The OCC is Ontario’s largest, most inclusive, and credible business network.
A respected voice among government decision-makers, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is Ontario’s non-partisan business advocate. The OCC undertakes the province’s most pressing policy issues on behalf of our members, and advocates for evidence-based solutions that will foster economic growth in the province. The OCC’s work is based on the belief that a strong business community is the foundation for a prosperous Ontario.
Together with our 60,000 members, the Ontario Chamber Network makes up Ontario’s largest, most inclusive, and credible business network. Learn how you can become a part of this powerful network.
Determining our agenda
The OCC conducts research and develops policy that aims to attract investment and business growth in the province. OCC members drive our policy work, shaping our advocacy through a policy resolution process. Each year Ontario’s Chamber Network gathers at our Annual General Meeting (AGM) & Convention to debate and define the resolutions that inform advocacy efforts for the coming year. See our current policy compendium tabled from our latest AGM.
The OCC also leverages the expertise of our board of directors and corporate membership through a policy committee and task force that helps to shape our policy priorities and processes.
The Bradford Bypass: Enhancing Highway Connectivity
Highways 400 and 404 serve as backbones of Ontario’s economy, together carrying all North/South traffic across the province. The current lack of connectivity between these two highways is limiting Ontario’s economic productivity. In a 2019 resolution, the Ontario Chamber Network called on the Government of Ontario to complete the extension of Highway 404 to intersect with Highway 400, known as the Bradford Bypass.
In August 2019, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation announced that it would be moving forward with the Bradford Bypass. Once completed, this route will bring about significant economic benefits to the region through reduced traffic congestion, more efficient transport of goods and services, faster access to airports, back-up options for emergency shut downs, and new employment and investment opportunities.
Addressing the Affordability and Availability of Housing
In many of Ontario’s cities, the high cost of shelter is tied to a lack of housing supply and a lack of the right types of housing close to transit. Challenges with the affordability and availability of housing are limiting employers’ ability to attract and retain the talent they need to be competitive. In our Blueprint Letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the OCC called on the Province to confront these challenges by removing barriers that stand in the way of residential development.
In June 2019, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 108, the More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019. The act introduces a series of legislative changes to streamline planning approvals, provide developers more certainty around what they can build and how much it will cost, and reduce the costs of building second units.
Improvements to the Energy System Planning
Transparency, affordability, and flexibility are critical to provincial energy planning, helping to promote economic competitiveness and strengthen ratepayer confidence. In a submission in May 2018, the OCC made a series of recommendations to strengthen the independence and transparency of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB)’s governance framework. Further, the chamber network has long called on the Ontario government to clearly display electricity costs on consumers’ electricity bills, including the Global Adjustment. Energy rate transparency ensures that consumers understand the cost drivers associated with their bills and the rationale for government decisions.
In May 2019, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 87, Fixing the Hydro Mess Act, 2019, which will reform OEB governance and help the board fulfill its mandate of consumer protection and rate mitigation. The bill also includes a provision that will display the Global Adjustment as a separate line item on electricity bills.
Provincial Budget 2019
In our 2019 pre-Budget submission and our recent report, Accounting for Ontario’s Debt, the OCC called on the Government of Ontario to introduce a robust plan for returning the Province to balanced budgets via a ‘spend smarter’ approach rather than an austerity approach.
We are pleased to see that Budget 2019 reflects a number of recommendations from our submission, including:
- Laying out a plan to return to a balanced Budget by 2023-4;
- Committing $315 million over the next five years to expand broadband and cellular infrastructure across the province and promising to release a broadband and cellular strategy in 2019;
- Reviewing transportation in Northern Ontario, including options for passenger rail services across the region;
- Maintaining the current mining tax rates for remote, non-remote, and diamond mining operations;
- Preserving provincial tax exemptions on employer health and dental plans; and
- Addressing tax non-compliance.
Open Tendering for the Broader Public Sector
In the OCC’s blueprint letter to the Minister of Labour, we advocated for amendments to the Labour Relations Act (LRA) that would ensure a more open and fair tendering and procurement process. Specifically, we have called on the Ontario government to immediately amend the LRA to clarify that municipalities and school boards are not construction employers.
In April 2019, the Ontario government passed Bill 66, the Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act, 2018. Among other things, this will amend the LRA to explicitly deem public bodies, including municipalities, school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities, as “non-construction employers.” For too long, municipalities and public entities have been burdened by a closed procurement process that hindered economic development and innovation. By permitting open tendering, the government is developing a system that fosters economic growth through greater competition among suppliers and helps municipalities maximize their infrastructure investments.
Updates to Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program
In Moving Forward, the OCC examined autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, current regulations, and steps Ontario can take to become an AV leader. As Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to have issued permits for AV road testing (under strict conditions), the report underscored the importance of capitalizing on the province’s first mover status. The OCC called on the government to regularly review and update its existing pilot regulatory framework, which was established on January 1, 2016. The report also noted that jurisdictions with supportive and adaptable regulatory environments are attracting companies, talent, and investments, emphasising the need for Ontario to take action.
On January 22, 2019, the province announced updates to its Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Program that will allow for additional testing of emerging technologies and support future sales of the next generation of vehicles. Specifically, the Ontario Government announced it will allow vehicles equipped with higher Levels of Automation (Society of Automotive Engineers Level 3 technology) to be driven on Ontario roads when they become available for purchase in Canada. These steps ensure Ontario’s pilot regulatory framework remains competitive, reflects the current state of AV technology, and removes regulatory barriers hindering the deployment of autonomous vehicle testing on Ontario roads.
Repeal of Bill 148
Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, 2017, introduced imbalanced labour reforms too quickly, at too high a cost to both employers and workers. The combination of a dramatic increase in minimum wage, restrictive scheduling provisions, and several other changes to employment standards had the perverse effect of discouraging investment and eliminating jobs, thereby diminishing economic opportunities in Ontario. Since the bill was first introduced, the OCC and its Chamber Network have persistently advocated for its repeal to restore fairness and reduce the significant financial and administrative burdens it imposed on businesses.
In October 2018, the Ontario government introduced Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, which included a near-full repeal of Bill 148. The new law will pause minimum wage at $14/hour and tie future increases to a calculation based on the rate of inflation. It will also return to the previous calculation of public holiday pay and union certification policies, amend scheduling provisions and personal emergency leave requirements, and remove equal pay for equal work. For more information about the changes, see our Rapid Policy Update.
Apprenticeship Ratios Set at 1:1
The OCC, through our policy resolution process and policy work on addressing the skills mismatch, has repeatedly urged the provincial government to revise Ontario’s journeyperson-to-apprenticeship ratios, one of the most constricting ratio systems in Canada. The high level at which ratios are currently set make it difficult for employers to meet high levels of demand for skilled tradespeople, as they struggle to recruit sufficient journeypersons to hire additional apprentices. This has resulted in young tradespeople struggling to work the hours necessary to complete their training, limiting the number of certified tradespeople produced each year.
As part of Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, the Ontario government announced that it would lower Ontario’s journeyperson-to-apprenticeship ratios to 1:1 across all trades. This move will make it easier for apprentices to become certified and for businesses to address skills shortages and complete projects. This will be especially important for smaller urban and rural communities, where the pool of journeypersons is typically much smaller.
Dissolution of the Ontario College of Trades
Since its establishment in 2009, the Ontario College of Trades (the College) has become overly focused on enforcement and regulation, limiting its ability to serve the public interest of attracting and training new tradespeople. In our Blueprint Letters to Cabinet Ministers, the OCC urged the government to make substantial reforms or dismantle the College and return responsibility for trades regulation to the Province.
As part of Bill 47, the Making Ontario Open for Business Act, 2018, the Ontario government announced that it would dissolve the OCOT and upload its responsibilities to the Ministry of Labour. Dissolving the College is an important first step in modernizing and streamlining Ontario’s apprenticeship system and developing a stronger, more competitive workforce.
Repeal of the Green Energy Act
Ask: The OCC has long recognized the adverse effects that rising electricity prices have had on Ontario’s business competitiveness, in part caused by expensive renewable energy projects approved under the Green Energy Act without appropriate analysis of economic impact. In multiple resolutions passed by our Chamber Network, as well as in our submission for the 2017 Long-Term Energy Plan, Leading the Charge, we urged the Ontario government to put a greater emphasis on affordability in its procurement of energy.
Win: In September 2018, the Ontario government introduced legislation to repeal the Green Energy Act. When implemented, the new program will give the government the authority to stop approvals for energy projects where the need for electricity has not been demonstrated and the costs to taxpayers are deemed too high.
Private Cannabis Retail Model
The OCC has advocated for a private-sector, licensing-based, and locally-oriented approach for the distribution of cannabis since commitments for legalization were made by the federal government in 2016. This call was echoed in our letter on cannabis legalization in Ontario and our blueprint letters to the new provincial cabinet ministers, where we emphasized the need for policies that are designed to eliminate the underground economy, limit points of access, empower communities, invest in addiction prevention and treatment, and ensure products are subject to best-practice health regulation.
In September 2018, the Ontario government introduced the Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, outlining a tightly-regulated private cannabis retail model. When implemented, this model will help to eliminate the underground cannabis economy and to protect public health and safety.
Reduction in Insurance Premium Rates for Employers
The OCC and its members support the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)’s goal of building healthy and safe workplaces. We have also long advocated for the reduction of WSIB premiums and the elimination of the unfunded liability.
In September 2018, the WSIB announced that premium rates for employers would be sharply reduced due to the elimination of their Insurance Fund’s unfunded liability. The money that employers will save as a result of this premium reduction will allow them to spend more on job creation, new technologies, and safer workplaces.
Development of a Provincial Forestry Strategy
The OCC has long recognized that the Ontario’s forestry industry is an important economic driver, generating more than $15 billion in revenues and supporting 150,000 jobs across the province. In our June 2018 letters to the new provincial cabinet ministers (A Blueprint for Making Ontario Open for Business), we called on the Ontario government to develop a provincial forestry strategy that recognizes the growing value of Ontario’s forests by removing made-in-Ontario barriers and increasing reliable access to actual harvest volumes.
In September 2018, the Ontario government announced that, beginning in November, it intends to hold a series of stakeholder roundtables and gather online feedback to help lay out a provincial forestry strategy. This will help create the conditions that allow industry to innovate, attract investment, and create jobs.
Commitment to Freeze Minimum Wage at $14 an Hour
The sudden increase in minimum wage and other drastic labour reforms introduced by Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces Better Jobs Act in 2017 had the perverse effect of diminishing economic opportunities in Ontario by discouraging investment and eliminating jobs. As a result, the OCC called on the Ontario government to freeze the minimum wage at $14 and undo the vast majority of amendments introduced by Bill 148.
In September 2018, the Minister of Labour wrote an op-ed in the Financial Post that reaffirmed the government’s campaign commitment to freezing the minimum wage at $14 an hour before its timed increase to $15 on January 1, 2019. This is an excellent first step towards alleviating the burden felt by Ontario businesses due to the many unintended, though predictable, consequences of Bill 148.
Continued Operations of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station
In our 2018 report, Pickering Continued Operations: An Impact Analysis on Ontario’s Economy, written in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis (CANCEA), the OCC found that continued operation of the Pickering Nuclear Station until 2024 would have a positive impact on Ontario’s economy while advancing its climate change goals and the long-term stability of its energy system.
In August 2018, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announced its decision to grant a 10-year operating license to the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. The station will continue to operate until the end of 2024, followed by safe storage activities between 2024 and 2028.
Review of Public Holiday Rules
As part of the OCC’s advocacy surrounding Bill 148, the Fairer Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, the Ontario Chamber Network raised the alarm about unintended consequences of the new calculation for public holiday pay for employees under the Employment Standards Act (ESA). Under the changes introduced as part of Bill 148, employers would be expected to pay part-time employees the full eight hours for each holiday, even if they had only worked occasionally during the month. This meant that part-time employees would be entitled to the same holiday pay as full-time employees. We asked that the government return to the prior calculation to avoid a system that would be unfair to some workers.
In May 2018, the Ontario government announced that, after hearing from stakeholders, it will undertake a review of the public holiday system under the ESA this year. As an interim measure, the government will reinstate the previous holiday pay calculation, coming into effect July 1.
Upgrading VIA’s Fleet in Ontario and Quebec
In an open letter to the Honorable Minister of Transport Marc Garneau, the OCC offered its support for VIA Rail Canada’s dedicated tracks for High-Frequency Rail (HFR) plan and urged the government to act on its commitment to renew VIA Rail’s corridor fleet of 160 cars and 40 locomotives specifically in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. Additionally, through its resolution process, the OCC has consistently advocated for an efficient movement of goods and people within Ontario and the country.
Within a few weeks of our letter, the federal Minister of Transport announced that the Government of Canada will provide funding for VIA Rail to replace its fleet in the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor.
Opening government procurement to small business
Recognizing the barriers faced by Ontario SMEs to winning public procurement contracts, the OCC urged government to adopt new methods to encourage small business participation in the procurement process. In two reports, Adopting our Advantage: Supporting a Thriving Health Science Sector in Ontario and Breaking Barriers: Ontario’s Scale Up Challenge, the OCC recommended that the Provincial government consider leveraging public procurement to strategically support small business, as well as modernizing the approach to procurement generally.
As part of the May 2017 announcement of legislation intended to reduce red tape for small business, the Government proposed the introduction of a preferred procurement policy to provide improved access for SMEs to government contracts.
One-window concierge service for ontario business
Cutting red tape for business has been a key component of the advocacy work of the OCC. During our Small Business Too Big to Ignore Campaign, culminating in the Obstacles and Opportunities report, the OCC urged government to establish a “one-window regulatory concierge service” to assist small businesses in understanding, navigating, and achieving compliance with relevant regulatory requirements.
As a direct result of the advocacy of the OCC, the Ontario government announced in May 2017 that it will introduce new legislation to cut unnecessary red tape for business by introducing a “one-window service” to help small businesses. The program promises to help small businesses access support, information and resources when navigating Ontario’s regulatory environment.
Strengthening and modernizing workplace defined pension plans
In a September 2016 open letter to Minister Sousa, the OCC advocated that the Ontario government eliminate the current solvency rules and adopt a strengthened going concern approach for Defined Benefit (DB) pension plans. In partnership with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME), the OCC highlighted the need to enhance the affordability of these plans for plan sponsors, so as to reduce the competitiveness concerns of the business community.
On May 19, 2017, the Ontario government signaled it will implement a new framework for DB pension plans by adopting a going concern approach. This shift will yield huge cost savings for businesses that sponsor DB pension plans.
Regional transportation fare integration
At the 2016 Annual General Meeting, the Ontario Chamber Network passed a resolution advocating for fare integration in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA). It is our position that a fully integrated fare system would make for a more customer-friendly, seamless and affordable transit network while helping to alleviate wider-region traffic congestion and gridlock.
In Budget 2018, the Government announced that it will focus on providing fare integration across a number of transit systems including the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), York Region Transit, Mississauga MiWay, Brampton Transit, and Durham Region Transit to introduce discounts to users who transfer between these municipal transit networks and the TTC. PRESTO card users at stations such as Port Credit, Malton, Pickering, Ajax, and Markham will also see fare reductions when taking GO Transit back and forth to Union Station. All GO Transit trips under 10 kilometres will cost PRESTO card users just $3 per trip anywhere on the GO Network.
Bridging the digital divide: high-speed internet in the ring of fire
The OCC has long recognized that inadequate access to high-speed internet is compromising the ability of communities across Ontario to attract and retain businesses. On this issue, Ontario’s Chamber Network has passed a series of resolutions advancing the call for all levels of government to work collaboratively and commit to the expansion of broadband infrastructure in rural and remote regions of the province to support economic growth in Ontario. As such, the OCC urged government in both their 2016 and 2017 provincial and federal pre-budget submissions to invest in high-speed internet, as it is a basic infrastructure need essential for business.
In Budget 2018, the Government is providing $500 million over three years to expand broadband connectivity in rural and northern communities. This will include an investment of up to $71 million towards improving cellular coverage in eastern Ontario and up to $20 million to Telesat to support a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellation project.
Scheduling exemptions for the manufacturing sector
Prior to third reading, Bill 148 (Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act) lacked specificity as to which sectors are exempt from the legislative scheduling provisions. In partnership with the Keep Ontario Working coalition, the OCC highlighted the potential confusion and negative impacts these regulations would have on certain sectors, urging the government to ensure that the provisions allow for certain sectoral exemptions.
On November 13th, Minister Brad Duguid sent a letter to the OCC recognizing this concern and committing to working with employers and employees within the manufacturing sectors to determine the extent the scheduling changes will impact industry.
Greater clarity on personal emergency leave
As the government amends the legislation for personal emergency leave within the Employment Standards Act, the OCC has expressed concern that many employers and employees are unsure how their existing policies for paid sick days and other paid days off will fulfill the requirements as outlined within Bill 148. The OCC recommended that the government provide clear guidelines to employers to help determine personal emergency leave compliance.
As mentioned within Minister Duguid’s letter to the OCC, the government will create an interactive and interpretive bulletin. The bulletin will assist both employers and employees in understanding how an organization’s policy complies with the government’s personal emergency leave regulations.
Modernizing apprenticeships for small business
In our report, Talent in Transition: Addressing the Skills Mismatch in Ontario, the OCC recommended that the government collaborate with business and education stakeholders to increase employers’ awareness of the consortium model for apprentices.
In its Fall Economic Statement, the Province proposed supporting multiple employers to pool together and form consortia to hire, register and train their apprentices for skilled trades. By allowing for multiple employers to join and form hiring consortium, apprentices will see an enhanced system flexibility while improving support for the development of a workforce that is responsive to Ontario’s local labour market needs.
Small business tax deduction
As part of our Bill 148 advocacy work, the OCC has consistently urged the government to provide a comprehensive package of offsets, which included a call for a reduction in the small business tax rate.
On November 14th as part of its Fall Economic Statement, the government announced a 1 per cent cut in the small business Corporate Income Tax (CIT) rate from 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent. This change will help provide small businesses compensation for their limited access to capital financing, and the pressures placed on their revenue streams from Bill 148’s increased labour costs.
Increasing the number of economic class immigrants
Increasing Ontario’s allocation of economic class immigrants has been a key component of the advocacy work of the OCC. In Passport to Prosperity: Ontario’s Priorities for Immigration Reform the OCC called on the Federal Government to increase the allocation of economic class immigrants for the province through its Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP). In the Fall of 2017, in an open letter to the federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship the OCC echoed their call for an expansion of the OINP allocation.
In January 2018, the Ontario government announced that the OINP had received an increased federal government allocation for 2018 of 6,600 nominations, an increase of 600 places over 2017. Expanding Ontario’s OINP allocation will help to increase Ontario’s ability to respond to its unique labour market needs and maximize the economic benefits of immigrants.
Modernizing the Apprenticeship Framework
In our 2017 report, Talent in Transition: Addressing the Skills Mismatch in Ontario, the OCC addressed challenges to the provincial apprenticeship system. We recommended that the government promote career pathways in the skilled trades among young people and their parents, digitize the application and training process, enhance support for employer consortia, and make the system more client-centric and outcomes-based.
In early 2018, the Ontario government released a strategy under the title A Stronger Apprenticeship System for Ontario. It contains five goals, including promoting apprenticeship, supporting employers and sponsors, and updating the apprenticeship system through digital enhancement. The strategy also contains explicit support for employer consortia, a customer service strategy, and the development of outcomes measurement.
Procurement reform in the health care system
In our 2016 report Prescription for Partnership: How New Models of Collaboration in Health Care Can Make Outcomes a Priority, the OCC asked that the government move to a value-based procurement model in the health care system, so that innovative technologies can be more easily adopted by health institutions, solutions are created in collaboration with industry, and that the needs of patients and providers are better reflected in the purchasing process.
In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care announced the Value-Based Innovation Program, which is intended to leverage the public health system to more rapidly source and scale health technologies across the province, as well as recognize the needs of providers and patients and work with industry leaders to develop solutions to health challenges.