Presentation to Standing Committee on Finance & Economic Affairs
Sep 2, 2020
On August 28, 2020, our President & CEO, Shakiba Shayani, presented to the Provincial Government's Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, to advocate for small and medium sized businesses. Read her full presentation below.
Good afternoon everyone. I am Shakiba Shayani, President & CEO of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce and I appreciate the opportunity to provide input on how the Ontario government can support successful economic recovery and ensure our small and medium-sized enterprises emerge stronger than ever.
I would like to reiterate what you have heard from many of my colleagues across the province, including messages you’ve just heard from Brian Shifman, President & CEO of the Vaughan Chamber of Commerce. We are thankful for the significant and responsive actions taken by every level of government to support our business communities through these very challenging times. These actions allowed us to take the necessary steps to mitigate and manage outbreaks and bring transmission of the virus under control. The support for businesses and their employees through the COVID-19 pandemic helped ensure everyone was supported through the acute crisis.
We are however, no longer in an acute phase. We are now in a longer-term chronic one that requires us all to think and act differently to these unparalleled challenges and changes. We must shift to planning for, and executing on, a safe and sustainable growth strategy.
In the city of Guelph, we have a strong manufacturing base and we are home to many regional head-offices and varying industries, including clean-tech, information and Communications Technology and agri-innovation, and we’re home to the renowned University of Guelph - resulting in a diversified economy that has allowed us to experience the best employment rates in Canada over the past few years. As such, representatives of our business community were keen to help establish the following recommendations as crucial to a successful recovery:
The Government of Ontario must ensure that we have a robust business investment climate.
We need an environment that encourages business investment & economic growth. A thriving business climate is one that rewards risk taking and entrepreneurship. It is imperative that the government resist the temptation to introduce cost saving measures or raise business taxes in order to reduce the debt it has incurred, curbing the passion and creativity that is a critical cornerstone in rebuilding our prosperity. We urge you to make permanent some of the temporary measures you introduced during the pandemic, including reducing red tape and easing restrictions, such as ones on the restaurant industry allowing them to deliver alcohol with take -out orders and extending their patio space. Providing municipalities with the authority to swiftly put these types of measure in action has also been vital to local economic revitalization. There has been great success around our city and especially in our downtown, where we have seen a thriving dining district provide a welcome infusion of spending to our local restaurants and surrounding businesses.
The Government of Ontario must continue to invest in Infrastructure.
The past few months have demonstrated that broadband is crucial to ensure businesses, public sector services, healthcare providers and students can remain productive with access to digital online tools. This is particularly essential in rural and remote regions where the quality of service is quite poor. We urge you to accelerate the $150 million that was committed to broadband and cellular infrastructure, and to work closely with telecommunication companies to speed up their current expansion.
Additionally, infrastructure investment is needed in the Innovation Corridor, right here in Ontario, which represents 20% of Canada’s GDP and where pre-COVID, was gaining recognition as a global innovation centre. We cannot afford to lose this momentum. Fast-tracking the necessary upgrades to provide 2-way all day GO service throughout the corridor is critical.
While physical infrastructure is key to our prosperity, so too are the health and social infrastructure investments. Locally, due to the impact the pandemic has had on our municipal budget, we’re having to re-open discussions on previously approved projects such as a much-needed new main library and a community centre. If we have to forgo these projects this will adversely affect our most vulnerable populations.
Speaking of disproportionate impacts of social infrastructure, the closure of schools and daycares has had exactly that impact on women. In the spring, women’s workforce participation rate in Canada fell to its lowest level in 30 years. Re-employment continues to be slowest for women with children between the ages of 6 and 17. This is deeply concerning, not just for women but for the economy. We welcome all government efforts to ensure a safe return to school. We’re encouraged to see the Province invest in testing, PPE, nurses, etc. to support the safe reopening of schools. Investment in equitable child care is of utmost importance.
Lastly, The Government of Ontario must Help Business to Grow.
More needs to be done to increase access to capital for our SME’s. When they can grow, so too can our economy. The government should continue to work on reducing trade barriers across provinces, encouraging growth into new markets and providing support to businesses as they grow internationally.
The cost of rent continues to handcuff SMEs ability to rebound as quickly as is necessary. Although halting commercial evictions was a great first step, more needs to be done to support businesses who are unable to afford their rent. Allowing tenants to apply for the Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program in conjunction with landlords would alleviate a massive burden and allow them to pivot, grow and thrive.
Now more than ever we need governance that takes a more sophisticated and comprehensive approach to solving problems and undertake reforms and initiatives to build back better. As private business and citizens have pivoted and adapted to this extraordinary situation, so too must governments, so I implore you to move outside the patterns of thinking and acting we have been accustomed. The high level of collaboration among governments, businesses and civil society towards managing this pandemic and its aftermath should give us all confidence about our collective ability to deal with the long-lasting changes; it is, and will continue to be, the most effective way to achieve a safe and sustainable growth strategy to support Ontario’s economic recovery.
On behalf of the Guelph Chamber of Commerce membership and our business community at-large, I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak with you this afternoon.