November 15, 2021 – In September, Canadians elected a second minority government in less than two years. The message was clear: the governing Liberals can renew their mandate, but must work across party lines to progress their agenda.
With a new cabinet appointed and Parliament set to resume on November 22, the Toronto Region Board of Trade — representing businesses in Canada’s largest economic zone — has put forward five priority issues for the federal government’s immediate focus.
This agenda for widespread economic growth is especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shone a light on many of the broader challenges Canadian businesses faced even before the pandemic hit. These challenges have since been magnified by pandemic-induced large-scale job losses and business closures. These are the critical issues that need attention from our government now.
Give small and hard-hit businesses a fighting chance
Since March 2020, small businesses across the country have withstood enormous challenges and losses, incurring an average of nearly $170,000 in debt. For those small businesses operating in the hospitality sector, that figure jumps to more than $333,000.
Businesses and their customers are only just now emerging from lockdowns and strict capacity restrictions. As we look ahead, the government must ensure critical supports for small businesses continue. For instance, Ottawa should increase the forgivable portion of the Canada Emergency Business Account loan for all small businesses. Failing to put in place these needed supports would have devastating impacts for both individual businesses and our economy as a whole.
Radically embrace digital readiness
The global race to capitalize on the digitization of the economy continues, but Canada lags. If we are to reap the benefits of digital transformation and remain competitive as a place to innovate and scale, we must keep pace.
Last month’s announcement of a national vaccination certificate is a critical example, but the barriers to reaching this solution highlight that governments must be more proactive in developing uniform digital solutions. Businesses in the Toronto region and across Canada need a consistent, secure and harmonized framework in which to operate and continue innovating. Expediting the development of a Digital Charter — with a focus on clarifying regulations for cybersecurity, data governance and digital ID — should take priority.
Grow the climate economy
The urgency to fight climate change continues not only within our borders, but around the world.
Between building retrofits, the transportation transition and industrial emission-reduction projects, the march to net-zero will create significant economic opportunities for Canadian firms and innovators. But government leadership through procurement, policy frameworks and funding programs can help to ensure companies and workers benefit from this transition and can develop into global leaders.
In their September election campaign, the Liberals committed to a net-zero electricity grid by 2035 and $700 million for electric-vehicle charging and hydrogen stations. Ottawa must now fulfil that promise, developing a collaborative plan that will empower provinces, municipalities, utilities and businesses to deliver on this at scale.
Commit to an urban agenda
Canada’s largest cities drive our current and future prosperity. Continued economic success requires a committed federal partner to tackle the major challenges large urban centres face, including issues around housing supply and affordability and transit infrastructure.
Particularly, Ottawa should address the challenges surrounding lengthy Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation funding-approval timelines, to ensure that needed affordable and workforce housing projects can be built quickly. We also encourage the government to continue funding key transit projects in the Toronto region, including the Ontario Line, Yonge-North extension and the GO expansion program to ensure two-way, all-day rail service — the fares of which should be integrated with local transit.
Increase workforce participation rates and reprioritize equity
The pandemic caused a major disruption for workers, plunging millions into unemployment. The recovery has been uneven and while workforce participation rates have begun to rise, they have risen faster for men than for women.
The government must commit to growing workforce participation rates with a specific emphasis on increasing opportunities for women and Black, Indigenous and other people of colour. New Canadians — the likes of which our nation relies on to maintain workforce growth — are likewise a priority. Child-care agreements with all provinces and territories to reduce barriers for parents should also be finalized.
Twenty months into this pandemic, Canada’s businesses continue to struggle. But our new government has a unique opportunity to move the needle on all of these critical issues — benefiting businesses while also improving the economy and quality of life for all Canadians.
Jan De Silva is the president and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
This op-ed was originally published in the Toronto Star.
About Toronto Region Board of Trade
The Toronto Region Board of Trade is one of the largest and most influential business chambers in North America and is a catalyst for the region’s economic agenda. We pursue policy change to drive the growth and competitiveness of the Toronto region and facilitate market opportunities with programs, partnerships and connections to help our members succeed – domestically and internationally.
Andrew Perez, Media Relations Manager