the Fountain/ Blair Road intersection was closed to traffic.
  • Highway 401 westbound was closed due to culvert washout and traffic was backed up more than 24 km. 
  • Highway 24 was closed by early afternoon.
  • Floodwaters flowed over the bridges at Concession, Main and Park Hill.
  • The low-level railroad bridge (Holey Bridge) on Water St. South was completely submerged.
  • Many of the dramatic photos taken during the flood occurred at its peak between 2:45 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.
  • Floodwaters crested at 6 p.m., reaching a height of 18 feet (5.4 metres) – 16 feet above the Grand River’s normal height at that time of year.
  • No major injuries reported, although 45-year-old Norm Taylor spent close to 10 hours in a tree before being rescued by a helicopter. 

 

Flood prevention measures 

 

  • The flood accelerated and added significant control elements to the development of a Grand River beautification program announced by the Cambridge Greenbelt Committee in September of 1973. The initial stages of the plan called for the creation of a park running along the east bank of the Grand River from Park Hill Road bridge to the old Carnegie Library at Dickson Street. Buildings standing along that portion of the river were to be purchased and demolished and replaced by parkland.
  • In 1980, city council approved an $8.2 million flood control project that would see earth and concrete barriers built along the banks of the Grand River. Two years later, council also endorsed a $317,220 flood control program calling for the construction of a berm from Mill Race Park to Dickson Street. Also, the GRCA introduced its extensive Grand River Water Management Plan which included improved forecasting and monitoring tools, taking into consideration the localized effects of climate change.

 

 

 

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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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Portions of the provincial government’s 2024 budget and the economic impact they will have on businesses are being welcomed by the Ontario Chamber network, but a call remains for more to be done.

 

“This budget takes important steps in the right direction, and at a time when Ontario faces declining productivity, we hope it sets the stage for bigger leaps forward,” said Daniel Tisch, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) in a release. “The government has been bold in attracting investments and committing to build infrastructure to create jobs – and we need similarly bold investments in our people, public institutions, and communities.”

 

Building a Better Ontario, tabled by Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy on March 26, is the Province’s largest spending budget coming in at $214.5 billion.

 

While it featured no tax hikes or tax breaks, it did include substantial funding for infrastructure and highways, something Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher says is vital to the business community.

 

He notes Minister Bethlenfalvy’s mention of the long-awaited Highway 7 project between Kitchener and Guelph, as well as improvements along the Kitchener Line to facilitate future two-way all-day GO Train service, should bode well for local businesses.

 

"This shows these projects are still a priority for this government and that’s what we have been fighting for in this region for a very long time,” he says, adding a $1.6 billion investment also announced for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program to help Ontario build at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031 also comes as good news. “The cost of housing is very concerning to businesses because they can’t attract the brightest and best people to come and work here if housing costs are beyond the pay-scale they are willing to offer.”

 

Housing Crisis

 

However, Greg questions whether the financial commitment outlined in the budget will be enough towards creating a long-term solution to the housing crisis.

 

“The reason housing and rent costs are through the roof is because the supply isn’t even close to the demand. Everybody needs to understand the price of any commodity is based on supply and demand,” he says, adding the Province should amend the Planning Act to give municipalities the broader ability to accelerate the housing construction process. “I also think the Federal government needs to weigh in as well if they are truly concerned about it and reach out to municipalities to see what areas of responsibility the feds can have, perhaps on the subsidized housing side.”

 

Greg says costs surrounding new home construction, which rose during the pandemic, have also not decreased despite the fact supply chain issues have improved. “You can’t ask a builder to build a home for less than what it costs them.”

 

The budget also outlined an additional $100 million investment through the Skills Development Fund and an additional $49.5 million over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy in hopes to address the growing skills gap in Ontario, something both Greg and the Chamber network were pleased to see.

 

“We have the country’s No. 1 skilled trades school (Conestoga College Skilled Trades Campus) right here in Waterloo Region, so this announcement is very important,” he says. “What is even more important is that Cambridge has such a density of advanced manufacturing and each one of those facilities need skilled tradespeople to work. Investment in skilled trades is certainly paramount for us and it should be paramount for the province and the entire country.”

 

And while the Chamber network applauds the Province’s $546 million investment in healthcare access, Greg admits he’s disappointed the budget contains only an overall 1.3% hike for health care.

 

“I really believe this government is working hard behind the scenes to try and figure out where the money will be best spent because with a system like health care, which is the biggest piece of the puzzle here in Ontario, you can’t just keep dumping in money. You have to rationalize where we’re putting it,” he says. “Our healthcare system is a rationalized system where we get what we need, not what we want. So, let’s make sure we get the money directed in the right places to ensure our health needs are taken care of.”

 

Click here to read the budget.

 

 

Several positive measures in the budget to help the business community:

 

  • Housing through an investment of $1.6B for the new Municipal Housing Infrastructure Program and an additional $625M towards the Housing-Enabling Water Systems Fund to build roads, water and infrastructure needed to enable Ontario to reach its goal of building at least 1.5 million new homes by 2031.
  • Workforce development by continuing to address skills gaps in critical sectors of the economy through an additional $100M investment through the Skills Development Fund, and an additional $49.5M over three years for the Skilled Trades Strategy, supporting programs that reduce stigma and attract younger Ontarians into skilled trades.
  • Healthcare access through a $546M investment expected to connect 600,000 underserved Ontarians with access to primary healthcare teams of doctors, nurses and professionals, and the opening of a new medical school at York University to improve the pipeline of family doctors.
  • Mental health, addictions, and homelessness through an additional $152M over three years towards supportive housing, $396M in mental health supports through mobile health units, and $60M to Indigenous mental health.

 

As the government enters the second half of its mandate, the OCC urges action to support:

 

  • Business competitiveness by improving access to private capital and credit for small businesses, developing an employee ownership policy framework, and supporting greater business adoption of co-operative conversion.
  • Interprovincial trade by signing mutual recognition agreements and/or unilaterally recognizing standards in other parts of the country, where appropriate, to promote trade and labour mobility.
  • Post-secondary institutions through aggressive investment to create a financially sustainable and globally competitive post-secondary education and research sector, aspiring to have the best-funded system in Canada.
  • Energy infrastructure by investing in generation, transmission, and distribution to support expanded charging infrastructure and address expected electricity shortfalls.
  • Climate resilience through a climate adaptation and mitigation plan, with strategies that value nature and ecosystem services, and support the federal Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation.

 

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Advocating for public policies that can benefit businesses has been a cornerstone feature of the Chamber of Commerce movement for generations.

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce, like many of its counterparts in the Ontario Chamber network, works consistently all year striving to translate the needs and wants of their members into potential policy resolutions aimed at prompting change at both the provincial and federal levels of government.

 

But this work, and the work of other Chambers, is often carried out without many of their members even aware there is a widespread network advocating on their behalf.

 

“This isn’t unique to the Chamber movement and quite common for any advocacy organization because it’s a concept so intangible to a lot of individuals who aren’t engaging in it and don’t necessarily understand the value of it,” says Andrea Carmona, Manager of Public Affairs for the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Advocacy, I feel, is a little bit like a unicorn. When you’re a small business owner who is probably focused on keeping your business running, you’re more likely to be looking towards your local Chamber for what are the more tangible services they can offer – programs, events, and grants.”

 

She says collectively, promoting its advocacy work is something the Ontario Chamber network must communicate clearly as possible.

 

“It is kind of a difficult thing to explain to people, but really it’s all about amplifying issues and having a chorus of voices saying the same thing so that we can move the needle and make an impact,” says Andrea. “That’s ultimately what advocacy looks to do.”

 

Making that impact formulated the basis of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s recent Advocacy Day at Queen’s Park. This nineth annual event gave nearly 100 delegates representing Chambers provincewide, including Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher and Board President Kristen Danson, the opportunity to meet with MPPs to discuss various issues facing business communities.

 

Some of the key areas targeted by delegates included:

 

  • Investing in inclusive workforce development: To address labour shortages, investments to resolve skills mismatches are vital. These initiatives should be designed to close the gap between current workforce skills and the evolving demands of Ontario’s labour market.
  • Enhancing sustainable infrastructure: Strategic investments in smart and sustainable infrastructure, including transportation, clean energy, and digital connectivity, can boost immediate economic activity while supporting long-term growth. This includes expanding broadband access in rural and remote areas and upgrading public transit and road networks.
  • Fostering a business-friendly environment:  Implementing policies that reduce red tape and create a conducive environment for business growth is essential. This includes reviewing and streamlining regulatory processes, providing tax incentives for businesses looking to grow and targeted support for small businesses.
  • Cultivating resilient, healthy communities: Improving health data system integration, addressing capacity gaps in health human resources, and empowering municipalities with new revenue sources are crucial steps in ensuring the well-being of Ontarians and fostering community prosperity.

 

Although the Chamber network’s advocacy efforts are ongoing year-round, Andrea says Advocacy Day provides an ideal opportunity for face-to-face meetings and discussions with the decisionmakers.

 

“It’s all about ongoing engagement and follow up,” she says. “It can’t just be a single day of advocacy. We need to ensure Chambers are keeping connected with their local MPPs. A lot of this is relationship building since they see Chambers as a credible source for what is happening on the ground.”

 

Andrea says building those relationships sets the groundwork for support and the ability to drive change that can assist the business community.

 

“It’s a great opportunity to connect across party lines,” she says. “Politics is unpredictable, and you don’t know what is going to happen in 2026 so you want to ensure you are establishing relationships across the board. We are a non-partisan organization and of course the government of the day is important, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t be engaging with other parties.”

 

Andrea notes it’s also a two-way street for the decisionmakers who participate in Advocacy Day, as well.

 

“It’s such a great opportunity for them to hear about such a broad stroke of local perspectives across the province,” she says.

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High inflation, interest rates and housing costs continue to drive pessimism in Ontario’s economic outlook, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) eighth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER)

 

Despite this, many businesses surveyed remain confident in their own outlooks, with 53% expecting to grow in 2024.

 

“In spite of the fact there seems to be a mood of pessimism in the air, the reality of it is there seems to be more bright lights than there are dim lights,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’ve had years where business confidence and prospects of being confident are going to be over 60% but given where we are today, I think having around 50% of businesses confident they are going to have a good year and grow is a positive sign.”

 

However, he says that figure doesn’t minimize the economic issues facing businesses, including affordability and also notes the struggle to achieve necessary tax reform measures continues.

 

“We must also ensure there is a balance or equity in tax distribution from not only a cost perspective but also on deployment so when money is being handed out it’s being handed out appropriately,” says Greg.

 

The OER contains regional and sector-specific data on business confidence and growth, public policy priorities, regional forecasts, and timely business issues such as supply chains, employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, economic reconciliation, and climate change.

 

The report, compiled from a survey of businesses provincewide conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21 and received just under 1,900 responses, states that 13% of businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook. That represents a 3% drop from last year and a 29% drop from the year before with the cost of living and inputs, inflation, and housing affordability as the key factors for the confidence decline.

 

The sector showing the most confidence was mining, with the least confidence being shown in the agriculture, non-profit and healthcare social assistance sectors. The most confident regions were Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario, both at 23%, and the least were Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor-Sarnia, and Stratford-Bruce County. (The survey indicated these latter two regions had a high share of respondents in the non-profit and agriculture sectors compared to other regions).

 

“As the report suggests, businesses still need to grapple with economic headwinds and many of those headwinds are limiting their ability to invest in important issues within the workplace and that may well be part of the reason they are having difficulty hiring people,” says Greg. “That said, entrepreneurs are interesting individuals, and they always will find a way to wiggle themselves through the difficulties of the economy.”

 

He questions whether the pessimism around growth and confidence outlined in the survey is related to the economy or stems more from the fact many businesses are unable to hire the people they require so they can grow their business.

 

“There are lots of companies out there that need people and that’s always a good thing when you’re at a very low unemployment rate now which is hovering around the 5% rate,” says Greg, noting he receives calls and emails daily from local companies seeking workers. “As inflation starts to drop and as the Bank of Canada rates start to drop, I think we’ll see that pessimism go away.”

 

Read the report.

 

Outlook highlights: 

 

  • Small businesses are less confident (12%) than larger businesses (22%) due to challenges with repaying debt, fluctuations in consumer spending, inflationary pressures, and workforce-related challenges such as mental health.
  • Simplifying business taxes is identified as a major policy priority of 50% of surveyed businesses. 
  • Confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook varies considerably across industries and is lowest within the agriculture sector (3%), non-profit (8%), health care and social assistance (8%), and retail (10%) sectors. 
  • Confidence is highest in the province’s mining (46%) and utilities (27%) industries, both of which benefited from strong growth and investments in the province’s electrification infrastructure and electric vehicle supply chains. 
  • Businesses in Northeast and Northwest Ontario exhibit the highest confidence at 23%, where the mining industry is a major employer.
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The following piece is one of several that appears in the special summer edition of  our INSIGHT Magazine celebrating Cambridge’s 50th anniversary as we recognize just a few of the people, businesses and institutions that have made our community great.

 

 

The term ‘self-made’ fit Max Saltsman like a glove.

 

The long-time Cambridge federal politician, who gained national attention in the early 1970s by trying to introduce a private member’s bill to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands in effort to keep Canadian tourists’ dollars in Canada, achieved success both in business and politics through hard work, determination, and education.

 

Born Samuel Mayer ‘Max’ Saltsman in Toronto in 1921, he left high school after one year at the age of 14 but served in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a mechanic during the Second World War. While overseas, Max (legally changing his name to ‘Max’ in 1962) completed correspondence courses via the Royal Canadian Legion and later took university extension courses to upgrade his education.

 

He opened S. M. Saltsman & Co., Tailors and Dry Cleaners in Galt in 1947 and quickly gained an interest in local politics, serving on the former Galt Public School Board from 1958 to 1961 before joining Galt city council from 1962 to 1964.

 

Saltsman’s interest in federal politics sparked his run in 1963 as the New Democratic Party candidate to represent the former ridings of Waterloo South, Waterloo-Cambridge, and Waterloo as MP but he lost to Progressive Conservative Party candidate Gordon Chaplin. However, Chaplin’s death in 1964 resulted in a byelection which Saltsman won setting the stage for his re-election as MP for three more occasions, until he retired in 1979.

 

During his tenure on Parliament Hill Saltsman took a tough stand when it came to the Liberal government’s imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 and was a big supporter of wage and price controls.

 

He was NDP critic for Finance and National Revenue in the late 1970s and always won the respect of his caucus colleagues for his ‘off beat’ ideas such as his call to annex the Turks and Caicos Islands. His private member’s bill in 1974 never reached the floor of the House of Commons but garnered much attention as did his ‘Pink Max’ awards which he instituted as a tongue-in-cheek way of pointing out waste in the private sector.

 

Saltsman created the award in response to the ‘Blue Max’ award, named for former Auditor-General Max Henderson who offered up samples of wasteful federal government spending.

 

A staunch supporter of higher education, the University of Waterloo appointed him a special lecturer in management science, and he often focused on the relationships between business and government.

 

Saltsman helped found the Saltsman-Kerr Lecture Series in Canadians Studies at the U of W and regularly lectured about political science at Wilfrid Laurier University, often joking he was one of the few people without a degree or even a high school diploma, asked to lecture at a university.

 

In the earlier 1980s, former Ontario premier William G. Davis appointed Saltsman to serve on the Inflation Restraint Board, in part due to his advocacy while in office against what he identified as government inactivity on price gouging.

 

He served on the board until 1985 and was making plans to run for a councillor-at-large seat on Cambridge city council when he withdrew his name after being diagnosed with liver cancer. He died in a Toronto hospital in November of 1985.

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As of this week, the mayors in 26 fast-growing municipalities – including Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo – are now empowered with new legislative controls after signing a provincial housing pledge as part of the Province’s target to build 1.5 million homes by 2031.

 

They join the mayors of the Toronto and Ottawa who were granted with these strong-mayor powers last fall giving them more executive power to – among other things - veto and pass bylaws pertaining to ‘provincial issues’, such as housing, with the support from only one-third of city council.

 

As well, under Bill 3 (Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, 2022), the mayors can also propose budgets, appoint senior civil servants, create, and dissolve committees of council, plus bring forward matters for consideration to council if they feel they potentially advance a provincial priority.

 

“Municipalities are critical partners for our government as we help communities get shovels in the ground faster and work to build more homes,” said Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark, in a press release. “By adopting ambitious and absolutely necessary housing pledges, these 26 municipalities have demonstrated they understand the importance of that target, and we are ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.”

 

But just how these additional powers will impact Ontario’s housing crisis remains to be seen, according to many political analysts.

 

“Municipalities in a lot of ways have the least controls over the dynamics of the housing market,” says Wilfrid Laurier University Associate Professor Dr. Laura Pin, who specializes in policy, housing, and municipal politics. “The idea you can solve the housing crisis by interfering with local democracy should feel like a little bit of a red herring.”

 

She says municipalities are the ones ‘living’ the housing crisis as they look for ways to deal with homelessness and encampments, and believes this new legislation appears to put more of the responsibility on them.

 

“I really think municipal councils are trying to do everything they can to solve these issues, so the idea that municipalities are not effective decision makers or are not doing enough and that this is going to resolve the housing crisis just don’t make sense to me,” says Dr. Pin.

 

'Not in my backyard'

 

However, she does believe strong-mayor powers, as opposed to the ‘weak mayor’ system currently used in most Ontario municipalities which puts the decision-making power on local councils, could have an upside.

 

“It does force us to have a conversation around those ‘not in my backyard’ concerns that do get raised when we talk about new housing developments, so I think in so far as it might make us more critical of those types of concerns, I think that could be a pro.”

 

Some also believe giving these mayors the power to reverse council decisions to block housing projects that they believe should have been approved under provincial policy could help avoid lengthy appeals to the Ontario Land Tribunal, the majority of which end up siding with the developer. As well, it’s been noted providing budgetary control to the mayors may help them ensure there’s ample funding and staffing to support housing goals in their cities.

 

But for Dr. Pin, she wonders about the democratic implications of what these additional powers could mean.

 

“You’re actually giving the provincial government more of a say in local decisions,” she says, adding Ontarians feel closer to their local government representatives compared to other levels of government. “People are more likely to know their local councillors and likely feel they have a voice. I think they do care about this and are concerned and based on the public talks I’ve given I’ve had a lot of questions about these powers.”

 

However, the mayors of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo have already publicly stated that having these additional powers will not deter them from governing in their current collective way, relying on the consensus of their council members to make the best decisions for their communities.

 

“I think people are concerned about taking the decision-making power away from local councils,” says Dr. Pin. “Historically, municipal decision making has always operated with a high degree of consensus.”

 

 

Strong mayor powers and duties include:

  • Choosing to appoint the municipality’s chief administrative officer
  • Hiring certain municipal department heads, and establishing and re-organizing departments
  • Creating and dissolving committees of council, assigning their functions, and appointing the chairs and vice-chairs of committees of council
  • Proposing the municipal budget, which would be subject to council amendments and a separate head of council veto and council override process
  • Vetoing certain bylaws if the head of council is of the opinion that all or part of the bylaw could potentially interfere with a provincial priority
  • Bringing forward matters for council consideration if the head of council is of the opinion that considering the matter could potentially advance a provincial priority
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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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The Ontario government will launch a first-of-its-kind program June 1 to make free naloxone kits (and free training) available at workplaces where there is a risk of staff witnessing or experiencing an opioid overdose.

 

In 2022, there were 2,521 confirmed probable opioid deaths in Ontario, which represents a 12% drop in cases compared to 2021. Despite this, the number of deaths last year remains substantially higher compared to what was observed prior to the pandemic (2017-2019).

 

Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose, restore breathing within two to five minutes, and allow time for medical help to arrive.

 

“Ontario, like the rest of Canada, is in the middle of an opioid epidemic made worse by a toxic supply of recreational street drugs,” said Monte McNaughton, Minister of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development, when the program was first announced last year.

 

According to a report released last summer by researchers from the Ontario Drug Police Research Network (ODPRN) at St. Michael’s Hospital, one in 13 opioid-related deaths in the province between 2018 and 2020 occurred in the construction sector. The reasons behind this, say researchers, are a complicated mix of pain management, job insecurity and having nowhere else to turn.

 

Bars and nightclubs have also seen increased opioid usage and accidental overdoses, often because of recreational drugs laced with deadly opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

 

For up to two years, Ontario will provide free nasal spray naloxone kits to businesses at risk of opioid overdoses through the Workplace Naloxone Program and free training needed to equip staff with the tools to respond to an opioid overdose.

 

Businesses can determine if they are eligible for the program and find additional information on accessing naloxone kits and training at Ontario.ca/workplacenaloxone. Once the requirement is in effect, Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development’s inspectors will take an education-first approach to enforcement.

 

 

We reached out to Tushar Anandasagar and Hina Ghaus at Gowling WLG to provide some legal insight as to what this new legislation will mean for some businesses:

 

Q. What prompted the Province to introduce this OHSA legislation?

 

A. The province is recognizing that the ongoing opioid crisis is affecting workplaces across the province – something needed to be done.

Opioid overdoses may be preventable or possible to delay (to an extent) – the province has adopted the role of educating employers on steps they can take to recognize and reduce the severity of overdoses.

These measures also have the effect of reducing the load on the healthcare system – the province is pushing for early triage and prevention rather than escalation.

We’re already doing many of the same things when it comes to allergies – for instance, many workers with severe allergies are already carrying around EpiPens.

Many social changes start at the workplace – there is a good chance that we will start to see this protocol (or something similar) extending beyond the workplace.

The opioid crisis is ubiquitous - we have already seen other provinces discussing the adoption of similar requirements for workplaces.

 

 

Q.  Is there a possibility the free training and access to the kits could be extended beyond two years and could funding be provided by another source?

 

A.  Definitely. Our sense is that this is just the start.  There are numerous benefits associated with early prevention rather than treating severe overdose cases via the healthcare system. A stitch in time saves nine.

 

 

Q. Are workers legally required to make their employers aware they could overdose?

 

A. Not by operation of statute – the onus is on the employer to spot a potential health and safety issue and create systems to make the workplace as safe as possible.  Of course, nothing prevents a worker from voluntarily disclosing a substance use disorder to their employer. Aside from statute, employers may be able to establish early warning systems via fit for duty policies – such a policy would require the employee to report to work while not under the influence of an impairing substance. Employers are then responsible for enforcing the policy.

 

 

Q. What kind of privacy issues come into play with this legislation?

 

A.  An employee’s disclosure of a substance use disorder is considered strictly confidential information – the employer should be prepared to treat this information as it would any other medical information received from an employee

Appropriate protections should be put in place to safeguard the information – shared with only those managers or supervisors who “need to know”.

These issues, and sample scenarios, are discussed in the province’s updated guidance on naloxone in the workplace:  https://www.ontario.ca/page/naloxone-workplace

 

 

Q. What are potential concerns surrounding this legislation, if any, that managers of workplaces deemed as at-risk should be aware of?

 

A. There are risks associated with non-compliance with the OHSA – for instance, primary liability may result if the employer doesn’t run through a naloxone kit risk assessment to determine if there is a risk of a worker overdosing at work.  Every employer is required to do this.

There are also risks associated with running a deficient risk assessment or ignoring risks that come to the employer’s attention – for instance, an employee self-discloses that they have a substance use issue, and the employer does nothing.

Another consideration is what could possibly happen if a worker administers naloxone and the recipient has, for instance, an allergic reaction – as per the province’s current guidance, the Ontario Good Samaritan Act should kick in to relieve workers of liability when they are administering naloxone in good faith.

 

 

Q.  What should be the first steps an at-risk workplace should take when it comes to introducing this program?

 

A. Every workplace needs to run through a naloxone risk assessment – employers may wish to engage a third party to demonstrate that they have done this, as needed.

If naloxone risks are detected during the risk assessment, the employer should plan for implementation by referencing the OHSA guidance published by the province – this will necessarily mean engaging with staff, the OH&S rep, the JHSC, etc.

There are specific training requirements which need to be in place, which have been referenced within the province’s guidance. As needed, the employer should also prepare to procure naloxone kits – there may be free naloxone kits available depending on the sector the employer operates within.

 

 

Q. Can workplaces not deemed ‘at-risk’ access the program?

 

A.  All workplaces can access the Province’s guidelines and training resources. As for the free naloxone kits and on-site training, we know the Province is initially focusing on high-risk workplaces. In future we may see an expansion of the training programs and free kits to non-high-risk environments.

 

 

Q. Is it difficult to make changes to the OHSA?

 

A. Yes and no – some changes are met with objection from employers (and employer associations), trade unions, and other stakeholders (e.g., fine increases, doubling of limitation periods, etc.). It really depends on the type of change that is being made.

 

 

Q.  How will compliance of the legislation be monitored?

 

A. Effective June 1, 2023, we can expect standard MOL audits for employers – they will ask about naloxone kits in the same way that they currently ask about harassment policies, etc. There may also be acute responses triggered by workplace accidents – for instance, if there is a serious workplace accident and there is some indication that substance use disorder may have contributed to the situation, the employer’s risk assessment may be called into question, and they may be found not to have complied with these new OHSA requirements if they failed to identify reasonably apparent risks.

Once again, employers will need to be mindful of proving that they have undergone a risk assessment (document, document, document), particularly if they have concluded that there is no risk in the working environment.

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Creating an economic environment to ensure businesses can succeed was the key part of the agenda at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s 2023 Annual General Meeting and Convention in Niagara Falls.

 

In attendance at the recent event, hosted by the South Niagara Chambers of Commerce and Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, were 160 delegates representing nearly 80 Chambers provincewide, including Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher, and Board Chair Kristen Danson.

 

“The OCC’s AGM is an important avenue to share new ideas and connect with other Chamber leaders to find ways to ensure businesses have the legislative support they need to succeed,” he said. “The policies the Chamber network approves create a roadmap when it comes to making important legislative changes.”

 

In total, 43 policies were approved by the delegates covering a wide variety of issues that can directly affect businesses including labour, energy, education, healthcare, transportation and transit. 

 

The theme for this year’s AGM was Growing Together, which exemplifies the Chamber network’s focus on driving economic growth in the province. 

 

This year's event featured a range of keynote speakers, panel discussions, and breakout sessions on topics that are critical to the success of Ontario's businesses.

 

Attendees had the opportunity to hear from experts in areas such as innovation, trade, workforce development, and government relations.

 

Fireside chats were held featuring a variety of provincial political leaders, including Ontario’s Minister of Red Tape Reduction Parm Gill, who talked about the importance of creating a path for businesses to succeed. 

 

“I think we can all agree that for the province to be competitive we’ve got to make sure we are creating a business environment for businesses to come and make investments, and create well-paying jobs,” he told the delegates. “That’s what we (PC Party of Ontario) have been doing for the last five years. We’ve made tremendous progress.”

 

However, there is more room for improvement according to Ontario NDP Finance & Treasury Board Critic Catherine Fife. The Waterloo MPP, along with Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, were among those who discussed a variety of issues that needed to be addressed such as housing and healthcare.

 

“When you have a strong healthcare system that can actually draw people into the province, that social infrastructure investment is seen as a plus by companies that are thinking of coming into Ontario,” she said. “And it also serves employees well and is certainly worth fighting for.”

 

Her concerns about Ontario’s healthcare system were reiterated by Ontario Liberal Party Interim Leader John Fraser, who talked about the importance of creating a stronger workforce.

 

“We do not have enough people to care for the people who need it,” he said. “We need a skilled workforce, but enough training is not always that accessible to all people.”

 

The Hon. Perrin Beatty, Canadian Chamber of Commerce President, also identified the need to boost our innovation capacity for Canada to compete internationally.

 

“We’ve been calling on the government to focus on the fundamentals of growth. We need to build a 21st Century workforce,” he said. “It’s time for governments at all levels to treat business as partners not a problem.”

 

 

Cambridge Chamber policies approved by Ontario delegates

 

The AGM is a pivotal event for Ontario’s business community, providing an opportunity for industry 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, all of which received overwhelming support from delegates:

 

  • The first policy is aimed at opening Ontario’s job market for employers and employees and urged the Government of Ontario to develop all potential partnerships within local municipalities and community organizations to ensure that language training is made available to new immigrants to help expediate entrance into the workforce. Also, the policy called on the Province to provide an opportunity for those on ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) who want to work to do so without risk of losing their provincially funded benefits if their employer does not provide those services. And finally, the policy recommended providing employers with a form of renumeration (i.e., tax credit) when it comes to providing provincially regulated training, such as WHMIS and their associate costs.
  • The second policy was ‘reaffirmed’ by the Chamber network after first being introduced in 2019 calling for more to be done by the Province to encourage more women and girls to consider a career in the skilled trades. 
  • The Chamber also presented and co-sponsored a policy with the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce to attract and retain highly skilled talent by urging the Province to double the size of the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program and to work with post-secondary institutions to reduce regulatory barriers hindering the construction of new on and off-campus housing. As well, it urged the Province to match investments in post-secondary infrastructure and increase funding for Facilities Renewal Program-elgible projects. 
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