The last few months have been active and exciting for the Chamber from an Advocacy perspective. After reporting on the federal and provincial budgets, and reviewing your responses to our 2023 Advocacy Survey, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce hosted our local elected officials for some invaluable discussions. At our Fireside Chat on April 25th, Trinda Searle (360Insights) interviewed Whitby Mayor, Elizabeth Roy. Then, at the Regional Chair Luncheon on May 25th, in partnership with the Oshawa Chamber of Commerce, Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade, and Clarington Board of Trade, we hosted Durham Region Chair, John Henry to speak to our regional business community.
Our guests heard firsthand about ongoing economic development projects, local taxes, housing, transit, and future projections. The Mayor and Chair both provided information on topics and challenges that our Chamber members (according to our Advocacy Survey) and Advocacy Committee have identified as priorities.
Mayor Roy shared our Chamber’s concern for the lack of movement on the new Regional Hospital and Urgent Care Centre proposed for the community by Lakeridge Health. Since the release of the provincial budget, and continued local advocacy on the issue, the Mayor highlighted that she remains in contact with provincial leaders and is hopeful for movement on the project. The next phase requires the province to approve a planning grant. These sentiments were mirrored by Chair John Henry.
The Chair highlighted growing opportunities for the Region in the areas of energy (including battery), film, electric vehicles, technology, and agriculture. With the knowledge and expertise of local businesses and post-graduate institutions, Durham is proving to be a global leader in smart technology; for a third year in a row the Region was designated a Smart21 community of the year and was awarded a Smart 50 Award for its road maintenance project.
Meanwhile the Town is committed to developing the Whitby waterfront to provide more recreational opportunities for the community and increase tourism and drive economic growth. Meanwhile, the Chair Henry confirmed that the Go Extension to Bowmanville was well underway and also celebrated plans to convert Durham’s bus fleet electric with federal support.
Where the Region and Town shared our Chamber community’s sentiment and concern, was in the area of housing and broadband. It is no surprise that the Town and Region has continued concerns over the impact of the Provinces More Homes Built Faster Act. According to the Region’s website, it “removes Regional Council’s role in approving land-use planning decisions and reduces DC funding to municipalities for infrastructure. The changes introduced in Bill 23 could make this process longer, more expensive and limit our ability to support truly affordable housing.” Meanwhile, the Town is undergoing a Comprehensive Zoning By-Law Review to study current zoning by-laws and revise them in an effort to reduce red-tape and improve their accessibility and efficiency for the Whitby Community. To manage the all-around impact of inflation, supply chain issues, and new legislation, the Region’s budget has proposed a net property tax increase of 5.2%, Durham’s development charges are also set to rise, though they would remain below the provincial average.
While the Region continues work to expand it’s Regional Broadband Network, and aims to ultimately lay 700 kilometers of fiber network. For many, including Brooklyn residents and pockets throughout Durham, the project can’t move quickly enough, especially considering the rise in population and demand. Durham OneNet has not updated its project timeline since May 2022.
As our Chair put it, Durham is the best place to live, work, play, innovate and invest, and it’s potential is limitless. Looking ahead, investment in crucial infrastructure is going to be integral to local businesses as they grow and continue to compete on the global scale. To improve supply chains and encourage development, the Regional Chair was in support of developing an international airport in Durham Region, and expanding and harnessing the Oshawa Ports.
Of course, large projects tend to take time, but stagnation and unreasonable delay can often undo what has been achieved thus far. So, it is integral as the Durham community, that we continue to stay informed and advocate for accountable and productive leadership. Our Mayoral and Regional events highlight that not only are our elected leaders listening, but actively addressing our concerns.
We encourage you stay engaged, informed and curious.
To provide your feedback to the Town on strategic and budget planning, you can participate in their on-going consultations.
– Preeti Sangwan, Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Whitby Chamber of Commerce