Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The pandemic has created new opportunities for many workplaces.

 

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

But that return won’t come without its challenges.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Do:  

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

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

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

 

Don’t:  

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

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

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

 

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An ongoing labour shortage continues to hamper Canada’s economic recovery in wake of the pandemic.

 

In fact, recent research published by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) indicates that 64% of Canadian business says labour shortages are limiting their growth.

 

The BDC also reports that 55% of Canadian entrepreneurs are struggling to hire the workers they need and as a result, must now work longer hours themselves and delay or even refuse orders they can’t fill. As well, more than a quarter say they are having a difficult time even retaining current employees.

 

This news doesn’t come as a surprise to Mike Jennings, President of the Cambridge-based digital marketing agency MoreSALES, who has been keeping close tabs on the latest trends as employers in all sectors deal with continued labour shortages.

 

“The whole interview process is reversed right now. People aren’t coming in to interview for a job, they’re interviewing the company to see if they get to hire them or not,” he says, adding those in the skilled labour category are in very high demand.

 

According to CPA (Chartered Professional Accountants) Canada, Canadians in general have changed throughout the pandemic. While some decided being locked out of work provided them with the ideal motive to retire, at least 20% of the thousands who lost their jobs have changed sectors looking for work in places that not only may pay more but provide them with opportunities for advancement.

 

“A lot has to do with the culture of the company,” says Mike, noting surveys targeting millennials shows that flexibility at work and potential opportunities for nurturing and advancement tops wage expectations in terms of importance. “I think the smarter companies get it and those that are smart hire well will do well.”

 

He says more flexibility in terms of hours and the ability to work from home is key when it comes to attracting new talent, especially parents looking to return to the workforce following paternal leaves.

 

However, Mike knows this isn’t always the case for many companies, especially those in the manufacturing sector.

 

“If you’re a machine shop you can’t be all that flexible with your hours,” he says, adding in this case having an up-to-date website is vital since potential talent will do their research before submitting a resume. “If you’re thinking of working for a company that’s progressive and is going to pay well, you’re going to look at their website. But if that website hasn’t been touched in years and there is nothing about the employment situation or the culture of the company, then you’ve got a problem.”

 

As well, while social media is a great way to promote your company or business and attract potential talent, Mike encourages companies to be very strategic in their approach.

 

“It really depends on the company. If you’re a B2B company, I wouldn’t waste a lot of time on Instagram or Facebook,” he says. “I would focus more on LinkedIn or YouTube video clips outlining what the working environment is like at your company.”

 

He says connecting your staff on LinkedIn is a great way for potential employees to get a ‘sneak peek’ at your workplace.

 

“It will give them a sense of what kind of people they could be working with,” says Mike.

 

Visit https://moresales.ca to learn more.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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The war against COVID-19 is far from over, but small and medium-sized businesses throughout Waterloo Region have an important weapon at their disposal that can help bring it to an end much sooner.

 

Since early April, SMEs with less than 150 employees in our region have had the opportunity to receive free antigen screening kits courtesy of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and our partner in this initiative the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce.

 

To date, more than 500,000 of the free kits have been distributed throughout Waterloo Region in hopes of identifying asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals to prevent them from spreading COVID-19 in the workplace, at home and around the community.

 

“Even though we have a large percentage of the population vaccinated, we can still carry the virus and give it to someone who is unvaccinated,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “It’s important that we continue to work to identify where the virus is and the simplest and cheapest way to do that is with rapid antigen screening kits that are still free for workplaces.”

 

To access the kits, SMEs can log into https://chambercheck.ca, a joint Chamber website powered by Axonify, and click on the ‘Workplace Self-Screening’ tab to order their two-week supply of Abbott Panbio Antigen screening kits using a very simple form.

 

The business is contacted, and a time arranged for them to pick-up their kits at our office at 750 Hespeler Rd. A designate from each SME is required to attend for the initial pick-up and watch a very short instructional video – only once - explaining how the kits are to be used and safely disposed. (When they attend our office to collect their kits, participants are also provided with surgical grade masks courtesy of Cambridge-based Eclipse Automation and wipes donated by Lysol).

 

Each SME is required to electronically submit screening results after each occasion, and it’s recommended to screen staff twice weekly. The accumulated data is reported to the Ministry of Health bimonthly. If a screen shows a positive result for COVID-19, the employee is required to leave the workplace and notify public health to arrange for a PCR Test and wait for further instructions from Waterloo Region Public Health.

 

“Collecting data is an important part of this process and will go a long way in allowing us to get this pandemic under control even quicker,” says Greg, noting screening non-vaccinated employees isn’t enough to keep everyone safe. “Everybody should continue to be screened because we know an unvaccinated employee who has COVID-19 can pass it on to a vaccinated employee who may show no symptoms.”

 

He says interest in the kits, which are available to all businesses not just Chamber Members, continues to come in waves. Following the success of our program, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce partnered with the Ministry of Health and Chambers of Commerce provincewide to distribute screening kits to thousands of Ontario workplaces.

 

“It’s been a variable thing. I think people get a little bit comfortable when the numbers drop and they decide not to screen,” says Greg. “But they should continue because only 25% of the world’s population have been vaccinated and we’ve got a long way to go yet when it comes to screening and testing before we’re out of this tunnel completely.”

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Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce Kick-Off Campaign to put a Spotlight on Shop Local in Celebration of Small Business Week 2021.

 

Supporting local has never been more important and is the theme of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) annual ‘Small Business: Too Big to Ignore’ Campaign’ which takes place during Small Business Week which runs October 17-23.

 

Throughout the week, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce – which created the ‘Too Big to Ignore’ movement several years ago - and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), along with 155+ chambers of commerce and boards of trade across the province, are encouraging Ontarians to support local businesses in their community as well as amplify ongoing advocacy and initiatives to promote and protect small businesses who have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

 

“I encourage everyone in Waterloo Region to do what they can to support and celebrate our small businesses by shopping and dining locally, not just during Small Business Week, but all year round,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce CEO & President Greg Durocher. “It’s very clear that small businesses are not only the heart of our communities but the backbone of our economy.”

 

Small and medium-sized businesses contribute significantly to our national and local economies and employ nearly 90% of Canada’s private sector workforce and 88% of Ontario’s, according to a StatsCan survey conducted over three weeks in April of 2020 in partnership with the Canadian and Ontario Chambers of Commerce.

 

However, that same survey showed since the arrival of COVID-19, many of these small businesses have been impacted. In fact, results indicated that 68% saw a 10% decrease in revenue and 22% said they were unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic, and that more than 25% feared they couldn’t stay open for more than three additional months.

 

This is why supporting local businesses, especially now as our economic recovery builds momentum, is imperative.

 

“By coming together in support of our small businesses, we can come through this time stronger and more resilient than ever,” says Greg, adding the timing of the #YouGottaShopHereWR initiative is extremely timely in relation to Small Business Week.

 

Created in partnership with the Greater Kitchener Waterloo Chamber of Commerce thanks to a federal grant, the initiative is encouraging all local businesses – not just Chamber members - to create a short fun video that can be posted on the YouGottaShopHereWR.ca website and shared via Instagram & TikTok using the hashtag #YouGottaShopHereWR.

 

“Not only do we hope to raise the profile of these local businesses but show everyone why Waterloo Region is such a great community,” says Greg.

 

In addition to encouraging people to shop and support local, the ‘Small Business: Too Big to Ignore’ campaign also puts a spotlight on ongoing Ontario Chamber Network advocacy and initiatives such as:

 

“Small businesses are cornerstones of our local economies and key to thriving communities—creating jobs, driving innovation, and generating wealth for us all,” says Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, OCC.

 

Canadian Small Business Week takes place during the third week of October every year. This year, the celebration will occur October 17-23.

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Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber Releases

“Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for Employers”

 

While concerns around workplace mental health predates the pandemic, COVID-19 has, without question, exacerbated the problem. Although most businesses recognize the importance of investing in mental health, few have put a formal strategy in place, creating a mental health action gap.

 

With the support from Sun Life, the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released resources to help them close the gap: Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for Employers and A Playbook for SMEs.

 

These resources provide employers of varying sizes with strategies and supports to help bridge the gap – from fostering a health-focused culture to effectively communicating with employees to encouraging staff to access free government resources.

 

“According to the OCC’s 2021 Business Confidence Survey, 89% of employers believed spending on employee health and wellbeing was a good investment. Yet, only 53% said they had a formal strategy in place[1] – a situation the OCC refers to as the mental health action gap. While these numbers have improved since the Chamber’s 2016 survey, the action gap remains,” said Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We know that mental health can be a challenging topic for businesses, but employers play a critical role in the employee health equation. We also know that inaction comes with a real cost.” 
 

Prior to COVID-19, poor mental health in the workplace accounted for:

  • $50 billion in direct costs per year, including health care, social services, and income support like short- and long-term disability claims;
  • $6.3 billion in indirect costs from lost productivity; and
  • 500,000 Canadians missing work each week due to mental health issues or illnesses.

“Many employers are looking for practical steps they can take and resources they can easily leverage to develop psychologically healthy and safe workplaces. We’re pleased to release these tools during Mental Health Awareness Month in partnership with Sun Life to help businesses address this action gap,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the OCC.

 

To support employees’ mental health, the Playbook for Employers encourages businesses to focus on five key areas:

  • Develop a mental health strategy. This strategy should be linked to an organization’s equity, diversity, and inclusion plans and include performance measures to monitor progress.
  • Build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace culture. Training and employee engagement can create a positive workplace culture.
  • Communicate widely and regularly. Continuous, two-way communication between leaders and employees is key to destigmatizing mental health and encouraging employees to access supports.
  • Ensure adequate resources for employees and their families. Supports should be varied, visible, and accessible – both in-person and virtually.
  • Prepare for hybrid work (if applicable). Consider what steps need to be taken in the long run for a hybrid work environment. Hybrid or flexible work environments can benefit employee mental wellness, but it is important to equip leaders and employees with the resources needed to thrive in this new way of working.

“Creating mentally healthy workplaces is critical to Canada’s long-term recovery,” said Jacques Goulet, President, Sun Life Canada. “Businesses have an opportunity to reimagine their roles – including how they support employees’ physical and mental wellness and improve company culture going forward. This Playbook for Employers serves to empower businesses and build a healthier, more resilient Canada.”

 

Read the Mental Wellness in the Workplace: A Playbook for Employers.

 

Read A Playbook for SMEs.
 

Thanks to our Exclusive Landmark Partner, Sun Life, as well as OCC members and mental health experts who contributed to the development of this resource.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Recommendations under this pillar include:

 

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

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

 

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

 

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While COVID-19 has created a uniquely difficult situation for Ontario’s municipalities, it has also exposed areas to improve municipal fiscal governance.

 

Local governments do not have the fiscal autonomy they need to make them competitive and maintaining the status quo could be devastating for communities in a post-COVID economic recovery. The impact of the virus and the resultant public health measures have meant that most municipalities are seeing a decline in revenue and increase in expenditures.

 

In response, as all levels of government look to balance debt and deficits while protecting the well-being of our communities, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) released its latest report, Better Budgets: Bolstering the Fiscal Resilience of Ontario’s Municipalities, which identifies 14 recommendations for both the Province and municipalities which can bring immediate and long-term relief to communities across Ontario.

 

“Municipalities in Ontario are facing a triple threat this year: an ongoing pandemic that has been devastating to local economies, reduced revenue from closed or limited services, and increased spending on public health and human services. The Financial Accountability Office estimates the pandemic will collectively cost municipalities $2.7 billion in 2021, on top of the expected $4.1 billion impact of 2020,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “In Budget 2021, the Government of Ontario committed to a long‐term economic growth plan. It is imperative public policymakers do everything they can do to ensure communities like ours do not get left behind in recovery.”

 

During the June 28 edition of our Chamber Chat, Cambridge City Manager David Calder and CFO Sheryl Ayres took a closer at the report and provided some great insight on the merits and viability of some of these recommendations, while identifying misconceptions relating to others.

 

“I commend the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on their work on Better Budgets,” said David, adding the report contained some ‘old chestnuts’ municipalities having been trying to change for many years when it comes managing finances. “It’s a good variety. Some we can support and some that might not be as supportable.”

 

Greg said for many years there has been ongoing discussion centred on the ‘restrictiveness’ of municipalities’ ability to raise revenue, noting changes are clearly needed, especially when it comes to Ontario’s property tax system.

 

“We have to undue to the system so to speak and make sure taxes are applied appropriately,” he said.

 

Sheryl agreed the current property tax system, which has been in place since the 1990s, is need of a full review.

“In doing that, they also need to look at other revenue tools that municipalities can use in addition to property taxes,” she said, noting that 91% of tax dollars go to the Provincial and Federal governments, leaving the remainder for municipalities. “Yet, we’ve got the greatest portion of expenses related to the assets that we own, and we are closer to the people in terms of the local services we provide. I believe we need a comprehensive review of the whole tax system and how it’s allocated across three levels of government, ensuring there is transparency and equity in how the funds are raised from the residents of Canada.”

 

David said the downloading of services to municipalities is an important issue that needs to be addressed.

 

“We need to review who should be providing what services and whether there are ways to be more cost efficient in the supply of those services,” he said. “It’s a very complex conversation but one that needs to take place.”

David said municipalities have been looking for ways to be more autonomous for many years in effort to make better decisions at the local level.

“We’ve got to figure out where do we want to be in that spectrum,” he said. “There needs to be discussion around trying to make sure we control our delivery a little bit where appropriate.”

 

The OCC report agrees and states the Ontario’s post-pandemic recovery and long-term success will depend heavily on unleashing the economic potential of its municipalities.

 

“Given that local governments in Ontario cannot run budget deficits, their current options for fiscal sustainability are limited to tax increases, service cuts, and the use of reserves,” said Claudia Dessanti, Senior Manager, Policy of the OCC. “Now is the time for municipalities and the province to explore alternative means of achieving fiscal sustainability.”

 

Key recommendations outlined in the report include:

Undertake a comprehensive and forward-looking review of Ontario’s property tax system to ensure the system is more equitable, efficient, and predictable for businesses.


Adhere to the ‘pay-for-say principle’ to ensure that all responsibilities are accompanied by adequate funding.


Enhance and incentivize regional collaboration across municipalities.  

 

The OCC report was created in partnership with KPMG Canada. Read the report.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

According to Statistics Canada in March:

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

 

Source: Financial Post

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