Ontario business groups look forward to Doug Ford’s industry-friendly policies, seek details

Doug Ford speaks to Trudeau, plans to aid trade talks with U.S.
WATCH ABOVE: Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford told reporters on Friday in his first press conference since being elected Premier-designate that he and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about what he could provide in trade negotiations with the U.S.

Incoming Ontario premier Doug Ford promised a business-friendly government during the provincial election campaign, but now industry groups want the details about what that is going to look like.

“Now what we want is definition of the mandate,” said Rocco Rossi, president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “Because it’s not enough to say, ‘We’re open for business.’ What is the plan for business?”

Ford, a first-time candidate in provincial politics, promised during the campaign to eliminate red tape and regulations, lower hydro rates and fight a federally-mandated carbon tax. He also pledged to cut the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent.

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Rossi said the chamber of commerce is looking forward to working with the government to put the meat on the bones of the proposals.

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The Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters was encouraged by some of Ford’s proposals, including his pledge to lower hydro bills by 12 per cent.

“Ontario manufacturers – whether you’re a food processor, or fabricator or assembler – you’re paying among the highest electricity rates in North America,” CEO Dennis Darby said.

READ MORE: Ontario Premier-designate Doug Ford takes office on June 29

When companies look at where to invest capital, Ontario looks like a difficult jurisdiction with a lot of headwinds, including those high electricity costs, he said, and it appears they are not investing and re-investing in the province.

“Electricity is a key part of that.”

The tech community is also anticipating working with the new government.

The Council of Canadian Innovators, which is comprised of CEOs from the country’s fastest-growing tech companies, plans “to remain active in advocating for support of domestic high-growth tech companies with the newly elected leaders,” executive director Benjamin Bergen said in a statement.

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The council is hopeful the new government will work with these companies to help them access more of the capital, customers and talent needed to grow, he said.

Industry groups also pointed to Ford’s promise to retract a Liberal-government mandated minimum wage increase to $15 in the new year as good news.

The outgoing Liberal government already increased minimum wage from $11.60 to $14 an hour as of Jan. 1, 2018. The increase prompted some businesses to raise prices and cut staff hours and employee benefits. Some large, national operators said they would turn to increased automation to offset rising labour costs.

Restaurants Canada, which represents 30,000 businesses in the food service industry, is one group that opposed the fast pace of changes and is happy with the change of direction promised by Ford.

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“The time frame that (the Liberal government) imposed on us was very harmful to the industry,” said James Rilett, vice-president of central Canada for the group. He added Restaurants Canada is not opposed to a $15 minimum wage, but wants to be careful in how the province gets there.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the Auto Parts Manufacturers’ Association.

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“When you move so quickly and you shock the system, you also shock the available labour pool,” president Flavio Volpe said.

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Most auto parts manufacturers offer starting pay above $15 an hour, he said, but when the entry-level floor is raised, those companies would also have to raise their wages.

“We’re glad maybe we’re going to pump the breaks a bit here,” said Volpe.

But even that Ford promise requires more details, said Rossi.

Ford has indicated he may increase minimum hourly wages by 25 cents for each year of his four-year term or tie future increases to inflation, Rossi said.