The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce represents 800 Member companies with over 20,000 employees in the Thunder Bay area.
This year’s provincial budget comes at a critical juncture for Ontario as businesses face major headwinds: inflation, labour shortages, supply chain disruptions, and a looming recession threaten to dampen economic growth and recovery. Economic growth cannot occur without significant and sustained investments from the private sector – and those dollars will flow where productivity is highest. Budget 2023 must focus on measures that strengthen Ontario’s productivity, resilience, and growth. 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 bolster economic well-being, growth, and recovery across the province.
Immigration / Non-Resident Speculation Tax / Federal Ban on Foreign Home Purchases
One part of the solution to the skilled labour shortage challenge is through progressive immigration policies. We are continuing our work with the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association in supporting immigrant attraction and retention activities to enhance community and economic opportunities and meet our labour market needs. Allocating Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program spots regionally would improve the ability of small and rural communities to address labour shortages through immigration. We encourage the government to expand regional allocation of spots to small and rural communities in Northwestern Ontario.
Unfortunately, there are Government policies in place which undermine our immigration attraction efforts and must be addressed quickly. The 25% Non-Resident Speculation Tax applies on the purchase or acquisition of an interest in residential property located anywhere in Ontario by individuals who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. We are concerned about the unintended consequences that this tax may have on efforts by Thunder Bay employers to attract skilled foreign workers.
Currently, participants in the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program, refugees and spouses of Canadian citizens can apply for an exemption to this additional tax, yet there is no exemption offered to skilled foreign workers arriving through the Federal Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP). RNIP is delivered in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins, allowing eligible employers to make full-time permanent job offers to skilled foreign workers who can help fill identified labour shortages in the community. To date, Thunder Bay has successfully recruited more than 400 skilled workers plus their family members through the RNIP program.
We urge the Provincial Government to ensure that the Non-Resident Speculation Tax exemption is immediately expanded to include participants in the Rural Northern Immigration Pilot as well as those awaiting permanent resident status (eg: Afghan Initiative and Ukrainian Initiative arrivals) and post-graduation work permit holders living in our communities.
The recent Federal ban on foreign home purchases is a further barrier to International attraction and settlement and we will be advocating to request clarification on its application to participants in RNIP and those awaiting permanent resident status.
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. We support the implementation of Ontario’s Forest Strategy and the recommendations of the Ontario Forest Industries Association which focus on key competitiveness measures including those that take steps to: increase access to the full available supply of provincial wood fibre to support existing facilities and set the stage for future expansion; improve forest road infrastructure, leveraging private investments; and ensure a long-term and sustainable future for forest biomass electrical generation.
The Government is continuing to move 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 request 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. However, we remain concerned that there is currently no Northern representation on the Supply Ontario Board of Directors and urge the Government to address this lack of representation immediately.
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.
Local Content Requirements on Public Transit Funding
Another industry where there can and should be a significant return on investment is through the funding of public transit. Thunder Bay’s Alstom plant has flourished in previous years as a result of government commitments to local content requirements when Ontario tax dollars are being used for transit vehicle repairs and purchases. To ensure that Ontarians receive the best value from their tax investments through the creation of local jobs, we encourage the Government to apply 25% Canadian content requirements and to require final assembly in Canada for public transit projects. Having clear and systematic regulations for local content would be highly beneficial to Thunder Bay and for Ontario as a whole.
Mental Health & Addictions Treatment Centre
The mental health & addictions epidemic in our region is having a significant impact throughout the community through the tragic and unprecedented loss of life and an overwhelming burden on our health and emergency services. The Chamber is strongly supportive of the proposal submitted in March 2021 by over 40 local organizations calling for a Mental Health & Addictions Treatment Centre in Thunder Bay to address these challenges.
Thank you for your consideration of these requests and recommendations.