2019 Pre-Budget Deputation to the Ontario Government

Submission to the Standing Committee on Finance & Economic Affairs
Submitted by: Charla Robinson, President, 
Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce
200 Syndicate Avenue South, Suite 102
Thunder Bay, ON P7E 1C9
January 2019

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce represents over 850 member companies with over 20,000 employees in the Thunder Bay area.  We appreciate the opportunity to provide input to the 2019 budget process. 

We are hopeful that the upcoming Ontario budget will focus on creating and supporting a business climate that encourages growth and economic opportunity for businesses in Thunder Bay and across the province.  We are pleased to provide some examples of specific actions that the Government can take to achieve this objective.

Workforce Development & Addressing Skills Shortages

The Province must continue to address the growing skills gap. The hiring challenge is already being felt across many sectors from low skilled positions in hospitality and retail to highly skilled positions in professional services and trades.

Skilled Trades
We are extremely pleased with the changes made in Bill 47 to reduce the Journeyperson to Apprentice ratio to one-to-one across the board.  We believe that this policy change will have a significant positive impact to the ability to attract and train apprentices in the skilled trades, especially in smaller communities.  We are eager to learn about the Government’s plans relating to the management of trade certifications following the wind-down of the Ontario College of Trades.  We must not lose sight of the importance of skilled trades promotions to encourage new entrants into these high demand careers.

One part of the solution to the skills shortage challenge is through progressive immigration policies and processes.   The current Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program (OINP) is one area where Ontario’s policies put us at a disadvantage in attracting migrants to meet our labour market needs:

  • The list of eligible professions is narrow and does not include many of the professions that are experiencing shortages such as plumbers, chefs, personal support workers, and truck drivers.
  • Employers are required to obtain a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) prior to offering a job to a recent migrant.  Employers in small and rural communities who are unable to attract Canadian citizens from major urban centres are often denied the opportunity to hire an immigrant because the LMIA data shows that enough Canadian citizens are available to fill the role but does not consider the willingness or not of Canadian citizens to relocate to that area.
  • The OINP does not allocate any of its 6,600 nominated spots to support regional immigration.  Between 2011 and 2016 more than three-quarters of all immigrants to Ontario (both Federal & OINP) arrived in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Manitoba Immigrant Nomination Program demonstrates the efficacy of being flexible. It includes a much broader list of eligible professions, does not require a labour market impact assessment, and provides local communities the opportunity to nominate a certain number of migrants to address local labour shortages.  This approach has seen positive results.  Each year, some 15,000 immigrants arrive in Manitoba.  According to provincial data, 90 percent of Manitoba nominees are employed within their first year and over 130,000 Provincial Nominees have landed since 1998 with a 90 percent retention rate.

The expansion of the list of in-demand jobs to include NOC skill level C, the elimination of the need for a labour market impact assessment for small and rural communities, and the allocation of a percentage of nominee spots by region would improve the ability of small and rural communities to address labour shortages through the Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program.

Employment Ontario Access
Employment Ontario providers offer training, skills development, job placement, incentives and job search supports to job seekers across Ontario; however, post-secondary students (both domestic and International) enrolled in full-time study are not eligible to access these services under current Government-developed service provider guidelines.

As a result, post-secondary students, and particularly international students, are limited in their ability to access training in vital areas such as resume and cover letter writing, job search skills and job interview mentoring. Research clearly indicates that job seekers with access to Career Services have greater success in finding employment and also have a higher likelihood of securing employment in their field of study.   For international students this lack of support is a significant barrier to obtaining employment both during the school year and post-graduation when the clock starts ticking on their immigration permit expiry timelines. Our communities are missing vital opportunities to recruit and retain a highly skilled and trained workforce on our doorstep every academic semester.

In order to ensure that the transition from post-secondary education to employment is as seamless as possible, and to ensure Ontario can meet the growing need for highly skilled workers, we believe that Employment Ontario eligibility for service policies should be changed to include post-secondary students.

Investing in Economic Opportunity

With the right investments by government and private sector, our region presents an exceptional opportunity for significant fiscal growth for the entire province.

Northwestern Ontario is home to hundreds of active mining projects representing Billions in mineral value and will have a significant impact on the economy of the Northwest and the Province as a whole.  Strategic investments must be made in the transportation, energy and technology infrastructure that will be needed to make these projects happen.  We know that the development of this infrastructure will require big investments by both the Province and the Government of Canada at the front end; however, the return on investment in tax revenues and economic growth will more than offset these costs in the decades to come.

We encourage the Province to continue to move forward in the planning and development of the Ring of Fire, which has been valued at nearly $85 Billion.  This development is vital to the Ontario economy and we must ensure that the anticipated jobs, taxes and other economic benefits are not lost.

The Greater Toronto & Hamilton Area has an urgent need for funding to expand and improve transit services to ensure economic growth and prosperity.  Thunder Bay is proud of our long history as the manufacturer of transit vehicles for the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx and the over 2,800 direct and indirect jobs that these contracts support in Thunder Bay.  Bombardier is a significant driver of the local economy and is looking to continue this vital role through the expansion of current project contracts that can only be achieved with provincial funding support.

In addition, Northwestern Ontario faces significant challenges relating to the availability of inter-community bus services for all communities in the Northwest.  Inter-community bus service provides a vital link to health care services, employment opportunities, household grocery items and family connectivity. To ensure the continuation of current services and further expansion to those communities who are not currently served, we encourage the Government of Ontario to implement a financial subsidy for inter-community bus service providers.

Forestry continues to be a major contributor to the economy of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario, providing direct and indirect employment to thousands of hardworking men and women in our region.  This past September, we welcomed the government’s announcement of the development of a provincial forestry strategy to increase the sustainable use and harvest of our Crown forests and to ensure that we can continue to put wood to work for our communities.

We are concerned with the recent 27 percent cut to the Provincial Forest Access Roads Funding Program that provides vital support to the maintenance costs for forest access roads on Crown land that are utilized by multiple industries and recreation seekers.  These roads are vital public infrastructure that support jobs and economic development across the region.  We respectfully recommend the return of the Provincial Forest Access Roads Funding Program to the required $75 million per year.

Enhancing Fiscal Capacity for Municipalities
Supporting the fiscal capacity of municipalities is essential to ensuring that individuals and businesses across the province are provided with the conditions they need to prosper.  Municipalities have limited options to increase revenues to pay for their areas of responsibility meaning that the costs are passed down through ever-increasing property taxes and user fees to citizens and businesses alike.

The interest arbitration mechanism through which emergency service personnel and municipalities resolve collective bargaining disputes is one area that is having a significant impact on operating costs in the City of Thunder Bay.  The awards granted by arbitrators are often based on comparisons to provincial rather than regional emergency services comparators and has resulted in the provincial average costs of these services increasing at over three times the rate of inflation annually since 2002.  We believe that the time has come to reform the system to reflect local market wages and the capacity of each municipality to pay for these increases.  We also believe that there must be a 12-month time-frame for arbitration decisions and that transparency and accountability would be improved through the requirement to publicly release a written explanation for each decision.

Thank you again for the opportunity to outline our views on the 2019 Ontario Budget.

The Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce' advocacy work is made possible thanks to the generous support of our

Cornerstone Members: