Aaron Binder Deputation at Ontario Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs

Hello, my name is Aaron Binder, I’m the President of the Corktown Residents and Business Association, Chief Experience Officer at Go Tours Canada and call my grandparents at least once a week.

I’d like to thank the Committee for inviting me to speak today.

We all understand the importance of Small Business to Canada’s economy and fabric of our communities. Over 70% of Canadians own or are employed by a Small Business and many of those in one way or another are related to our province’s Tourism Industry.

I’m here on behalf of the Tourism Industry and also to represent the businesses of Corktown in downtown Toronto. There are many overlapping interests between both groups and a high percentage of our coffee shops, yoga studios, artists and other businesses generate revenue from Tourists and visitors from across the globe.

You’re going to hear a lot of stats and numbers today –I’m not going to do that to you.

Inclusivity

But I will mention something right off the bat. Ontario’s Tourism Industry is pretty white-bread. Our industry leaders have been driving hard to become more inclusive to a greater range of Canadians in recent years whether that’s Women, People of Color or our Queer communities.

These are already the people most at risk in the job market, even more-so in the high risk Tourism sector. When I talk to our increasingly diverse Tourism workforce, these folks are so proud to represent Ontario and Canada to the world — I hope our government in Ontario can help protect these folks so they can continue in their careers exporting Canada to the world.

Your guidance on the issues facing your Committee will impact the business climate in our province and country for years to come. In the last 5 years, Canada and especially Ontario has been one of the world’s hottest Tourism destinations even amidst incredible competition.

Even already we’re seeing some destinations like Japan, Spain and Italy position themselves as the post-COVID destinations by offering incentives. They’ve been working with and preparing their businesses and tourism organizations for re-opening while we’re now just starting to talk about it in Canada. We need to act quickly.

TIAO Recommendations

I know my colleagues from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario have already brought up their recommendations surrounding this and many other topics.

Briefly, I’d like to re-iterate 4 points from them that you’ll hear from many of our colleagues throughout the day.

1) It’s wonderful that the Federal government is supporting Destination Marketing Organizations. However, this will be a longer-term investment. I’m urging the Provincial government to help the actual businesses in our sector re-open in a clear and confident way by developing a comprehensive Health and Safety plan including Contact Tracing.

2) We need continued and expanded investment into recovery and re-skilling work for laid off tourism workers. In particular, continued support for OTEC’s Tourism SkillsNet Ontario and the Future Skills Centre.

3) We need the Ontario government to work with the Federal government to expand the $40,000 interest free loan into a completely forgivable grant for tourism and hospitality businesses.

4) I’m urging the Provincial government to contribute to the Federal Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) so that this can be scaled and continued into the recovery phases.

It is imperative that we get Ontario’s re-opening right and the recommendations you’re all hearing today can help us get there. Our province cannot afford to lose this robust export industry to other markets or we’ll be playing catch-up for decades.

Commercial Eviction Freeze

There is one, immediate action the government can take and that’s what I’ve come here to directly ask for today. For the last three months of my life, I’ve been fighting along with tens of thousands of other business owners across our province and country for Commercial Rent Relief.

I wasn’t joking earlier when I said I call my grandparents at least once a week. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs and when my Mike and Mary Binder immigrated to Canada after the 2nd World War, they started a business and now I rely on them for advice.

But they, like myself and thousands of other entrepreneurs are worried that we’re seeing the death of Main Streets across the province. The CECRA program has performed poorly and aggressive practices like evictions and outright refusal by Landlords to participate in the program are affecting many areas of the province.

Our Premiers constant tough words are not enough — in fact, this may have the unintended impact of emboldening bad Landlords to boot businesses without consequence. If the Province and Premier are serious, real action needs to be taken. I know many Opposition Members on this Committee have been speaking out for this, I hope the Members in Government also understand the need for a Freeze.

Certainly a percentage of businesses would have failed regardless of CECRA, the Pandemic or any other funding program. But now, 3 months into shutdowns, many businesses, like mine, with 15 years of history and otherwise good balance sheets are at risk of shutting down forever. With them go even more unemployed Ontarians into the worst job market in modern history.

As you are all likely aware, many other Provinces, States and G20 Countries have already enacted a Commercial Eviction Freeze — and Ontario can do it for the cost of a few pen strokes. Our business owners and employees want to get back to work — where they were before — they just need a little more time to work out financing and deals with their landlords.

This is my top recommendation for the Committee — enact a temporary Commercial Rent Freeze today.

Listen, it might not be your lifelong goal to make Mike and Mary Binder proud — but you could all really help me out here by making this your recommendation too.

The Toronto-based Social Entrepreneur. CEO Go Tours Canada + Segway of Ontario. aaronbinder.com