Politician photo Christine Eliot, Navdeep Bains, Mary NgRocco Rossi, Vic Fedeli photo

Photo L-R: Mary Ng, Christine Elliot, Rocco Rossi, Vic Redeli and Navdeer Bains

And so do some of the province’s and country’s top leaders, who offered to share some words of pride, appreciation and congratulations to Ontario’s best.

From The Honourable Christine Elliott, Ontario’s Deputy Premier and Minister of Health

 “Nothing is more important than protecting the health and safety of patients and the frontline workers caring for them. Our frontline heroes have risen to the unique challenges presented by COVID-19 by continuing to support and care for patients. We are grateful for their extraordinary efforts and their collaboration with us as we deal with the second wave of COVID-19 and flu season.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the global surge in demand for PPE has exposed the fragility of international supply chains. To ensure preparedness for future needs and reduce reliance on foreign manufacturers, the province has committed to strengthening Ontario’s domestic supply chain.

Christine Elliot photo

Since this pandemic began, the response from our health/medical tech and manufacturing industries has been incredible. We have been working closely with our business community to mobilize Ontario’s manufacturing and innovation might to respond to COVID-19.

Earlier this year, we called on Ontario’s business community to help us in the fight against COVID-19 through the Ontario Together Portal. We were not disappointed — the portal has received more than 29,000 submissions since its launch. It allows businesses to submit solutions and proposals for products and services. The business community came through with their supplies and ideas to help protect our frontline workers, Ontarians and businesses.

We also launched the Ontario Together Fund, a new $50 million fund, to provide immediate support to businesses and organizations to join the province to combat COVID-19. We are helping companies make investments to build their capacity or provide technological solutions, either in new equipment or retooling, so they can quickly pivot to manufacture the supplies and equipment needed in the healthcare sector and in other critical public services.”

Q&A with The Honourable Mary Ng, Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade

The Spark: Your government has done a remarkable job in supporting small business owners. Why was it so important to bring measures in right from the outset? 

Minister Mary Ng (MN): Small businesses are at the heart of our community. They add vitality and colour to our neighbourhoods. They are the lifeblood of our cities and towns across the country by employing more than 8.5 million Canadians.

Mary Ng Smiling photo

Over the past few months, we’ve all seen the handwritten “Closed Due to COVID” signs on local bookstores and barbershops. The impact of this crisis on entrepreneurs and their staff cannot be overstated as we recognize the sacrifices they’ve had to make, in many cases putting their livelihoods on hold to keep people safe. Business owners know that behind those storefronts are stories of perseverance and resourcefulness.

From the very beginning, our government made the decision to do whatever it took to keep businesses afloat and bridge them to better times. That is why we stepped up to help entrepreneurs keep their employees on the payroll and cover their fixed expenses, including rent, in addition to dedicated new supports for women entrepreneurs, Indigenous business owners and Black entrepreneurs. 

Supporting the growth and revitalization of economies in all regions will be vital, as our government recognizes that entrepreneurs and small businesses will play a crucial role in our economic recovery and beyond. 

The Spark: The Made in Canada Project is the perfect example of your government’s effort to help businesses pivot. What can you tell entrepreneurs and angel investors who are feeling the stress of COVID but want to carry on with their business and investments? 

MN: In the face of this challenging time, entrepreneurs have shown true resilience amid COVID-19 — whether it is innovating and adapting their business models, taking advantage of our emergency supports, or looking to new markets for opportunities for growth. Startups and companies scaling up provide critical sources of innovation and economic dynamism that strengthen our economy. This talent and entrepreneurial spirit are needed — now and moving forward.  

To help Canada fight COVID-19, our government encouraged businesses and manufacturers to help produce medical supplies and equipment to meet the need. More than 6,000 businesses have reached out asking how they can help, as part of the Made In Canada Project. 

As part of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy has helped support more than 3.8 million employees; more than 780,000 applicants have been approved for the Canada Emergency Business Account loan;  Canada Emergency Response Benefit has helped more than 9 million Canadians, including self-employed entrepreneurs; the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program has helped more than 130,000 small business tenants and supported over 1.18 million employees, and the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy will continue to help businesses with fixed costs until Summer 2021; and the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund has invested $1.5 billion in more than 12,000 businesses, protecting almost 95,000 jobs across the country.

At the same time, our government invested $405 million in the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) to support small and medium-sized enterprises as they undertake the development and commercialization of innovative, technology-driven new or improved products, services or processes. These are part of a wide range of supports we continue to deliver to help businesses bridge to better times and position them for future growth and success. 

Emerging sectors like agri-tech and clean tech represent enormous strategic opportunities and growth in a post-COVID global landscape. They will be at the forefront of a strong and sustainable economic recovery.

From The Honourable Minister Navdeep Bains, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, about the innovation of Ontarians during the COVID-19 pandemic

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major challenge for governments, businesses and all Ontarians. I have been consistently impressed and moved by the effort and compassion shown by Ontarians in light of this major disruption to our lives. I have watched Ontarians step up, retool, research and design our way out of this crisis. We have seen Ontario’s innovators stepping up to the plate, from auto manufacturers using their expertise to make medical masks, whisky distilleries pivoting to hand-sanitizer production, hockey gear companies making medical-grade face shields, and the list goes on. Ontarians have shown just how far they are willing to go for their neighbours, and for that, I applaud the innovators across our province.”

Navdeep Bains smiling wearing a turban

Q&A with The Honourable Victor Fedeli, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade

The Spark: Your government put $50 million into the Ontario Together Fund, celebrating a made-in-Ontario approach and designed to help companies retool or buy new equipment to be able to make PPE. What was the response from innovators and leaders of tech companies across the province? 

Vic Fedeli (VF): At the outset of the pandemic, our government called on Ontario’s business community to help us in the fight against COVID-19 through the Ontario Together Portal. We were blown away by the response. Ontario’s business community came through with their supplies, their innovation and their ideas to help protect our frontline workers and vulnerable Ontario individuals and businesses.

Vic Fedeli Smiling Photo

In addition, through the Ontario Together Fund, launched in April, we are providing immediate support to businesses and organizations who team up with the province to combat COVID-19.Many companies and organizations have received support from the Ontario Together Fund, including: Virox Technologies, Southmedic, Sterling Industries, SRB Technologies, CSA Group Testing & Certification, Eclipse Innovations, Clean Works Medical and Pure Life Machinery, Inovex, MetricAid, New Ontario Brewing, Dairy Distillery, Smart Safe Science and Linamar. The organizations include Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

The reopening of our economy would not be possible without the collective efforts of communities, businesses and workers in every corner of this province. Together, we will ensure we are prepared with Ontario-made solutions to respond to needs and challenges now and in the future as we continue on the road to economic recovery.

The Spark: At a briefing in May, you spoke about Ontario stepping up at the outset of the crisis, not only keeping customers safe, but coming up with “innovative ideas and solutions that represent the best of the Ontario spirit.” What would you like to say to the companies that took your words to heart and accomplished so much during such an unprecedented time? 

VF: Since this pandemic began, the response from business owners, workers, communities and people from across Ontario has been incredible. We have seen, first-hand, ingenuity and perseverance on display in every corner of the province. Our business community has continued to step up and demonstrate the best of the Ontario spirit and provide innovative solutions to our frontline workers and people across Ontario with the critical supplies they need. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of countless companies across the province, we will emerge from this pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever before.

The Spark: You have also said the province will need to lean on the tech sector to lead Ontario to a place of manufacturing strength when we’re through the pandemic. What can you say to entrepreneurs and small business owners in the innovation ecosystem about their role in supporting this and getting us through the pandemic? 

VF: Ontario’s entrepreneurs and small businesses play a critical role in our communities by creating employment, supplying larger companies and contributing innovative new ideas, processes and resources to the economy. Our government also recognizes that COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for small businesses across Ontario. We continue to do everything we can to help small businesses overcome this difficult time and understand that timely support is critical to helping small businesses remain viable. We are continuing to speak with small business owners and associations to hear about the impacts they are experiencing and how our government can support them in their economic recovery journey over the long term.

Throughout this pandemic, we have participated in more than 70 virtual roundtables with small business stakeholders — including restaurant owners, manufacturers and main-street businesses — to hear their stories and learn what we, as a government, can do to help. In addition, we continue to meet with innovation stakeholders to hear directly from them on potential short and long-term opportunities for Ontario to leverage its strengths and continue to be a global innovation leader.

Furthermore, as Canada’s most patent-intensive province and largest producer of world-class research, it is important to ensure that Ontarians benefit from investments in COVID-19-related research and development activities.

That’s why we are strengthening Ontario’s intellectual property position through the Intellectual Property Action Plan. This plan will drive Ontario’s long-term economic competitiveness with a made-in-Ontario focus by prioritizing intellectual property generation, protection and commercialization. It will identify and provide supports for all those involved in research, innovation and commercialization, and help ensure that any economic outcomes generated by Ontario research and innovation remain in Ontario. This includes postsecondary institutions, established and growing businesses, Regional Innovation Centres (RICs) and other organizations that help early-stage businesses and entrepreneurs.

The IP Action Plan will give startups and entrepreneurs tools to protect, leverage and commercialize their ideas to support economic recovery. 

Q&A with Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce 

The Spark: So many businesses have shined during COVID. As the president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of  Commerce (OCC), what have you seen? 

Rocco Rossi (RR): We produced a report in September called “Small Business, Big impact,” which is 28 case studies of companies that have pivoted during this time. Necessity is the mother of invention and yes, there are lots of sad stories and there are stories of businesses being crushed, but there are also examples of incredible resilience. It’s that resilience and creativity that’s key to getting through this. There are also so many stories of incredible generosities. Crisis tests character, and so many businesses and Ontarians have truly risen to the challenge. 

Rocco Rossi Smiling with suit

The Spark: The OCC has really continued to advocate for small businesses during COVID. Why has it been so important for you to continue that advocacy at this time? 

RR: In many respects, we’ve never been more relevant, because at a time of great crisis, most small and medium-sized businesses in particular have people wearing multiple hats, which means they can’t spend time going through government documents and regulations in terms of what programs are being set up, what the qualifications are, etc. Having a source they can go to for answers to questions and also to advocate for them and give feedback to the government where the programs weren’t working has been crucial. And governments similarly in this time have turned to the OCC as a channel and partner to think through rapid iteration of programs. The reality is that governments are not designed to work quickly and for good reason — they’re supposed to study issues, do focus groups and think through consequences, but COVID has not given us that luxury. The government has been creating policy and they’ve been willing to change and adapt to fit the needs of businesses. They’ve listened to us as we’ve been speaking on behalf of our members and pointing out where things aren’t working. 

The Spark: At a briefing in May, Premier Doug Ford talked about Ontario Spirit and the innovative ideas and solutions coming from Ontario businesses. The OCC has been doing their own program: #DifferenceMakers. What’s your message to those #DifferenceMakers who’ve accomplished such amazing things during such a difficult time? 

RR: They inspire us all and they also offer case studies of what is possible, and that really helps others to go forward. There were early adopters on the conversion, for instance distilleries pivoting to hand sanitizer, and when people saw that it could be done, they joined in. We had people using 3D printers to produce face shields. There’s been so much creativity and inspiration, and these businesses have provided models for others, as well as hope in a time when people see a lot of darkness and a lot of pain. We have lost thousands of businesses and we will lose more before this is over. There are many sectors, particularly in tourism, which have a very long road ahead of them. These #DifferenceMakers have been crucial — they’ve really stepped up. The true character of our business community has come forward and that is a source of incredible pride for us. 

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