Last week over 60 chambers of commerce from around the province made the trek down to Queen’s Park for a day of advocacy with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC).
The long list of Ministers we heard from started with the Hon. Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, who praised the Chamber Network for its active solutions-based advocacy on behalf of the business community.
Steve Orsini, Secretary of the Cabinet, Head of the Public Service, and Clerk of the Executive Council, also spoke to set the tone for the day. He reiterated the need to work together to achieve results, highlighting the issue of skills development and the role of business in that particular conversation.
After a quick photo op on the steps inside Queen’s Park we moved over to the Great Hall at Hart House (a grand room reminiscent of Hogwart’s).
There, the discussion turned to the 2018 election and we heard from Peterborough’s Catherine Fife, who is the MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli. They identified hydro costs, the needs of small business, infrastructure, the skills gap and the need for a more holistic approach to the economy as issues to drive election conversation on the road to the ballot box.
Next was the Town Hall with three cabinet ministers:
The Minister of Energy, Glenn Thibeault was up next and spoke about a time of use study the ministry is undergoing to determine the true impact and benefit. In response to a question I asked on the underlying challenges of the energy file outside of the cost of the commodity, he mentioned market reform and finding appropriate ways to pull costs out of the system. On the Green Energy Act, he said the “what” was never the issue; but said, “how” the government went about it didn’t work.
Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal settled into the hot seat and fielded questions on clusters, supply management, scaling up, and school closures. He mentioned careers in agriculture and agri-food are going to be in high demand in the future and hopes we can successfully encourage new Canadians to bring their talents and skill sets to our rural communities.
After a chance to grill the ministers, the chamber delegates dispersed to 13 different locations to meet with senior government officials on a number of issues.
Along with representatives from the Whitby, Ajax-Pickering, East Gwillimbury, and Stony Creek Chambers of Commerc, I met with officials on regulatory burden and the Red Tape Challenge. During that meeitng we were able to put out the call for small business to be considered a sector to be examined under the Red Tape Challenge. The meeting also featured a presentation from Ministry staff about the service they cover and discussion around a one stop shop concierge service for business and how to better leverage online services.
The meeting Stuart Harrison attended was with the Ministry of Labour; Deputy Minister Sophie Dennis and Assistant Deputy Minister Marcelle Crouse. The Chamber network representatives included Ottawa, Toronto, Whitby, Burlington, Brantford, Owen Sound, Newmarket, Mississauga and the OCC.
The topics covered included the expected final report of the Changing Workplaces Review, and Interest Arbitration, which is the only legal mechanism available to Ontario Municipalities for settling disputes from contract negotiations with essential services such as fire, police and paramedics.
On Interest Arbitration, the Ontario Chamber network has been lobbying the government for changes that would take into account a municipality’s ability to pay. We were able to demonstrate to Ministry staff some of the dramatic statistics, such as Owen Sound, where emergency services accounts for 46% of the municipal budget. In Peterborough, that number sits at 29.8% of the municipal budget. While this certainly got the attention of
Ministry staff, the ensuing discussion concentrated on the difficulty any arbitrator would have in establishing such a subjective measurement. We were advised to work with the Ontario Association of Municipalities to develop specific changes to the system.
On the Changing Workplaces Review we were left with the impression that the Ministry had a solid understanding of the balance that will have to be achieved between employer and employee when this legislation is written. While the
narrative of “precarious employment” has been dominant, we felt the Government understood the realities of how Ontarians are choosing to work.
The day wrapped up with a meet and greet reception with the party leaders, including the Premier. Days like Queen’s Park Advocacy are important for the membership of Chambers of Commerce such as Peterborough. It was our opportunity to take advantage of the access to the ministers and policy makers at our provincial legislature and we made sure to make the most it. We are looking forward to next year.