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    The Front Lines – July 2019

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

    The Government Relations committee wrapped up a busy year with its final meeting on June 12, 2019. As most readers know, the Chamber’s various committees operate from September to June with a summer hiatus. Those interested in continuing their involvement or wishing to become involved in the GR or other Chamber Committees should contact the Chamber office for details.

    We have reached a watershed moment in the history of the Port of Oshawa. The Federal Government in its infinite wisdom and without consultation with literally any of the many stakeholders involved has amalgamated the Ports of Hamilton and Oshawa. Despite the efforts of many of us to alert the government to the folly of this move, our pleas fell on deaf ears. The Port of Hamilton (which technically doesn’t exist anymore) announced on social media four appointments to the new Hamilton-Oshawa Port Authority (note the name). No surprises there: all four were from Hamilton. There was no one from Oshawa despite rumors that the former City Rep on the Oshawa Port Authority would be named to the new Board – perhaps he will be in the future. There has been no nomination from the Province nor from the Oshawa Port Users. We should all hope, for the sake of the City and Region that we get a strong voice from the Province and local port users to balance out the undeniable Hamilton influence inherent in the current appointments. 2018 was the Port’s best year in over a quarter century with greater prospects on the horizon. Let’s hope this new arrangement continues that trajectory.

    On the Airports front, the committee was apprised of an eye-opening motion from Oshawa City Council. Councillors Marimpietri and Hurst pushed through a last-minute motion which has the effect of ham-stringing the Airport Business Plan Working Team, the group responsible for updating the Oshawa Airport’s business plan. In addition to putting its fingers on the scales regarding the options for economic growth at the Oshawa Airport, the motion would seem to fly in the face of a new Regional Economic Development plan. The Marimpietri motion, brought at the last minute alleging it to be an emergency matter (though it was not clear why it was such an emergency), effectively directed the Working Group as to what it could and could not consider in revamping and updating the business plan for the Airport. The Committee members, with two abstaining, passed a motion urging the Chamber Board to comment on the lack of transparency in this and other Council actions. As readers of this column have heard for some time, the Oshawa Airport could generate millions of dollars into the local economy if only the City would allow some passenger traffic at the airport. The airport, without any modification, has essentially the same capacity as Billy Bishop Airport on Toronto Island and it generates tens of millions into the Toronto economy. A few timid politicians catering to a small but vocal group of naysayers is costing the rate payers of Oshawa a lot of money and this should be of concern to all of us.

    The GR’s Regional government representative presented an updated Economic Development plan outline and advised us that there are some positive changes coming to key elements in the Region’s approach to enticing new businesses to locate in Durham. This is welcome news indeed as we all know how important it is to improve the business/industrial tax base. The scarcity of serviced land, or more accurately, parcels of significant size, remains a real problem issue for Oshawa and there seems to be little in the way of solutions on the table. The Oshawa Economic Development Team is doing its best with what it has but the years (and continued) emphasis on residential development has left us lagging when it comes to serviced, developed land for business and industry.

    Transportation in all its guises remains a major issue for Oshawa and the Region. While Metrolinx has not, it seems, finalized the GO route to Bowmanville, the “southern” route seems the most cost effective at this time. Several stakeholders who prefer the northern route, across the 401, continue to make their case and there may yet be a change in the route. As we know from previous discussions, one of the key problems for public transit in our Region (indeed it’s a universal issue) is the first and last mile problem. While the Region is losing $60 million a year in subsidizing regional buses, the buses don’t tend to run where the folks need them to and when they need them. Our northern municipalities are paying their share and yet have little to show for it in the way of service and even the buses in Oshawa seem to be eerily empty much of the day. And still the highways into the City and beyond to the west keep getting more and more congested. Transportation will continue to be a front and centre issue for this and all Chambers and BoTs in the coming years.

    As usual, lots of good news from our College and Universities. These institutions continue to grow and innovate in ways that can only help our citizens and our businesses. They are to be congratulated for all their efforts and I include Durham, Ontario Tech and Trent particularly.

    We received good news, too, from OPG as their announcement of its new Corporate Headquarters to be built in Clarington was made public. This is another excellent development for our Region and will no doubt bring additional jobs and economic development in its wake.

    As indicated above, the Committee is in summer hiatus. The next scheduled meeting is on September 12, 2019 at 8:00 am in the Chamber Office. Have a wonderful summer with family and friends and come back rested and rejuvenated from the sunshine, BBQs and general frivolity.