From the Desk of Chamber CEO Jill Raycroft

Belleville, ON June 29th 2017 - Top of mind today - the countdown is on for the Belleville Waterfront & Ethnic Festival and Zwick’s will be buzzing two weekends in a row!  Of course, we’re all feeling pretty patriotic as we acknowledge the 150 years since Confederation and some of us are also clearly aware that our country is celebrating much more than an anniversary.  We are celebrating our multicultural heritage and acknowledging our impact on the country our fore-bearers had on the Indigenous populations already here.  I believe you will find both celebrations – on Canada Day and again the 4 days of Waterfront – mindful and moving.  I hope you find a way to participate in at least one day of each. 

And while we’re getting ready for all of that, I caught the ear of our Belleville Police Chief Ron Gignac while greeting our visitors from Lahr.  I mentioned that one of our Open Mic comments had registered concerns with the need for increased police presence in the Downtown Core…  he suggested we set up a meeting.

I met with Ron this morning.  I know he has been committed from the beginning to increase the presence of police in the Downtown area and he has been walking the beat himself.  I asked if he’s noticed a difference in the past two years with the people walking around and he reflected on that for a few moments.  First of all, it takes a long time for a culture to change – both in reality and perception.  They know it’s a problem and he is leading by example to demonstrate a downtown presence is important.  That said, he is already getting great feedback from the people he talks to and he has also observed that more seniors are taking advantage of the downtown area as a place to walk and enjoy.  He made the point that the danger in our downtown area is predominantly in the evening, liquor induced and not instigated by the residents but people from other neighbourhoods participating in the nightlife of the downtown area. 

He also noted that there are no reports of muggings and random acts of violence are not a danger to our general population.  Certainly, a low rental area will produce a lower social economic group of people and this is evidenced but it is pretty much the same in any downtown he has been to – from Peel to Deep River.  And while there are pockets of sidewalk that are tougher to walk by, the Downtown does have a few things to offer.  It will be exciting to see what happens when the people who’ve purchased condos in Century Village are living downtown and if other proposed condo units come, what stores will move in to serve their daily needs. 

I want to thank the person who brought that to our Open Mic’s attention and wanted you to know the Chamber and Belleville Police Service have an open relationship and they are prepared to listen to our member’s needs.  Do keep sharing your concerns and supportive solutions!

Today I will also attend the discussion in Thurlow with MPs Mike Bossio and Adam Vaughan for input on Rural Poverty & Affordable Housing. 

On July 13, I have applied to speak on your behalf at the Public Hearings on Bill 148, The Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act in Kingston.  Using the results of our first Minimum Wage Impact Survey, I am hoping to have the opportunity to identify that business is the core to sustaining our economy.  50% of respondents are already paying over minimum wage and the increase creates a real challenge for parity when a new hire will start at a wage not much less than a seasoned and valued employee has earned.  When we place the burden for reducing poverty on the business owner, the consumer pays. 

If we are already providing the discretionary income the increase is expected to provide with higher than minimum wage jobs now – what is going to happen when the costs of goods has to rise to cover the difference for the increase.  Will we really see the expected spike in spending locally when this happens?  Another unintended consequence may be the reduction of support businesses offer to community organizations.  A third of the respondents to our survey indicated this is where they would have to cut back.  The impact of this cannot be ignored.  Do we expect the population who will benefit from an extra $2.00 in pocket to replace this support?  Or do we expect the need for the programming provided by charities such as the Children’s Foundation or Rotary to decrease?  The Belleville Waterfront & Ethnic Festival is made possible by the support of local businesses.  You have contributed nearly $70,000 to make this local, provincially-acclaimed, festival free to our community.  That is support our whole community will suffer losing.

No one who responded to the survey felt that employees don’t deserve good wages.  And yes, some do pay entry level employees and students at minimum rates.  But they need the increase to happen at smaller increments.  I will also advocate that a reduction in the Corporate Income Tax rate might soften the blow.  Would our government agree the dollars are better spent from the employee’s hands than theirs? Or might that be the argument that ultimately wins.

Happy Canada Day – and hope to see you at Waterfront on July 6th, 7th, 8th & 9th.