Originally published in the April 2019 edition of eNews
By Gary Valcour
With the April meeting, the GR committee is in full swing. The Oshawa Port Authority thanked the GR committee and the Board for its continuing support of Port operations and especially for the strong letter sent to Minister Garneau and others outlining members’ concerns with the announcement of a possible amalgamation of the Hamilton and Oshawa Ports. The concerns included the complete lack of transparency and consultation in making the announcement as well as the lack of any concrete information on the structure of any successor governance model or any business analysis that would support such an amalgamation. This was all particularly troubling in light of the fact that the Port had it’s best year in 23 years – the highest tonnage and the most vessel movements as well as a half-million dollar turnaround in the bottom line. All this happening while Hamilton was seeing a decrease in its tonnages and operations.
No final decision has, apparently, been made and the Minister and his staff continue to review the comments and concerns raised by all those who took the time to comment including the joint chambers in Durham region. While both the City and the Region provided comments, their less than full-throated opposition was noted and was a continuing disappointment.
On the airport front, the group received a report on the recent “Aerotropolis” meeting organized by the Toronto Board of Trade and attended by many from Durham. The topic was clearly the proposed Pickering Airport and several speakers at the forum endorsed moving forward with the project.
Members also heard an update from the Joint Chambers Transportation Summit which was well attended but perhaps failed to live up to the level of success its predecessor meeting attained.
Another recurring topic with disturbing features was the status of any employment lands in Oshawa. While the City reported movement on the Northwood parcel with necessary zoning changes near or at completion, there is still a dearth of serviced parcels available for major industrial or commercial development. For years, Oshawa has lost millions in revenue from businesses that might have located here but for the fact that there were no serviced lands or no parcels big enough to accommodate their projects and no apparent appetite on the part of either the Regional or City governments to work to bring these opportunities to fruition. As a result, most of these opportunities went to municipalities west of Toronto.
A recent study by the Region suggests that our development and other fees are not out of line with other GTA municipalities but acknowledges that Oshawa and the Region are not the first choice of businesses looking to expand their operations or entrepreneurs looking open major industrial operations. The question is “Why?” The Region continues to study the matter.
In a similar vein, there is no clear indication of what may become of the various GM parcels and while apparently some talks are occurring, nothing concrete is in the works.
All these facts really beg the question, “How committed to business and business growth are our City and Regional governments?”
The Committee received a brief update on the latest Joint Chambers meeting in which, once again, Matt Anderson made a presentation and the Regional Chair made an appearance. It was noted that the Provincial Government is in the process of conducting a review of, inter alia, Regional Governments and their role in the future. It was unclear whether the Joint Chambers group would be commenting either in writing or in person at a meeting to be held late in April.
There was a short discussion of the upcoming Ontario Chamber’s AGM and policy sessions including noting that the GOCC had put forth a motion for consideration by the OCC members at the AGM and that the small internal group at the OCC “would not support” that policy suggestion. The discussion included a brief overview of the process and how it could and probably should be revamped. It was noted that the GOCC contingent could still try to advance the motion but would have to rely on drumming up support from other chambers as the OCC was not on board. The OCC offered no sensible reason for its decision not to support our motion. The Committee was offered some comment on which of the OCC policy resolutions seemed to be worthwhile supporting (in addition to our own).
The City representative on the Committee noted that the City has a new City Manager, Mr. Paul Ralph. Mr. Ralph is no stranger to those involved with the City and is a longtime employee of the City.
The decision by City Council not to move forward with a new Safe Injection Site was noted and there was a brief discussion including suggestions for more involvement on the issue by the BIA as well as additional education on the topic generally.
The Regional Representative gave us an update on the Region’s Calendar of events and upcoming reports as well as some commentary on the Federal Budget and its impact potentially on the Region in the area of Workforce Development.
Durham College reported that the new Sports Arena was finally open and provided an update on the digital games centre and the new Varsity Teams engaged in those games. The centre is available for booking events and might be an interesting venue and a change for a future GOCC event.
Trent reported on its ongoing expansion efforts with the ground breaking set for May 17, 2019.
Under new business, a motion was made and passed that the Committee recommend to the Board of the Chamber that the Chamber make a presentation at the Public Forum on Regional Government review on April 29th. We look forward to having the Board move ahead with this item.
There was a brief update on the Employer Task Force set up to deal with the fallout from the GM closure announcement.
As always, we welcome your thoughts on any of these issues and your suggestions for other matters to be considered and educational events you might like to attend. Our next GR committee meeting is scheduled for May 9, 2019 at 8:00 a.m. in the Chamber Board Room.