Ontario’s Business Sector Strategy is a groundbreaking initiative that has challenged the government to re-think current approaches, re-evaluate regulations and build a new collaborative relationship with Ontario business sectors.  

The Ontario government and the province’s businesses share important goals: to protect the public, create jobs and foster a more innovative and prosperous province. However, from the perspective of business stakeholders, government policy and services are often seen as complex, confusing, and difficult to navigate – even getting in the way of growth, new investments and jobs.

Ontario realized that a key to being competitive on the worldwide stage was to change the way we approach our relationship with business.

Open for Business (OFB) was created in 2009 to deliver faster, smarter and easier government-to-business services and to establish a modern system of government. Part of OFB’s mandate was to create an open and responsive working relationship between business and government – to drive business priorities and be a catalyst for a new way of thinking and working.

Ontario’s Business Sector Strategy, a paradigm changing OFB initiative, was launched in early 2010 as a vehicle for government to address business concerns in a timely and focused manner. Since its inception, the strategy has led to some significant policy shifts, ranging from the establishment of mandatory regulatory impact assessments for new regulations across all ministries, to the creation of a new risk-based and compliance-focused Code of Practice for all provincial regulators and inspectors. Services have been streamlined: rather than needing multiple building and land use permits for each new residential subdivision, developers now apply for one.

Under the strategy, a sector represented by a lead association consults with business leaders from across the sector to identify five top priorities that, if resolved, would strengthen their sector’s success. Over a two-month period, ministries and business leaders engage in an intensive, focused effort to establish a joint understanding of priorities and solutions. At the end of the consultative period, ministries must address these priorities or deliver alternate solutions that are acceptable to the sector.

The process starts with a roundtable where a lead industry association, on behalf of its sector, presents its top five priorities to government. Chaired by the minister of Economic Development and Innovation, the roundtable brings together business leaders with senior political staff, deputy ministers and staff from key ministries to hear the priorities first-hand. The presence of senior officials, and often the premier, sends a clear signal that this initiative matters. The two-month clock starts ticking.  

Tight time constraints were imposed to create an environment that would quickly demonstrate the government’s responsiveness. Ministries are required to deliver solutions without incurring new costs for government – instead, by doing things differently.  

Lead ministries are appointed and held accountable for ensuring that political staff and other relevant ministries are engaged to contribute to the solutions. Throughout the process, the sector consults broadly and collaborates with government. Together, they form working groups to decide on objectives, set timelines for action and co-create solutions.

After two months, the deputy minister of each lead ministry presents the agreed-upon solution at the closing roundtable. A final report is produced as a public record of the results.

As of March 2012, the building and land development, manufacturing, information and communications technology, medical technology, agriculture and agri-food and hospitality sectors have participated in the Business Sector Strategy. These sectors account for $385 billion in annual sales, over 60 percent of Ontario’s GDP, and employ over 1.9 million Ontarians. Seventeen ministries delivered key results which, further to those mentioned above, have included:

  • Implementing a pre-market assessment of medical technologies, a world first that will dramatically improve the likelihood of early stage adoption of new technologies by the health system;
  • The creation of a “how-to” handbook to help small and medium enterprises access government procurement opportunities; and
  • The modernization of liquor licensing to allow for all-inclusive travel packages and complimentary drinks.

Ontario’s Business Sector Strategy can easily be modified for any organizational structure, to address a variety of issues. This model breaks down silos in government to create enterprise solutions, while protecting the public interest. Business feels its voice has been heard. Through mutual understanding, clear focus, shared objectives and joint problem-solving, government delivers responsive solutions that strengthen its relationship with business.

Morah Fenning is assistant deputy minister of Open For Business, Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation.