Chambers of commerce across the province put local businesses front-and-centre to the Government of Ontario last week.
Advocacy Day morphed into Advocacy Week this year with the event going online. This annual event, organized by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, gets leaders from chambers and boards of trade a chance to put their questions and issues directly to party leaders, ministers, and opposition critics. Having discussions face-to-face over video chat between business and political leaders is an effective way to drive home the challenges facing many small and medium-sized enterprises across Ontario.
It’s evident the priority for all elected officials right now is vaccine rollout and the general health of the people of Ontario as we try to move out of this pandemic. We’ve been fighting COVID-19 for a year now and the end is in sight, but Members of Provincial Parliament from all parties recognize the need to keep our guard up until we’re in the clear.
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce has been working with the Brampton Board of Trade, Barrie Chamber of Commerce, Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, Milton Chamber of Commerce, 1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of
Commerce, Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce, and Ottawa Board of Trade to push the Province to adopt the proposed Responsible Business Protocol.
We’ve submitted a resolution for the Ontario Chamber of
Commerce to add to its provincial lobby efforts and we’ve sent a letter to Premier Doug Ford asking for its implementation.
The Responsible Business
Protocol calls on the Province to create a set of health and safety rules for all business sectors. If a business follows the proper safety rules, they can remain open, with the colour-coded restriction zones indicating capacity limits for all
public-facing businesses. The rules need to be applied equitably and fairly to all businesses, not based on a perception of essentiality.
Advocacy Week has been a chance to further push this proposal with provincial leaders of all political stripes — and the message was well received.
Minister of Health Christine Elliott was open to the proposal, noting they have continued to modify restrictions. She stressed the importance of rapid testing to address safety and staffing issues for some business sectors and noted that people who can’t work from home — including the hospitality industry — will be given priority for vaccines.
The issue of workforce training and skills was also brought to the attention of Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano. Many businesses continue to struggle to find workers with the right skills and qualifications. Minister Romano plans to address these issues partly through micro-credentials.
Chambers and boards of trade pushed important issues for businesses, including greater access to high-speed internet, access to capital, and investments in infrastructure.
Advocacy Week is a helpful time to focus on specific issues, but your chamber of commerce will continue to be the voice of business in Peterborough through advocacy to all levels of government, all year long.
Dear Premier Ford,
We appreciate the responsiveness of your government in combatting this pandemic and your
understanding of the damaging toll it is taking on Ontario’s business community.
Forecasts of rising business bankruptcies, supplier, and bank delinquencies due to operating restrictions imposed by the current lockdown framework are alarming. Although we are optimistic about the vaccine rollout, our business communities also know that many months of safety protocols and operating restrictions are before us. Given the long-term forecast, now is the time to revisit and refine the regional operating restrictions framework to ensure it keeps Ontarians safe, builds business confidence and does not unduly harm our economy.
The current framework is often referred to as a blunt tool because of its geographic, rather than business-specific, approach. It also does not address what many public health units recognize as a bigger spread issue – community contact reduction. In January 2021, the Brampton Board of Trade recommended the creation of a “Responsible Business Protocol”. This approach
refines the current colour-code system, calls for better definitions of safe operating protocols by sector, and recommends adding a community contact reduction framework to better address pandemic spread. Most importantly, the recommended Responsible Business Protocol puts the onus on businesses to adhere to a common safe operating framework which allows them to remain open.
Led by the Peterborough and Thunder Bay Chambers of Commerce, several business communities throughout the province have reviewed and recommended this protocol. In essence, it is a solution that simplifies understanding of rules by sector, addresses community contact reduction and most
importantly, minimizes damage to our economy while fighting the spread of COVID-19.
At the heart of the protocol is the understanding that compliance with safety standards is an integral part of running a business. It impacts every size and sector, from retail and restaurants to construction and manufacturing. The primary reason Ontario businesses are leaders in workplace safety is to protect their employees and customers. Compliance with regulations that continue to evolve is taken seriously. Businesses are accustomed to having their ability to operate depend on their compliance with current safety standards.
Businesses in Ontario follow the Occupational Health and Safety Act closely or face penalties that can include jail time and fines. Businesses feel that it is fundamentally unfair that their operations are required to shut down or forced to significantly change their service model not because of their adherence to safety protocols, but because of the products they sell or the services they offer. This shuts down some businesses while allowing others to operate with very few restrictions.
Today, we are requesting that the Ontario government establish a Responsible
Business Protocol that includes the following elements:
1) A Safe Operating Framework (by business sector) – The framework should advise business owners on operating guidelines for their establishment (restaurant/hair salon/gym, etc) in order to protect their staff and clients from COVID-19 exposure.
a. Example/Idea: In a barber shop, for example, our position is that regardless of how many chairs are in the shop, consistent operating safety protocols (ie. spacing of chairs/plexi-dividers) can be established and all businesses would then be treated equitably. The issue of
capacity at which they would be allowed to operate is guided by the Community Contact Reduction
Framework described in
point #2 .
Once a safe operating
framework has been
established by Ontario for each sector, the safety
measures for each business should not vary based on what product you sell,
geographic area or establishment size etc. This framework differs from the current one in that Ontarians can take comfort in knowing that the key issue is not business safety, but community contact.
2) A Community Contact Reduction Framework (based on regional virus spread). As the cases rise in a particular region, the government should enforce reduction in community contacts. We know it is not the business itself that becomes less safe, it is the contact between community members that is less safe.
As such, we recommend that the new protocol establishes a framework that identifies how individual contacts must be reduced and would outline capacity restrictions, across the board, for public-facing businesses.
a. Example/Idea: In the Green level, for example, all public facing businesses would operate at 100% customer capacity (because they are already implementing safe operating protocols as per point #1) and as the case level rises in that region, capacity is reduced by 20% (for example, yellow = 80%, Orange = 60%, Red = 40%, Grey (current) = 25%). This allows more businesses to stay open and changes the message to the community.
Essentially the message to Ontarians is that these operating restrictions are about the community’s actions to reduce their own contacts rather than the current messaging, which
unfairly closes or restricts trade for small businesses.
The Responsible Business Protocol, together with a safe operating framework by
sector and community contact reduction framework, fairly applied across the board (ie both at national big-box and local retail stores) is a much better way to combat COVID, build consumer and business confidence, and not unduly harm the economy.
We welcome an opportunity to discuss this matter further at your earliest convenience.
Original Signed By:
Todd Letts, CEO, Brampton Board of Trade
Stuart Harrison, President & CEO, Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce
Charla Robinson, President, Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce
Scott McCammon, President & CEO, Milton Chamber of Commerce
Paul Markle, Executive
Director, Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce
Sueling Ching, President & CEO, Ottawa Board of Trade
Debbi Nicholson, President & CEO, Greater Sudbury
Chamber of Commerce
The Government of Ontario will release its 2021 budget on March 24. The government is calling it the “Next phase of Ontario’s COVID-19 Action Plan” with a focus on protecting health and jobs. It’s going to support the province's vaccine distribution plan, provide additional resources for the health care sector, and support initiatives to protect the economic well-being of families, workers and employers.
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce will provide an in-depth analysis of the budget and its impact on the local business community when it is released.
Missed the 2021 Power Hour? This year’s event went virtual and is available at peterboroughchamber.ca!
We brought together your local leaders — Warden J. Murray Jones, MP Maryam Monsef, MPP Dave Smith, and Mayor Diane Therrien — to take questions about what they’re working on for local businesses and the community as well as what they expect to see with our recovery from COVID-19 this year.
Tourism Task Force
The Ontario Government is launching a new task force to help the province’s $36
billion tourism industry recover from COVID-19. The Tourism Economic Recovery Ministerial Task Force will provide expert advice and recommendations.
The mandate of the voluntary task force includes providing strategies and advice that will help position Ontario and its local communities as destinations of choice for travel, as well as identifying products and experiences that enhance destination
development. It will also offer a forum for sector partners and leaders to share ideas, collaborate, and provide advice and information to the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries.
The tourism sector supports more than 400,000 jobs province-wide. Travellers from out-of-country were down 84% and tourism-related employment in Ontario declined by 13 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019.
The task force is expected to deliver a report in spring.
Tourism this Summer?
The Ontario 2020 Budget, which was released in November 2020, called 2021 the “Year of the Ontario Staycation”, citing: “As a tourist, no matter what you are looking for, you’re likely to find it in Ontario. And that is good news, because regardless of the trajectory of COVID 19, it is likely that tourism travel within Ontario will be an option sooner than travel beyond our province’s border.”
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce is consulting with local stakeholders and government representatives to figure out what local tourism-based businesses should be planning for this summer. The rollout of vaccines and general state of public health in Ontario will be a large
factor is in this planning.
Rural Economic Development Program
The Ontario government is investing $47,390 to support Peterborough & the Kawarthas Economic Development (PKED) in helping rural communities diversify their economies, retain skilled workers and create jobs. PKED’s project is one of 16 projects approved through the Rural Economic Development (RED) program providing nearly $800,000 in funding to support economic recovery in rural communities across Ontario.
The new funding will support the creation and modernization of tools to help connect local Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough food service providers and farmers with customers through a digital platform and increase local food production.
It has now been a year since Ontario hunkered down to battle COVID-19. Though it started as an extended March break for the kids and a few weeks of working from home, it quickly became apparent that we would be in for the long haul.
It feels like we’re finally on the home stretch. A fourth, single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is now approved for use in Canada and our governments are promising to have vaccines available to all in the coming months.
But we’re not there yet. Our region’s regression into red zone restrictions highlights the need for all of us to be careful and vigilant.
Local businesses have faced a year of frustration, stress, and for many — severe financial loss. The rainy-day reserves have long since been used up and debt levels are making it difficult to be able to continue borrowing.
Wage and Rent Subsidy Extension
The Government of Canada announced recently that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) programs will
continue at the current support rates until June, providing some much-needed certainty and financial support for businesses.
Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) Repayment
The Canada Emergency Business Account has been an important lifeline for many small businesses across the country by providing vital access to capital. Businesses in our hardest hit sectors will likely take several years to have their cashflow return to pre-2020 levels as they
service their debts, rebuild their customer base and continue to modernize. These sectors include accommodation, food service, arts, entertainment,
recreation, and retail.
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce is asking the Government of Canada to:
• Extend by two years the repayment deadline for eligibility for loan forgiveness for the Canada Emergency Business Account to
December 31, 2024
• Implement an income-based payment plan — similar to the CEWS eligibility criteria — for businesses that require longer to recover from the challenges of COVID-19
These modifications will help businesses through recovery and ease the current stress and anxiety many small business owners are dealing with.
Limit non-essential regulations
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce is joining chambers of
commerce and boards of trade across the country in calling on our government leaders to resist the urge to develop new non-essential regulations that will require extensive engagement from the private sector and take away from its ability to focus on the health and safety of employees, contractors and the communities in which they do business.
Keeping up-to-date and
adapting to the latest public health measures is already a challenge for many businesses.
Freeze the alcohol tax
In 2017, the government brought in automatic tax increases for alcohol. The next increase is slated for April 1. We are calling on the Government of Canada to freeze the alcohol tax rate.
The food-service industry — restaurants, pubs, bars, and all their suppliers, including breweries, farmers, and their logistics companies — are among the hardest-hit right now. Successful restaurants had profit margins of four to six per cent when times were good; there’s just no way to make the math work with indoor dining closed or significantly reduced.
Businesses need local support
The most important resource for local businesses is the support of their customers and the community as a whole. We all need to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19 and work our way back to few local cases and few social and business restrictions. We also need to continue patronizing our favourite local businesses.
Businesses in Ontario face many uncertainties heading into 2021. With the Ontario Government preparing its 2021 budget, the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce have provided the government with 17 recommendations as part of their budget submission.
With Ontario’s economy expected to enter a period of recovery this year as
vaccines are distributed and businesses begin to reopen, resources need to be focused on where they will have the greatest impact. In the upcoming budget, we would like to see a focus on
reskilling, broadband, and access to capital, which will be necessary for the revival of small business and entrepreneurship as well as an inclusive economic recovery. Resources should be targeted towards the sectors and communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including industries requiring face-to-face contact, small businesses, municipal
governments, as well as women, lower-income, racialized, elderly, new immigrant, and younger Ontarians.
Between February and September, 25,614 businesses closed in Ontario, and many businesses
continue to struggle with the economic hardships brought on by COVID-19.
Accordingly, businesses across the province continue to express concern about the future of the province and their own organizations. Our own surveys show that nearly half (46 percent) of Ontario businesses lack confidence in Ontario’s economic outlook.
The 2021 budget
recommendations focus on recovery, growth, and
• Minimize the impact of business closures
• Target funding towards the hardest-hit sectors
• Strengthen municipalities’ fiscal sustainability
• Enhance access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs
• Develop demand-driven skills programming
• Strengthen labour market information
• Accelerate broadband expansion
• Encourage and support regional collaboration
• Decarbonize Ontario’s transportation systems
• Give energy customers more payment flexibility
• Support farmers and local producers with the transition to online sales
• Be bold on interprovincial trade
• Use regulatory modernization to support economic recovery
• Realize the full potential of virtual care in Ontario
• Make Ontario a leader in ‘smart government’
• Improve procurement outcomes
• Take a measured approach to centralized procurement
In 2021, Ontario will continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The situation has created new problems and exacerbated pre-existing ones. The impact on people and business has been catastrophic overall, but disproportionate for small businesses as well as certain sectors and demographics. The recommendations
outlined above were
developed together with businesses, chambers of
commerce, and boards of trade across the province, with the shared interest of channeling limited resources to where they will have the greatest impact.
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Chamber of Commerce and chambers of commerce and boards of trade in every corner of the province will continue to provide critical services and resources to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, and will work closely together with government on the path to economic recovery.