Businesses across the province continue to express concern about the future of the province and their own organizations as we struggle with the economic hardships brought on by the COVID pandemic. Recent Ontario Chamber of Commerce surveys show that nearly half (46 percent) of Ontario businesses lack confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook.
Looking ahead, Ontario needs to lay the groundwork for a strong rebound by channeling limited resources to where they will have the greatest impact. We encourage the Government to consider the fulsome list of recommendations made in the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s pre-budget submission (www.occ.ca) as important steps to support recovery, growth and modernization.
Target funding towards the hardest-hit sectors
The ongoing crisis has been most severe for workers and businesses in certain industries, including those in the accommodation and food service; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and retail sectors. As decision-makers consider next steps, we encourage them to focus additional support measures on the hardest-hit businesses, with targeted support that will stem their losses and accelerate Ontario’s recovery. In that vein, we support the recommendation by the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association that Ontario follow the lead of British Columbia and support Ontario’s licensees by establishing a wholesale pricing model that reduces beverage alcohol products by 20% as compared to consumer prices.
Further, COVID-19 has led to unprecedented challenges and uncertainty for Ontario’s nonprofits. Finding themselves ineligible for government support programs and faced with an increase in demand, many nonprofits across Ontario are on the verge of closing in the coming months. The OCC encourages the Province to establish a stabilization fund to mitigate the short-term upheaval and ensure these organizations are able to support economic recovery. Nonprofits deliver critical services alongside government and the private sector and stabilizing the sector would help lessen the downstream effects of the economic downturn and reduce the need for more costly interventions in the future.
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.
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.
We echo the recommendation of the Ontario Forest Industries Association of the need to maintain the forest sector’s “essential service” designation. This will ensure that companies can remain relevant and operational and will allow the continued production of lumber and panels for vital infrastructure projects and processed wood fiber for sanitary products and personal protective equipment (PPE), among many other goods and services. We also support the implementation of Ontario’s Forest Strategy with a focus on key competitiveness measures that increase full access to available wood fibre and restore and maintain Forest Access Roads Funding to support economic recovery.
The Government is moving forward to implement a centralized procurement model through the creation of Supply Ontario. 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 have requested that the Ontario Government 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.
We were encouraged by a meeting with Minister Thompson in late 2020 where she outlined a shared focus on ensuring that businesses in small, rural and northern communities will be included in the Ontario Government’s supply and service procurement opportunities. Regretfully, when the members of the Supply Ontario board of directors were announced in January 2021, we were concerned by the lack of Northern Ontario representation in this guiding body and we ask that this be addressed quickly with additional appointments.
Alstom/Public Transit Funding
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges currently faced by our Alstom plant (formerly Bombardier). Due to a shortage of new work orders, the Thunder Bay Alstom facility, which employed 1,100 workers in 2018, has reduced its workforce and is now at an historic low with additional reductions planned for 2021. This shortage of work has also impacted businesses across Ontario including suppliers in Toronto, Brampton, Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham, Oshawa, Hamilton, St Catharines and Niagara Falls.
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. A 60 streetcar order from the TTC would provide a bridge that would keep the Thunder Bay plant operating and GTA suppliers engaged while the company pursues significant new contracts. We are requesting immediate action by your Government to provide funding to the Toronto Transit Commission to order 47 additional streetcars for delivery between 2023 and 2025.
One part of the solution to the skilled labour 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, the Rural & Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) initiative with select communities is underway and is bringing highly skilled immigrants to communities that need them. These are good steps forward.
We are continuing our work with the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association in supporting immigrant attraction and retention activities to enhance our community and economic opportunity. 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 that support industry growth. (Example: supportive health workers such as dental assistants, personal support workers, rehab assistants, truck drivers, machine operators.
- Allocating OINP spots regionally would improve the ability of small and rural communities to address labour shortages through immigration. The OINP is currently operating an allocation pilot in limited areas. We encourage the government to expand regional allocation of spots across the entire province to address the needs of small and rural communities in Northwestern Ontario. 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. With the number of clients doubling over recent years, the demand for settlement support across the Northwest, including housing, language interpretation and emergency assistance, is extremely high. Newcomer Settlement Program funding envelope to Thunder Bay and Kenora has been frozen for more than 8 years with the number of clients ever increasing.