The Front Lines – January 2019

Originally published in the January 2019 edition of eNews
By Gary Valcour

On January 10th, I had the pleasure of chairing the first meeting of the Government Relations Committee for 2019. It was great to have our new President, Jeff Robinson, in attendance for the festivities.

A good portion of the meeting was taken up discussing a motion which had been tabled at our previous meeting but we began with a short report on the Port of Oshawa. I was pleased to report that the port had a banner year in terms of tonnage. Steel in all its forms, cement, potash, chemicals and some project cargo all seemed to be up. Salt tonnage was down a bit due to a general shortage and some work stoppages and other problems in some of the mines. The Seaway is closed for the winter now but the Port continues to be busy moving steel and other products off the dock. The Port continues to move forward with plans for a grain terminal and is optimistic that City Council will revisit their decision to force the more expensive option on all parties.

The big discussion of the day was a motion to request the Board to reconsider its support for the possible Pickering Airport and instead shift the Chamber’s focus to a full-throated support for the Oshawa airport. It was acknowledged that the GOCC has been very supportive of the proposed Pickering Airport, having written letters to that effect to the Federal Government on several occasions. Moreover, it was noted that the Joint Chambers group, of which Oshawa is one, has clearly stated its support for the Pickering project to move forward.

The principle arguments in favour of the motion were that there has been no Government decision on this matter in over 40 years and there is no indication of any change in that status particularly because the latest study being conducted by KPMG is unlikely to be released until after the next federal election. In addition, it is argued by those in support of the motion that the whole raison d’etre for the latest flurry of requests for the project is based on some false premises; namely that there is an imminent shortage of capacity at Pearson airport as well as possible legal prohibition that would mean an airport could not be built on the existing lands. The case was also made that will we sit and wait for a bigger, better airport in Pickering we are losing out on many economic opportunities available to the Oshawa Airport. It was pointed out that it is Oshawa’s City Council that is stopping much of the opportunity growth at the airport particularly their prohibition on passenger service. Many were surprised to learn that Oshawa Airport has the same capacity as Billy Bishop airport and could handle passenger traffic which might add millions of dollars to the local economy.

It was argued that this motion might be better dealt with as two separate motions but that did not happen. It was also argued that this might not be the best time to change our position on the Pickering project especially as it is one of a very few projects that all regional municipalities seem to agree on but that should not stop us from continuing to press the City to take better advantage of the Oshawa Airport particularly considering the impending GM closure.

After a full and interesting discussion, the motion was defeated but there seemed to be consensus that the Board and the Chamber should continue to support all manner of economic development in and around the Oshawa Airport. We also felt it would be worthwhile to see if we could hold a future GR Committee meeting at the Oshawa Airport and get a briefing from the management at that time.

Another ongoing topic was the need for Employment lands in Oshawa and Kyle Benham advised the group that there will be an open house on the issue of zoning of the north woodlands property. Kyle also noted that it seemed the Province was years away from opening more lands for commercial development.

The Joint Chambers update included a reminder that we are working on a major Transportation Summit. The original date was to be in February but for reasons no one in attendance could explain it has been moved to a date in March or April. Everyone should stay tuned as this is a critical issue with many moving parts and all will want to participate in this summit.

At the time of the meeting the decision on Cannabis stores in Oshawa had not been decided. Since that time, Council decided to go ahead with the retail outlets in the city. It is unclear what the implications of that decision may be on local businesses, especially those in the downtown.

We learned that the Region had completed a “Competitiveness Study” and the resulting report indicated that from a tax perspective we are “competitive” (by 1%) with competing municipalities BUT we are still not getting the businesses and developments coming our way. This begs the question “Why?” No one seems to have an answer so it looks like more studies are in our future. We hope to have a full briefing on this report at an upcoming GR meeting.

There was no report from UOIT but Durham College indicated they are having another of their “Tech Talks” on January 29th. Some tickets are still available. The topic is AI as it pertains to Real Estate. Trent U reported that their major build is on track and hopes to begin construction on April 1st.

The Province is looking for input on its Budget and submissions are due February 8, 2019. Your ideas are welcome as we will be submitting some suggestions in writing. Also, the OCC AGM is coming up in May and the deadline to submit policy ideas for support from the OCC is February 6, 2019. Please get your ideas in to Alexandra at the Chamber office ASAP.

Finally, several organizations including GM and DC as well as many others are working together to find ways to help those workers likely to be displaced by the GM closure. There is a web portal which will hopefully be able to coordinate the various efforts and programs available. For more information check the Chamber website as we will do our best to keep this important service connection updated.

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 February 14, 2019 at 8:00 a.m. in the Chamber Board Room. Bring flowers and candy!