Last weekend, I was pleased to join our Chair of the Board, Rosa Carlino, and First Vice-Chair, Nathan Lawrence, at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) Annual Convention in Hamilton. The theme of this two-day event was ‘Preparing for Prosperity’ and included discussions and debates on a broad range of issues that are impacting businesses across Ontario and the steps recommended by the OCC Vote Prosperity election platform to address these concerns.

As delegates gathered, the recently released Ontario Auditor General’s Pre-Election Report was on our minds. OCC President and CEO, Rocco Rossi, pulled no punches in his opening address as he pointed to his recent media statement on the issue, “If the province of Ontario were a publicly-held company, we as shareholders would deserve and demand clarity and accountability from our board and auditors. That is similarly our right as Ontarians. The Government of Ontario, and through them the people of Ontario, either respect our legislative officers or do not. This disagreement undermines the whole of government. It is deeply concerning that the Government of Ontario would be accused of not following the Canadian Public Sector Accounting Standards.” I completely agree!

Premier Kathleen Wynne, Ontario PC Opposition Leader Vic Fedeli, and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath each made presentations, outlining their Party platforms and addressing questions from the floor. During Q&A with Premier Wynne, I stood to remind the Premier of her promise to exempt Northern communities from her government’s four percent (4%) increase in aviation fuel tax and questioned why that exemption is not yet in place. The Premier indicated that they are continuing to review the issue and pointed to the growing costs of winter road construction and maintenance as justification for adding this tax to the burden of citizens in fly-in First Nation communities. I was disappointed in her reply and will continue to raise this concern throughout the coming election period and with the Government that follows.

During the four-hour policy debate, Thunder Bay successfully garnered unanimous support for its call for the Government of Ontario to develop a provincial forestry strategy that recognizes the growing value of Ontario’s renewable forests and to conduct socio-economic impact assessments of all legislation, regulation and policies that could reduce provincial fibre supply and/or reduce access to the land base/natural resources.

The conference also included excellent presentations and discussions on myriad issues including employment standards, US/Canada trade, competitiveness, infrastructure, mental health in the workplace, and the growing skills gap.

With the Provincial Election expected to officially begin within days, these discussions provided clarity on the key issues that are vital to ensuring that Thunder Bay area businesses can survive and thrive. Our Local Candidates Forum on May 30th is our opportunity to bring these issues forward to the individuals who want to represent us in Queen’s Park. I hope to see you there!

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