Guest Column by David Billedeau, Senior Director of Natural Resources, Environment and Sustainability with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Nicholas Palaschuk, Economic Policy Researcher with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce
The Government of Canada is rightly focused on achieving net zero by 2050. Yet, Ottawa is still resisting implementing procurement policies to support a green economy.
The federal government is the single largest buyer in the country. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), it is estimated that the procurement of goods and services accounts for nearly 33 per cent of all federal government spending, and 13.3 per cent of national GDP. With nearly $22-billion in procurement spending per year, the federal government is in a perfect position to integrate environmental sustainability considerations into procurement decision-making processes and drive progress toward a net-zero economy.
To achieve net zero, it is time for all levels of government to get serious about green procurement policies.
The federal government can deepen demand for environmentally preferable goods and services that validate low-carbon innovations and increase their use throughout Canada. This not only incentivizes industrial low-carbon investments but drives emissions reductions, spurs commercialization of Canadian-made goods/services, enhances the global competitiveness of Canadian businesses, and stimulates clean and sustainable job creation.
With over 56 governments worldwide implementing green procurement policies as an instrument of strategic innovation to support the low-carbon transition, it is perplexing why Canada is dragging its heels.
Calls for greening the procurement process are by no means new to Ottawa. In 1994, the federal government received its first instructions to develop a government-wide approach to green procurement. With more explicit commitments coming from the 2006 Policy on Green Procurement, it appears as though the federal government is not completely apathetic to the idea of introducing environmental considerations into procurement spending. While most recent efforts on procurement, including the 2017 Greening Government Strategy, help clarify how procurement policies might be leveraged to help reach net-zero commitments (e.g., buildings, fleet electrification, clean electricity), these efforts are staggered and show little adeptness to meaningfully engage with new industry (e.g., small- to medium-sized enterprises, also known as SMEs) and community stakeholders (e.g., indigenous communities).
Canada needs to revamp its nearly 30-year-old procurement system.
A recent 2022 Hewlett-Packard report shows that the current federal procurement system fails to sufficiently integrate sustainability in evaluative processes, and has limited consideration for material environmental issues—much less the total cost of ownership over the lifecycle of goods or services.
The principle of obtaining the best value for taxpayer money currently translates to a national system that uses cost-based assessments as the main guide to decision-making. This policy approach continues to present significant barriers to Canada’s net-zero commitments as it overlooks key sustainability criteria tied to product life cycles and does little to reward those driving innovation.
While integrating environmental considerations and deepening industry and community participation in procurement policies is no small measure, there are steps Canada can take.
First, aligning green procurement standards across federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal levels of government will enable businesses to align organizational spending with sustainability values. With the majority of public infrastructure owned at the sub-national level, we believe an increased emphasis should be placed on co-ordinating green public procurement processes and metrics across all levels of government. Creating shared processes and understandings will foster nationwide cohesion and reduce the confusion that stems from businesses navigating a patch-worked regulatory environment. The Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement network has created a guide to engaging local government officials and driving green procurement practices throughout municipal initiatives. Using such efforts as a launchpad to scale across the country and up to the federal level will enable businesses to pursue green innovations more readily and proactively.
Second, Canada should develop a national industrial decarbonization strategy. With 20 per cent of Canada’s exports coming from the oil and gas industry, the need for a strategic and industrial-led approach to cross-sector decarbonization is necessary. Canada’s current approach of using broad policy levers (e.g., carbon pricing), while important, fails to drive the growth of new green industries at the rate needed to meet national net-zero commitments. While notable efforts have been made in the formation of the Economic Strategy Tables and Industry Strategy Council, current one-off investments are spread thin across a handful of industries. Much like that developed by the U.K. government, a national strategy that builds on Canada’s competitive advantage will help establish consensus on specific goals, processes, and systems to manage and monitor the integration of sustainability within public procurement. More importantly, it will help clarify how Canadian industries can decarbonize in line with net-zero commitments while building competitive advantage and without pushing emissions abroad.
Lastly, incorporating the total cost of ownership (TCO) as a procurement criterion will help create a link between “best value” and the growth of the low-carbon economy. Defined as the practice of capturing all associated costs incurred by the purchasing party when purchasing from external providers, integrating TCO would directly address a lingering challenge in Canadian procurement that prioritizes short-term savings at the expense of green innovation. Focusing on core purchasing processes such as supplier selection, contract negotiations and performance management, the use of TCO is well suited to an SME-dominated business landscape—helping to identify hidden costs throughout the acquisition, operation and disposal of goods/services. In turn, this will reduce the risk of low-carbon innovations and drive decarbonization through green business competition.
This is how the government can begin to create the type of market signals that incentivize green innovation and help Canadian companies scale up to gain a foothold in low-carbon markets and credibility in global supply chains.
While Canada’s current approach to procurement should be disconcerting, it highlights the breadth of potential opportunities that can be realized through the meaningful integration of sustainability into public sector procurement. We believe that Ottawa assuming a leadership position in greening procurement will have a ripple effect throughout the economy.
If Canada is to have a chance of realizing its net-zero ambitions, we need a renewed focus on green procurement that creates inclusive, outcome-based partnerships between the public and private sectors.
Why is the supply of housing not meeting the demand and why is it so difficult to create housing in Peterborough?
Supply & Demand
The high demand and low supply ranked Peterborough the most overvalued housing market in all of Ontario last spring.1 The demand comes from federal immigration and desire to live in our beautiful community. The supply is created by the private sector working with the municipality to create housing options for our community. But the supply is not meeting the demand. The supply has not met the demand for decades in Peterborough.
Peterborough is the 17th largest urban center in the province, and 32nd largest of 41 census metropolitan areas in the country. 2 However, few residents in Peterborough would view the city as an urban center. The provincial growth plan has mandated a 50% population increase by 2051 for Peterborough. 3 The increase is to be achieved through densification, which is in the City of Peterborough’s Official Plan. 4 To meet that target 900 new residential units would need to be built every year. That is a far greater number than the city has ever built in the past. In fact, less housing is being built now than 30 years ago in the city.
What has changed in the past 30 years?
In the 1990s there were less provincial regulations for housing to be built. The provincial government provides a standard set of rules and guidelines that each municipality must follow for new housing. Each municipality also creates their own local by-laws. And commenting agencies review all new home applications before approval. For example, conservation authorities enforce provincial legislation to ensure that local natural heritage and watersheds are protected. As new legislation is added, old rules often contradict new rules, creating unnecessary red tape.
Staffing levels at the City of Peterborough’s building and planning departments have been a longstanding issue. The number of different builders has decreased, reducing competition. Thousands of skilled trades workers are close to retirement and there are shortages of tradespeople.5 There are many opportunities for young people to get into skilled trades, municipal planning, and engineering.
New housing includes fees to pay for needed infrastructure to go along with growth. Those fees have increased by 880% in the past 20 years in Peterborough, and the municipal infrastructure, like roads, has not kept pace. Also, the cost of land is now higher than the cost to build a new home.
Inefficient Municipal Processes
Delays stem from both provincial and municipal regulations. Municipalities control housing timelines through the official plan, zoning by-laws, variances and building permits required for new housing.6 Peterborough is in an excellent position to make big changes with provincial funding from the Steamline Development Approval Fund.7 Bill 109 allows the professional planning staff at City Hall to approve site plans, as per the City’s Official Plan without redundant council votes.8
The “as is” approach to housing has seen a decline in units available and lack of growth in Peterborough. There are opportunities for improvement to create a vibrant more affordable community in the City of Peterborough. Everyone needs to agree that we need more housing in Peterborough and also take action to create more housing. Collaboration is needed so our children can afford to live in Peterborough when they grow up.
Roadwork is a necessary part of investing in our infrastructure.
It’s an inconvenience for commuters and travelers, but it can have big implications for the local business community. Providing adequate notice, communication, and consultation are key to minimizing community impact and business disruption.
Most road closures and traffic restrictions are conducted by municipal or provincial governments, which have strict rules around providing notice to neighbouring residents and business, federal projects have few rules and what’s in place is largely inadequate.
For this reason, Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce has a policy resolution before the Canadian Chamber of Commerce titled Increasing Public Notice and Consultations for Federal Projects. This resolution will go to the CCC members at the annual general meeting in October and, if approved, will become part of the national advocacy effort for the next three years.
Whether it’s for a few hours, days, or even years, these projects have big implications for neighbouring residents and businesses.
For projects that disrupt traffic for a few hours or days, having adequate notice allows businesses to reschedule staff, adjust their advertising and marketing, and alter their sales programs. This can save thousands of dollars per day by facilitating prudent spending.
Projects that require significant traffic disruptions for months or years can cause major issues for affected businesses to the point that some will end up closing for good. Proper planning and communication can help businesses manage things like buying the appropriate amount of inventory, maintaining adequate staffing, and sourcing other opportunities to reach their customers.
Regardless of the length of the street closure, providing the public with ample notice allows them to better understand what is happening and plan their visits to local businesses accordingly.
Most construction projects require extensive consultation with local municipalities to provide detour options and provide appropriate notice to the public well ahead of any work being done.
However, federally administered and/or regulated projects don’t have those same requirements and often minimal communication and consultation are provided to neighbouring residents, businesses, and municipalities. Businesses in Peterborough have experienced multi-day closures of busy streets with less than 24 hours notice for rail crossing work. Businesses and residents were provided one month notice and minimal municipal consultation for the replacement of a bridge by Parks Canada on one of the main routes into the City of Peterborough that took nine months to complete.
Transport Canada requires railway work to follow the Notice of Railway Works Regulations, but that only requires notice to a limited group, including the municipality and property owners immediately abutting land at the crossing. While it does require 60 days notice, obligations to the neighbouring community are limited and there are no requirements to provide detours.
All non-rail projects aren’t regulated by Transport Canada since they are deemed a business practice. The various government ministries, departments and services are left to establish their own standards, which have proven difficult to access.
There are times when work must be done on an immediate basis with minimal prior notice due to emergencies, but most projects involve months, if not years, of planning to budget, tender, and schedule infrastructure work.
Our recommendations are that the government of Canada:
1. Require federal agencies and federally regulated sectors to communicate publicly the intention to undertake upcoming construction projects that impact transportation routes as early on in the planning process as is practical
2. Require federal agencies and federally regulated sectors to provide notice that includes all nearby residents and businesses, not just those immediately adjacent to the project:
a) a minimum of 30 days notice for road closures that are seven days or less
b) a minimum of 90 days notice for road closures expected to last more than seven days
3. Require federal agencies and federally regulated sectors to thoroughly consult with municipalities and contribute resources toward detour options
Improving communication and consultation will go a long way to helping local businesses and reducing frustration for everyone involved. Scheduled infrastructure improvements that involve closing streets should provide at least as much notice as what is expected when organizing a parade.
Municipal election campaigns are officially underway!
The deadline for all prospective candidates to file their papers was Friday, August 19. Official candidate lists will filter out in coming days — all in preparation for election day on Oct. 24
As a Chamber of Commerce, our role is to be non-partisan advocates for the local business community.
We have an ambitious plan to engage the community and candidates this fall by hosting nine election debates — an in-person mayoral debate in the city and eight Zoom debates in the townships of Peterborough County.
• Monday, Sept. 26 5:30 – 7:00 pm — Township of Douro-Dummer (via Zoom)
• Monday, Sept. 26 7:30 – 9:00 pm — Township of Asphodel-Norwood (via Zoom)
• Tuesday, Sept. 27 5:30 – 7:00 pm — Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan (via Zoom)
• Tuesday, Sept. 27 7:30 – 9:00 pm — Municipality of Trent Lakes (via Zoom)
• Wednesday, Sept. 28 5:30 – 7:00 pm — Township of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen (via Zoom)
• Wednesday, Sept. 28 7:30 – 9:00 pm — Township of Cavan Monaghan (via Zoom)
• Thursday, Sept. 29 5:30 – 7:00 pm — Selwyn Township (via Zoom)
• Thursday, Sept. 29 7:30 – 9:00 pm — Township of North Kawartha (via Zoom)
• Thursday, Oct. 6 7:00 – 8:30 pm — City of Peterborough mayoral debate (in person and streamed on YouTube)
Ward councillor candidates in the City of Peterborough will be provided with a questionnaire on local issues and we’ll be sure to share their feedback online.
The last two years have shown the power of streaming events like political debates online. Our provincial election debate in the fall garnered 1,400 YouTube views and our federal election debate the year before had 3,200 views. And that’s just YouTube. The debates were posted on other social media channels and broadcast on YourTV. We’re reaching more people than ever before.
We will also be hosting an election page at pkchamber.ca with the latest information on local candidates, issues and events.
You can also find municipality-specific election information here:
• City of Peterborough
• Township of Asphodel-Norwood
• Township of Cavan Monaghan
• Township of Douro-Dummer
• Township of Havelock-Belmont-Methuen
• Township of North Kawartha
• Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan
• Township of Selwyn
• Municipality of Trent Lakes
The biggest factor in the effectiveness of our election advocacy program is you! We need you to be part of the process — engaging the candidates, attending debates and submitting questions/issues. We need to hear from businesses and the community at large on what are the pressing issues your council should address in the next four years (send them to firstname.lastname@example.org). As the voice of business in Peterborough and the Kawarthas, our role is best served with an engaged community that amplifies our voice in advocating for a stronger region.
It's up to all of us to elect leaders that will put their attention and energy to invest in what our communities need — and not in isolation, but as a region. We need homes that are affordable and accessible to new home owners. We need to ensure everyone has access to fast and reliable internet. We need solutions for poverty that is becoming far too visible to ignore.
Take some time over the next couple of months to get to know your local candidates, the issues, and attend one of the numerous events being hosted by the Chamber and other community organizations. An informed and engaged community is good for democracy and the health of our region.
The return of the legislature marks the beginning of a new mandate with new MPPs and a new cabinet.
While the governing party may not have changed, this new term of government will certainly be different from the last. We’re in the midst of a public health crisis far different than the last one, inflation has driven up the cost of pretty much everything, and economists are projecting a looming recession.
It already seems like the June 2 election was ages ago.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has issued the Blueprint to Bolster Ontario’s Prosperity, which includes letters to each provincial government minister outlining key policy priorities.
As Chambers, we’re calling for priorities that create the right conditions to support competitiveness, productivity, and growth.
Labour: Addressing Ontario’s labour market challenges by boosting immigration, removing barriers to labour mobility and introducing workforce development strategies for key sectors such as construction, health care, tourism, hospitality, and transportation.
Healthcare: Bolstering our health care system by developing a health human resources strategy, delivering on digital health, and addressing backlogs in routine vaccines, diagnostics, and cancer screenings.
Red tape: Continuing to prioritize lowering the administrative burden on business and ensuring that regulation is streamlined and effective.
Energy: Planning for Ontario’s long-term energy needs to ensure businesses and residents continue to have access to reliable, clean, and affordable energy for generations to come.
Housing: Propelling housing affordability through increased supply and regulatory reforms to fuel the industry and help organizations attract and retain talent.
Infrastructure: Advancing regional transportation connectivity and fare integration as well as broadband infrastructure projects in collaboration with the private sector.
Procurement: Modernizing public procurement to support small businesses and equity-seeking entrepreneurs to diversify the supply chain.
Climate: Seizing Ontario’s opportunity to lead in the global green economy by minimizing uncertainty, supporting cleantech, mobilizing clean energy solutions, and strengthening climate adaptation.
Locally, MPP Dave Smith is parliamentary assistant to both the Minister of Northern Development and Minister of Indigenous Affairs. The OCC’s priorities for him include prioritizing economic reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs, providing everyone access to reliable high-speed internet, investing in mining in northern Ontario, and making regional immigration pilot programs permanent.
What’s clear is that the bar has been raised in terms of expectations. While there are some new faces, Doug Ford is leading a government more experienced than the last. The constantly changing threat of COVID-19 is fading as new challenges are arising. Over the next four years, chambers of commerce and boards of trade from across the province will be putting pressure on the government to bolster Ontario’s prosperity.
Access to high-speed internet is a must for life and business for most people.
With more and more processes moving to cloud-based and remote access, businesses depend on reliable internet for bookkeeping, client management, scheduling, and meetings as well as applications like marketing and research. There are very few aspects of business that don’t have an online component. It also spans all business sectors, with rural sectors like agriculture and mining pushing for better connections so they can make better use of technology to make them more efficient and competitive.
Our personal lives are very similar. It’s where we interact socially, find entertainment, shop, make reservations, and attend school.
Yet our community, along with many others across the province, has been lacking in consistent, reliable high-speed internet access.
While the problem is more prevalent in rural areas, there are places within Peterborough’s city limits that are considered underserviced and have been put on a provincial priority list.
Recently, the Government of Ontario announced it had concluded its procurement process and signed agreements with eight different internet providers for its plan to expand broadband internet access.
Locally, this includes the City and all eight townships of Peterborough County as part of a deal with Rogers Communications Canada, Bell Canada, and Xplornet Communications worth $894.8 million. The agreements should provide an estimated 266,600 un- and under-serviced businesses and homes with high-speed broadband internet.
This deal will build on the ongoing efforts to increase connectivity. It follows years of advocacy from chambers of commerce, boards of trade, business improvement areas, municipalities, the Eastern Ontario Wardens' Caucus, industry associations, cottage associations, and many of the people who have struggled with internet access in their home or business. It’s largely a non-partisan issue with different governments passing on the broadband torch to the next government.
The issue isn’t about intention. There isn’t really any opposition. The issue is follow-through. This is part of a program that has been running for more than a decade. Progress has certainly been made over that time with many communities receiving or getting upgraded internet service thanks in part to government investments. But there are still 266,000 homes and businesses in Ontario struggling to interact with the modern world.
Adding further complexity is that the remaining areas left to service are likely the more difficult ones. Infrastructure projects like this tend to focus on the easy wins that provide the best bang for the buck off the start before making their way to the more complicated and sometimes hyperlocal issues.
The last couple of years have certainly added urgency to the situation as the need for online access moved ahead in leaps and bounds.
The Government of Ontario has set a target of connecting every corner of the province by 2025. For those without proper internet, that’s still three long years away.
Our advocacy efforts need to focus on keeping pressure on our government and internet providers to keep the momentum up. We need the continued voice of municipalities, businesses, organizations, and residents. Everyone should have a level playing field when it comes to accessing businesses, government services, schooling, social interaction.
As the voice of business in Peterborough and the Kawarthas for 138 years, advocacy is a core component of the role of the Chamber in our community.
We work with the local business community to identify barriers and opportunities. That grassroots input turns into various forms of advocacy initiatives.
Currently, we’re in the midst of the national-level advocacy program. As members of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC), we have an opportunity to submit local issues of national significance as policy resolutions.
We have two resolutions proposed:
• Tax Rebates for Home Care – We’re looking to save taxpayers money while providing a higher level of care for people with long-term health needs. Currently, access to key equipment like hospital beds and patient lifts are a barrier people being eligible for home care support work. Additionally, a bit of help with paying for those services will go a long way in enabling people to receive care at home instead of an institution.
• Increasing Public Notice and Consultations for Federal Projects – The rules around providing public notice regarding road closures are vague when it comes to federal agencies. Peterborough experienced this with very little notice regarding the Parkhill Road bridge closure. We’re advocating that the federal government increase requirements for federal agencies to provide public notice to affected residents and businesses when closing a road for planned work.
These resolutions will be debated by CCC members in the fall. In the mean time they’re being vetted by members of various committees (of which our Chamber is a part of) to make sure it’s a significant enough business issue to need attention at the federal level. These committees help improve local advocacy efforts with other perspectives and expertise.
The provincial policy process is very similar to the national one. We are active members of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and submit resolutions on provincially significant issues. Earlier this year we had a resolution approved regarding tiny homes and secondary suites. We’re looking to have the Province work with municipalities to streamline the approval process for this type of niche housing, keeping cost, risk, and complexity to a minimum.
When it comes to local government, the policy process is entirely based around grassroots advocacy. We take input from local businesses directly to the government involved and work on solutions, whether it’s reducing the commercial and industrial tax ratio or making sure the perspective of local businesses is heard in the official plan, transportation master plan, and other municipal planning initiatives.
Regardless of the government body we’re advocating to, the majority of our work doesn’t result in policy resolutions or even formal letters to our leaders. Most of the advocacy work we do starts with an email, phone call, or a casual conversation at a networking event. Someone is facing a very specific barrier like a zoning issue or haven’t had a response from a government agency on a crucial application. Sometimes they just need to chat with someone to make sense of government regulations. Other times we partner with industry associations to amplify their voice.
It's not that we have all the answers or can solve every issue brought to our attention. Sometimes it can be sorted out quickly with some pressure, compromise, or better communication. Other times it’s a long-term process. We’ve been advocating for the return of passenger rail to Peterborough for more than a decade and we don’t plan on stopping until that first load of passengers arrives. We’ve hit some obstacles along the way, but right now passenger rail is closer to becoming a reality than any time since service ceased, with support from all major political parties and a government that now has parts of the project into the procurement phase.
Whether you’re facing a pressing issue, have new opportunities you need help exploring, or are looking for long-term results, we’ll continue to be your voice of business.
Aggregates are big business in Peterborough and the Kawarthas. We mine them, ship them, and consume them.
A new report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), commissioned by the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association, titled The Long Haul: Examining the Implications of Far-From-Market Aggregates examines the value, impact and implications of mining, hauling and consuming aggregates.
Aggregates include gravel, sand, clay, earth, shale, stone, marble, granite, and other materials. It is used directly in construction as well as in the production of products like cement and concrete. It is a core product in most construction and infrastructure projects.
In 2019, production of new aggregates was worth $1.7 billion in Ontario, paying out $806 million in labour income and employing 13,400 people.
Central eastern Ontario, an area that includes Peterborough and the Kawarthas and the surrounding areas to the east and north, produced 22 million tonnes of aggregates, contributing $222 million to our GDP and directly employing more than 1,500 people.
Very little can be built without aggregates, making it a major contributor to Ontario’s $51 billion construction industry (2019).
It’s a product that is required in large amounts. Its value is inherently tied to the cost of getting it to market.
The report makes the case for keeping aggregate production near where construction and industry need it. The further it is hauled from, the more expensive it gets, the larger its carbon footprint, and the more trucks that are needed to get it there.
The Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) is dotted with quarries, but can’t keep up with its own supply needs. The GTHA consumes approximately 73 million tonnes of aggregate while producing only 25 million tonnes. This means that aggregate mining in areas like Peterborough and the Kawarthas plays a key role in not only our own development, but that of our larger neighbours.
Development in Ontario is not showing any signs of slowing. The GTHA is expected to consume 1.5 billion tonnes of aggregates by 2041. Our region is experiencing its own period of growth. The industry will continue to find efficiencies in production, recycling, and design, but demand for new product will continue. If quarries close or are not allowed to expand, aggregate consumers will simply buy it from further away.
The GTHA is increasingly relying on pits and quarries further away and can expect to exhaust all close-to-market aggregate production supply within the next 10 to 15 years.
The current average hauling distance for close-to-market production is 35 km. As those are exhausted, that average is expected to increase to 110 km (i.e. Peterborough to Toronto). This will increase the haulage cost from $5.92/tonne to $12.67 for a one-way trip. For a 32-tonne truck load, that’s a one-way increase of $216 per load. These costs will be passed on to builders, increasing the cost of things like homes, roads, and bridges.
Longer distances also mean trucks will not be able to make as many trips per day, requiring more trucks and more time driving. Sourcing aggregates further from market is expected to burn an additional 32.8 million litres of fuel, generating an extra 88,594 metric tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
The report from the OCC is an examination of the industry and is not directly an advocacy item. What’s clear is the value of the industry, its integral role in our communities, and the implications for hauling aggregates from further distances – increased costs and pollution.
As our region grows and becomes more populated, conflict with pit and quarry operations will increase. There are legitimate concerns regarding dust, noise, air quality, water quality, and truck traffic. But simply saying “not in our backyard” is not going to be a helpful approach. Peterborough and the Kawarthas is a thriving aggregate producer for our own needs and those of our neighbours. We need to be proactive with this sector by addressing concerns, minimizing environmental impacts, and finding ways to integrate pit and quarry operations within our community.
After talking for two years about getting back to normal, normal continues to elude us.
It’s now the seventh wave of a gradually subsiding pandemic, inflation is at 7.7%, and the Bank of Canada just hiked its rates by a whopping 100 basis points.
Economists have been busy analysing our current situation and putting together some forecasts for where we’re headed.
The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) is figuring inflation will peak soon, breaking new records over the summer, followed by a period of decline as it’s expected to fall below 5% in early 2023 and returning to the Bank of Canada’s target range of 1% to 3% in spring.
One factor BDC highlights that will keep prices higher for a while is that supply chain issues have prompted businesses to move from "just-in-time" inventory management to "just-in-case." Increasing inventory is also adding to current goods transportation challenges. On the plus side, it’s getting easier for customers to find the products they want.
Many Canadians are still spending, even with costs going up. A survey by BDC showed that 25% of Canadians have not changed their spending habits because of inflation and the rest say they’re more likely to search for bargains than to restrict their purchases.
The Bank of Canada’s 100 basis point rate hike came in higher than predicted, citing that inflation has been higher and more persistent than it had expected. The overnight rate now sits at 2.5%, well above the 0.25% that was with us for most of the pandemic.
BDC is predicting that Bank of Canada rates should peak at 3% to 4%, likely hitting 3% by the end of the year. They also note that in a historical context these rates are still considered low, but we’ve become accustomed to low rates since the 2008 financial crisis.
Interest rate hikes, along with other factors, seem to be having some effect in cooling the housing market. According to Peterborough and the Kawarthas Association of Realtors, the average selling price of a home in Peterborough in June was $751,522, an increase of only 3.4% over June of last year. This is well below the peak of $885,153 in February, dropping the year-to-date average home price to $830,193. Rather than rushing to buy before they’re priced out of the market, some home buyers are now holding off to see how much lower prices will fall.
One of the other big factors driving inflation is the price of oil. It’s not just the price at the pumps hitting consumers, but the whole supply chain is largely passing fuel costs on to consumers. This includes the large amounts of fuel consumed by farming, mining, shipping, and construction. It’s even hitting tax bills with City staff recently citing an expected $2 million increase in fuel cost next year as one of the reasons for hiking property taxes by 3% to 4%.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration is predicting a decline in the price of crude oil, though likely not to where it was a few months ago. The price of crude oil increased from $87/barrel in January to $123/barrel in June. They’re expecting that price to drop through the second half of this year, eventually hitting $97/barrel by the fourth quarter of this year. That said, the rise and fall of crude oil prices influence but aren’t necessarily mirrored in the price at the pumps.
Another cause for concern is the possibility of an upcoming recession. Rising interest rates, soaring inflation, the pandemic and the ongoing war in the Ukraine are all contributing factors that have economists warning that Canada could slip into a recession in 2023 and maybe into 2024. Statistics Canada reported that our Gross Domestic Product declined by 0.2% in May, however BDC notes Statistics Canada’s preliminary estimates tend to underestimate the final results.
Of course, all of these predictions are based on a snapshot of the world as it is today. We’re only one geopolitical crisis, catastrophic weather event, or virus variant away from another game changer.
If nothing else, our business community have proven themselves to be resilient and adaptable. There is a path emerging in terms of an economic “normal” and overall there’s a greater sense of certainty in what lies ahead.
Downtown is the heart of our city. It’s a mix of history and progress. It’s a destination and a bustling hub of business.
As our City deals with an influx of growth, it’s important that we plan for what we want our city to look like in the future. The City recently adopted a new Official Plan. Now, the City is looking into creating a Downtown Heritage Conservation District to guide the future of what our downtown core will look and feel like.
For now, City staff are just looking for support to make sure council is on the same page in terms of doing more research on what will be involved in a heritage conservation district designation for the downtown. It’s still in the early stages, with research and consultations likely to be conducted in 2023.
What a heritage district will mean is far from decided.
All too often the historic building preservation process is triggered by applications from developers to renovate, expand, or demolish buildings. A heritage district should lay out the rules ahead of time. Taking out some of the uncertainty and risk should lead to increased investment.
A big part of the charm of doing business downtown is the historic architecture. It’s not something that can be replicated in other areas. It’s also not something that can be replaced when it’s gone.
It’s hard to image the downtown without icons like Market Hall, the Hunter Street Café District, and The Commerce Building at the corner of Water and Hunter streets. There’s something quaint about shopping and dining at a literal bricks and mortar building. There’s no question this atmosphere is an important cultural element for the community and local businesses.
A heritage district shouldn’t mean nothing changes. We’ve seen some amazing redevelopments of historic anchor buildings like the Y Lofts (former YMCA) and Venture North (former Promenade building) as well as up-scale offices like Lett Architects, Outpost 379, and Unicity. With the right vision and ambition, development of historic buildings can enhance our community.
The plan should also lay out the rules for what it takes for a new building to fit into the downtown vibe. Not every building downtown needs to be preserved as it currently sits. Ideally, the district will lay out the design elements ahead of time so developers know what they can build. Many are eagerly awaiting the replacement of the eyesore at 385 George Street North with a new building that will host local businesses and create needed housing.
There are a lot of challenges when it comes to renovating old buildings, but it’s important that any plan for the downtown include modern accessibility needs in its design criteria. Many of the buildings downtown were built at a time when accessibility wasn’t a consideration. Some buildings are easier to bring up to modern standards than others, but sometimes making buildings more accessible creates conflict with preserving history.
Similarly, fire codes add additional challenges to development of historic buildings.
At a time when our community is desperate for housing, we have a significant stock of apartments downtown that are current unoccupied due to challenges in meeting all the historic, accessibility, and fire code legislation. As a Chamber, we currently have a resolution on the books of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce called Maximizing Growth in Built Areas which essentially calls for all parties to work together to find solutions to making these residential units safe, accessible, and economically feasible — making them livable again.
A plan for the downtown has to be careful not to price out current tenants through increased rents, insurance costs, and other factors. We need continued investment, but not at the expense of losing the character and charm of the current businesses downtown.
There are concerns that too many rules regarding heritage preservation will drive away investment. Hopefully the business community is actively engaged in the process of defining these rules to help minimize this impact.
Similarly, the status quo has driven away investment. Some developers are intimidated to invest downtown because the rules aren’t straight forward. They often have a fair bit of money invested before finding out the details of what they can and cannot do with their property.
It’s important that the community, developers, business owners, and building officials are all engaged as part of the process to ensure that our plan for the downtown has the intended effect of both preserving what we cherish and spurring redevelopment. Done right, a Downtown Heritage Conservation District is an opportunity to create new investment and build a stronger downtown core.