Ontario biz group urges province to beef up domestic manufacturing capacity, upgrade training programs

Skills training

As supply chain bottlenecks and labour shortages wreak havoc with the economy, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce is urging all parties to make bolstering domestic manufacturing capacity and upgrading skills training programs key issues in the upcoming provincial election campaign.

With Ontarians slated to go to the polls on June 2, the chamber has unveiled a blueprint to make the province more competitive on the world stage. 

The plan, called Vote Prosperity, is heavy on initiatives to address the province’s growing labour crunch. They include extending regional immigration programs to make it easier for businesses to find workers in high-demand fields, launching new training efforts “to address existing and forecasted labour shortages” and cutting red tape that prevents foreign-trained professionals from having their credentials recognized in Ontario.

The chamber is also calling on the next provincial government to “take bold action to remove barriers to interprovincial trade,” reduce electricity costs and make it easier for small businesses to procure government contracts.

“Balancing short-term needs with equally important long-term investments will support business predictability and economic growth,” the recently released document says. 

“This includes investing in key drivers of competitiveness – such as workforce development and training, immigration, technology, infrastructure, and clean energy – and removing unnecessary barriers to growth, including outdated regulations, an inefficient tax system, and obstacles to interprovincial trade and labour mobility.”

Shortage of raw materials

Another ongoing headache for many Ontario businesses – a shortage of raw materials and other products that must be imported from other countries – also gets plenty of ink in the document.

The chamber wants the next government to devise a “strategy to strengthen Ontario’s supply chain resilience by supporting domestic manufacturing capacity, investing in major airports and transportation networks, channelling more immigration and workforce training towards labour shortages critical to the supply chain, and diversifying procurement and sourcing of components.”

The proposals come as soaring inflation has forced many businesses to hike prices in a bid to offset the rising costs of labour and raw materials – potentially derailing their recovery just as two years of pandemic-related public-health restrictions that crippled many retailers and other enterprises are finally easing.

The chamber is urging the province to beef up financial support for the hardest-hit sectors with “targeted grants, loan guarantees, and tax credits.”

Other hot-button issues, including health care and the green economy, are also high on the chamber’s priority list.

The organization is calling for more public-private partnerships aimed at growing the province’s life-sciences sector “to ensure that the province has access to domestic pandemic response tools such as vaccine development capabilities.” 

The chamber also wants the next government to streamline health-care procurement policies and offer more incentives for health-tech firms to invest in research and development in Ontario.

Meanwhile, it’s urging the next leaders at Queen’s Park to partner with the private sector to expand low-carbon transportation infrastructure such as light-rail transit systems and fast-track the rollout of EV charging networks.

It’s also calling on the province to develop a zero-emission vehicles strategy and work with industry and other levels of government to create a “streamlined framework” for capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“We believe that Ontario has the fundamental ingredients for business predictability, inclusive growth, and competitiveness,” the document says. “The OCC and its 60,000 members strongly encourage all parties and Ontarians to consider these policy recommendations throughout the election campaign and beyond.”