The Big Move and more on our policy agenda
The reality is that we all live with traffic congestion, unfortunately. Indeed, we think about it all the time. From commuting to our offices to carpooling for our kids’ soccer practice, transportation is a top-of-mind issue for business owners, employees, residents and policy makers in Oakville.
The fact is, a significant lack of investment in transportation infrastructure over the last several years by several governments has resulted in what the Ontario Chamber of Commerce calls “a wicked problem”.
What can – and should – we do about congestion over the coming five to ten years?
Will our kids face the same sort of traffic issues when they grow up?
And how do you finance “a wicked problem”?
The provincial government is trying to answer these questions through the “Big Move”, a 25-year, $50 billion plan designed to coordinate, integrate and build transportation and transit infrastructure across the GTHA.
Metrolinx has been holding a series of stakeholder meetings over the last few years on the Big Move. These meetings are meant to inform their investment strategy – to be released later this month – that will point to project priorities and funding models for the near and longer-term horizons. [You can learn more at www.bigmove.ca.]
At the Oakville Chamber, we tried to answer these and other questions in a roundtable last month to which a range of our members were invited to meet with senior officials from the Ontario Chamber and Metrolinx. We gathered over breakfast to provide local input to the Big Move and to help the Ontario Chamber form its own policy position on the matter.
Following an initial presentation on the Big Move’s purpose, cost and overall scope, we moved into a discussion on the 11 funding tools that Metrolinx has put forward as the best options from which to choose in deciding how to pay the huge bill. These tools include, but are not limited to, highway tolls, commercial parking levies, regional sales tax, fuel tax, and transit fare increases.
It was an animated discussion in which our members shared their views on how to finance transportation infrastructure around the GTHA.
Among other things, there was universal agreement among members in the room that at least one proposed tool – property taxes – was “off the table” when it came to paying for the Big Move. This view is widely shared by businesses in other communities. There was strong support around the table that the provincial government must look for efficiencies within its existing budget to help finance the Big Move.
This roundtable builds on discussions that the Chamber GTHA Caucus – comprising 22 chambers including Oakville, Burlington, Hamilton, Milton and Halton Hills, as well as the Mississauga Board of Trade – started with Metrolinx a few years ago. This caucus meets regularly to inform municipal, provincial and federal discussions about regional GTHA issues and to ensure that the unique issues and needs of each community have a voice.
It’s also a proxy for the kind of ongoing policy discussions we have with our members on important issues of the day.
Consider all the headlines around skills shortages, an issue the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says is one the top 10 barriers for business in this country.
Not every company has a skills shortage, clearly. But many do. And many business owners are currently looking several years out and wondering how they will fill gaps that will emerge in an aging workforce.
The Canadian Chamber’s new Human Resources Committee will delve into these and related skills issues when it holds its first meeting later this month. I was asked to be on this national committee, and I look forward to representing our members in that new forum.
In thinking about transportation and skills you can see why chambers are both leading and lagging indicators of policy issues. That is, chambers can take leadership roles in initiating important policy discussions on behalf of their members and in working closely with policy makers on relevant legislation and regulations. Chambers can also be informed by discussions that have already started and contribute significantly to them.
In that vein, we recently asked our members to fill in our latest advocacy survey on a range of issues about doing business in Oakville. Member input is very important as we develop and advocate a range of policies for our members.
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