Getting the federal budget on track
Coming out of a difficult year and into an uncertain one means the upcoming 2021 federal budget is going to be a mix of pandemic relief and potential recovery stimulus. How the Government of Canada balances these two priorities will provide insight into how our country’s leaders anticipate we will handle the global pandemic.
The budget will prioritize getting Canadians through the pandemic, including providing people with the supports they need. Prime Minister Trudeau has already announced an extension to the number of weeks that people can claim benefits under several income support programs, including the Canada Recovery Benefit and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce has submitted our priorities for the 2021 federal budget, including:
VIA High Frequency Rail
The VIA High Frequency Rail (HFR) plan is ready and waiting for approval. It is part of the mandate letter provided to the new Minister of Transport, Omar Alghabra.
VIA’s proposal for dedicated tracks for high frequency trains between Toronto – Peterborough – Ottawa – Montréal – Québec City will assure the corporation can maximize ridership and revenue and improve their on-time performance to over 95%. Dedicated tracks for passenger service will reduce trip times while also increasing VIA’s profitability, effectively eliminating the need for a Government subsidy within a few years.
A dedicated passenger corridor will create significant economic development along the route, including an estimated 336,000 person years of employment. The hybrid electric-diesel trains running on this route will dramatically reduce carbon emissions by 12.5 million tons of CO2, the equivalent of a car-pool reduction of 2.8 million vehicles.
In addition to the benefits of more efficient inter-city travel, VIA’s proposal will increase access to affordable housing in the new rail corridor and provide new residents with a transit option for commuting.
Dedicated tracks solve VIA’s congestion problems, increase its efficiency and profitability, create economic development while remaining environmentally friendly, and will give commuters better access to communities not traditionally served by transit. It is important to note that track improvements for passenger service will offer significant benefits to current and future freight users.
Expansion of Broadband Internet Access
The need for rapid expansion of access to high-speed internet has never been greater. Broadband access is a necessity for business, both as a location for offices and facilities as well as access and integration of their workforce.
While we’ve made progress over the last decade, 2020 highlighted some major gaps in access to high-speed internet. Though largely a rural issue, it’s likely not as rural as many would believe with large service gaps just on the edge of the city. For 2021, we need to make sure that all Ontarians have the ability to work and learn from home.
Targeted Investment and Relief COVID-19 has required business in some sectors to close or drastically change their service model while others have continued with few changes. Those hardest hit include accommodation, food service, arts, entertainment, recreation, and retail.
We’ve had a year to study the impacts of the pandemic. We know how who and how businesses are being impacted. We need our government to target relief efforts to the specific areas that need it most.
Greater Access to Capital for Small Businesses
Small businesses are investing not only in what they need to thrive through this crisis, but also in the future sustainability of their business well beyond 2021. Businesses that are investing in themselves are businesses that will continue employing people in our community and hopefully expand and hire more.
Additionally, many businesses have used government and other loan programs to assist them through the pandemic. As they borrow more and deal with reduced income, it makes it even more difficult to borrow further funds without assistance.
The 2021 federal budget will be one of the most challenging in recent times. It should provide some key insights into what our government expects this year to bring.
Home Tax Credit
Aging at home extends and improves the quality of life for seniors by providing
independence and helps them avoid accidents and illness. It also lessens the strain on our healthcare system.
Taking care of loved ones who are aging at home can be expensive for family. Families in Ontario provide 20 million hours of care every year.
Family-funded home care is now more important than ever. Home Care Ontario and Family-Funded Home Care Services are asking the Government of Ontario to implement a special Home Care Tax Credit to help families support their loved ones at home.
Please follow the link and take a couple minutes to send a letter to your MPP to get this tax credit included in the provincial budget:
Lockdowns — something unheard of only a year ago — have become something we are getting all too familiar with.
With many businesses opening up this week, it seems that many are already bracing for a dreaded third wave. Whether it’s this public health crisis, or the next one, it’s important that we learn from our experience. Locking down the province is no doubt a decision that is not taken lightly, but it’s proving to be a very blunt instrument.
Small businesses in Ontario have taken the utmost care to abide by the regularly-evolving rules, regulations and guidelines. Business owners genuinely want to keep their staff, customers and themselves safe and healthy. In fact, keeping staff and customers safe has always been the top priority when operating a business. Compliance with safety standards impacts every size and sector, from retail and restaurants to construction and manufacturing.
Businesses are accustomed to having their ability to operate depend on their compliance with current safety standards.
Businesses in Ontario follow the Occupational Health and Safety Act closely or face penalties that can include jail time and fines of $100,000 for individuals and $1.5 million for corporations. They work within the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act, Human Rights Code, Canada Labour Code, Ontario Fire Code, Liquor Control Act, Ontario Building Code, Health Protection and Promotion Act of Ontario, and more, each with their own set of financial penalties and
potential restrictions to conduct business.
Currently, businesses are being shut down or forced to significantly change their service model not because of their adherence to safety protocols, but because of the products they sell or the services they offer. This shuts down some businesses while allowing others to operate with very few restrictions.
Despite being locked down, people have not stopped shopping — resulting in a system that favours large international department and online retailers over
To both support the economy and keep Ontarians safe, the system defining which businesses are essential requires reform. Restrictions should hinge on compliance, not solely on perception of essentiality, sector, size, product etc. Businesses that can provide evidence of compliance with COVID-19 health and safety protocols should be allowed to operate. Those that are not compliant, should not.
We are confident that businesses and lawmakers can work together to create an equitable framework where businesses can
operate in compliance with new safety protocols that will both help Ontario work toward the eradication of COVID-19 and provide sustainability and consistency to the business community.
The Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce — with the support of our colleagues at the Brampton Board of Trade, Barrie Chamber of Commerce, Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce, Milton Chamber of Commerce, and 1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce — are putting forward a resolution to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Our request to the Government of Ontario is:
• In order to continue serving the public during a health crisis, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, enhance lockdown or grey zone regulations based on a uniform and equitable set of safety standards for all businesses, in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, rather than on perception of essentiality.
Advocacy is a big part of what we do at the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce. Every year we highlight certain issues to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce for chambers across the province to debate. The approved resolutions remain a key part of the chamber advocacy for three years, at which point they are reviewed and re-submitted if the issue is still pressing.
We’re happy to say one of our 2018 resolutions, Cutting Red Tape for Motor Vehicles, was successful in its advocacy by streamlining the process for vehicle dealerships to process registrations without having to physically attend a Service Ontario location for each sale.
However, two of our issues remain and will continue to be a point of advocacy.
Maximizing Growth in Built Areas Housing is a big issue in Peterborough. Simply put, there isn’t enough. There isn’t enough affordable, mid-range, or high-end housing. There aren’t enough apartments or houses.
Vacancy rates have been chronically low and demand is only increasing. There are a lot of plans in the works, including new subdivisions, apartment buildings, and higher density developments.
But in the middle of all this, quite literally in the middle of our city, sits a large supply of unused housing — the 2nd and 3rd floor residences above many of your favourite local shops and cafes in downtown Peterborough.
Redevelopment of these upper floor units is happening, but the pace is slow. Despite the demand and increasing rising real estate and lease rates, many of these units remain too costly to renovate. It’s no surprise that buildings built more than 100 years ago — long before building or fire codes — would require a lot of work to make them safe and liveable again. But with the right incentives, these underused assets could provide our community with desperately needed housing and become an economic catalyst in the heart of our city.
We are asking the Government of Ontario to:
1. Designate the Downtown Revitalization Program to be used for a pilot project that allows private building owners and municipal officials to study and assess, using an independent
consultant and without punitive action, the needs of a building or series of buildings in a downtown core.
2. Allow for a renovation plan or commitment to be worked out that is agreeable to the property owner and the municipality.
3. Allow for a coordinated approach to intensification and heritage preservation that takes into consideration a community’s current building stock and its ability to function in a contemporary economy.
4. Allow for intensification districts just outside the core, but within the designated built-up area that can be developed in tandem with the Urban Growth Area and not impact the current
5. Study the effect of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act on the viability of the
intensification projects of existing buildings.
Heads and Beds Levy
The provincial government does not pay property tax on its real estate holdings. Instead, it makes payments in lieu of property taxes as a way to compensate municipalities. For places like colleges, universities, hospitals, and correctional facilities, that payment comes through a “heads and beds” levy. This rate increased from $50 set in 1973 to $75 in 1987. The rate has remained unchanged ever since.
In 1987, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was negotiating a free trade agreement with the US, Michael Jackson’s “Bad” was on its way to the top of the charts, and I was just learning to walk. It’s safe to say a lot has changed since then.
If the “Heads and Beds” levy had kept pace with inflation, the province would currently be paying $148. We realize that’s a tall ask, especially given the current budget constraints. We’re asking the Province to increase the levy to $100 and tie future increases to inflation.
Why is this important? Because right now the tax payers of Peterborough — residents and businesses alike — are subsidizing provincial buildings. The nature of Provincial services is that they serve a broad role for a larger community as part of a high-level strategy for a stronger province. The “Heads and Beds” levy is supposed to keep things fair by having all Ontario residents pay their share for provincial services, but without an update to the levy, it’ll be up to the tax payers in the City of Peterborough to make up the difference.
Ontario Economic Report by the OCC
Businesses in the Muskoka-Kawartha Region are twice as confident in their economic outlook as some areas of the province, according to the fifth annual Ontario Economic Report by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. While some other areas rely heavily on international tourism, the Kawarthas has been a popular destination for Ontarians travelling regionally. This confidence translates to less expected job losses than other regions.
However, only 21 per cent of businesses in Ontario are confident in the overall Ontario economic outlook. Last year was unprecedented in many ways and there is a lot of unpredictability in the year that lies ahead. While the Ontario Economic Report digs deep into the woes businesses are facing, it also highlights some key strategies for our leadership.
Priorities for recovery:
1. Help businesses acquire credit or capital
2. Reform and/or lower business taxes
3. Encourage Ontarians to buy local
4. Invest in broadband infrastructure
“No business, region, sector, or demographic should be left behind in the pursuit of economic recovery and growth,” says Daniel Safayeni, co-author of the report and Acting Vice President of Policy at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Support programs and pro-growth policies should be targeted towards those experiencing the most pronounced challenges. A focus on reskilling as well as widespread access to broadband infrastructure and capital will be necessary to the revival of small business and entrepreneurship as well as an inclusive and robust economic recovery.”
Let’s Talk Budget
We want your input on the 2021 federal budget. Canadians, including businesses and organizations, can participate directly by completing an online questionnaire or uploading a submission.
These pre-budget consultations are an opportunity for Canadians from across the country to share their ideas and priorities for how the government can make investments to grow the economy. They want to hear your ideas on how to create new jobs and build a greener, more competitive, more innovative, more inclusive, more resilient Canada.
To participate, visit letstalkbudget2021.ca. Or if you’d prefer to have your voice added to the Chamber’s pre-budget submission, just email your input to firstname.lastname@example.org
Broadband Internet Expansion
Broadband internet access continues to expand throughout rural Ontario. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has been advocating for years to have the Province expand high speed internet access to all areas of Ontario. In just the last month, the Province has successfully launched broadband expansions in Wellington County, Niagara Region, Brant County and Caledon — a huge improvement for nearly 10,000 people. Similarly, the Peterborough Chamber has advocated for the EORN (Eastern Ontario Regional Network) which has been successful in improving cell and internet access and continues to push initiatives such as their 1 Gig Project. https://www.eorn.ca/en/index.aspx
Access to reliable high-speed internet has been essential for people and businesses for more than a decade, but its importance has never been greater. People are shopping, conducting business, connecting with loved ones, and learning online like never before. Expanding high-speed internet to people in other areas of the province not only helps those areas, but expands the potential market for businesses in the Peterborough area as well.
CRA Increases Service Ahead of 2021 Tax Season
In preparation for what is likely to be a more complicated and involved tax season across the country, the Canada Revenue Agency is expanding its capacity to handle your questions through:
• More agents to increase call centre capacity
• New automated callback service so you don’t have to spend time on hold if when wait times reach a certain length
• Extended call centre hours to 9am to 9pm on weekdays and 9am to 5 pm on Saturdays (starting Feb. 27)
• Expanded resources on Canada.ca
The Canadian Chamber has called for a Royal Commission on Tax Reform for many years. This year the Chamber Policy Staff are working on their own recommendations to the tax code, which hasn’t been updated since the Leafs won the cup.
A strong recovery will depend on many factors, from business confidence to a regulatory system that encourages business.