(L to R) MPP Dean Allison, Lincoln Mayor Sandra Easton, Reg. Coun. Rob Foster, MPP Sam Oosterhoff and emcee Dave Brown addressed the crowd.
By Mike Williscraft
One of the largest crowds to take in a Niagara West chamber of commerce event ever heard a lot about the local job market and government spending last Friday.
Lincoln Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Politicians’ Breakfast with a crowd of 132 registrants turning out to hear MP Dean Allison, MPP Sam Oosterhoff, Mayor Sandra Easton and Reg. Coun. Rob Foster review various matters before their various levels of government.
While each touched on budget issues faced, all noted the benefit of a strong economy would help keep things moving.
To that end, Oosterhoff said the key to a strong economy is the removal of roadblocks to allow the business sector to thrive.
During a recent round of discussions with local business operators, Oosterhoff said one attendee noted leaving Ontario for Ohio was like, “ leaving a torture chamber for a candy store”.
“Our goal is to cut regulations by 25 per cent over four years,” said Oosterhoff, who added that eliminating the provincial portion of income tax for those with an income under $30,000 adds $1,700 to each individual’s bank account.
While assuring those in attendance the regional government review demanded by Premier Doug Ford would be measured and fair-minded in Niagara and across the province, Oosterhoff noted this government’s reduction of the deficit from $15 billion to $13.5 billion starts the process
of reducing the potential burden on future generations and helps “get the finances back on track.”
Allison also spoke of the need for competitiveness to drive the economy.
He said impediments such as shortages of skilled labour, regulation and red tape hinder business growth.
“Government needs to set the framework for industry and business can make things happen,” Allison told the crowd.
He noted tax cuts and regulation reductions in the U.S., courtesy of President Donald Trump, have created challenges.
“That puts us at a competitive disadvantage,” said Allison.
He noted Canada’s carbon tax of $20 per tonne, which is slated to escalate to $50 per tonne in 2020 and could go as as high as $300, is a major hurdle with businesses in the U.S. having not carbon taxes.
“It has been suggested the tax go as high as $5,000. This is a cold climate where people have to heat their homes,” noted Allison, adding streamlining business costs will spur growth.
“There are 100 businesses here. If each hired 1-2 bodies we’d be in good shape. It’s all about competitiveness.”
Easton said there are a lot of things in motion at all levels of government with many good things in the offing for Lincoln.
“You’re constantly working with people of all levels,” Easton said.
The Town’s museum project, traffic patterns and flow as well as tourism initiatives are all part of the mix, she said, adding, “Tourism growth is great but it does not help having your community smell like pot.”
Regarding speeding motorists and a seeming inability of some drivers to stop at stop signs, Easton said drastic action may be required.
“If people refuse to stop at stop signs or do the speed limit, maybe we whould have some cameras around town,” Easton said.
She touched on the regional governance review saying, if cost-reduction is a goal, reducing representation is not the way to go about it as “pay for politicians is not where the money is.”
As for the Lincoln economy, she said diversity is the key moving forward.
“Thirty per cent of all jobs in Lincoln are in the beer and wine industries,” noted Easton.
“There is plenty of future right here.”
While the Prudhomme’s Landing residential development is a major project for the municipality, she said the rehabilitation of the Beamsville District Secondary School site is an “excellent opportunity”.
Foster, noting his presentation at the Chamber breakfast was his first public speech since being elected last October, said some unfortunate realities have come to light at the regional level during the ongoing budget review.
“The water rate was artificially low the last term,” said Foster, noting the forecast for water rates dictates five per increases will be required for 10 straight years to compensate for the lack or needed increases.
Overall, Foster said the current regional budget increase stands at 5.8 per cent, or $125 on an average assessed home of $380,000.
“I’m going to move away from that topic and on to a fun one, the NPCA,” joked Foster, to laughs from the crowd. He was referring to the ongoing troubles of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
“There is a lot going on there. It seems like this has been three years of HR and legal issues.”
Foster said the new board is wading through those issues and, he believes, in the right direction but, with many of those issues sensitive, he did not comment further.