Focus spring legislative session on modernizing Connecting Links, funding and lowering business costs to foster confidence


Today, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce (SSMCOC), in partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), formally released its 2017 pre-budget submission containing recommendations to the Ontario legislature as it looks to begin its spring 2017 legislative session. The submission outlines four key budget priorities and 13 specific recommendations for Queen’s Park to adopt in order to restore fiscal balance and spur economic growth. Specifically, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce is looking for a modernization of the Connecting Links funding mechanism and for government to demonstrate fiscal prudence and sound budget management, including an increase in the transparency of crown corporation divestment.

Following the cancellation of the Connecting Links program in 2013, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce lobbied aggressively for its re-instatement including submitting a policy resolution to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, where it was then championed by Chambers and Boards of Trade from across the province prior to its 2015 re-instatement. In 2016, the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber partnered with other Chambers from across Northern Ontario to call on the government to provide improved funding and to revise Connecting Links funding criteria to more accurately reflect the development of high-priority projects as they arise.

The Connecting Links Program is a provincial funding mechanism that assists municipalities with repairs to roadways and bridges that connect two ends of a provincial highway through a community or to a border crossing.

Paul Johnson, President of the SSMCOC notes that “communities, particularly in the north, already face numerous infrastructure funding challenges. The 77 municipalities to which the Province has downloaded the responsibility of maintaining 350 kilometres of Connecting Links roadways are under particular financial duress.” He adds that this is a program that needs immediate attention by the provincial government as reliable transportation infrastructure is essential to all aspects of the Ontario’s economy.

Also included in today’s pre-budget submission is a call by the Ontario-wide Chamber network to increase the transparency of crown corporation divestment. This call builds on an OCC policy resolution originally authored by the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber and its counterparts in Timmins and Sudbury in 2014. That resolution came on the heels of ongoing attempts to divest the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC). In that case, a report by the Auditor General exposed that Ontario’s announced divestment of ONTC had actually been undertaken at a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to Ontario taxpayers. Currently, Ontario faces similar criticisms and concerns surrounding the privatization of Hydro One.

The Sault Ste. Marie and Ontario Chambers both feel that in the future, the Ontario government would benefit from greater transparency regarding its divestment of Crown corporations.

According to SSMCOC CEO, Rory Ring, “the ongoing uncertainty resulting from the lack of adequate information in the government’s decision-making process and divestment practices has harmed business’ ability to operate with confidence in Ontario. We are urging the Ontario Government to commit to divesting a Crown corporation only after producing a comprehensive business case and socio-economic impact study, subject to stakeholder review.”

Ontario’s Chamber Network is also calling on the government to send a clear message of fiscal stability by balancing the provincial budget by 2017-2018. Such action would result in a more attractive environment for business investment and growth as well as confront the challenge of mounting input costs, such as electricity prices. As signalled last week in the OCC’s Ontario Economic Report, businesses are maintaining their operations and holding onto cash rather than expanding production or investing. This indicates that industry sees the Ontario economy as high-risk.

“The Government of Ontario must ensure that it utilizes the budget as a tool for economic growth to support Ontario businesses,” says Allan O’Dette, President & CEO of the OCC. “Government must do more to reduce the costs of doing business in Ontario, support strategic infrastructure development and strengthen its efforts to bolster business competitiveness that allows communities to thrive.”

Addressing the current fiscal context and achieving a balanced budget is an underlying theme throughout the pre-budget submission. Ontario’s Chamber Network is committed to working with the Ontario Government to ensure the future economic success of the province. The submission is largely comprised of policy recommendations that are supported by resolutions passed by Ontario’s Chamber Network at the OCC’s most recent Annual General Meeting.

The full report is available HERE.