Making Dollars and Sense from Safety for Small Businesses

You will excuse the pun, but there is a lot of cents, actually sense, and dollars in paying attention to safety in the small business workplace. I know, I know you have heard it all before. But if we (small business) are going to be able to power our way through the current economic turbulence, aided and abetted by a weak Ontario economy, more trouble in Europe, and now a dramatic drop in world oil prices –   then small business owners must ignite their innovative and entrepreneurial spirit to find creative ways that can sharpen their competitive edge and build profit margins.

An often overlooked opportunity sits right in front of our eyes: our own people, our employees. The adage is simple – keep employees safe – and in turn, they’ll produce more and contribute to more profitability and business success.

In 2010, the Harvard Business Review ran an article called “What’s the Hard Return on Employee Wellness Programs”. The article illustrated that there is clear value in these programs and that the return on investment can be as high as six dollars for every one dollar invested.

A safe and healthy workplace is, quite simply – good for business. It protects workers from injury and illness, lowers injury and illness costs, reduces absenteeism and turnover, increases productivity and quality, and makes the business a more appealing prospect for employees and customers.

Businesses who limit their view on health and safety as just ‘the cost of running a business’, miss out on savings that have the potential of contributing significantly to their bottom line.

Admittedly, the harsh reality for many small business owners is that it’s all about survival in the trenches and cash flow; some can barely eke out a living for themselves and their employees. That is certainly not lost on me. But, at the same time, just one critical workplace incident can wipe out an entire business – and potentially lives as well. Knowing how to protect your people could make all the difference.

Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) has calculated the average compensation cost of a claim to be approximately $19,000. This is just the direct cost. Associated costs could total three to ten times that amount. In other words, preventing an injury could save your business $19,000 to $190,000.

Potential liabilities include an increase in premiums; Ministry fines; damages to reputation, sales losses and general goodwill; equipment damage; decreased morale and productivity; and possible legal action.

Taking these costs into account can help businesses allocate resources where they’ll provide the greatest return. Investing in health and safety is a solid business strategy that can protect your people while improving profitability.

Smart thinking, for sure, but it’s not always easy to act on. A core challenge facing many businesses is just getting a handle on the obligations outlined in the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and access to information that simply and clearly explains what’s expected of them. The OHSA states that employers must take every reasonable precaution to protect workers, provide information and instruction, and to ensure that workers properly use or wear the required equipment.

Companies employing between 6 and 19 workers, must have a health and safety representative. If you hire workers (including family members) or are an independent operator in construction, you must register with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). And businesses are obligated under law to make sure new workers know their rights before they start the job. Further, they must provide a thorough introduction to the workplace, all the safety features, rules and general information. Every worker and supervisor in Ontario must receive health and safety awareness training.

Just like any other part of operating a business, safety has to be managed. Someone in the organization needs to champion safety, and everyone needs to be involved.

The good news is that health and safety doesn’t have to be that onerous.

Informal walkabouts by management, quick staff meetings, a handwritten memo, notes in a log book, and staff safety champions are all viable and easy to deliver strategies that demonstrate proper diligence if an inspector calls. Regularly conducted “quick talks” on health and safety with staff – aided by using safe operating procedures, checklists or Material Safety Data Sheets as topic guides – build safety routines into business operations.

And, there’s plenty of support online. For example, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS), a health and safety solutions provider, offers newly developed resources for small businesses, all available at no cost. If you are a manufacturer, work in agriculture or horticulture or are a service provider, chances are that you are a member of this organization. Just a click away, these resources can help busy people who are short on time become compliant and integrate health and safety into their daily business practices in the easiest way possible. For more information check out www.londonchamber.com or www.wsps.ca/smallbusiness.

At the end of the day, it should never be a coin toss – safety vs. success! Safety and success go hand in hand. Business is guaranteed to win by keeping safety in the forefront of workers and by building a culture where safe work practices are a clear expectation. I suspect that most of us, me included, take the view that workplace accidents will never happen in my business. But the fact is they do and sadly we read about them all too often. Let’s try to not be the one we read about next. Safe workplaces just makes dollars and sense!

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So you are a New Councilor – Now What?

If you had the opportunity to see the swearing-in ceremony of the new Council this past December, one thing’s clear – this group is nothing like we have ever seen before.

And it’s not like we’ve never had an enthusiastic newbie, or tech savvy councilors. It’s not even their aggregated younger ages. What’s astonishing is it’s all of the above. Young, eager, savvy, and new.  Well almost new save and except the three incumbents whom, it would appear, have embraced this new enthusiasm with all the excitement of parents bringing home their first newborn.

So with the celebratory winds now subsided and the reality of enormously complex workloads just ahead, advice for this new council will come pouring in from all quarters. And, like any Council, one of their most difficult decisions will be knowing who to listen to. There is nothing quite like good advice to start you off on the right path, and nothing like following bad advice to get you off the path entirely.

Right out of the gate, kudos to City Manager Art Zuidema for having organized one of the most rigorous orientations any Council before this has ever seen. Team building at the Ivey School, City site visits, departmental overviews, stakeholder relations – the works. What an excellent way for new players on a team to get used to their new surroundings.

Someone recently opined in the Free Press that the new Council shouldn’t listen to the advice of the administration. Instead the Council should just strike out on their own and make decisions based on instincts and intuition.  Say what? That may be the worst advice I have ever heard. In fact, now is the perfect time to rely on the wisdom and experience of the administration. There will be plenty of time over the next four years to trust their instincts and intuition. Right now they’re about to be hit by a buzz saw so sage advice from the admin team is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Quite apart from the advice this Council will receive from staff, where else can they find the answers to the myriad of questions that they will face in the days ahead?

From a business perspective, let’s start with the London Chamber of Commerce – an institution that has been providing City Councils with sound, reasoned, and well researched advice for over 150 years. Then of course there is also the LEDC, the Small Business Centre, and Progress London to name a few.

From a growth perspective there’s the London Home Builders, the London St. Thomas Association of Realtors, and the London Development Institute. And from the labour side of the growth agenda there is LiUNA (Labourer’s International Union of North America), the London and District Trades Council, the London and District Construction Trades Council and many more – all ready, willing, and able to assist with a balanced, and informed perspective on economic growth.

As for the many questions new Councilors may have about roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities as good stewards of our tax dollars, a good resource for these questions can be found in The Municipal Councilor’s Guide published by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. (All references in this Guide are to the Municipal Act, 2001)

Even seasoned council veterans will encounter questions that are new. Knowing where to go for information on the roles, regulations, and requirements will help them to fulfil their roles. Not only will this guide help them meet their responsibilities, most importantly it will help them to provide high-quality service to the residents of London, a mission that often gets lost in the rhetoric of the pre and post-election cycle.

The guide examines the roles of council and councilors, governance and law-making in the municipal setting, the fiscal context, and land-use planning to name a few.

A good starting point in the guide is the Roles of Council where it outlines some of their roles as follows:

(a) to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality

(b) to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality

(c)  to determine which services the municipality provides

(d) to ensure that administrative policies, practices and procedures and controllership policies, practices and procedures are in place to implement the decisions of council

(d.1) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality

(e) to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality

As for the Role of the Mayor, the Act is quite specific: It’s the Mayor’s role

(a) to act as the municipality’s chief executive officer

(b) to preside over council meetings so that its business can be carried out efficiently and effectively

(c)  to provide the council with leadership

(d) to represent the municipality at official functions and

(e) to carry out the duties of a head of council under this or any other act.

Oh, and the Mayor has some “special” responsibilities too, namely to act as the representative of the municipality both within and outside the municipality, and promote the municipality locally, nationally and internationally and to foster activities that enhance the economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality and its residents.

So there it is in a nutshell – the guide book of all guide books, the numero-uno reference tool, the go-to source for all knowledge and information.  Okay maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but, let’s just say that when that new councilor or mayor is ever in doubt as to what their real roles and responsibilities are, no matter who may be suggesting otherwise – my advice – see the Councilor’s Guide – PLEASE!

Note: the full guide can be located on the following website: Mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=4965

AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) also has excellent resources for councilors on the following site: http://www.amo.on.ca/AMO-Content/Municipal-101/How-Municipal-Government-Works.aspx

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Quality Trumps Quantity in Candidate Choices

During the last municipal election I wrote an opinion/editorial piece on the embarrassingly few number of candidates that there were running for office. Part two to the piece was a less than subtle warning that London would likely end up with a very similar, if not identical, Council to the one before it. Voila!
This year, amazingly and perhaps not too surprisingly, the total opposite has happened. With no less than 14 candidates vying for the Mayor’s post and 74 seeking ward representation around the horseshoe, we should collectively applaud all those who took up the challenge. Was it because we have so many vacancies, so many incumbents not seeking re-election, or is it simply that many in this group of hopefuls has had enough of the status quo? Either way the big winner here seems to be the democratic process that defines us as a country.
But quantity alone will not be the differentiator when it comes to governing a billion dollar corporation. For those ultimately voted into the job, there has to be, or should be, considerable skill involved with a good measure of judgment, instinct, experience, fairness, collegiality, strategic thinking and tough mindedness if we are to have any optimism that this next council can do any better than the last.

That said, I have often been asked, exactly what then are the skills and experiences one needs to be a successful mayor or councilor? I wish that I had an exact, scientific response for that question but the problem is it doesn’t exist. There are however, some conventional thoughts that bear repeating and may serve as a guide for voters to contemplate as they make up their minds on who to vote for on Monday, October 27th.

If I could provide any advice at all on what, in my view, would make a quality candidate it would look something like this:
They must be a Strategic Thinker

A modern, effective Council should be populated with people who know how to think strategically, who get the bigger picture and can focus on the really important issues facing our community – like jobs and growth in the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors not what colour to paint the washrooms at the lawn bowling facility. The City has a talented and competent staff – they need to be left to do what they do best while a councilor should focus on strategic objectives, visions, and goals.

They all must Think Bottom Line

Yes, I know the City isn’t a business per se but, it should always try to employ best business practices. With a $900 million+ annual budget it simply has to run more business-like in all aspects of its operations. At the very least, candidates should have a working knowledge of how to read a profit and loss statement, a balance sheet, and a budget, as well as the reporting mechanisms associated with all of them. And all of the above should be performed with the inescapable truth that all of the money that they are dealing with, does not belong to them.

They will need to be Team Players

This includes being able to work with others in meetings and on committees and being able to complete any tasks on time that they agree to do. Grandstanding works well at the county fair, but it doesn’t work in council chambers. Oh yes, and if they lose their issue, position, or cause, they should stand down their opinions and re-join the team. Everyone agrees that a fulsome debate of the issues is healthy and democratic, but once it’s over the City needs a Council that can move forward as one.
They need to be Good Communicators

Skills here should include good listening and interpersonal skills, public speaking skills, the ability to articulate a thought and being able to accept alternative points of view as well as the ability to negotiate, mediate, and resolve conflict. Being aligned on an issue or challenge is far more achievable than securing agreement or consensus.
They need to be Problem Solvers and Analytical Thinkers

This includes being able to get to the bottom of an issue and to think of different ways to resolve it, including advantages and disadvantages of each – always with the best interest of the taxpayer at the top of their agenda.

They will have to have Guts and Conviction

Throwing one’s support behind the next shiny bobble or genius idea from out in left field may feel good in the moment but the next morning they will still be faced with critical issues such as London’s growing infrastructure deficit (pegged at $51 million in 2013/14). It takes guts and courage to vote for the right things even when it hurts and even when it’s not as popular.
They must have Good Organizational Skills

These should include being able to plan and manage their time, keep appointments and meet deadlines. The workload of a councilor is not getting any lighter or less important. We hear all too often that the workload is overwhelming. Only good organizational skills will keep a councilor ahead of the curve and in tune with the city’s priorities.
They must be able to Engage with the Local Community

They will need to make themselves available through meetings, the media (including social media), the internet, public forums, on the phone and of course, face to face.

They should know the Law or at least know who does

Much of what they are charged to do will have some legal ramifications so it’s important that they have some working knowledge or experience with legal matters and an awareness of the risks and potential rewards of a change. The Law of Unintended Consequences is always in full effect, and a bad decision can undermine years of hard work and thousands of dollars that homeowners and business owners have invested in their properties. When in doubt, they can refer to the City’s legal team, but knowledge in this area will help to execute decisions much more quickly and efficiently and keep the City out of the courts.

They need to demonstrate Sound Oversight

An efficient and effective Council needs people on it who will seek out independent resources to research issues and to get a second opinion on information it receives from the city’s administration or other levels of government. Yes it costs money but it is also necessary. They will need to be open minded about new positions like Ethics Commissioners, Integrity Commissioners, and Municipal Auditor Generals as they are fast becoming the norm in modern, well-functioning cities.

These are by no means the complete list of all of the skills and attributes a councillor or mayor could or should have. In fact, it’s doubtful that any one person would possess all of them. But if we want a progressive, forward thinking Council that is looking forward and not stuck in the past, I would look for candidates who have a good many of them. Food for thought before we place our marks on the ballot sheet.

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London Chamber signs historic agreement with the Brazil Canada Chamber of Commerce…….July 23rd 2014

 

As you may know, the London Chamber has embarked on an aggressive campaign to open up new export markets for our members and in turn, attract more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into London. Our first foray in this new direction was the advent of ABOC (Asian Business Opportunities Committee) where, in 2011/12 your Chamber successfully completed a number of Friendly Agreements of Co-operation with our Chamber counterparts in Chengdu, Chongqing, and Nanjing China.

More recently, Brazil has been added as a strategic market for us to concentrate on and under the auspices of the Chamber’s BBOC (Brazil Business Opportunities Committee) we have made significant strides in building this relationship. Brazil as you may know has some $12 billion dollars of private sector investment located within an hour’s drive of London.

On July 23rd, a delegation from the London Chamber went to Toronto to strengthen that relationship even further. Delegates, including the Chamber’s President of the Board, Andrea Feddema, BBOC Chair and Co-Chair Paulo Silva, and Felipe Gomes respectively as well as yours truly, had a very successful day.

We first had an opportunity to meet with the newly minted Consul General of Brazil, Jose Vicente De Sa Pimemtel. The Consul General met with us in the morning and was most gracious in offering his advice and counsel on how best to build on our growing relationship and where in his view we had the best opportunities for success. He is extremely optimistic that there are huge educational opportunities between our two countries and has promised to follow up with us on that note. He has also requested that we develop a matrix of best projects and best opportunities that his office will be able to review for further action. President Andrea Feddema had an opportunity to do a little London bragging and presented the Consul with the Chamber’s “Our London” book as a token of appreciation.

Later that afternoon, the delegation had an appointment with the Brazil Canada Chamber of Commerce (BCCC) where we had pre-arranged for the formal signing of our first “Friendly Agreement of Cooperation” with our Brazilian counterparts. To our knowledge this is the first agreement of its kind between their organization and any community based Chamber of Commerce in Canada.

The agreement was signed by the President of the BCCC, Raul Papaleo and myself and was witnessed by delegates Feddema, Silva, and Gomes. In essence the agreement calls for three basic commitments:

1. The Parties recognize that they should capitalize on existing economic opportunities for their members and encourage the development and promotion of economic cooperation and communication between the business community in Brazil and London, Canada.

2. The Parties will work towards establishing a framework to identify and facilitate economic cooperation and promote business opportunities in each jurisdiction.

3. And, the Parties will encourage cooperation and communication exchange between the Brazilian business community and the London, Canada, business community as well as with each parties’ respective counterparts in their post-secondary educational institutions.

This is a great start and our BBOC group deserves full marks for their work and dedication in making this happen. As the world gets smaller and competition tighter, initiatives like these will help to guarantee a healthy and vibrant global marketplace for our members to do business in.

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Ontario’s 2014 Budget ~ Infrastructure spending overdue but pension plan will stifle small business growth

Forget for a moment that the Ontario Government’s deficit will balloon to $12.5 billion in 2014-15 compared to $11.3 billion last year. And forget, if that’s possible, that our overall debt will grow from $289 billion to $317 billion by the end of 2016-17 – what’s more unthinkable is that in spite of all that, the government plans to increase spending by $3 billion over last year’s numbers – say what?? Wasn’t there an Ontario government not too long ago who thought they could spend their way out of debt? I needn’t remind anyone how that experiment turned out for us.

And if you measure by the standard Debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) comparatives, Ontario’s Debt-to-GDP will grow to a whopping 40.3 per cent. Compare that to BC at 17.6, Saskatchewan at 6.1, Manitoba at 29.8, and the Maritimes on average at 37.3. And, on the total opposite ends of the scale, Alberta at minus 1.2 per cent, while the worst is Quebec at 51 per cent according to the Royal Bank’s Economic Research of July 8th 2014. Comparing our numbers to Canada’s total Debt-to-GDP of 33 per cent, it becomes quite clear that Ontario is heading in entirely the wrong direction.

If we really want Ontario to guarantee its long-term prosperity, for my money I want to see a far more robust plan to reduce spending and tackle the debt.

We can also ensure Ontario’s economic recovery by focusing more clearly on the needs of small business. If this government truly believes in what it preaches, that small business will be the number one job creators in Ontario, then why the heck would they handcuff them with this proposed Ontario Retirement Pension Plan in 2017? Asking small businesses to buck up for the 1.9 percent of wages (on average $1,800 annually per employee) on top of contributions towards a perfectly good Canadian Pension Plan system is counterintuitive. It’s a bit like someone on a moving ship throwing a life preserver to a drowning man without a rope attached. He may float for a while longer – you just won’t see him again.

At the Chamber we have stressed all along that the best way to allow people who do not contribute to a pension plan is to introduce legislation on Pooled Registered Pension Plans (PRPPs) a new form of tax-assisted individual retirement savings plan for workers without employer-sponsored pension plans. In fact, Eighty six percent of Chamber members in Ontario support PRPPs as opposed to a stand-alone Ontario Pension Plan which will create administrative duplication with the CPP and will no doubt deter job creation.

Equally astonishing is that this budget made no real attempt to tackle the out of control increases in electricity costs. Ontario electricity prices are among the highest in North America, and as such are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, barrier to business expansion in the province. Worse still, they may also be one of the chief reasons why Ontario businesses would elect to look elsewhere to locate. Reducing electricity costs should have been a top priority for this budget. That effort is nowhere to be found.

On the infrastructure file, while I would have to say I am pleased with the $29 billion in dedicated funding over the next 10 years for transit and transportation infrastructure projects, I am not at all convinced that we should be funding it by increasing our aviation fuel taxes. Our airports have enough difficulty in getting Canadians to fly out of their local or regional airports as opposed to flying out of neighboring American cities, without adding, yet again, more cost to ticket prices for both domestic and international flights. As it is we lose nearly 5 million passengers to American airports each year. Surely, there is a more prudent, less damaging way to fund infrastructure.

Finally, the proposed $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund aimed at attracting business investment in Ontario while very noble in intent, seems a bit ill conceived. I would argue that we could do much better with the $2.5 billion if we were to invest it in reducing electricity prices in the province, ditching the Ontario Pension Plan, and getting our provincial books balanced once and for all. But that’s just me.

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What are the Liberal Party’s plans for Ontario Business?

In conjunction with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Ms. Wynne’s party was recently asked to respond to our top five Business Priorities for the 2014 election. Here is what the Ontario Liberal Party says it will do to create a business climate that fosters investment and growth.

Business Priority 1: Tackle the Debt and Deficit

What specific steps will you take to eliminate the deficit and pay down the debt, while protecting core services that Ontarians value?

The Ontario Liberal Party is committed to balance the budget by 2017-18 in a fair and responsible way, and agrees with the OCC that across-the board cuts would hurt Ontarians and restrict our ability to balance the budget.

We have a strong record of fiscal management and achievement. We have maintained the lowest program spending per capita of any province. We have implemented around 80 percent of the Drummond recommendations, while rejecting those that would diminish public services. We’ve kept spending growth overall at around 2.2 percent over the last three years; less than the growth of the economy and inflation.

The Liberal Plan does not include increases in income taxes on low-to-middle income earners, and does not raise general corporate taxes. Instead, we will:

  • Bring in a modest increase on income taxes for those who can afford it – the highest earning 2 percent of the population
  • Continue to restrain costs through an expenditure review process that will find savings of $250 million for 2014-15 and $500 million for each of 2015-16 and 2016-17
  • Continue to manage compensation costs

Finally, we agree that the federal government must close the $11 billion gap between what Ontarians pay in federal taxes and what we receive from federal spending and transfers. If Ontario was treated fairly, our deficit would virtually be eliminated.

Business Priority 2: Create a Better Business Climate

What will you do to create a more favourable climate for businesses and investment in the province?

Our province is one of the most competitive jurisdictions in the world for new investment: in 2013 we led North America in attracting FDI. Corporate tax rates in Ontario are the fourth-lowest in Canada and almost 15 percentage points lower than any of our Great Lakes competitors. We will create a dynamic and innovative business climate by taking the following key actions:

Energy: Working with the OPA, an Ontario Liberal government would expand and renew the Industrial Electricity Incentive. We will also continue to help businesses save by conserving electricity through our Industrial Conservation Initiative. We’ll expand eligibility to more consumers (3MW and up). Our aim is to continue the 15 to 20 percent energy savings that businesses are currently achieving through this program.

Red tape: This March the Ontario Liberal government introduced The Better Business Climate Act which, if passed, would have helped to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens. This new legislation and renewal of the associated “Open for Business” initiative will save business over $100 million and countless hours by 2016-17.

Taxes: The Ontario Liberal government has created a highly competitive tax system, especially for small business. We’ve reduced the general corporate income tax to 11.5 percent (down from 14 percent) and small business rate to 4.5 percent (down from 5 percent), with corporate income tax cuts delivering $2.3 billion of tax relief per year.

Further tax cuts before the budget is balanced, as proposed by the PCs, would recklessly endanger Ontario’s plans to balance the budget by 2017-18.

Business Priority 3: Invest in Critical Infrastructure

What specific steps will you take to address Ontario’s infrastructure deficit? How will you pay for them?

A re-elected Liberal government would commit up to $1 billion toward industrial infrastructure development in the Ring of Fire, with or without the federal government. Investing in this infrastructure is vital to the Ring of Fire development. Given the national significance of this project, the federal government should be supporting this, just like it does with nationally significant development projects in British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador.

A Kathleen Wynne Government will implement a 10-year infrastructure plan that invests more than $130 billion, including $29 billion for transit and transportation infrastructure projects across the province. We will create two dedicated funds for transit and transportation: one for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, with up to $15 billion available for investment in transit; and one for the rest of the province with nearly $14 billion available for investment in roads, bridges, transit and other critical infrastructure. This investment will introduce train service every 15 minutes on all GO lines. It will mean less congestion on the roads.

The plan includes a balanced and responsible approach to paying for these investments. The funds will be from dedicated sources of revenue:

  • Dedicated gas tax, and HST on gas tax: $14.54 billion or 50.3 percent
  • New revenues: $1.49 billion or 5.2 percent
  • Asset optimization: $3.15 billion or 10.9 percent
  • Federal Building Canada Plan: $2.55 billion or 8.8 percent

The funds will be allocated to specific projects between the GTHA and the rest of Ontario fairly, based on population.

Business Priority 4: Build a 21st Century Workforce

What are your specific plans to address skills shortages in the province?

The Ontario Liberal Party recognizes that the apprenticeship system is a key part of building the well-educated and highly-skilled workforce the province needs to compete in the current and future economy, and has a strong record supporting the growth of that sector in the last 10 years.

Since 2003, the number of apprentices has doubled to over 120,000 in 2013. New apprenticeships have also nearly doubled in the same period. In 2013-2014 alone, we have invested over $165 million in Ontario’s apprenticeship system, including programs that support apprentices and employers, capital investments for upgrades in state-of-the-art equipment, and loans to apprentices to buy tools and equipment that they need to kick-start their careers. These investments will ensure Ontario has the skilled workers it needs to succeed in our economy. Moreover, our investment in better labour market information means that students and their educators will know what jobs to train for.

Ontario Liberals are the only ones with a plan to invest adequately in infrastructure: our $130 billion, ten year building plan will mean thousands of good paying jobs for Ontario’s skilled workers, who will be among the 110,000 Ontarians directly employed by this plan.

Business Priority 5: Address the Pension Problem

How will you ensure that Ontarians are equipped with the resources they need to support themselves during retirement, without placing too great a burden on Ontario businesses?

The Ontario Liberal Party is committed to a strong and secure retirement income system to help ensure that Ontarians are better able to enjoy their retirement years. There are economic ramifications for not acting to avert the retirement savings crisis. Retired people make up a large percentage of the economy. If their spending power goes down, the economy will suffer. And if people don’t have adequate pensions, social assistance costs will soar.

We have a strong retirement income system in Canada, starting with the Canada Pension Plan (CPP). However, the CPP is not enough – the basic structure of its benefits has not changed since 1966. The maximum benefit is only $12,500 per year, and the average benefit is just $6,800 per year. Privately available options do not work well enough to make up the difference; in 2012, there was approximately $280 billion of unused Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) room in Ontario. Workers and employers must work together to help fund better retirement savings options. However, the federal government has rejected a nation-wide consensus of Premiers, led by Kathleen Wynne in Ontario, and is refusing to enhance the CPP.

We choose to lead. In the absence of federal leadership, as part of our 10-year plan, a Kathleen Wynne government will create the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP), the first of its kind in Canada. The ORPP will provide a predictable stream of income in retirement, funded by investment returns and premiums from employers and employees, and will operate at a low cost.

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Room taxes not the answer for what ails Canadian Tourism

It’s Déjà vu all over again as City Council considers the benefits of adding a Hotel Tax (okay call it a fee if you are on the pro side) as a way of adding more muscle to the destination marketing efforts of the local tourism industry.

But, the argument isn’t whether they (hotel taxes) are legal or fair, the argument should be – do they work? There have been numerous opinions as to the merits of such programs and an equal number that have opined the pitfalls. Sure, you can raise more funds (I like calling them taxes frankly) and sure you can likely pump out a lot more advertising and marketing schemes aimed at increasing tourism traffic to our area. But how does one address the well publicized inequities of such programs. What about the jurisdiction just across county lines that does not charge room taxes?  Level playing field? – not so much. Of greater concern is the American traveler who is in no way accustomed to the already high taxes and room rates of Canadian operators compared to that of the U.S. Will the addition of another 2%-3% negatively impact occupancy numbers? Especially now – probably.

And what about the associated players in this sector – the restaurants, entertainment and sports facilities, and beverage emporiums? Should they help to shoulder the added cost of a destination marketing fee? If you agree they should – exactly where does the line of beneficiaries stop anyway? Should we include food suppliers, beverage alcohol products, popcorn growers and oh yes, what about the trucking companies that deliver all that stuff.  Gets a bit ridiculous doesn’t it?!

Even if a room tax came to pass, who then would control the purse strings and allocate the money. Ah ha – but the City of course and ‘aye, there’s the rub’. Contributors to the fund would argue that they should have total control while you just know that the City would have something to say about that.

So why are we resorting to this type of tactic again?  It’s not because the industry isn’t worth it, indeed it is. And it’s not because we don’t have a very effective tourism marketing team already in place because we do. Sadly, it’s in reaction to our senior levels of government increasingly withdrawing from the race for precious tourist dollars.

According to the Discussion Paper, Restoring Canadian Tourism by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canada had been one of the world’s premier tourism locations for six decades running. In fact, just a decade ago, Canada was in the top 10 destinations in international arrivals but has slipped and has now fallen out of the top 20. Canada’s decline is not because it or London has suddenly become less beautiful, engaging or safe. Rather, Canada has failed to respond to changing realities. It has failed to respect the growing choices travellers have, and it has failed to fight for tourism’s future.

 Today, the industry contributes $84.8 billion to the economy and drives private sector growth and jobs in all regions of the country.

Surprisingly, tourism’s contribution to the GDP every year is worth more than agriculture, fisheries and forestry combined. Tourism is also one of Canada’s leading job creators. The industry directly employs more than 600,000 people across the country, a larger employment impact than oil and gas

It is also a sector that could contribute even more to the Canadian economy, given the right policy environment. The global market for tourism is growing at an astonishing rate, but Canada’s share is shrinking.

It would be easy to blame Canada’s tourism challenges on factors that are beyond its control, like the rise of the Canadian dollar, the U.S. recession and post-9/11 policies.

However, the reality is Canada has failed to respond to these challenges by addressing factors that are within its control, such as its layers of regulations, fees and taxes – its very cumbersome visitor visa system and its lack of investment in its national marketing initiatives.

Considering tourism is the largest service export in the country and is worth $17.3 billion a year in export revenue, it’s shocking to me that it doesn’t benefit from the same tax and regulatory support as other export industries. And when you look at what tourism contributes in taxation revenues to governments ($21.4 billion in 2011, nearly $10 billion to the feds alone) it’s hard to fathom why it gets so little in return.

Alarmingly, Canada’s share of this export sector continues to erode, dropping from 20.1 million visitors in 2002 to 6.3 million in 2012.  As a result we now have a $17.8 billion travel deficit which has ballooned by 736% in a decade, making it the country’s second highest deficit after manufacturing.

With this in mind, when our competitors are increasing their investment in tourism marketing initiatives, the CTC’s (Canadian Tourism Commission) budget was counter-intuitively cut by 20% to $58.8 million this year.

So what are some of the causes of this decline? Here’s just a few. Non-airline costs on passenger tickets represent more than 65% of the total ticket cost in Canada. Quite bizarrely in the developed world, only Canada requires users to pay the entire cost of the aviation system, including security, airport infrastructure and air traffic control, on top of the actual charges the airlines levy.

Compare this aviation cost structure to the U.S., our closest competition where aviation is considered an economic spark plug and is supported as such, making it, on average, 30% cheaper to fly to the U.S. than Canada. Tellingly, we are ranked first for airport infrastructure but 124th (out of 140) for overall price competitiveness. So while we have excellent flight frequency, choice and availability, flying in Canada comes at an exorbitant rate.

Case in point, the Canadian Airports Council estimates that almost 5 million Canadians drive to U.S. airports per year and that this cross-border leakage represents a loss of approximately 9,000 well-paying jobs in Canada, employment income loss of $511 million and tax revenue loss of $190 million.

As well, tourism and travel is the only export sector not “zero-rated” for GST, an anomaly worth almost half a billion dollars a year to industry players. And Canada is the only G8 country without a value-added tax (VAT) rebate. Go figure!

Provincial and municipal marketing programs can and do play a key role in attracting visitors. And, while a number of Canadian destinations conduct their own destination marketing initiatives, it’s the national marketing campaigns that are so critical.

Research has consistently demonstrated that travellers chose “Canada” first and then subsequentlydecide on province, region or specific destination. A lack of investment in national-level marketing cannot bereplaced by local/provincial or private marketing initiatives.

Memo to all levels of government: Fix the national tourism marketing inequities, fix the visa processing for inbound visitors, put Canada’s airline industry on a level playing field with the U.S., and change the tourism tax structure to match those of our other export sectors.  Do these things and there will be so much new revenue, municipalities won’t have to think about yet another room tax scenario.

 

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