The summer season will soon be upon us and it’s going to be a pivotal year for the tourism industry.
It’s an understatement to say the last three years have been especially challenging for the tourism sector. It’s not just the public health restrictions and shut downs that we went through — tourism, and the service and hospitality sectors more broadly, are facing some of the biggest hurdles in hiring and retaining their workforce. This is especially difficult in rural areas where there is little local workforce to draw from.
According to the State of the Ontario Tourism Industry Report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, issues including access to labour, soaring debt, rural internet challenges, and a lack of public transportation connecting destinations have led to only 4 in 10 tourism operators forecasting profitability in 2024.
While this paints a bleak picture of the industry, our region has so much to offer. For the outdoorsy, we have a collection of beautiful lakes, rivers, and hiking trails that are the envy of many places across Canada and beyond. Downtown Peterborough offers a collection of culinary and cultural activities that punch well above our weight. Those looking to spend a few nights can choose between big hotels with all the amenities or quaint boutique hotels, resorts that are bustling with activity or secluded and serene, lakefront cottages, bed and breakfasts, or bring your own lodging with a camper or tent.
One particular gem that’s returning bigger and better is Peterborough Musicfest. Where else can you find a summer-long free concert series that has hosted the likes of Randy Bachman, Tegan and Sara, and Walk Off the Earth? Musicfest has a local economic impact of $5 million and brings in an audience of 150,000 over the summer. It’s a long-running hit with locals, but more than 1/3 of attendees report being from out-of-town.
It's not just big names and big crowds — it’s uniquely Peterborough. It’s right on the shores of Little Lake, the beautiful gathering place at the end of the rapids known as Nogojiwanong. It’s also in the heart of our city, just a few blocks from our vibrant downtown restaurant and shopping experience and close enough to inhale the sweet smell of oatmeal from Quaker. As a free music festival that aims big, it’s supported by our community through corporate sponsorships from local businesses, government grants, community fundraising initiatives, and private donations.
The 2023 Peterborough Musicfest Lineup has yet to be announced, but the team have already spilled the beans on two acts: Dwayne Gretzky on July 5 and Little River Band on July 26.
Our region has a many more activities that enhance our tourism sector. 4th Line Theatre is running two shows at their beautiful rural location near Millbrook. We have top-notch entertainment venues at Market Hall, Showplace Performance Centre, and the Peterborough Memorial Centre. You can immerse yourself in history at Lang Pioneer Village, Petroglyphs Provincial Park, Peterborough Museum & Archives, and soon at a beautiful brand new Canadian Canoe Museum. We have beaches, wineries, breweries, distilleries, agricultural fairs, unique shopping experiences, art galleries, golf courses, agritourism, river cruises, and much more. Peterborough and the Kawarthas Tourism has a host of suggestions for things to enjoy here in our region.
We have so much to offer here in Peterborough and the Kawarthas. Let’s be intentional in investing here in our community when it comes to enjoying and promoting local. Tourism campaigns aren’t just something for marketing agencies — it’s something we can all do when talking with family, friends, colleagues, and our social media connections. We are all ambassadors for Peterborough and the Kawarthas and we have a lot to showcase.
Loans and grants were a lifeline for businesses three years ago when the pandemic hit. Now, the path to repayment is proving challenging.
Many businesses borrowed from anywhere they could — banks, credit unions, the government, family, and personal finances — as rain day funds weren’t deep enough to deal with years of public health restrictions.
One program in particular offered tangible help early on in the pandemic — the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), which offered a total of $60,000 in interest-free loans for small businesses and not-for-profits with up to $20,000 eligible for loan forgiveness.
In 2021, the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce had its policy resolution “CEBA Loan Forgiveness For Hardest Hit Businesses” endorsed by chambers and boards of trade from across Canada. We pushed for at least a two-year deadline extension, keeping the forgivable portion available to all business that continue to have operations impacted by ongoing COVID-19 public health restrictions, and allowing businesses that continue to have operations impacted to be exempt from incurring interest prior to the balance of their loan being due. Otherwise, those businesses hit the hardest would get the least out of the program (interest on their loans and no forgivable portion) while putting the government in the awkward position of having to collect from the very businesses it pledged to support with this measure.
In January 2022, the federal government extended the deadline by one year. That means businesses will be expected to pay back two thirds of their loan by December 31, 2023 or they will become ineligible to get a portion of their loan forgiven and begin to accrue interest at 5% before coming due December 31, 2025.
A recent CBC article titled “Only a fraction of CEBA loans have been repaid as businesses call for deadline extension” claims only 13% of the 900,000 businesses have repaid their loan in full. In total, $5.7 billion has been repaid of the more than $49 billion in loans issued.
A lot has changed since those initial loans were issued in 2020. The optimists among us figured we would be through the worst of the pandemic and its public health restrictions in a matter of weeks or months. Three years later and we finally seem to be through the worst of it but have been hit with continued supply chain and labour bottlenecks and challenges, the highest inflation in a generation, soaring interest rates, and the looming threat of a recession.
Given all that has unfolded, our 2021 policy resolution may not have gone far enough.
We do need to encourage those who have come through the last three years in decent financial shape to pay back their loans. There are more than $43 billion in outstanding CEBA loans out there and it’s to the benefit of all taxpayers that those who are able to repay it do so. And this program is just one part of the massive, multi-government spending program that helped people, businesses, and non-profits make it through an unprecedented global crisis. Our governments have accrued massive amounts of debt and we need to do what we can to pay back what is owed.
But we need to set criteria to support those hit the hardest. The result of the current design of the program is that the most vulnerable businesses will also get the least benefit from it, resulting in significant interest incurred and the requirement to pay back 100% of the principal — dragging out their recovery even longer.
This government has acknowledged the disproportionate impact on social demographics including women, ethnic and racial minorities, and First Nations. A larger number of people in these demographics depend on the hardest hit businesses for employment and those who own businesses tend to have less financial backing to weather a financial crisis like COVID-19. The hardest hit business sectors include food service, hospitality, tourism, arts and entertainment, retail, and personal service. Many faced the most significant public health restrictions, were least likely to have access to capital, and continue to bear the brunt of our workforce shortage.
Adding to this struggle is the mental health crisis many business owners are facing. Prolonged social restrictions, struggles to repay debt, and a less optimistic recovery are weighing heavily on many people who have invested significant time and money into their business.
The federal government needs to re-evaluate the repayment terms of the CEBA program. Businesses hardest hit over the last three years require a longer interest-free loan period and a larger debt forgiveness program.
No municipality works in isolation — we all have neighbours and it’s imperative that we work together toward common goals.
Business, life, and recreation don’t stop at political boundaries.
The Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce have long been advocates for regional cooperation. One barrier we are working on is relating to how we track job creation for the province.
We have a resolution that we have submitted to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce titled Accounting for economic outcomes in regional collaboration projects. We first submitted it three years ago but it has largely gone unaddressed and so with the support of other Ontario Chambers, we’re pushing for this again.
Jobs created during collaborative regional economic development projects are only attributed to the municipality in which they are geographically located.
The 2019 report from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce titled The Great Mosaic – Reviving Ontario’s Regional Economies, states:
“Ontario’s economy is undergoing a period of rapid change. Twenty-first century globalization, urbanization, and technological transformation are challenging the status quo and redefining what it means to be competitive. Given these and other pressures, Ontario’s overall prosperity will increasingly depend on the strength of its regions.”
It’s a fitting to start to a discussion around how to then calculate economic impact. Municipalities impacted by A Place to Grow: Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe are bound by provincial legislation to have official plans, land needs assessments, and zoning by-laws in place that detail how each municipality is going to achieve the pre-determined milestones of jobs and residents per hectare. Those results are then reported to the province.
And while these plans and processes are necessary, they don’t account for the fact that more and more economic development is collaborative and crosses geographic lines. One example can be found in the City of Peterborough. The City has contributed significant dollars to infrastructure at the regional airport that lies just outside its geographical boundary. The combined investment by the City, County and local township has resulted in the number of jobs increasing from 50 to over 300 over the past decade. The question becomes how is the outcome of those investments (jobs, new economic opportunities, etc..) accounted for in growth targets? Right now, the outcome falls to the municipality in which the tangible asset exists – therefore, we are back to geographical boundaries even though it is a regional collaboration.
This disconnect between investment and reporting rules is a barrier to regional economic development because the value of the investment is diminished when the result is not recognized. To resolve this issue and encourage more regional collaboration that will benefit all of Ontario, we ask that government amend the reporting rules and allow all municipalities to account for the jobs they have helped create through regional projects.
The Growth Plan document identifies a need for complete communities with the following paragraph in section 2.1:
“To support the achievement of complete communities, this Plan establishes minimum intensification and density targets that recognize the diversity of communities across the GGH. Some larger urban centres, such as Toronto, have already met some of the minimum targets established in this Plan, while other communities are growing and intensifying at a different pace that reflects their local context.”
This allowance will encourage more collaboration across geographical lines by municipalities and help regions invest in projects that will benefit their area and the province as a whole. It will also more accurately reflect the local context of the urban rural mix in the outer ring municipalities. These outer ring municipalities also address issues such as transit and conservation issues across geographical lines, yet recognition of the impact of regional economic development on multiple municipalities does not happen.
Continuing in 2.1 is the following:
“…consider opportunities to better co-ordinate our collective efforts across municipalities to support their contribution to economic growth and improve access to transit.” If this call is to be realized to its maximum potential then there has to be allowance to recognize the impact of jobs created and economic impact when municipalities work together.
Our recommendation to the Government of Ontario is to develop a mechanism that allows for multiple municipalities who have invested in a regionally significant project to account for jobs created proportional to financial contribution when reporting to government.
Passenger train service to Peterborough is closer to reality now than it has been since it ceased in 1990.
Getting here didn’t happen easily or quickly and we are still years away from having shovels in the ground.
Our Chamber of Commerce has been a fierce advocate for its return for well over a decade. Our Chamber has been integral in the process, including funding the creation of the Shining Waters Railway Corporation. Our team, both staff and volunteer board and committee members, have put many years into researching and developing the business case behind the proposal and laying out the logistical hurdles we would need to jump to get there. People like Dick Crawford, Jim Hill, Stuart Harrison and the late Tony Smith worked tirelessly with our leadership over the years, including former MPs Maryam Monsef and Dean Del Mastro, former MPP Jeff Leal, former County Warden J. Murray Jones, and former Mayors Darryl Bennett and Diane Therrien.
The original plan was to connect the Peterborough area to Toronto with a line terminating at the rail yard in Havelock. That all changed in 2016 when VIA Rail entered the conversation, proposing High Frequency Rail (HFR) not just to Toronto, but to Ottawa as well. That proposal would grow to include Montreal, Trois-Rivières, and Quebec City.
On Thursday, February 23, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra came to the Peterborough and the Kawarthas Chamber of Commerce office to announce the next phase of development — beginning the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) process.
As per Transport Canada: The purpose of the RFQ is to identify and qualify up to three top candidates who will be invited to participate in the Request for Proposals (RFP) process, anticipated to begin in summer 2023. The procurement process will help select a private developer partner to work in collaboration with VIA HFR, the newly created subsidiary of VIA Rail, to design and develop the High Frequency Rail project.
The High Frequency Rail procurement process is designed to encourage innovation, provide flexibility, and identify the optimal solution for the project. Therefore, RFQ respondents will have the flexibility to consider alternatives to meet or exceed the project results described in the Request for Qualifications. This would include opportunities to increase speeds beyond 200 kilometers per hour on some segments of the High Frequency Rail project, if it is cost effective to do so.
As Minister Alghabra stated, this is the largest infrastructure project. It will cost billions of dollars to build and it will take years before trains arrive.
Progress on this portfolio is exciting and the enthusiasm surrounding it is contagious.
However, announcements on this subject also elicit skepticism. The return of passenger rail service to Peterborough has been generating headlines for the last 15 years. There have been overly optimistic projections on when rail service would return. People are understandably a bit frustrated that it hasn’t happened yet and little disillusioned as to whether it will happen at all.
What is missing from that narrative is that the champions of this project essentially spent a decade drumming up interest in connecting passenger rail to Peterborough and seeking out willing partners within the rail industry and within our government. It took years of research, planning and meeting with industry players to get this to the point where industry would take over and lead it. This is exactly what happened when VIA Rail jumped in back in 2016.
We now have willing partners with VIA Rail and VIA HFR driving the train with the support and endorsement of municipal, provincial and federal government leaders across Ontario and Quebec. This project going forward is bigger in scope and service than what we started out with. We are focusing on mostly electric trains that will even further minimize our carbon footprint. We are looking into the merits of making sections high-speed, taking passengers at speeds beyond 200 km/h. This project will provide frequent service to communities from Toronto to Quebec City on a reliable schedule that dedicated passenger tracks afford. Travel time between Ottawa and Toronto may be as low as 3 hours and 15 minutes.
This project is now far bigger than a commute from Peterborough to Toronto — it’s going to serve 19 million people in Canada’s most densely populated corridor. It will dramatically reduce carbon emissions, cutting 12.5 Million tons of tCO2e, the equivalent of a car-pool reduction of 2.8 million vehicles.
We’re moving forward and it’s exciting!