The Front Lines – May 2018

Originally published May 8, 2018
Written by Gary Valcour

The Government Relations Committee’s agendas are often chocka- block, none more so than the meeting on April 12, last. As readers of this column know, the GR committee is committed to pressing all levels of government to find innovative ways to bring more business and industry to the City and the Region. We have often expressed our concerns about what we believe to be a dangerous imbalance between tax revenues generated through residential development vs those generated by a shrinking commercial and industrial sector. In that vein, through the economic development office of the region and in response to questions we had regarding proposed changes to the Region’s Development Charges by-law, the region offered to have someone come to answer questions in person and provide a background presentation. We were surprised to see six (6) senior Regional staff members arrive led by Mary Simpson. Ms Simpson and her colleagues offered an interesting slide presentation and answered some of our questions. We have sent additional follow up questions which remain unanswered as of this writing.

While we were told that our Development Charges were the lowest of all surrounding regions, there was no answer to why, then, we were losing new industry and commercial development to other jurisdictions. If the answer is not in “development charges” where does it lie. Perhaps these are questions to be asked of those running for local and regional office this fall.

The Committee was reminded of the Durham Transportation Roundtable scheduled for April 24, 2018. Yours truly had the privilege of attending that event and acting as a moderator. This was an excellent event and kudos go to all the organizers and especially the folks from the Ajax Pickering Board of Trade who took the lead. The key topics were Road Infrastructure issues and needs, Public Transit (GO, VIA, DRT) issues and needs, Access to Airports (including discussion of Pickering proposals as well as the Oshawa Executive Airport) and Ports. The final topic was a look at “future technologies and their impact on transportation in our region” The assembled group represented thousands of businesses in the region and covered virtually every sector of commerce and industry. Among the outcomes was a commitment by ALL chambers and boards of trade to try to speak with one voice on these critical infrastructure issues and to press our individual municipalities to work cooperatively in the best interests of the whole region on these important topics. To that end a letter has been sent to Premier Wynne outlining our concerns on these topics and urging the Province to recognize the need for significant future investment in the region as it grows more important to our provincial economic wellbeing. Other letters will be sent to local and regional councilors highlighting the overarching importance of speaking with one voice on critical transportation issues. Certainly, individual Chambers and Boards of Trade will highlight the specifics of these overall concerns in their bailiwick. However, I was gratified to see the unanimous support for the Port of Oshawa and a recognition that it is an under-utilized economic jewel and encouraging the City and the region to support the building of an additional access road to facilitate operations and allow for economic expansion which would benefit the whole region. In a similar vein, the whole group supported a call for the Oshawa Council to review its current constraints on the Oshawa Executive Airport in order to unleash its full economic potential.

In other news, it was noted that the Port had received its first foreign ship of the season through the Seaway and the year is off to a good start. The committee heard a request from OPG for support for its renewal application for the Pickering license which expires in August this year. Renewal would allow operation to continue until 2024 then allow for a 3-year, safe storage period. The committee recommended that the Board support the application with a letter and hopefully a personal attendance at the application hearing. It should be noted that the OPG representative on the GR Committee recused herself on this vote.

In addition to everything else, the Committee members were asked to review a proposal made by the “Greater Toronto Board of Trade” with respect to the creation of a “Super-Metrolinx”. The basic idea would see Metrolinx disbanded and a new “super” organization created by amalgamating every municipal transit organization from the east end of Durham to Kitchener Waterloo in the west and including every place down to Hamilton. All revenues from all these “former” groups would stream into the new super group and the new entity would be governed through a board composed as set out by Toronto’s concept. The Committee was not impressed. We noted that none of the Chambers/BOTs east of Toronto had been consulted prior to issuing the proposal and this, it was felt, did not auger well for changing the current imbalance of investment between regions west of Toronto and those to the east. The Committee recommended that the GOCC not support the proposal as presented and to make that clear especially at the upcoming OCC AGM in Hamilton from April 26 to April 29th.

Finally, the Committee was asked to consider a request for a letter of support for something called the “Durham Innovation Hub”. While the committee members were supportive of the idea of an innovation hub, in the absence of better (or any) information about how it would be funded and governed or located and on what basis those decisions would be made, we could not endorse an unqualified letter of support at this time.

Our next GR committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 10, 2018 at 8:00 a.m. in the Chamber Board Room.