As an elected official during the COVID crisis and the third Ontario lockdown, my office’s primary focus remains on stopping the spread of COVID and protecting our community — efforts which I have written about previously.
However, despite the pandemic, the original duties of being an MPP have not changed, and chief among these has been exploring legislation to support our local businesses and protect jobs. I’d like to take a break from my articles on COVID and talk about one of these issues.
Anyone following my political career knows there is one pillar that I have always run on – buy local. When we buy local, we put money into the pockets of our neighbours, and those who go on to spend that money locally. When you purchase a bottle of Ontario wine, that results in nearly $40 of economic impact for the province’s economy, whereas purchasing a foreign bottle of wine produces only a fraction of that in economic benefit to our town.
I have always believed our procurement policies should try to emphasize the use of local workers, to make sure that when we build things like the new hospital, that is done with local work. While many of you may be surprised to learn that I do not drink, I still have come to deeply love our local wine industry and the entrepreneurs and dedicated community members it has produced. These local, home-grown business geniuses must be given every advantage our province can offer.
Working with these community leaders, I came to realize there was an issue in tax policy that may not garner the most attention, but is vitally important to this industry and the over 18,000 jobs it supports. Right now in our province, local VQA wines pay a 6.1 per cent tax on retail winery sales. International wines don’t pay this tax. You read that right. Despite the fact our local wineries provide jobs in Ontario and generate economic activity, our local industry is facing additional tax burdens that the international market doesn’t face. This must change.
In September 2020, working with many of our town’s best wineries and others across Ontario, we introduced a bill for the second time at the Ontario Legislature to create an exemption of VQA and 100 per cent Ontario wines from the 6.1 per cent basic tax paid on wine sold at winery retail stores. The 6.1 per cent basic tax must be exempted from VQA and 100 per cent Ontario-grown wines, and now more than ever, we need to support Canadian-made products and Niagara-made products in a region that has seen so many job losses from COVID-19.
Support to eliminate the basic 6.1 per cent tax has been received from several organizations, including Ontario Craft Wineries and Wine Growers Ontario, as well as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Exempting this basic tax has also gained wide support across Niagara, including the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce. I am willing to stand with any person of any party to get this bill passed. As you can imagine, we were all disappointed when this common-sense bill was not included in the province’s recent budget. If the Ford government wants to help businesses, they can remove the barriers anow that will allow them to grow exponentially as soon as this vaccine process is fixed and we get back to life as usual.
Niagara is one of the most prominent tourist destinations across Canada, and our vineyards are globally recognized and deserve to be supported. Tourism provides thousands of Niagara jobs, and these industries have been critically impacted by COVID restrictions and the Ford government’s lockdowns. Wineries and grape farmers have been affected enough in this global pandemic, and the basic tax is unfair. Therefore, this tax must be removed to help these industries with the economic impacts they continue to face. I encourage Niagara citizens, when this lockdown is over and proper precautions can be met, to support our local wineries, or support them safely if you can now.
Many industries are being impacted during the global pandemic in Ontario, and across the globe, and will require different and necessary solutions to rebound from this chaos. This basic tax illustrates one example of how the Ontario government can level the playing field and create jobs. The basic 6.1 per cent tax should have been addressed in the March Ontario budget and been exempt. It’s a mistake that it was not.
Right now the immediate focus is on fixing and accelerating this vaccine rollout, bringing mass testing on site and giving businesses the financial supports they need to stay afloat and avoid debt during this awful lockdown.
However, there are steps that also must be taken to prepare our businesses to make up for lost time, and passing Bill 209 is one of those steps.