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.
Ontario to Require Proof of Vaccination in Select Settings
In its July 16 letter to federal and provincial leaders, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) voiced support for a centralized, Canada-wide approach to COVID-19 proof-of-immunization that could easily be used to confirm vaccination status for international and domestic use. With the absence of a national standard, the OCC called on the Ontario government to review and assess the applicability of Manitoba’s model in Ontario – issuing physical cards or digital QR codes to accelerate the reopening of facilities and events that have been restricted or closed since the beginning of the pandemic. Implementing such a proof-of-immunization would encourage Canadians to get vaccinated and allow more businesses to safely reopen and remain open through future outbreaks.
On September 1, the Government of Ontario announced further steps to ensure the health and safety of Ontarians by mandating full vaccination and proof of vaccination status to access certain businesses and settings starting September 22, 2021. The OCC supports the implementation of a provincial vaccination certificate for high-risk indoor settings that is verifiable, secure, standardized, accessible, and portable. A well-designed vaccine passport system can help prevent another province-wide lockdown which would further devastate businesses and the economy.
Ontario Investing in Agri-Food Innovation
In its 2019 report, The Great Mosaic – Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies and subsequent policy brief, Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC highlighted the need for technology innovation, commercialization, and adoption in the agri-food sector with a specific focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. To support the industry, the OCC underscored the need to create incentives to attract young people to the industry while also leveraging the depth of research expertise of Ontario’s post-secondary institutions and industry entrepreneurs. Specifically, the OCC called on the Government of Ontario to improve access to equipment and technology to support the next generation of farmers.
On August 19, the Government of Ontario announced the second phase of the Agri-tech innovation program, The Innovator Stream, aimed at providing funding to meet the growing technology needs of the industry. The funding is targeted towards supporting advances in robotics, AI, and other innovations that are new to the sector through partnerships between leaders in technology and business. Farmers need to have access to new technology and capital to remain competitive while encouraging more young graduates to explore careers in the field. Through this support, farmers will have the necessary tools to modernize and spur economic growth also reducing labour-intensive work practices. This funding stream will remain open until September 27, 2021.
Ontario and Michigan Partnering on Cross-Border Transportation Technologies
In its report, Moving Forward – Towards a Strategic Approach to Ontario’s Transportation Needs, the OCC called on the Government of Ontario to re-commit to the Michigan Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on collaboration in testing, developing, and marketing of connected and automated vehicle (C/AV) technology so as to align Canada’s regulatory framework with that of the US. Such an alignment would further support bi-lateral trade between both countries and serve as a cross-border driver of innovation.
On August 18, the Government of Ontario and the State of Michigan announced the signing of an MOU to explore the implementation of a cross-border AV testing environment. This agreement will further support the implementation of a cross-border testing environment that will support the commercialization and adoption of transportation technologies in Ontario. In 2016, the province was the first jurisdiction in Canada to allow testing and demonstration of AVs. Agreements such as these will continue to place Ontario at the forefront of technology adoption, driving job creation and setting the pace for other further inter-governmental collaboration across Canada on the future of AVs.
Taking Action for Ontario’s Tender Fruit Growers
In its 2021 Ontario Economic Report and subsequent policy brief, Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC reported a significant drop in business confidence within the food service industry, while noting that ‘buy local’ campaigns were boosting confidence among some. To support the sector’s recovery, the OCC underscored the importance of encouraging more Ontarians to buy local to support the province’s small agriculture producers. Specifically, the OCC recommended that the Government of Ontario continue to educate consumers on the benefits of buying local while also working with industry stakeholders to strengthen campaigns.
On July 29, the Government of Ontario announced an investment of $867,484 to support Ontario Tender Fruit Growers by purchasing display bins to make it easier for consumers to clearly identify locally grown fruits grown in grocery stores. As consumers increasingly want to learn more about where their food comes from, such a step by the Province will help connect Ontarians to producers, improve food literacy, and encourage consumption of locally sourced produce. By increasing the visibility of their products, such investments will boost Ontario farmers’ competitiveness, job security, and income stability as we look towards a post-COVID recovery.
Deadline Extension for Ontario Privacy Consultation
On June 17, 2021, Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services launched a white paper and public consultation focused on overhauling privacy frameworks in Ontario. Given the consequential and broad nature of the proposals and discussion questions in the white paper, the original deadline for submissions (August 3) did not allow sufficient time for businesses and other organizations to provide meaningful feedback. As a result, the OCC met with government to request an extension to the deadline.
On July 22, the Government of Ontario agreed to extend the consultation period by four weeks. This will give organizations more time to prepare robust submissions. Privacy rules within the private sector have a direct, significant impact on business competitiveness and consumer well-being. There is also a complex landscape of provincial, national, and international developments to consider. Providing sufficient time for consultation is essential.
Supporting Economic Recovery of Ontario Farmers
In its 2021 policy brief, Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC noted the many challenges that the agricultural sector has faced before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, including access to capital and the need for innovation to maintain Ontario’s competitiveness in the international market. In addition to addressing these barriers, the report called on the Governments of Canada and Ontario to reduce administrative red tape which limits farmers’ ability to access funding through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP).
On July 22, the Governments of Canada and Ontario announced an investment of $7.3 million through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP) to support 600 cost-shared projects that strengthen the agri-food sector in 270 communities across Ontario. The resulting capital investments will allow Ontario farmers to meet and exceed international food safety standards, develop new products to bring to market, take the necessary steps to preserve soil health during winter – all of which will help attract high-skilled talent into the sector. Given the high cost of production faced by Ontario farmers in addition to the hurdles resulting from climate change, such investments and innovations will ensure long-term sustainability, growth, and stability in the province’s food production.
Investing in Ontario Workers Through Online Training
In its 2021 Provincial Pre-Budget Submission, the OCC called on the provincial government to develop new and enhanced experiential learning programs to help align skills development with the needs of Ontario businesses in the aftermath of COVID-19. The submission acknowledged the disproportionate effect of the pandemic on underrepresented segments of the labour market, calling on the government adopt a diversity lens in the development of workforce development initiatives to ensure no one is left behind. In a letter sent to the Minister of Labour Training and Skills Development on May 12, 2020, the OCC also highlighted the importance of retraining and upskilling the workforce to support businesses as they re-open in accordance with provincial restrictions.
On July 20, 2021, the Ontario government announced an investment of $5.8 million for free online training in partnership with LinkedIn to provide 100,000 workers the skills necessary to find work and restart their careers. This funding is part of the governments $115 million Skills Development Fund announced as part of the Province’s 2021 budget. This fund aims to address challenges that have emerged in the hiring, training, and retention of workers as a result of the pandemic. Through this partnership, individuals in traditionally underrepresented groups will be able to quick reskill and employers will be able to rehire to support the province’s recovery. Training will be available until March 31, 2022.
Taking Action on VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail Project
In Moving Forward: Towards a Strategic Approach to Ontario’s Transportation Needs, the OCC urged the federal government to invest in VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail (HFR) project. With HFR, trains can run at their full speed – up to 200 kilometers per hour – and on a dedicated track for commuter rail. The proposed route would connect Quebec City to Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. The project has several benefits, including reduced reliance on cars along this corridor, which lowers congestion greenhouse gas emissions.
On July 6, 2021, the Government of Canada announced it will launch the procurement process in Fall 2021 to build a new train service in the Toronto to Quebec City corridor. While the trip from Quebec City to Toronto currently takes around 8 hours and 15 minutes, the HFR project would shave 90-minutes off this trip. The project will be completed by 2030 and will help connect businesses and workers along one of Canada’s busiest travel corridors.
Transportation Investments for Small and Rural Communities
The lack of adequate or any transit options in Ontario’s small and rural communities impacts business competitiveness and the mobility of residents. Greater collaboration between adjacent municipalities could help address these gaps. In 2019, the Ontario Chamber Network passed a policy resolution calling on the Ontario government to expand the Community Transportation Grant program to encourage and support municipal collaboration around transportation. This recommendation was most recently echoed in our 2021 Provincial Pre-Budget Submission. The need for rural transportation investments to support regional economies was also highlighted in two of the OCC’s 2019 reports – Refreshing the Sale of Beverage Alcohol in Ontario and The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies.
In June 2021, the Government of Ontario announced up to $14 million in additional funding over two years through the Community Transportation Grant Program for communities providing transportation services in unserved and underserved regions across Ontario. Additional funding will help ensure transportation services in 38 communities across the province have additional time to fully establish their transportation services as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and build transportation services up to a sustainable level. This will better position municipalities to continue operating after the program has completed.
Free Skills Training for Newcomers in Ontario
The Ontario Chamber Network views immigration as a key value-add for Ontario. In our 2019 report, The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies, the OCC highlighted the role that newcomers play in addressing the skills mismatches and declining workforce populations seen in some parts of the province. Our report identified a number of solutions to help newcomers remain in Ontario and establish their livelihoods within regions facing worker shortages, such as improving access to training opportunities.
In June 2021, the Government of Ontario announced a free skills training program to help 2,700 newcomers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through 19 programs across Ontario, newcomers will gain the skills they need to work in food manufacturing, healthcare, web development, and other in-demand sectors while supporting Ontario’s economic recovery and future prosperity.
Strengthening the AgriStability Program for Ontario Farmers
In Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC examined the increasing number of challenges farmers have faced in recent years – ranging from unpredictable weather to rising input costs and international trade disputes. To mitigate these risks, farmers can participate in various business risk-management programs in Ontario. This includes the AgriStability program, which is specifically designed to help farmers who experience large income declines outside of their control. However, shortcomings associated with the program have led to industry frustration and dwindling participation rates. The OCC urged the province and federal government to implement urgent reforms and ensure the program is sufficiently funded.
On June 25, the Government of Ontario announced it will enhance the provincial portion of the AgriStability program, retroactive to the 2020 growing season. Although this was welcome news, the OCC encourages the federal government to enhance its contribution as well. Beyond this, the province should implement systems to process full and interim payments more quickly. A significant amount of time can elapse between when a farmer experiences a loss, makes a claim to Agricorp, and receives a payment through the AgriStability program. This will help support farmers when they need it most, ensuring they can invest in their operations and prevent the closure of cash-strapped farms.
Promoting the Agri-Food Sector to the Next Generation
In Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC examined the projected labour shortage in the agricultural sector, with Ontario accounting for the majority of Canada’s agricultural labour gap. This shortage, in part, owes to the outdated opinions many Ontarians hold about farming, as well as a lack of knowledge of modern farming practices and food production systems. Consequently, farming and agri-food careers are often overlooked. The Chamber encouraged the province to invest in a campaign that educates children and youth about the sector and the variety of science-based and tech-savvy careers available in the agri-food sector.
In June 2021, the Government of Ontario announced it will be partnering with 4-H Ontario to develop educational content and first-land learning experiences to inspire the next generation to explore careers in the agri-food sector. Through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, 4-H Ontario will receive $700,000 per year to support the growth of the province’s next generation of agri-food leaders. While this two-year investment is welcomed news, the Province should also take steps to eliminate the barriers preventing young people from pursuing a career in the agri-food sector, such as access to capital needed to purchase land, equipment, and technology.
Training for Indigenous Workers and Women in Nuclear Industry Trades
The skilled trades are a source of high-quality jobs for Ontarians. However, women and Indigenous people have long been underrepresented in the trades. In the OCC’s 2020 report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario, we urged governments to enhance workforce development opportunities for women and other underrepresented groups and ensure training programs are more accessible through financial support, child care benefits, virtual/flexible formats, and other supports.
In June 2021, the Ontario government announced an investment of $500,000 to help train Indigenous workers and women for skilled trades careers in the province’s clean nuclear energy sector. This one-year program, led by the Organization of Canadian Nuclear Industries and the First Nations Power Authority, will focus on opening doors for underrepresented groups to enter in-demand careers in skilled trades such as boilermaker, carpenter, electrician, and welder. Participants will be trained in Bruce County, Grey County and Durham Region, with a virtual training option available. They will also have access to childcare supports, if needed, and subsidies of up to $3,000 for travel and accommodation during this time.
Venture Capital Funding for High-Growth Sectors
Ontario’s economic growth is largely driven by innovative sectors such as life sciences, information technology, and artificial intelligence. However, these high-growth sectors often find it difficult to raise the patient growth capital they need to scale within Ontario. The OCC’s 2019 report, The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies, discusses the importance of facilitating value-add innovation clusters by identifying and investing in Ontario’s most competitive sectors. In our 2020 report, In Data We Trust: Unlocking the Value of Data in Ontario, we discussed the need for government to support business investments in artificial intelligence to capitalize on Ontario’s existing advantage in that space. We also highlighted the financing challenges and opportunities for innovate start-ups in our recent report, Capital is Key: Financing Entrepreneurship in Ontario After COVID-19.
In June 2021, the Government of Ontario announced $100 million in venture capital funding to assist high-potential technology companies innovate and grow. The Venture Ontario Fund will be overseen by the Ontario Capital Growth Corporation (OCGC), the province’s venture capital agency. The fund will invest in venture capital funds focussing on in-demand, high-growth sectors where Ontario has a competitive advantage including life sciences, medical devices, clean technology, information technology, and artificial intelligence.
Continuing to Modernize the Automated Vehicle Pilot Program in Ontario
In our 2018 report, Moving Forward: Towards a Strategic Approach to Ontario’s Transportation Needs, the OCC explained that Ontario is a leader when it comes to autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. In 2016, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to establish a pilot regulatory framework to allow for the testing and demonstration of automated driving systems on Ontario roads. It also invested $2.95 million to support industry and post-secondary institutions through the Ontario Centres of Excellence Connected Vehicle/Automated Vehicle Program. Recognizing the province possesses the necessary ingredients to remain a global leader in connected/AV technologies, the OCC’s report encouraged the province to continuously consult with stakeholders, including insurers, auto manufacturers, autonomous technology firms, and consumer groups, to help determine whether and how AV-relevant regulations need to be modernized.
: In June 2021, the province passed the Supporting Recovery and Competitiveness Act, which included a number of regulatory changes that aim to modernize rules and accelerate business growth. Included in this piece of legislation was an announcement that the province will consult automotive and tech stakeholders on changes to its Automated Vehicle Pilot Program. This step aligns with the recommendations contained in OCC’s 2018 report and will ensure Ontario maintains its AV leadership. At the same time, the Chamber encourages the province to consider how future infrastructure investments will need to take AVs into consideration.
Phase Two of Ontario’s Natural Gas Expansion Program
Natural gas is an affordable, reliable source of energy for households and businesses in Ontario. Currently, natural gas is the only resource capable of meeting peak demand periods year-round. Population and economic growth over the next decade will require flexible assets that can be readily deployed. In meetings and a letter to the Province, the OCC has advocated for the expansion of natural gas in rural and remote communities.
In June 2021, the Ontario government announced the second phase of its Natural Gas Expansion Program. This phase will allocate more than $234 million to support approximately 8750 connections in 43 rural, northern, and Indigenous communities. According to the Province, the average household could save between $250 to $1,500 per year in energy costs by switching to natural gas from costlier fuel sources. Businesses are expected to save up to 30 per cent on energy costs per year.
Municipal Infrastructure Funding for Northern Ontario
Fiscal sustainability has long been a challenge for municipalities across Ontario as their spending responsibilities increased while revenue streams remained stagnant. The COVID-19 crisis has only put additional strain on their finances, further challenging local governments’ ability to pay for the infrastructure and services needed to support businesses and residents.
In June 2021, the Governments of Ontario and Canada announced an investment of more than $15 million through the COVID-19 Resilience Infrastructure Stream to support 99 municipalities in Northern Ontario. This funding will support a number of projects, including rehabilitation of water and wastewater infrastructure, repairs to municipal public works buildings, and fire halls.
Forestry Skills Training Program
Ontario’s forest industry supported approximately 143,000 jobs in 2020 and generated over $17 billion in revenue from manufactured goods and services in 2019. In the OCC’s 2019 report, The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies, we note that the sector is poised to grow as a result of increasing global demand for value-added wood products, but accessing the right skillsets is a challenge for employers in rural and remote regions. Our report recommends investing in targeted skills training programs in partnership with employers to enhance regional labour markets and boost productivity in key sectors such as forestry.
In June 2021, the Ontario government announced an investment of $5 million in the Forestry and Wood Product Manufacturing/Producing program to help people in Eastern Ontario prepare for successful careers in Ontario’s forest sector. The program is an innovative skills training project in partnership with local employers. To lead this project, Algonquin College and Fleming College will form a consortium that will develop further partnerships in the initial phase to ensure broad industry reach and strong stakeholder engagement.
Preparing Youth for Skilled Trades and Technology Careers
Ontario is facing a shortage of workers in the skilled trades and technology sectors. The OCC’s Workforce Development Council has met with provincial government on several occasions to discuss the need for more education and awareness among youth about career opportunities in those fields. Further, we recently highlighted the need to support and encourage more young women to seek jobs in technology, skilled trades, engineering, and other male-dominant occupations in our 2020 report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.
In June 2021, the Ontario government announced a new free program in partnership with Junior Achievement to help high school students across the province learn more about available skilled trades and technology careers. The project will help local communities recover more quickly from COVID-19 by addressing a shortage of workers in jobs like electrician, plumber, carpenter, computer analyst and software developer. The government says 50 percent of students participating in the program will come from underrepresented groups including women, people with disabilities, and racialized groups.
Bringing Passenger Rail Back to Northern Ontario
In our 2018 report, Moving Forward, the OCC explored how mass transit in Northern Ontario has been significantly reduced or cancelled in recent years, limiting mobility in a region already underserved. In 2012, the Northlander passenger rail service came to an end, followed in 2018 by the cancellation of inter-city Greyhound routes as well as those that link the North to Western Canada. The lack of transportation options leaves communities disconnected, hampers tourism, and limits Northerners’ ability to access jobs. The OCC therefore called on the province to develop a plan for the restoration of passenger rail in Northern Ontario.
In May 2021, the Province announced it would move forward (together with Ontario Northland and Metrolinx) with the restoration of passenger rail in the North, planning a 13-stop route that would provide service from Toronto to Timmins or Cochrane. As part of the 2021 Budget, the Ontario government committed $5 million to support this planning and design work. The return of passenger rail to Northern Ontario will improve Ontarians’ mobility to, from, and between Northern communities. It presents a regional economic development opportunity that could facilitate trade and export markets, as well as further develop the North’s tourism industry. At the same time, the Province should not lose sight of the other transportation issues facing Northern Ontario, including the need for continued investment in road infrastructure.
Re-Skilling Workers for the Tourism Industry
In June 2020, the OCC provided the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs with eight recommendations to support Ontario’s tourism and travel industry. As the submission outlines, tourism activity is found in every riding in the province – encompassing 200,000 tourism-related businesses that employ 400,000 people, contributing $33 million to the GDP. With the onset of COVID-19, the industry was one of the first and hardest hit, and it is expected to be one of the last to fully recover. Talent and labour were a key pillar in the OCC’s submission, with the OCC urging the Province to continue investing in re-skilling for tourism workers who were laid off during the pandemic.
In May 2021, the Ontario government announced it will be funding Destination Northern Ontario with $1.25 million to offer 300 people free training to work in Northern Ontario’s tourism industry. The funding will benefit people who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Participants will receive online, self-directed training for a variety of roles, including guest services, housekeeping, and COVID-19-safe opening protocols. Upon completion, participants will be placed in positions throughout Northern Ontario between summer and September 2021. While this is welcome news, the OCC urges the province to also work with its federal counterparts to develop a national strategy to fill the 91,000 tourism jobs that are projected to go unfilled by 2035.
Improving Technology Adoption for the Agri-Food Sector
In Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC explored barriers preventing young people from pursuing careers in farming. Chief among these is access to capital. Farming is a capital-intensive undertaking that requires many expenditures, including farmland, equipment, technology, labour, livestock, and/or seeds. Additionally, without access to capital (as well as adequate broadband and the requisite skills), farmers may not be able to afford precision agriculture technologies. The OCC urged policymakers to develop supports or incentives to help recent graduates successfully transition from the classroom to the farm – as well as adopt innovative technologies.
In April 2021, the Government of Ontario announced the Agri-tech Innovation Program, a $25.5 million investment. The Early Adopters stream provides funding to support the adoption of advanced automation or manufacturing technology to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among agri-food workers, while the Innovators stream will provide funding to boost collaboration between agri-food businesses, commodity organizations, and/or agri-food technology providers who want to pilot or demonstrate innovations. While the OCC welcomes this program, the Province should also consider providing young people with funding or incentives to consider a career in the agri-food sector.
A New Labour Strategy for the Agri-Food Sector
In Growing a More Resilient Food Supply Chain in Ontario, the OCC examined the projected labour shortage facing Canada’s agricultural sector. By 2029, it is estimated that 123,000 jobs – or one in three agricultural jobs – will go unfilled, with Ontario accounting for the majority of Canada’s agricultural labour gap. This situation is compounded by the fact that the average farm operator is approaching retirement, few young people are entering the sector, and the sector has faced longstanding challenges when it comes to recruitment due to the physical, rural, and seasonal nature of the work. Since this labour gap affects farmers, the agricultural sector, and the economy, the Chamber laid out a series of recommendations to the Ontario government.
On May 10, the Government of Ontario announced it will develop a long-term labour strategy for the agricultural and food processing sectors. The Province also announced initial investments in two projects that are addressing the labour shortage in the agri-food sector. The OCC is pleased that the Province will work with industry and other partners to not only promote careers in the agri-food sector, but also support training in the sector. Further to this, the Province should continue to invest in post-secondary institutions and programs that provide students with both academic and hands-on training needed for careers in the agri-food sector. The Province should also address the barriers that often deter young people from pursuing a career in agriculture (e.g., access to capital and land). These steps will not only help fill the agricultural talent pipeline but also strengthen Ontario’s agri-food sector.
Canada’s Cyber Security Innovation Network
The OCC’s 2020 report, In Data We Trust: Unlocking the Value of Data in Ontario, discusses the increasing impacts that cybersecurity breaches are having on individual and national security, business operations, the stability of critical infrastructure, and public trust. Our report encourages the Government of Canada to work with the private sector to assess the strengths and weaknesses of cybersecurity defences across the economy and, where appropriate, help to address them.
In May 2021, the Government of Canada launched a new Cyber Security Innovation Network program, with an investment of $80 million over four years. This program will fund the creation of a national network composed of multiple centres of expertise on cybersecurity in collaboration with partners in the private sector, not-for-profits, provincial/territorial/municipal governments and other Canadian post-secondary institutions. The network will work with these partners to enhance research and development, increase commercialization, and develop skilled cyber security talent across Canada.
Investing in Ontario Infrastructure Projects (Federal)
The OCC has long advocated for more regional economic growth opportunities. In its report, The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies, we recommended much-needed infrastructure investments in Indigenous communities, as well as additional measures to facilitate internal trade and regional development. Moreover, the OCC’s report, Moving Forward: Towards a Strategic Approach to Ontario’s Transportation Needs, outlined a number of recommendations for better managing the Province’s infrastructure assets to help Ontario businesses and residents. These recommendations included a call to invest in and support an assessment of infrastructure and the High Frequency Rail Project.
Canada’s 2021 Budget introduces new funding for a number of initiatives that are aimed at promoting long-term, inclusive economic growth. This includes funds to help close infrastructure gaps in Indigenous communities, support for internal trade, Canada’s first ever National Infrastructure Assessment, investments in the High Frequency Rail Project, and funding for regional development agencies to support community infrastructure that stimulates local economics, creates jobs, and improves quality of life.
Federal Broadband Investments
On April 9, 2020, the OCC sent a letter to Ontario’s Minister of Infrastructure, recommending immediate action on improving and accelerating internet connectivity to communities lacking critical broadband infrastructure. The recommendations outlined in the OCC’s pre-budget submission and report on virtual care further highlight the growing need for reliable broadband in all parts of the province. Namely, improving internet connectivity would better enable essential virtual services like virtual healthcare, and help ensure all Ontarians have the ability to safely and easily access important information and medical advice.
The 2021 Budget proposes an additional $1 billion over the next six years for the Universal Broadband Fund, which seeks to improve access to reliable, high-speed internet in rural and remote communities. The Budget also proposes amendments to the Telecommunications Act to facilitate broadband delivery by allowing the Canadian Radiotelevision and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to share more information with federal, territorial, and provincial broadband partners and avoid unnecessary delays in funding allocations.
Supporting Canada’s Innovation and R&D Ecosystem
The OCC’s 2020 report, In Data We Trust: Unlocking the Value of Data in Ontario, drew attention to the growing importance of data and digital technology to economic competitiveness. Our recommendations included strengthening intellectual property frameworks, developing strategies around artificial intelligence to maximize benefits and prepare for risks, and targeting support towards innovative scale-up firms.
In Canada’s 2021 Budget, the federal government introduced several new investments aimed at accelerating innovation in Canada. This includes a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, an expansion of the Industrial Research Assistance Program to support innovative small and medium-sized firms, a new program called ElevateIP to help provide start-ups with access to expert intellectual property services, and funding though the Business Development Bank of Canada to help SMEs finance technology adoption.
Supporting Canadians’ Mental Health During COVID-19
In Realizing the Full Potential of Virtual Care in Ontario, the OCC explains that COVID-19, coupled with lockdown measures and physical distancing, sparked concerns for Canadians finances, health, and mental health. Mental health advocates are warning of a potential echo pandemic – or a potential surge in mental illness because of the pandemic. Accordingly, the Chamber’s submission urged the federal government to treat mental health as a priority and support frontline and health care workers who have faced heavier workloads in riskier work environments over the past 13 months.
Budget 2021 introduced various mental health initiatives, including new supports for veterans and Indigenous communities, and additional supports for Health Canada’s Wellness Together Canada portal. The OCC applauds these much-needed investments. At the same time, the private sector has a role to play when it comes to supporting Ontarians’ mental health and wellness in the workplace. Later this year, the Chamber will release its 2021 Mental Wellness in the Workplace Playbook for Employers. This tool will provide Ontario businesses with a range of resources and empower them to create psychologically healthy and safe workplaces during COVID-19 and beyond.
Financial Assistance for Reskilling
As Ontario recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, reskilling will be essential to the re-employment of workers that have been displaced, particularly for those that been disproportionately impacted by the crisis (including women, racialized Ontarians, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and other groups). This issue was highlighted in the OCC’s 2021 Ontario pre-budget submission, our letter to the Province on retraining, and The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19, where we call for nimble reskilling opportunities (including micro-credential programs) and financial support to ensure programs are accessible and inclusive.
In March 2021, the Ontario government expanded the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to include nearly 600 micro-credential programs. Through this initiative, the province is ensuring loans and grants will be available to more learners looking to rapidly upskill and reskill for the in-demand jobs of today and tomorrow. This is a promising first step. The OCC urges the Province to further strengthen access to reskilling programs offering more flexible formats, convenient locations or digital offerings, and support with child care for mothers interested in reskilling.
Rapid COVID-19 Testing in the Workplace
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, the OCC has repeatedly urged government to prioritize rapid testing and contact tracing to help minimize the impacts of public health restrictions on employers and workers. This recommendation was recently highlighted in our 2021 Ontario Pre-Budget Submission, where we also emphasized the need for guidance to support increased use of rapid testing.
In March 2021, the Province announced it would be making it easier for businesses to test for COVID-19 in the workplace by expanding its deployment of rapid antigen testing to post-secondary institutions, first responders, trucking and transportation, wastewater management, and other sectors. The government has also released guidance to support employees who choose to participate in testing outside of the public health care system.
The OCC has long championed the need for more hands-on training opportunities in Ontario and particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our letter to the Province on retraining and our 2021 Ontario Pre-Budget Submission underscored the need for demand-driven training programs delivered through strong partnerships. Economic recovery will demand new skills and exacerbate the skills gaps already present in Ontario’s economy.
In March 2021, the Ontario government announced an investment of $39.5 million to help create up to 8,000 paid research internships and upskilling opportunities for postsecondary students, postdoctoral fellows, and recent graduates through Mitacs. These experiential learning opportunities will help prepare Ontario’s workforce for post-pandemic growth.
Federal Task Force on Women in the Economy
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the OCC has called on government to develop strategies that address the economic impacts on working women. Our report – The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario – contains a series of recommendations around leadership and accountability, child care, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and flexible work. As a first step, we urge governments to include women in decision-making bodies around economic recovery and develop strategies, policies, and programs to tackle specific challenges such as child care, workforce development, and flexible work.
In March 2021, the Government of Canada launched a new Task Force on Women in the Economy. This group will harness the best ideas from a diverse group of experts from different sectors of the economy to advise the government on women’s economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic. The Task Force is a promising first step that brings together women with expertise in business, health, not-for-profit, child care, labour, and academia.
Extending Temporary Billing Codes for Virtual Care
In the OCC’s December 2020 report entitled, Realizing the Full Potential of Virtual Care in Ontario, the OCC examined how the pandemic, coupled with the implementation of temporary billing codes, accelerated the adoption of virtual care. The temporary billing codes the Province implemented until March 14, 2021 allowed physicians to bill the Government of Ontario for phone and video visits with patients. Since the temporary codes the Province implemented during the SARS outbreak expired after that crisis was contained, the OCC recommended that the Government of Ontario modify the existing fee code system to ensure virtual care becomes a permanent part of our health care system – once and for all.
On March 8, 2021, the Ministry of Health’s Ontario Health Insurance Plan Division issued a bulletin to all health care providers. The bulletin explains that the province reached an agreement with the Ontario Medical Association and will extend four existing temporary billing codes for phone and video visits until September 30, 2021. The OCC is pleased that the billing codes have been extended since they will allow Ontarians to continue accessing care at a time when in-person visits have been less feasible. However, as the OCC’s report explains, given the uncertainties around when a vaccine will be available, patients will continue to rely on virtual visits for the foreseeable future and, as such, a more permanent solution is still needed.
COVID-19 Testing Pilot Program at Pearson Airport
In November 2020, the OCC’s letter to the Premier urged the Ontario government to support the Greater Toronto Airports Authority in introducing COVID-19 testing upon arrival at Toronto Pearson International Airport. At the time, there was no arrivals testing process, but travelers bound for Canada were required to quarantine for a 14-day period. Introducing arrivals testing at Pearson would not only align with steps that other jurisdictions have taken, but also provide an added measure to help protect communities from COVID-19 positive travellers destined to Ontario.
On January 6, the Government of Ontario announced it will launch a new, voluntary and free COVID-19 testing pilot program for international travellers arriving at Pearson Airport. The pilot will be available to eligible international travellers who are returning to Ontario and aims to help identify and prevent the spread of the virus. While this was a welcome first step, the OCC encourages governments across Canada to implement a similar testing regime for arriving passengers. COVID-19 testing will be a necessary part of air travel for the foreseeable future and a science-based approach to travel will be critical to helping lift or reduce quarantine requirements.
Streamlining the Landlord-Tenant Dispute Resolution Process
In 2017, the Ontario Chamber Network passed a resolution calling on the Ontario government to amend the Residential Tenancies Act to make it more equitable for residents and landlords. The resolution made specific recommendations to reduce delays in the dispute resolution process, with the aim of encouraging greater investment in housing.
In July 2020, the Government of Ontario passed the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020. Among other things, the Act will streamline the Landlord and Tenant Board process to make it easier to resolve disputes by allowing for mediation and making it easier to reach negotiated settlements.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Ontario made several temporary changes to regulation, such as allowing licensed restaurants and bars to include alcohol with food as part of a takeout or delivery order. The OCC urged the government to make this measure permanent on multiple occasions, including in our 2020 Provincial Pre-Budget Submission.
In December 2020, the Government of Ontario announced it was making the sale of alcohol with food takeout and delivery orders permanent, along with other reforms to support the hospitality sector.
Allowing the Sale of Spirits at Farmers' Markets
The OCC’s 2019 report, Refreshing the Sale of Beverage Alcohol, provided the province with a series of recommendations to help modernize the sale of beverage alcohol in Ontario while improving consumer choice and convenience. Among these recommendations was a request that the AGCO allow Ontario spirits and craft beer producers with a retail license to sell their products at farmers’ markets. Between 2014 and 2016, the AGCO administered a two-year pilot program to permit the sale of VQA wine and fruit wine at farmers’ markets. The pilot program was ultimately allowed to continue, but spirits and beer were not available for sale through this distribution channel.
On December 9, the Government of Ontario announced that it would permit eligible manufacturers to sell spirits and 100 percent Ontario wine at farmers’ markets. While eliminating this disparity for spirits producers at farmers’ markets is welcome news, the Province should continue to take a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, approach when it comes to reforms related to the beverage alcohol industry.
Good Samaritan Liability Protection During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis prompted organizations across Ontario to pivot quickly to provide goods and services that would support the response the pandemic. However, the urgency of the crisis meant there was little time for them to assess potential legal risks. In April 2020, the OCC called on the Government of Ontario to protect ‘Good Samaritan’ firms from litigation that may imperil their businesses in an already challenging economic environment.
In November 2020, the Government of Ontario passed the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020. The Act will provide liability protection for workers, volunteers, and organizations that make an honest effort to follow public health guidelines and laws relating to exposure to COVID-19. At the same time, it will maintain the right of Ontarians to take legal action against those who willfully, or with gross negligence, endanger others.
Leveraging Procurement to Promote Ontario-Made Innovation
As the largest customer in our economy, government can use procurement to help innovative firms scale. This is more cost-effective than grants or tax incentives, and it simultaneously enables modernization within government. As Ontario prepares for a period of economic recovery, the OCC recommended taking a more innovation-oriented approach to procurement (for example, by adopting challenge-based procurement systems). This recommendation was included in the OCC’s 2020 Provincial Pre-Budget Submission and 2020 report, In Data We Trust: Unlocking the Value of Data in Ontario.
In November 2020, the Government of Ontario released the objectives of its new procurement agency, Supply Ontario. Its mandate includes: “driving innovation of emerging technologies” and “connecting small businesses and entrepreneurs to government and its consumers by acting as a first purchaser for emerging technologies and paving pathways to the marketplace to drive innovation in Ontario.”
Tourism Industry Support During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on Ontario’s tourism industry. In a letter to the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, the OCC offered a few recommendations to support the sector, including direct financial aid and grants.
In Budget 2020, the Ontario government committed $100 million over two years for the Community Building Fund to support tourism, culture, and sport organizations experiencing financial pressures due to the pandemic.
Reskilling Support and a Micro-credential Strategy
Retraining and upskilling the workforce is critical to help businesses prepare for post-pandemic economic recovery, which will demand new skills and exacerbate the skills gaps already present in Ontario’s economy. As part of the solution, the OCC recommended investments in reskilling programs and the development of a micro-credential framework to support short-term programs that meet local and sectoral needs.
Budget 2020 includes $100 million in funding for skills training programs directed towards Ontarians disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and $59.5 million over three years towards a micro-credential strategy. These investments will help accelerate re-employment during economic recovery and allow employers to respond to changing labour market needs with more demand-driven programming.
Reducing Commercial and Industrial Electricity Rates
Industrial and commercial electricity prices in Ontario are currently higher than in most other jurisdictions in North America, putting local businesses at a competitive disadvantage. The pandemic has exacerbated this challenge, as system costs have grown and many companies are struggling with cash flows and liquidity issues. The OCC has advocated for reduced rates on numerous occasions, including this letter and our 2020 Pre-Budget Submission.
In Budget 2020, the Government of Ontario announced it would lower electricity costs for commercial and industrial ratepayers by directly funding a large portion of Global Adjustment (GA) costs to remove them from electricity bills. This will result in estimated electricity cost savings of 16 percent for Class A customers and 14 percent for Class B customers. This move will make commercial and industrial electricity rates more competitive and allow businesses to focus on investing in recovery and growth. As the Budget notes, bringing average rates below the average in the United States will make Ontario a more attractive choice for business investment.
Business Education Tax Reform
The Business Education Tax (BET) rate varies throughout the province, depending on the municipality or region. In 2007, the government announced they would reduce and harmonize rates, but this effort was halted in 2012. The OCC urged the Province to resume these efforts, including in our 2018 Provincial Pre-Budget Submission.
In Budget 2020, the Government of Ontario standardized and reduced all BET rates to 0.88 percent. According to government estimates, this will result in a tax break for 94 percent of Ontario businesses.
Second Wave Investments in Schools and Child Care
The temporary closure of schools and child care centres during the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to unemployment and productivity losses among working parents, especially mothers. The OCC called on government to respond to a second wave by investing in increased physical distancing of students and additional support for remote learning. These recommendations are outlined in our September 2020 report, The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.
In October 2020, the Government of Ontario announced an additional investment of $35 million to support increased physical distancing and remote learning in Peel, Ottawa, Toronto, and York Region as those communities confront higher rates of transmission. This funding builds on Ontario’s $1.3-billion Back-to-School Plan.
Minimizing New Red Tape
In December 2018, the OCC wrote a letter to the Government of Ontario outlining business priorities for red tape reduction. We emphasized the importance of harmonizing regulation with national and international standards, requiring that new regulations be assessed for duplication or conflict, establishing digital compliance processes where possible, and taking an outcomes-based approach to regulation.
In July 2020, the Government of Ontario enacted the Modernizing Ontario for People and Businesses Act, 2020 (through Bill 197, the COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020). Once in force, this Act will limit additional red tape by creating obligations for all of Ontario’s ministries to follow when creating new legislation, regulations, policies, and forms. Principles include adopting national or international standards rather than creating new standards, streamlining compliance requirements on small businesses, ensuring processes are electronic where possible, and taking a risk-based approach to compliance.
Improving Broadband and Cellular Access in Ontario
While broadband expansion has long been a priority for the OCC and its members, the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated its urgency as reliable internet connectivity has been a prerequisite to accessing everything from e-learning and healthcare, to working from home and selling products online. In April 2020, the OCC wrote a letter calling on the Government of Ontario to improve connectivity across the province by fast-tracking the $150 million in provincial funding that was committed to a broadband and cellular infrastructure program, working with the federal government to speed up and augment existing investment programs, and collaborating with municipalities to boost Wi-Fi hotspots.
In 2020, the Government of Ontario committed to making a historic investment of nearly $1 billion over six years to improve and expand broadband and cellular access across the province. The government’s plan focuses on delivering regional and shovel-ready projects, expanding access to underserved communities through a new program called Improving Connectivity in Ontario (ICON), maximizing existing programs and government assets, and reducing regulatory barriers to infrastructure expansion.
Good Samaritan Liability Protection During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis prompted organizations across Ontario to pivot quickly to provide goods and services that would support the response the pandemic. However, the urgency of the crisis meant there was little time for them to assess potential legal risks. In April 2020, the OCC called on the Government of Ontario to protect ‘Good Samaritan’ firms from litigation that may imperil their businesses in an already challenging economic environment.
In November, the Government of Ontario passed the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act, 2020. The Act will provide liability protection for workers, volunteers, and organizations that make an honest effort to follow public health guidelines and laws relating to exposure to COVID-19. At the same time, it will maintain the right of Ontarians to take legal action against those who willfully, or with gross negligence, endanger others.
Rural Economic Development
Regional economic development is a top priority for the OCC and its members. Our 2019 report – The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies – discusses the various challenges and opportunities for economies in rural Ontario, and recommends leveraging public-private partnerships to invest in infrastructure, community revitalization, and talent retention.
In September 2020, the Government of Ontario opened a new targeted intake under Ontario’s Rural Economic Development (RED) program. The new cost-shared funding of nearly $1 million will support not-for-profit organizations with projects to help rural communities diversify their economies, retain skilled workers, and create jobs.
Promoting the Skilled Trades Among Youth
Addressing skills mismatches in the trades is essential to Ontario’s economic prosperity, but youth and their parents are often unaware of how lucrative and rewarding a career in the trades can be. The OCC has emphasized this issue consistently in our advocacy with the Government of Ontario and made it a priority in our 2018 Blueprint Letters to Cabinet Ministers.
In August 2020, the Government of Ontario announced new investments to attract and train youth in the skilled trades, including additional funding for Skills Ontario and the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program. The Province also announced the appointment of three Youth Advisors to engage with youth, educators, business, parents, and other stakeholders to reduce stigma and make the trades a viable first choice for young people.
CRTC Wholesale Rates
Broadband expansion – a top priority for the OCC and its members – will require continued private sector investments. In 2019, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reduced the wholesale rates Internet resellers pay to use the networks of facilities-based carriers. In a letter to the Government of Canada, the OCC expressed concern about the new rates, which would require facilities-based carriers to incur a negative rate of return and therefore reduce their investments in broadband networks, especially in rural and remote areas.
In August 2020, the Government of Canada recognized the 2019 wholesale rates would undermine private sector investment in high-quality networks. The rates are currently being reconsidered, and the government has emphasized its expectation for a more appropriate balance among the complementary objectives of improved consumer choice and competition, further investment in high-quality networks, innovative service offerings and reasonable prices for consumers.
Ontario’s Forest Sector Strategy
The OCC has long called on the government to develop a strategy that will unlock the potential of Ontario’s forest industry. In particular, our recommendations have emphasized the need to increase sustainable access to wood and protect public forest access roads. Our asks are outlined in several policy resolutions, a letter to government, and The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies.
In August 2020, the Government of Ontario released Sustainable Growth: Ontario’s Forest Sector Strategy, a plan to create jobs and encourage economic growth in the forest industry. The strategy includes plans to remove barriers to accessing wood, invest in critical infrastructure (including forest access roads), enable technology adoption, and more.
Ontario’s Residential Tenancies Act
In meetings and consultations with Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the OCC has advocated for changes to the Residential Tenancies Act to make the dispute resolution process more equitable for landlords, reflecting a policy resolution passed by the chamber network in 2017.
In July 2020, the Ontario government passed the Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act, 2020, which will reform the Residential Tenancies Act. Among other things, these amendments will reduce delays in the dispute resolution process and allow landlords to recover costs when tenants act in bad faith.
Intellectual Property Action Plan
While Ontario excels at generating innovative research through its post-secondary institutions, it underperforms at commercializing that innovation. With Ontario producing fewer patents and other forms of intellectual property (IP) than its international peers, the OCC has long asserted that the province needs a commercialization strategy to avoid providing other countries with research that fuels their growth without realizing the benefits locally.
In early 2020, Ontario’s Expert Panel on Intellectual Property made a series of recommendations to help mitigate the commercialization gap. In the OCC’s recent report, In Data We Trust: Unlocking the Value of Data in Ontario, we called on the Government of Ontario to immediately implement those recommendations.
In July 2020, the Government of Ontario announced a made-in-Ontario Intellectual Property Action Plan and establishment of a Special Implementation Team on Intellectual Property – comprised of the experts who previously served on Ontario’s Expert Panel on Intellectual Property – to advise the implementation of the Action Plan. These measures will help ensure the tremendous social and economic benefits of research and innovation remain in Ontario.
Investing in Ontario’s Cideries and Distilleries
In the OCC’s 2019 report, Refreshing the Sale of Beverage Alcohol, the Ontario Chamber expressed concerns about the end of the Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support Program. The program provided much needed financial support for these industries. Eligible cideries and distillers were granted up to 74 cents per litre on eligible sales, with up to a maximum of $220,000 per year per producer. The end of the program in December 2018, however, put the growth of Ontario’s craft cideries and distilleries in jeopardy. Not only does the craft cider and spirit industry rely on inputs from Ontario farms, like apples, pears, and grains, they also contribute to regional economic development, and almost $13 million and $1.5 billion respectively to the provincial GDP.
On June 17, the province announced it would extend the Small Cidery and Small Distillery Support Program to 2021-22, providing $2.6 million annually to help eligible businesses grow and scale their operations. This interim measure will provide the funding needed to strengthen Ontario’s craft cider and spirit industry. However, the OCC encourages the province to address long-standing taxation issues surrounding both industries as outlined in the 2019 report, to reduce the tax burden and ensure the competitiveness of craft producers.
Supporting Craft Distillers
In the OCC’s 2019 report, Refreshing the Sale of Beverage Alcohol, the Ontario Chamber recommended that LCBO stores provide craft distillers with dedicated shelf space/displays in the spirits category. This would help showcase made-in-Ontario products, improve consumer awareness of craft spirits, and better support local distillers. Craft distillers face a significant challenge as it relates to market access as they compete for shelf space with established, international brands. The current set-up makes it difficult for emerging Ontario craft distillers to compete and maintain their shelf space once they introduce a product in the LCBO.
On June 17, the province announced it would expand made-in-Ontario options at the LCBO, effective June 21 to October 2020. In its news release, the province notes LCBO locations would make more Ontario-made products available for sale, invest in increased marketing to promote Ontario products, and convert available shelf space to profile Ontario products. This is a welcome step to support the recovery of local distillers, as well as Ontario wineries, breweries, and cideries.
A Financial Literacy Curriculum for Elementary Students
Financial literacy is essential to the economic well-being and productivity of Ontarians. In our 2018 Blueprint Letter to the Minister of Education and in subsequent meetings with government, the OCC has continually emphasized the need to develop a comprehensive financial literacy curriculum for elementary- and secondary-level students in Ontario.
In June 2020, the Government of Ontario introduced a new math curriculum for elementary school students. The updated curriculum includes a focus on financial literacy, as well as coding and computer programming skills, starting in Grade 1. It was developed over two years in consultation with parents, educators, and academics and will be available to students across the province beginning in September 2020.
Moratorium on Commercial Evictions During COVID-19
The COVID-19 crisis has challenged the ability of many small businesses and residents across Ontario to make their rent payments. Government support programs – while helpful – have been insufficient and too slow to protect many tenants from eviction. On March 26, after the Government of Ontario introduced a temporary ban on residential evictions, the OCC wrote a letter calling for the measure to be extended to commercial tenants. We continued to make this recommendation in the following months as the situation became increasingly dire for many businesses.
On June 17, the Government of Ontario passed the Protecting Small Business Act, temporarily halting or reversing evictions of commercial tenants and protecting them from being locked out or having their assets seized during COVID-19. The legislation applies to businesses that are eligible for federal/provincial rent assistance for evictions from May 1, 2020 until August 31, 2020.
Patio Liquor Licenses During COVID-19
As businesses across Ontario prepared for the reopening phase of COVID-19, many restaurants and bards explored options to expand their outdoor patios and sidewalks to facilitate physical distancing among patrons. However, given the length of time it takes to receive a new or expanded liquor license from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), many establishment owners would not receive the necessary license in time for patio season. The OCC raised this issue in a letter to the Government of Ontario on June 5, 2020, calling on the Province to expedite the approval process for restaurants and bars looking to obtain a seasonal liquor license and those who currently have a liquor license but need to expand to facilitate physical distancing.
On June 8, the Government of Ontario announced that it would allow restaurants and bars to temporarily extend licensed outdoor patio spaces once licensed establishments are permitted to fully reopen. The AGCO will not require licensees to apply or pay a fee for these temporary extensions, which will remain in effect until January 1, 2021. This measure will help support workers and businesses in the hospitality sector impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Supporting Electricity Customers During COVID-19
In April 2020, the OCC wrote to the Government of Ontario proposing a series of measures to address the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses’ electricity rates. Our letter included a recommendation to adjust eligibility for the 2020/21 Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI), noting that customers that were on the cusp of eligibility would not qualify because of reduced demand in March and April due to the pandemic. We also recommended temporarily limiting increases in Global Adjustment (GA) charges for businesses during the crisis.
In May, the Government of Ontario moved forward with both recommendations. The Ontario Energy Board amended O. Reg. 429/04 under the Electricity Act, 1998 to allow consumers to qualify for the ICI if they would have satisfied conditions had the base period ended on February 29. The Province also announced that GA costs would be deferred for both Class A and Class B businesses. These measures will help businesses avoid some of the increased costs associated with the pandemic.
Preventing Layoffs During COVID-19
In April 2020, the OCC recommended the Government of Ontario temporarily amend the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to help prevent permanent layoffs due to COVID-19. The ESA allows employers to avoid notice and severance obligations when they lay off employees with the expectation that they will return, unless the layoff exceeds 13 weeks in a 20-week period. As it became clear that the COVID-19 crisis would continue for more than 13 weeks, the OCC encouraged the government to protect employers and businesses during an unprecedented period of disruption.
On June 1, the Government of Ontario enacted a new regulatory amendment to place non-unionized employees on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave during the COVID-19 outbreak any time their hours of work are temporarily reduced due to COVID-19. This will ensure businesses are not forced to terminate employees after their ESA temporary layoff periods have expired.
Delaying New Regulations During COVID-19
During the COVID-19 crisis, organizations were overwhelmed with business continuity planning and supporting public health efforts. Their ability to respond to new regulations and participate in consultations was limited. In a letter to Premier Doug Ford on March 18, as well as subsequent communications with government, the OCC called on the Province to put a hold on all pending non-urgent regulatory proposals.
On April 28, the Government of Ontario announced it would pause or extend any ongoing public consultations, delay non-urgent related consultations during the emergency situation, and consider extending deadlines for reports and audits. These changes will allow businesses to focus on navigating and responding to the crisis.
Relief for Pension Plan Sponsors During COVID-19
During the COVID-19 crisis, the OCC asked for urgent relief to pension plan sponsors. Our letter recommended deferring pension benefit contributions and Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund premiums, freezing the level of required pension contributions for three years at pre-pandemic levels, and eliminating solvency funding.
On April 15, 2020, the Government of Canada announced it would provide immediate, temporary relief to sponsors of federally regulated, defined benefit pension plans by introducing a moratorium on solvency payment requirements through the remainder of 2020. The government has also committed to consulting with stakeholders on options to provide relief from 2021 funding obligations, as necessary.
Commercial Rent Assistance During COVID-19
During the COVID-19 crisis, the OCC urged governments to provide rent relief to commercial tenants. We recommended a series of policy options, including a halt on commercial evictions and loans for commercial landlords.
On April 16, 2020, the Government of Canada announced its intention to introduce a Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses. The program will seek to provide loans to commercial property owners who in turn will lower or forgo the rent of small businesses for the months of April (retroactive), May, and June.
Expanding Access to Capital During COVID-19
For years, access to capital has been a major limitation to Canadian business competitiveness, but the COVID-19 crisis added great urgency. The Government of Canada introduced the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to help small businesses access interest-free loans during the pandemic. Initial eligibility criteria required companies to have between $50,000 and $1 million in T4 payroll, effectively excluding many small businesses that fall outside those bounds and/or rely on investment income. The OCC asked the federal government to expand the payroll criteria to provide relief to more small businesses.
On April 16, the Government of Canada expanded the CERB criteria to include companies with payroll between $20,000 and $1.5 million.
Curbside Delivery and Pick-up of Legal Cannabis during COVID-19
On April 4, 2020, as part of the Government of Ontario’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19, cannabis retail stores were ordered to close. On April 6, the OCC wrote a letter asking the Province to consider a regulatory amendment to the Cannabis License Act to allow cannabis retailers to deliver products purchased online or over the phone to a customer’s residence (same-day delivery) or to the customer’s vehicle outside of the licensed cannabis retail store (curbside pick-up). Our letter noted the consequences of limiting access to legal cannabis, including an expansion of the illicit market and financial hardship for independent retailers and their employees.
On April 7, the Government of Ontario issued an Emergency Order to temporarily allow authorized cannabis retail stores to offer delivery and curbside pick-up.
Cannabis Industry’s Access to COVID-19 Relief Funding
When the federal government initially rolled out its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cannabis companies were excluded from accessing the Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP). On March 20, 2020, the OCC partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and cannabis industry representatives to write a letter asking the government to give regulated cannabis companies equal access to stimulus funding.
On April 6, the Business Development Bank of Canada announced that all legal businesses – including regulated cannabis companies – would be eligible for the BCAP for the duration of the program.
Road Access to the Ring of Fire
In our 2019 report, The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies, the OCC highlighted the importance of investing in multi-use transportation infrastructure, including an all-season access road to the Ring of Fire. The report notes that, once completed, this road will serve an industrial purpose (providing access to the mining district) as well as a social one (connecting remote communities to other regions).
In March 2020, the Government of Ontario entered into a historic agreement with Marten Falls and Webequie First Nations to advance the planning and development of a proposed Northern Road Link
Allowing Real Estate People to Incorporate
In 2017, the Ontario Chamber Network passed a resolution calling on the government to amend the Real Estate and Business Brokers Act, 2002 (REBBA) to allow real estate salespeople to incorporate. This policy would make it easier for real estate professionals to do business in Ontario.
In February 2020, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 145, the Trust in Real Estate Services Act, 2020. The Act made several changes to REBBA, which included laying the foundation for allowing real estate professionals to incorporate and be paid through the corporation while maintaining measures that protect consumers.
Improving Indigenous Education in Ontario
Indigenous peoples are essential partners in addressing Ontario’s skills needs. Closing the gaps in educational and labour market outcomes between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations could increase Canada’s GDP by up to $36 billion per year by 2026. In 2017, the Ontario Chamber Network passed a resolution calling on the provincial government to identify and earmark the resources needed to ensure consistent operation and long-term sustainability of Ontario’s Indigenous Institutes. This recommendation was echoed in the OCC’s 2019 report on regional economic development, The Great Mosaic.
In February 2020, the Government of Ontario announced it would increase annual funding by $1.8 million to Indigenous Institutes. This funding will help the Institutes provide high-quality education that responds to community and local labour market needs. Moving forward, the OCC would like to see the government fully implement Indigenous learner reporting mechanisms to allow for collection of reliable data needed to measure progress on academic achievement.
Open Allocation Model for Private Retail Cannabis Licenses
Ontario’s cannabis industry presents a significant economic opportunity for the province. Unfortunately, the provincial government’s decision to proceed with a lottery system for the second round of licenses resulted in a great deal of uncertainty for industry players and investors, as well as lost economic potential. In Supporting Ontario’s Budding Cannabis Industry, the OCC called on the Government of Ontario to move to an open allocation model for private retail cannabis licenses. This recommendation was echoed by our Ontario Cannabis Policy Council.
In December 2019, the Government of Ontario announced it would end the lottery system and move towards an open allocation model for private retail cannabis licenses beginning in January 2020. Ensuring a robust private retail market will not only generate more tax revenues, create jobs, and support the long-term viability of the sector, but is also critical to combatting the illicit market.
Streamlining Approvals for Ontario’s Forestry Industry
Consistent access to affordable wood is a challenge for Ontario’s forestry sector. As a result of government restrictions, the industry’s access to harvest volume is only sufficient to meet today’s demand, leaving no room to grow Ontario’s renewable forestry sector, despite a healthy and growing forest supply. In our 2018 blueprint letters, the OCC calls on the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to increase reliable access to harvest volumes by removing made-in-Ontario barriers.
In December 2019, the Government of Ontario amended the Crown Forest Sustainability Act, 1994 to streamline the approvals process for cutting trees on Crown lands. This was one of several red tape measures introduced through Bill 132, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019.
Improving the Regulatory Process for Ontario’s Mining Industry
The OCC has long advocated for improvements to the regulatory environment as a means to strengthen the competitiveness of Ontario’s mining sector. Recommendations to reduce regulatory uncertainty and costs are outlined in The Great Mosaic: Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies and Digging Deeper: Strengthening Ontario’s Mining Advantage.
In December 2019, the Government of Ontario amended the Mining Act, 1990 to streamline processes to allow clients to merge mining claims and improve business certainty for proponents of the mining industry by requiring the government to acknowledge mine closure plan amendments within 45 days. These measures were introduced through Bill 132, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019.
Expanding Alcohol Service in International Airports
In our 2019 report, Refreshing the Sale of Beverage Alcohol in Ontario, the OCC outlines the economic potential of allowing Ontario’s international airports to sell beverage alcohol 24-hours a day, in post-security areas for both international and domestic partners.
In December 2019, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 132, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, intended to reduce the regulatory burden on businesses. Among other things, this will permit licenced bars and restaurants in certain commercial airports located after airport security to serve alcohol to customers 24 hours a day. We are pleased to see the Government of Ontario move forward in joining other airports around the world.
Reducing Red Tape for Drug Manufacturers and Pharmacies
For years, Ontario’s health and life sciences sectors have faced unnecessary reporting requirements. Drug manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies have had to fill entire rooms with binders of paperwork, known in the sector as the ‘Ontario Binder Rooms,’ to meet these requirements. This issue was raised at the OCC’s Red Tape Roundtable in November 2018 and highlighted in our red tape submission to Giles Gherson, Deputy Minister of Red Tape and Regulatory Burden Reduction.
In December 2019, the Government of Ontario passed Bill 132, the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act, 2019. Among various other changes, Bill 132 proposes to reduce the regulatory burden for drug manufacturers and pharmacists by digitizing and streamlining reporting requirements. These changes will help bring down administrative costs and help protect the competitiveness of Ontario’s health and life sciences sectors.
Reducing the Aviation Fuel Tax in Northern Ontario
Since 2014, Ontario’s aviation fuel tax increased by nearly 150 percent, making it the highest in Canada. This acts as a financial barrier to the movement of people and goods, particularly in northern and remote communities, where other forms of transportation may be infeasible. We outlined this challenge in our blueprint letters to cabinet ministers and our report, Closing the Tourism Gap: Creating a Long-Term Advantage for Ontario.
In December 2019, the Government of Ontario passes the Plan to Build Ontario Together Act, 2019. Among various other changes, the act reduces the aviation fuel tax rate in Northern Ontario to 2.7 cents per litre from the current 6.7 cents per litre, returning it to 2014 levels. While this is a good first step, the OCC would like to see the aviation fuel tax in all communities be lowered to match other Canadian provinces.
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.