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.
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.