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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Daily Update: March 4th, 2021

Ontario government introduces Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021

The Ontario government is introducing the Supporting Broadband and Infrastructure Expansion Act, 2021 which proposes to reduce costs to broadband providers associated with attaching broadband wirelines to hydro utility poles, and would provide timely access to poles and to municipal rights of way to install broadband on municipal land.

As many as 700,000 households and businesses in Ontario lack access to adequate broadband speeds, or have no internet connection at all. These proposed measures would help communities connect to reliable broadband sooner, so people can work from home, learn online, connect with family and friends, and access vital services.

Under the legislation, the Minister of Infrastructure would have the authority to act on provincially significant projects, including the ability to:

  • Ensure municipalities and utility companies provide timely access to their infrastructure, including municipal rights of way and hydro utility poles, when appropriate.
  • Support an approach to reduce the time it takes to prepare electricity infrastructure such as hydro utility poles for a new wireline attachment for provincially significant projects.
  • Ensure owners of underground infrastructure provide locations of their infrastructure within 10 business days for specific broadband projects prior to a dig through the Ontario One Call system. This would allow internet service providers to more quickly start work on laying down underground broadband infrastructure.

This legislation, if passed, would also amend the Ontario Energy Board Act, 1998, to provide the Ontario government with regulation-making authority regarding the development of, access to, or use of electricity infrastructure for non-electricity purposes, including to:

  • Reduce or fix the annual rental charge that telecommunications service providers must pay to attach their wirelines to hydro utility poles.
  • Establish performance standards and timelines for how utility companies must respond to attachment requests.
  • Require utility companies to consider possible joint use of hydro utility poles during their planning process, and transparency around when and where hydro utility poles are scheduled for replacement or refurbishment. This would help to save time and money in the future as telecommunications service providers seek to enter new communities.

The GNCC has previously advocated for better access to broadband internet, recognizing the accelerating effect it has on business development, particularly in rural areas currently not well-served.


Welland waives 2021 business license fees (PDF link)

At this week’s meeting, Welland City Council approved Staff’s recommendation to refund and waive all costs associated with obtaining a business license in 2021, excluding fire inspection fees.

Automatic refunds will be completed for businesses that have already paid fees for 2021. Businesses who have yet to submit their 2021 application will still be required to do so to obtain a valid license; additionally, all required inspections will need to be completed.

The GNCC had written to Welland city councillors asking them to approve this proposal, and is pleased that Welland Council voted to assist Welland’s businesses in this way. The waiver, like those already passed in St. Catharines and Fort Erie, is a valued show of support to local firms.


Government of Ontario calls on Ottawa to increase its share of health care funding

During a virtual news conference today, Premier Doug Ford and his fellow Premiers renewed calls for the federal government to increase its share of funding for provincial and territorial health care to 35 per cent. If the federal government were to do so, that would provide Ontario with more than $10 billion in additional health care funding. Health care accounted for nearly 42 per cent of Ontario’s program spending in 2019-20, the biggest category of expenditure in the Ontario budget.

Under the original Medical Care Act passed in 1966, the federal government covered 50 per cent of eligible hospital and physician expenses. Today, the federal share has fallen to 22 per cent of total provincial-territorial health spending. The Government of Ontario has calculated that without action, the federal share of health care funding will decline to less than 18 per cent by 2040. The current health care funding gap of $28 billion nationally is expected to grow until it reaches $80 billion a year by 2039-40, and over $30 billion for Ontario.


Health Canada will fast-track vaccines for COVID-19 variants

Health Canada has announced new guidance issued today by the Access Consortium, a coalition of regulatory authorities from Canada, the U.K., Australia, Singapore and Switzerland. The guidance, developed by Health Canada in consultation with its Access partners, lays out what information regulators would need to approve any modifications to authorized COVID-19 vaccines, should virus mutations make them less effective at preventing COVID-19. With this guidance, authorized COVID-19 vaccines that are modified in response to new variants will need to be reviewed and authorized.

According to the guidance, vaccine manufacturers would need to provide evidence that the modified vaccine produces an immune response in a sufficient number of people, but clinical studies would not be needed since they do not add to the regulatory understanding of a vaccine’s safety, efficacy or quality.

This is because researchers are now better able to measure protection by looking at antibodies in the blood following vaccination, reducing the need to determine whether people in a trial develop the disease. This would reduce the length of time needed for a modified vaccine to be ready for use.


Government of Ontario provides an additional $500 million to municipalities

The Ontario government is providing an additional $500 million to help the province’s 444 municipalities address ongoing COVID-19 operating costs. The new financial relief will help ensure the delivery of critical services and keep capital projects on track.

Ontario’s funding is being prioritized to help municipalities hardest hit by the pandemic and can be used to address the unique needs of each community based on COVID-19 related operating pressures. This funding is being allocated based on a combination of a base amount using Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC) household data and an amount based on the proportion of provincial COVID-19 cases (from January 1, 2021 to February 18, 2021) in the municipality’s respective Public Health Unit.

This provincial investment builds on the $1.39 billion in operating funding that was provided to municipal partners through the joint federal-provincial Safe Restart Agreement. The second phase of the Safe Restart Agreement was allocated to all Ontario municipalities in December, to ensure that no community entered 2021 facing an operating deficit from 2020.

The government will provide its next update on Ontario’s finances and the government’s plan to continue the fight against COVID-19 in the 2021 Budget, to be delivered no later than March 31, 2021. The 2021 Budget will build on the $45 billion in support set out in Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover to continue protecting people’s health and supporting Ontario’s economy through COVID-19 and beyond.


Niagara announces planned locations of COVID-19 vaccination sites

Once vaccine supply is available, the following 11 locations have been identified as clinic sites:

  • Fort Erie – Leisure Plex
  • Grimsby – YMCA
  • Lincoln – Lincoln Community Centre
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake – Community Centre
  • Niagara Falls – MacBain Community Centre
  • Pelham – Meridian Community Centre
  • Port Colborne – Vale Health and Wellness Centre
  • St. Catharines / Thorold – Brock University (free parking)
  • Wainfleet – Community Hall
  • Welland – YMCA
  • West Lincoln – Community Centre

These clinics have been strategically located to ensure that 90 per cent of the population will not have to travel longer than 15 minutes to receive a vaccine, and all sites are accessible by public transit.

The Region is also considering other sites in the larger centres, including the ongoing use of the Seymour-Hannah facility in consultation with Niagara Health once they have completed their provincial priority mandate.

The clinics listed here will be offered in addition to local pharmacies and family doctors who may also provide the vaccine once supply is made available.

While some other communities are already administering the vaccine to individuals who are 80 and older, it is important to remember that Niagara received fewer vaccines, and at a later date, than other places in Ontario. Also, when compared to other areas of the province, Niagara has more residents living in congregate settings.

These delays in delivery, and a larger number of residents in places like long-term care homes, resulted in the Region being about a month behind some other places in the province.

Residents are reminded that Public Health is not currently booking vaccination appointments, and they should not call at this time.


January sees record high total value of Canadian building permits issued

The total value of building permits issued in January rose 8.2% to $9.9 billion and surpassed the previous record of $9.6 billion set in April 2019, Statistics Canada reported today. These gains were driven primarily by the residential sector.

The value of permits issued in the residential sector increased 10.6% to $7.1 billion in January—rising past the previous peak of $6.5 billion posted two months earlier. Provincial highs were reported in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba.

The majority of the rise in the residential sector was attributable to single-family homes, which climbed 15.1% to a record $3.5 billion—the eighth increase in nine months. Much of the gain came from regions outside of census metropolitan areas (CMAs). Multi-family permits increased 6.5% to $3.5 billion, mainly driven by higher construction intentions in Ontario (+17.1%), where several permits in excess of $100 million were issued for condominium apartments in the CMA of Toronto.

The total value of permits issued for non-residential buildings rose 2.6% to $2.8 billion in January after a 10.8% drop in December.

Following three consecutive monthly declines, industrial permits bounced back to average 2020 levels, increasing 31.7% to $535 million in January. High-value permits for an Amazon warehouse in Lachine, Quebec, and for two Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit stations in Toronto helped reverse the downward trend.

The value of commercial permits increased 3.3% to $1.5 billion. Six provinces posted increases in this component, led by Ontario (+14.7%) and Quebec (+20.4%).


Reading recommendations

Pandemic job losses threaten to leave women behind permanently, RBC warns

Gillian Wheatley, CBC News

According to the most recent job numbers from Statistics Canada, as of the end of January, Canada’s economy had 858,000 fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic. But those losses are not being borne evenly across the board

Women — especially ones who weren’t earning much to begin with — are bearing the brunt of the job losses, as they made up a majority of the work force in hard-hit sectors like hospitality, retail and food.

According to a new analysis by RBC published Thursday, nearly 100,000 working-age Canadian women have completely left the workforce since the pandemic started, which means they aren’t even trying to get a job any more. The figure for men is more than 10 times smaller — a sign that on the whole, they are not feeling quite so gloomy about their prospects.


Ask an Economist: How Bad Are Lockdowns Really?

Rob Gillezeau, The Walrus

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen the media presenting a stark trade-off between economic growth and public health measures to limit viral spread. But that idea isn’t coming from my fellow economists, who overwhelmingly support a strong public health response. If we look at the literature, there are a number of research papers consistently finding that the spread of the virus itself, rather than public health measures restricting movement and gathering, explains the vast majority of the decline in economic activity.

When the government takes strong measures to limit the spread of the virus, you typically have less contagion within a few weeks. When people lack confidence, when they are not sure that they can go to the store or go to a fitness class safely, economic activity decreases. If you’re not sure that the economy is going to recover rapidly, then you’re less likely to spend because you may lose your job. That’s how the virus really suppresses the economy. The literature is finding that economic activity in the US declined before public health interventions were implemented—that can be explained by virus spread itself.


Niagara COVID status tracker

Niagara’s most up-to-date COVID statistics, measured against the targets for the various stages of the Ontario COVID-19 Response Framework, are presented below. This does not predict government policy, but is offered to give you an idea of where Niagara is situated and how likely a relaxation (or further restrictions) may be. These data are drawn daily from Niagara Region. The Grey-Lockdown level does not have its own metrics, but is triggered when the COVID-specific measurements in a Red-Control region have continued to deteriorate.

 December 18December 25January 1January 8January 15January 22January 29
Reproductive number1.41.81.41.11.00.70.9
New cases per 100,000101.2267.3469.8575.8507.1295.5250.6
New cases per day (not including outbreaks)60.7178.7311.7376.9325.4182.7145.7
Percent of hospital beds occupied97%95.2%98.2%103.2%104.5%103.6%106%
Percent of intensive care beds occupied78.8%77.3%87.9%87.9%90.9%89.4%93.9%
Percentage of positive tests6.1%15.6%28.1%28.6%26.6%21.2%16.2%

Definitions:

  • Weekly Incidence Rate: the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people per week
  • Percent Positivity: the number of positive COVID-19 tests as a percentage of all COVID-19 tests performed
  • Rt: the reproductive rate, or the number of people infected by each case of the virus

Information on government grants, resources, and programs, policies, forms, and posters for download and use, are available here.The GNCC is here to support you. Contact us with any questions you have.
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