With the Ontario provincial election coming up in a little over a month, it’s time to look at what the priorities are for the business community.
No matter what the political leanings of a party are — the business community will play an important role in our province’s economic rebound.
When it comes to elections, the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce is strictly non-partisan. We believe in advocating for local businesses and welcome the support of all parties and candidates in progressing policy that will build, support and provide opportunities for the local business community to thrive.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce put together a four-point plan called Vote Prosperity which lays out the priorities of chambers of commerce and boards of trade for all parties across the province.
The four pillars are:
1. Improve Business Confidence and Predictability
Predictability is fundamental to business confidence, economic recovery and prosperity. Businesses need a stable policy environment with clear timelines, contracts, consultations, and strategies to help them plan for the future and make long-term investments. Given the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19, Ontario must also bolster its pandemic preparedness in response to ongoing and future threats.
2. Foster Business and Economic Growth
The dual economic and public health crises of the past two years have left many businesses and households in Ontario with record levels of debt and financial instability. Pro-growth measures for business will fuel economic recovery. Ontario will need to focus on actions that support business access to the capital, markets, and talent that they need to grow.
3. Build Resilient Communities
A strong economy is built by healthy and resilient communities. Ontario will need to address challenges within our health care system, the ongoing impacts of climate change, access to housing, municipalities’ fiscal capacity to support regional economies, and infrastructure deficits.
4. Support Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Ontarians’ entrepreneurial spirit is one of the province’s greatest competitive advantages. Ontario will need to foster an environment that encourages new business ideas and investments to boost productivity and create the jobs of tomorrow.
Whomever forms our next government will have some difficult decisions to make. The last couple of years have been incredibly challenging, but how we decide to invest in moving forward will have big implications for years to come. Key investments to drive our competitiveness include workforce development and training, immigration, technology, infrastructure, and clean energy. We need to look at removing unnecessary barriers to growth like outdated regulations, an inefficient tax system, obstacles to interprovincial trade and labour mobility.
Our next government is going to have to balance post-pandemic priorities that include our overstretched health care system, supporting key sectors and demographics that have been disproportionately impacted, fiscal pressures from an aging population, supply chain disruptions, and record-high inflation.
Ontario’s next government has a big job ahead of it. We’re asking all parties and candidates to listen to their local businesses and the needs and opportunities they’re presenting as a key component to building Ontario into the province we want it to become.
One out of every 20 jobs in Canada are currently going unfilled.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s March 2022 Labour Force Survey reveals the total to be 830,000 jobs.
“It seems like every survey shows businesses laser-focused on two issues limiting their recovery and posing the most significant barrier to economic growth: supply chain disruptions and labour shortages. Most businesses believe supply chain disruptions are with us for another year, maybe two, but our members see no end to Canada’s labour shortage crisis,” states Leah Nord, Canadian Chamber of Commerce Senior Director of Workforce Strategies and Inclusive Growth.
It's going to take a multi-faceted approach to properly address our labour challenges. It will take involvement from all levels of government, public institutions and the private sector all working together.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is advocating that this is the time to modernize Employment Insurance. The Government of Canada is engaging in consultations on EI. The EI system has not been reviewed in 70 years, something the CCC calls a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to crack this stale nut wide open.
The CCC would like to see EI evolve towards becoming a talent development process that responds to the regional and sectoral labour market needs, supporting individuals through temporary job loss with financial and training resources. The CCC goes on to say that in order to achieve this we need a mechanism wherein all parties – business, labour and government – can engage in a meaningful and sustained way.
The latest unemployment numbers highlight that the issue is much bigger than simply getting people back to work. Unemployment dropped to the lowest it has been since 1974, hitting 5.3% in March. CCC Chief Economist Stephen Tapp expects to see the trend continue with unemployment dropping below 5% this year.
People are back to work.
It’s important to look at how we’re recovering. For example, Canada added 73,000 jobs in March, of which 55,000 were men and 18,000 women. Full-time work is leading growth, having added 93,000 jobs, while part-time employment dropped a further 20,000. While many people may prefer full-time work, part-time provides its own essential role in the economy by engaging people who require the added flexibility. Wages continue to rise, but struggle to keep pace with soaring inflation.
One key aspect of overhauling EI is to reposition people for the workforce. The system currently provides needed financial assistance while someone is out of work and essentially puts them back into the workforce to fill the same role they left. There is an opportunity to do better and use the EI process to develop much needed talent.
We have to come to terms with the fact that dealing with such a large hole in our workforce is about more than finding enough bodies to fill those jobs. We can do better. We can modernize our workforce in ways that won’t require the same things to be done the same way we were doing them. Ultimately, this innovative approach to employment gaps will make our country more competitive.
Without access to talent for our businesses, our economy is at risk of stagnating. The timing couldn’t be worse considering the desperate situation many businesses are facing coming out of two years of COVID-19 public health measures.
The heart of our economy, our growth, and our prosperity is people. It’s time to do better about how we support, train, and engage our most valuable resource.
Economic growth is led by the private sector. It takes investment in their workforce, infrastructure, and innovation.
The 2022 federal budget has a lot to offer, but time will tell if there’s enough emphasis on enabling the private sector to lead our economic recovery.
It’s encouraging to see our government prioritize investments in housing, reducing emissions, strengthening public health, and building a stronger workforce. Overall, our economic outlook is improving. Employment is up. Our GDP has come in higher than projected.
Where the criticism comes in is the lack of vision in the federal budget.
“Fiscal responsibility will become increasingly important amid inflation and rising interest rates,” states Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, in press release. “While Budget 2022 contains several growth-enabling investments, it lacks an overarching plan and vision for economic growth that will encourage private sector investment and reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio without the need for spending cuts or tax increases in the future. Now more than ever, it is critical for Canada to leverage private capital and reduce regulatory barriers that inhibit growth.”
The budget contains some significant positive investments. The federal government is tackling current housing issues. There are incentives to stimulate housing construction and a new Tax-Free Home Savings Account to help first-time buyers save up for a home.
We’re encouraged to see the government continue to prioritize investments in the VIA High Frequency Rail project, which includes Peterborough in a new dedicated passenger rail line between Toronto and Quebec City. The budget spells out further investment in planning and design steps.
There’s a big emphasis on net-zero emissions — and rightly so. Canada has made some big promises on the world stage to do our part to fight climate change. It’s encouraging to see the government work with the private sector, including investments in carbon capture technology, electric vehicles, and tax credits toward net zero technologies. The government is also investing heavily in assisting the agriculture sector invest in low emissions technology.
Small and medium-sized businesses will see access to the small business tax rate gradually phased out once they reach $50 million of capital, up from $15 million. The government is also working on developing a plan for Employee Ownership Trusts, a tool that can help reward employees and increase retention.
Large banks and insurance companies are going to see a tax increase, prompting some concerns from the business community that these costs will get passed on to their customers.
The government is investing in a stronger workforce through new funding for training, tax credits to encourage seniors to continue longer in the workforce, and funding to support integration for persons with disabilities.
Our workforce is heavily dependant on outside help. The budget includes investments in the Temporary Foreign Worker program as well as assistance for immigration, including expanding the program to recognize foreign credentials.
The budget comes up a bit short in a few critical areas. While there is money set aside for cybersecurity, it’s through the national defense sector. Chambers of commerce across the country have been advocating for more investment in cyber security for the private sector, especially as it impacts our supply chain. There’s a general lack of focus and investment in the supply chain, which is driving up costs and creating challenges for businesses and consumers.
Also missing is debt relief for hardest hit business that used government support programs.
If nothing else, the 2022 budget is big on optimism. The federal government is making some much needed investments in some business sectors that should lead us in the direction of recovery and growth. More can be done, and for that we’ll continue to advocate for a strong private sector to lead our economic growth.
Housing in Ontario has become difficult to obtain for many people due to both price and availability.
We at the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce believe creating a strategy to encourage tiny homes will help increase housing stock and address some issues relating to housing insecurity. We’ve submitted a resolution on this topic to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce which will be up for debate among members at the Annual General Meeting at the end of April. If approved, it becomes part of the provincial advocacy effort. Our aim is to better utilize a housing niche as one more tool in addressing our current challenges.
Housing is becoming increasingly out of reach for many Ontarians, both in terms of home ownership and rental. The average house price in Ontario has increased by more than 47 per cent over the last two years, with the price of the average home nearing $1 million at the end of 2021. Access to rental homes has challenges as well with vacancy rates remaining low and prices increasing.
The lack of access to housing has driven record numbers of people to other provinces. According to Statistics Canada, our country hasn’t seen this level of interprovincial migration in more than 30 years, with Ontario taking the biggest hit. In the second quarter of 2021, nearly 12,000 more people left Ontario for other provinces than moved here. Many of the people leaving are younger, first-time home buyers — the very people our labour market is desperately in need of.
Others have been left with no home at all. This has been especially evident in the downtown cores of many Ontario communities as years of housing insecurity issues have become much more visible.
A large portion of our need for housing can be met through traditional housing, though the pace of the creation of traditional housing stock needs to increase to meet demand.
One growing niche solution is tiny homes. These homes are typically less than 32 m2 (400 ft2) and are required by the Ontario Building Code to be more than 17.5 m2 (188 ft2). Tiny homes are popular both for people looking to downsize and people who have otherwise been priced out of the housing market. The Province has created allowances within the Ontario Building Code to accommodate these type of residences; however, that has not been incorporated into many municipal zoning bylaws. The rules in municipalities across the province vary widely. This is a particular issue when it comes to minimum size and parking requirements, all of which make it a costly and a highly customized endeavour to create tiny homes either as independent or secondary dwellings.
Encouraging and incentivising municipalities to modernize zoning bylaws in a standardized way that makes it easier to build tiny homes would add to our affordable building stock. This will help make our communities more competitive in attracting and retaining talent and address local housing insecurity issues.
Additionally, there is a growing need for temporary shelter. Non-profit and charitable organizations have been trying to find stopgap housing for the housing insecure. Homelessness and housing insecurity are complicated issues that require a multifaceted approach. Shelter beds are the go-to for many municipalities, but that solution doesn’t work for everyone due to shelter capacity, hours of operation, privacy conditions, sobriety requirements, and interpersonal conflicts. There is an opportunity to amend the Ontario Building Code to use a type of minimalist tiny home as a stopgap shelter for those with no other options. While not an ideal housing situation, temporarily residing in a minimalist tiny home could provide people who would otherwise be sleeping rough with the safety, security, and dignity of a roof over their head, four walls, and a lockable door.
Our recommendations for the Government of Ontario are:
1. Create a strategy for the construction of tiny homes as a tool for increasing housing stock
2. Encourage and incentivize municipalities with the use of existing government programs to incorporate a standard set of guidelines, in alignment with the Ontario Building Code, for tiny home construction.
3. Amend the Ontario Building Code to allow for minimalist tiny homes as a stopgap shelter for people who might otherwise be living rough
Tiny homes offer opportunities to address some of the housing issues our province is dealing with by improving access to affordable housing options and shelter for our most vulnerable. A provincial tiny home construction strategy is needed to further explore and develop this niche while ensuring basic living standards are met.