At the GNCC, we work hard to influence policy and build alliances and partnerships that will help your business prosper. In a new series of entries, we’ll try and tell you more about that aspect of our work, and how we’re working for you in the field of policy, advocacy, and government relations.
Recently, we had some success on the GO front. The GNCC has been a strong supporter of the initiative to bring all-day, year-round GO train service to Niagara since its inception. When we made our budget recommendations to Queen’s Park, GO train for Niagara was one of them. The Government of Ontario’s budget reflected our recommendation, promising that they’d work towards bringing that service to Niagara and Bowmanville. The budget mention is the first real acknowledgement from the province of Niagara’s GO case, and it’s a positive one.
We’ve got to sustain that momentum and make sure Queen’s Park delivers. We’re working on that with a number of groups in Niagara, and we’ve held meetings with diverse groups like Niagara Region, the Mayor of St. Catharines, the Brock and Niagara College student unions, and the YMCA. MPP Jim Bradley, with whom we recently met to discuss the GO case, said we should get an announcement by the end of June.
While that’s going on, we didn’t want to lose sight of long-haul rail service. VIA Rail used to run commuter trains to Niagara until 2012, when, due to a federally imposed 10% budget cut on all Crown corporations, it was stopped. We helped St. Catharines city councillor Bruce Williamson on his motion calling for VIA to investigate restoring service to Niagara, which passed unanimously. We recruited the assistance of Transport Action Ontario, an NGO that advocates for sustainable public and freight transportation, who provided expert advice.
We followed up by meeting with St. Catharines MP Chris Bittle and Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey to ask for their help on VIA. They were both enthusiastic and are working to support this motion in Ottawa. Grimsby city council endorsed the demand for VIA Rail made in St. Catharines during their March 7th meeting, as did Pelham on March 9th.
Sharing Economy, Microdistilleries, & Provincial Issues
We met with Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP Tim Hudak and talked about a few topics, including GO, the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), Cap-and-Trade, and ride-sharing. We had previously endorsed Mr. Hudak’s bill that proposed a regulatory framework for “sharing economy” firms at the provincial level, which we think is very necessary. Mr. Hudak also told us about his new bill, nicknamed “FreeMyRye,” which aims at extending the same perks to microdistilleries that have been given to wineries and microbreweries – the right to sell by the glass on the premises, and the right to sell directly to restaurants. Seeing the boost that these practices had given to Niagara’s wineries and microbreweries, we endorsed this bill as well.
Ontario Chamber of Commerce Policy Resolutions
We sent three policy resolutions to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) for their AGM. Firstly, we proposed that the government re-invest in promoting Canadian tourism, which has been sadly neglected in recent years to the effect that tourist numbers are actually in decline.
Secondly, we advocated that the government restore the SR&ED grant, which is a grant that the government gives to firms conducting research and development (R&D) and encourages Canadian innovation. As Canada is falling behind in R&D, we felt this was very important.
Thirdly, we proposed that if the Government of Canada ends up legalizing recreational marijuana use, they should do so under a regulatory framework that protects Canadians, especially our youth, and preserves consumer choice and competitiveness in the market for distribution and sale.
The Ontario Chamber approved all three policy resolutions at the committee level, and they will be sent up to the AGM for discussion. If successful, they will become part of the OCC’s advocacy platform for the next three years.
St. Catharines Budget 2016
We also offered our opinion on the debate surrounding the proposed 2016 St. Catharines budget, specifically, on the infrastructure levy. You can read our position statement here. In summary, while we don’t like tax hikes, we also understand that there is a $140 million infrastructure gap in St. Catharines, and we’ve got to address this if it isn’t to become a massive problem in the future. Further, if there are to be increased taxes, we prefer that they be small, incremental, and predictable, rather than huge and sudden as the result of deferred maintenance or the lack of a reserve.
On that basis, we supported the infrastructure levy as a reasonable step towards solving a problem that was only going to get worse the longer it was ignored. The budget passed on March 8th, and the motion to remove the infrastructure levy was lost.
Ontario Budget 2016
Going back earlier this year (normally these updates will be of very recent events, but since this is the first, we will go back further), we also participated in the budget processes for the Governments of Ontario and Canada. When we made our case to Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa, we called for infrastructure spending, particularly on transit in Niagara, and reiterated the case for GO train service in Niagara. We were pleased to see the results of that lobbying in the 2016 budget.
Federal Budget 2016
At the federal level, we wrote to Minister of Finance Bill Morneau and asked him to reinvest in Canadian research and development and in tourism (the same research was behind our policy proposals to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce). We also made these requests in person at the public budget consultations held by Niagara MPs Chris Bittle and Vance Badawey. The federal budget is expected on March 22, and we hope that our concerns will be reflected in the federal budget as they were in the province’s.
Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP)
The ORPP has become deeply unpopular with Ontario businesses for its high projected cost to businessowners, and for the lack of information about obligations and details. The GNCC has been working with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, seeking to have the ORPP cancelled or at least to have its launch delayed until further details can be hammered out. Our efforts paid off when the Government of Ontario announced that the launch of the ORPP was being delayed a year, until January 1st, 2018.
Can GNCC Advocacy Help Your Business?
The GNCC works in advocacy and government relations on behalf of its members. If your business has an opportunity or a challenge where the GNCC advocacy staff could help, please get in touch. Call us at the number above, or e-mail our policy and government relations manager at email@example.com.
About the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) is dedicated to the success of businesses and organizations in order to ensure the long-term prosperity of the Niagara region. Our vision is to give a credible and definitive voice to Niagara enterprises and economic interests. The GNCC has over 1,500 members and represents 45,000 employees. It is the largest business organization in Niagara and the third largest Chamber of Commerce in Ontario.