The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce represents 800 member companies with over 20,000 employees in the Thunder Bay area. We are hopeful that the upcoming Ontario budget will focus on creating and supporting a business climate that encourages growth and economic opportunity for businesses in Thunder Bay and across the province.
The four-cent reduction of the aviation fuel tax for Northern Ontario and the province-wide reduction of the small business Corporate Income Tax rate to 3.2% are two recent examples of how the government has worked to improve competitiveness for our business community and we appreciate these efforts.
We are pleased to provide some examples of additional actions that the Province can take to grow a stronger business climate by investing in economic opportunity and addressing workforce needs
Northwestern Ontario is home to hundreds of active mining projects representing Billions in mineral value and will have a significant impact on the economy of the Northwest and the Province as a whole. The mining industry stimulates and supports economic growth both in large urban centres and in rural and Indigenous communities. The Mining Association of Canada indicates that mining is the largest private sector employer of Indigenous Canadians on a proportional basis.
Mineral deposits are often located hundreds or thousands of kilometres from road, rail, energy and technology infrastructure; as a result, companies are faced with costs of hundreds of millions of dollars in order to simply access their mining claims. The costs to establish the required infrastructure is frequently too prohibitive for private-sector investment alone. Federal and Provincial financial support is needed at the front end to make these projects happen: we know that the return on investment in tax revenues and economic growth will more than offset these costs in the decades to come.
Inter-community bus service in Northwestern Ontario provides a vital link to health care services, employment opportunities, and parcel delivery. We are pleased that private providers are investing into our region to ensure that inter-community service is available. We believe that these services could be further expanded and enhanced through a financial subsidy to local providers in the Northwest, similar to those provided in other areas of the Province.
Forestry continues to be a major contributor to our economy providing direct and indirect employment to thousands of hardworking men and women in our region. Through the development and implementation of a Forest Sector Strategy, Ontario has committed to positioning itself as a leading forestry jurisdiction within Canada.
Increasing available wood supply and ensuring free and open access to American markets is critically important, and these items continue to be top of mind to our Members. We are also concerned with the 2019 budget cut to the Provincial Forest Access Roads Funding Program. These roads are public infrastructure that support jobs and economic development across the region. We recommend the return of the Forest Access Roads Funding Program to the required $75 million per year.
The Government recently announced its intention to centralize all public procurement. While we support efforts to improve the efficiency of procurement, we have concerns about the unintended consequences of further centralization to local communities. Large provincial contracts cannot effectively be fulfilled by regional suppliers which could result in large contract awards being made only to national or multinational distributors, thereby damaging regional suppliers & economic development.
We encourage the Ontario Government to implement an approach that mandates public buyers to use a blended portfolio of contracts including national, provincial, and regional suppliers A public buyer would be mandated to select a contract which derives the greatest “total value” for that agency where total value is defined as the balanced consideration of price, regional economic impact, and other important factors including but not limited to sustainability and cultural inclusion.
Speaking of procurement processes, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges currently faced by our Bombardier plant. The plant has recently laid off over 450 employees and further staff reductions will continue unless new work is found. Bombardier is working hard to obtain new contracts to keep the local plant viable.
The Private sector doesn’t buy mass transit, governments do and we need those governments to implement Ontario content requirements wherever they can for mass transit projects.
The economic impact of the Thunder Bay plant building mass transit vehicles is significant to the entire province. From September 2018 to September 2019, Thunder Bay built 107 BiLevel Go Trains and 80 TTC LRV’s. In that same period, the Thunder Bay operation spent just under $141 Million Dollars with suppliers within Canada. Of that number, over $100 million dollars was spent within Ontario and over $40 million dollars was spent in the GTA.
Bombardier’s suppliers are located in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham, Oshawa, Hamilton, St Catharines and Niagara Falls – creating hundreds of jobs in the GTA and paying taxes to Federal, Provincial and Municipal governments. The numbers show that the return on investment of tax dollars into a product built in Thunder Bay is 10 times the return of building it in California, Mexico or China.
Thunder Bay’s Bombardier plant is part of a unique Ontario eco-system for advanced manufacturing of mass transit. There is nothing else like it in Ontario for mass transit and WE don’t want to lose it.
We are pleased with the changes made to reduce the Journeyperson to Apprentice ratio to one-to-one and the recent promotional campaign to encourage new entrants to consider skilled trades careers. We know that more can be done to help grow apprenticeship opportunities.
We support the implementation of a pilot project, similar to what is happening in Nova Scotia, that would allow small employers in rural communities like ours to apply for an apprenticeship ratio increase on a per-project basis. We believe that this type of program will allow flexibility for small employers to train more apprentices.
One part of the solution to the skills shortage challenge is through progressive immigration policies. In 2019, the Government took a much-needed step to improve the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) by expanding the In-Demand Skills Stream eligible occupations to include transport truck drivers and personal support workers. In addition, a pilot initiative with select communities is in development to explore innovative approaches to bringing highly skilled immigrants to smaller communities. These are good steps forward.
Additional policy changes are needed to support rural and Northern communities in attracting migrants to meet our labour market needs by:
- Expanding eligible occupations to include all high demand NOC C positions.
- Allocating ONIP spots regionally would improve the ability of small and rural communities to address labour shortages through immigration. The OINP does not currently allocate any of its 6,600 nominated spots to support regional immigration. Between 2011 and 2016 more than three-quarters of all immigrants to Ontario (both Federal & OINP) arrived in the Greater Toronto Area.
- Expanding settlement supports for rural, northern and remote cities to help integrate new arrivals to their communities and to improve retention success. Newcomer Settlement Program funding to Thunder Bay and Kenora has been frozen for more than 6 years.
Thank you for the opportunity to outline our views on the 2020 Ontario Budget.