York Region's chambers of commerce and boards of trade are joining forces to be a stronger voice of advocacy for their members.
The York Region Business Coalition (YRBC) is comprised of all nine business organizations, representing 5,000 businesses across the region in key sectors of innovation, manufacturing, retail, construction and agriculture, Newmarket Chamber of Commerce CEO Tracy Walter announced at a join chamber panel event featuring York Region's MPPs and provincial ministers Friday, Nov. 15 at RedCrest Golf in King.
"To be clear, this is not an amalgamation but rather a more focused and collaborative approach on our policy efforts; to allow us to be a stronger voice and a more effective partner for our representatives at all levels of government," Walter said. "This is the beginning of something that will ensure York Region has a strong and focused presence at the table."
Government House Leader and Markham-Stouffville MPP Paul Calandra, who was a member of the panel highlighting the provincial government's fall economic statement released Nov. 6, acknowledged the impact of the chambers and boards of trade collaboration.
"A lot of the time, I think people don't truly or clearly understand the importance of our York Region — sometimes even ourselves, we get lost in our neighbour to the south. But when you look at our York Region, the small, medium and large job creators that are here, the wealth that is generated in York Region, the growth that is happening in York Region over the last number of years, truly there are very few jurisdictions across the country that come close to competing with us.
"The future for York Region is very, very, very strong and so by working together, that will help unleash the potential that we've seen generated over the last few years," he said.
The YRBC's mandate will see it lobbying political leaders at the three levels of government to develop policies and positions that support business growth, to remove regulatory burdens, and prioritize an investment structure conducive to business success.
The joint effort will be led by the Newmarket and Vaughan chambers, through Abdus Samad, manager of government relations and policy for the two chambers and spokesperson for the YRBC.
“This organization was not created with a goal to be combative. It was created to forge partnerships between industry and government in addressing long-standing problems facing businesses,” Samad said in news release.
At Friday's event, Calandra said increasing the competitiveness of Ontario businesses has been the focus of his government and that he was "surprised" when the Ontario Chamber of Commerce was critical of the fall economic statement, which included tax reductions of up to $1,500 for more than 275,000 businesses.
While acknowledging it as a good step forward, the OCC maintained in a statement that small business owners still need more support.
"I'll say this, I was very surprised, naturally, that the Ontario Chamber of Commerce was not supportive of our government's small business tax reduction (in the fall economic statement)," he said.
"We need your help. We do need a consistency of messaging," he said to the sold-out crowd. "If the people who represent the small, medium and large businesses — the job creators in this province — don't think that reducing taxes, reducing red tape, and investing in priority areas is not the way to a prosperous province of Ontario, I would like to sit down with them and understand why ... because for generations of Ontarians that has been the formula that has helped make this the best province in the best country in the world.
"That's where we need your help, it's not enough for us to say how important small business is, we have to make sure we give you the tools so that you succeed," he added.
Also on the panel were Deputy Premier and Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott, Transportation Minister and Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs and York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney, Education Minister and King-Vaughan MPP Stephen Lecce, Associate Minister of Mental Health and Vaughan-Woodbridge MPP Michael Tibollo, and Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill MPP Michael Parsa, who is parliamentary assistant to the president of the Treasury Board.
Each minister presented a review of the government's fall economic statement initiatives as it impacted his or her portfolio.
"Ontario, hailed as the economic powerhouse of this country, with a business environment that supports entrepreneurship, that celebrates wealth creation and attracts jobs and investments," was part of the plan outlined by Elliott.
"But before we can build for a future, we must first overcome the challenges we face," she said. "As you know our government inherited a dire fiscal situation. But we also inherited broken public services; hallway health care, declining math scores and overcrowded transit systems, among many other challenges. Our fiscal situation has real consequences for Ontario's ability to invest in core public services like health care and education both now and in the future."
She vowed a balanced budget by 2023-24, so investment in vital public services — an additional $1.3 billion — can continue now.
Lecce said the government's plan also "ensures intergenerational debt is a way of the past, that we do not burden our young people with the transfer of debt from one generation to the next," to loud applause from the gathering of business people.
He said it's crucial that the curriculum be linked to the labour market needs of the country, adding that the existing curriculum is largely designed to provide competencies to young people for jobs that existed decades ago.
As well, the government is focusing on encouraging more young people, young women, in particular, to study STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math), is making financial literacy mandatory, and is investing in positive mental health initiatives in schools by providing additional funds to access psychologists and psychotherapists.
Parsa said the government expects to soon pass legislation that will reduce red tape and the escalation of the rules and regulations job creators face.
Transportation Minister and York-Simcoe MPP Caroline Mulroney highlighted the province's $25.4-billion transportation plan, which includes the extension of the subway to Richmond Hill and the "long-awaited" Bradford bypass connecting Highway 400 to the 404.
In answering a question from the audience, Mulroney said she is hoping the updated environmental assessment will be completed within two years so the bypass project can move ahead.