Favourable government decisions impacted by The Chamber in 2020
BC Housing adds to region's workforce housing
In January, The Chamber members attending a Business Leaders Luncheon were able to ask BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay how his organization was helping provide affordable homes for workers. The Chamber's advocacy on this issue has led to the construction of hundreds of units of workforce housing in our region.
Victoria adds special constables to support downtown safety
The Chamber has increasingly heard from downtown Victoria businesses that more resources are needed to ensure public safety. In January, Victoria agreed to hire special constables, who are not armed and are used for work that does not require a fully trained and equipped police officer.
Victoria backs off horse and carriage industry
The Chamber stood up for Victoria’s horse carriage industry and the long-standing businesses that operate in full compliance of all the rules and protocols in place to ensure the welfare of the animals involved. In January, the BC SPCA sent a letter to the City of Victoria endorsing the practices of Victoria’s industry.
Province introduces Interim Business tax Relief
Business organizations including The Chamber called on the province to provide property tax relief for small businesses and non-profits as well as arts and culture organizations.In February, the government responded with the Interim Business Property Tax Relief program enabling local governments to provide immediate property tax relief for the 2020 tax year.
VicPD adds officers downtown
In February, VicPD announced Project Downtown Connect. The initiative added two officers downtown to engage with small businesses four days per week for four months. The project helped police better understand issues facing downtown businesses, who also received advice from officers on improving security. The Chamber advocates for safe communities as the foundation all of us need to function in our daily lives, and Project Downtown Connect was a welcome response to our concerns.
Citizens Assembly back on track
After The Chamber called on Saanich and Victoria to follow through on their commitment to holding a Citizens' Assembly, the municipalities finally signed off on a Terms of Reference in February. The Chamber applauded Saanich and Victoria for moving forward, and for removing a clause that could have limited the participation of Chamber members due to our organization's longstanding advocacy efforts.
Government help with wages, as well as an extension of the program
The COVID-19 pandemic struck suddenly, creating uncertainty throughout society and among business. The Chamber acted quickly, organizing phone calls and correspondence with government decision makers in the Prime Minister’s Office and senior levels of the provincial government. We asked specifically for businesses to be immediately exempted from late-filing penalties and installment interest on balances owing to government until COVID-19 is under control. Our work helped government quickly craft policies to give businesses a lifeline to get through the weeks and months ahead. We continue asking for programs to be adjusted to be more inclusive and effective for all businesses.
Deferment of income tax payments
In March, the federal government announced another initiative that had been championed by The Chamber and our network. Businesses were allowed to defer payment of income tax amounts owing until the end of August. No interest or penalties will accumulate on these amounts.
Housing security for workforce renting homes
For many years, the Chamber has advocated for affordable and secure housing for our region’s workforce. It’s traditionally one of the biggest barriers employers face trying to find and keep employees. In March, we supported measures taken to protect workers living in rental accommodations, while continuing to call on the federal and provincial government to protect commercial tenants.
Expanded coverage of Canada Emergency Business Account
In April, The Chamber asked for members to tell us about the hurdles they faced qualifying for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. We heard from members who didn’t meet the initial payroll threshold for many reasons. Their stories helped us get the message through to the federal government, who changed the rules and made the relief program more inclusive.
Police resources for downtown Victoria
In April, Victoria Police Department announced it had stepped up enforcement downtown. The move came after The Chamber and other business organizations called on VicPD to help business owners who needed to close up their shops to abide by provincial health regulations. The empty storefronts were being targeted by thieves and vandals. Police responded by changing the timing of their patrols, as well as offering advice to business owners on how to safely secure their premises.
Governments respond to Chamber calls for tax relief
As soon as the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, The Chamber called on government to provide immediate tax relief for business. The advocacy played a role in the province forgiving BC Hydro bills from April to June for business hurt by the crisis. The federal government announced it would defer payment of income tax owing until August. The feds also announced the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and, at the urging of The Chamber, updated criteria to make it more inclusive. The province also extended filing and payment deadlines for the Employer Health Tax and the PST.
Chamber calls for commercial rent relief
The cost of rent is one of the largest expenses for businesses and has been a major challenge for organizations that have lost revenue during the pandemic. The Chamber has called on the federal and provincial governments to provide commercial rent relief. The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program has helped, as did the province’s move to prohibit evictions by landlords who choose not to participate in the program. The Chamber has also called on landlords and tenants to work together to ensure both parties get through this crisis and are in a good place to restart operations as soon as the can.
Government acknowledges need to help tourism industry
In the early days of the pandemic, governments moved quickly to provide immediate relief. However, one sector that was not getting enough attention was tourism. The Chamber worked with the Prime Minister’s Office as well as provincial ministers to make sure tourism was specifically targeted for relief. We continue to work with industry organizations and our members to ensure that measures are taken to help tourism businesses survive until Canada can once again open its doors to international visitors.
Opening public spaces for commercial uses
COVID-19 caught everyone off guard, forcing profound changes in the way we live our lives and how we go about our business. The requirement to maintain physical distancing presented a huge challenge to many restaurants, cafes and pubs. The Chamber lent our support to a movement among all levels of government to open public space to businesses as a way to enlarge their footprint. This allowed them to keep customers and staff safe and has served to add vibrancy to street scenes across our region.
Saanich votes to carry on with Citizens' Assembly
In 2018, voters in Saanich and Victoria gave their incoming councils a clear mandate to create a Citizens’ Assembly to explore the pros and cons of amalgamation. The Chamber supports efforts to improve the efficiency of local government through better governance. We continue to help push this process forward. When COVID-19 hit, there was a concern that Saanich would put work on hold. We encouraged them to carry on and Saanich responded by fulfilling their obligation and keeping the process on track.
Saanich grants reprieve to roadside stands
The global pandemic has forced businesses to try new ideas to maintain their operations. One of the biggest challenges for many businesses forced to close to meet new public health regulations was what to do with their existing inventories. In Saanich, a florist began offering her perishable stock through a roadside stand. The innovation caught on and allowed her to maintain a desperately needed cashflow. However, to carry on, Saanich needed to update its existing bylaws. The Chamber asked the municipality to rise to the challenge and show it supports innovation led by business. Saanich agreed, showing true leadership during this crisis.
BC Housing moving homeless into supported housing
One of the positives that came out of the profound disruption caused by COVID-19 was the work done to address the roots of homelessness in our region. The Chamber continues to advocate for safe communities and the need for proven solutions that address mental health and addictions. We supported BC Housing’s purchase of Victoria hotels to serve as temporary housing for people living in homeless camps in the city. The hotels allow for people to be housed safely and, critically, include on-site services to help people dealing with mental health and addiction challenges. BC Housing has also said it wants to develop long-term plans that would see the sites redeveloped for affordable housing.
Province announces $10 million for tourism marketing associations
In May, the provincial government announced it was providing a $10 million grant to BC's 59 destination marketing organizations. The funds helped organizations such as Destination Greater Victoria retain staff and cover expenses from May to October. The Chamber continues to speak up on behalf of all sectors, and we have called on all levels of government to provide more help to tourism — the industry hit hardest by the pandemic.
Feds fix oversight in COVID-19 loan program
One of the ways The Chamber was able to make a difference during the pandemic is by providing direction to government before, during and after the speedy rollout of relief programs. A good example of this was our effort to get the federal government to change the Canada Emergency Business Account program. Working with our chamber network, we were able to get the federal government to retool the program so more types of business structures qualified for relief.
Province agrees to extend temporary layoff time-limit
On June 22, The Chamber joined business organizations from across BC calling on the provincial government to extend the temporary layoff time-limit until the end of August. The province responded quickly, saying it heard our voice “loud and clear.” On June 25, an extension allowing for layoffs of up to 24 weeks was announced. This allows businesses that were forced to shut down to continue planning for restarting. Extending the temporary layoffs will help keep workforce teams in place. As well, businesses won’t have to worry about facing a crippling cash crunch by being forced to pay severance and losing staff just as they are preparing to restart operations.
Saanich increases legal number of unrelated tenants
In June, Saanich Council voted to increase the number of unrelated tenants who can share a home in the municipality. The Chamber advocated for the move to help more people access legal housing that they can afford. By capping the number at six, the municipality still has an enforceable limit but more students and workers will be able to live in housing that fits their income. Our region has a foundational challenge with the cost of housing in our region. The expense is one of the major factors that has made it difficult for employers to find and keep workers.
Wage subsidy extended until December
The Chamber was able to advocate directly to the federal government for an extension of the wage subsidy program. And in July, the federal government announced the subsidy would run beyond its initial July 31 end date. By making the program will be available until December, employers have a little more certainty to plan for the fall. That’s huge in these uncertain times. The federal government also listened to our call to widen make the program more accessible so that more businesses could benefit.
Child care tied to economic development
The Chamber has been calling on governments to treat child care as an effective tool to boost our economy. The effort has paid off with increasing investments to make child care more affordable and accessible. We all benefit when parents are able to contribute to the workforce. In July, the provincial government announced that its Childcare BC plan has funded almost 17,000 new spaces since it was introduced. That’s a win for families, a win for employers and a win for The Chamber.
Feds extend commercial rent relief
The Chamber called on government to help business struggling with a downturn in revenu due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The initial program required landlords to agree to work with their tenants, and The Chamber called for a collaborative approach to help businesses get through this together. We asked government to extend the prgram as businesses need to plan over a longer horizon than month to month. In July, the federal government heard our call and extended the program before eventually announcing a new and improved program in October.
Federal wage subsidy extended to end of 2020
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy was a lifeline for many businesses that saw their revenue collapse during the economic shutdown required to control the spread of COVID-19. Governmnent moved quickly to heed calls for help, and, in July, they acted on our request to extend the program in order to help businesses plan their recovery. The program would be extended again in September.
Province enables temporary layoff extensions
The provincial government announced a new tool in July to improve the process for employers who needed to extend temporary layoffs. The online application eliminated the need for physical documentation. Extending layoffs helped many organizations hang on to to valuable employees and avoided forced terminations and severance payments. The measures were a direct response to The Chamber's call for a new approach to this process due to the circumstances.
Residency requirement a fair approach to housing
The Chamber supported a motion by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps for residency requirements to prioritize placement in supported housing. The 2020 Point-in-Time Homeless Count showed that 84% of people experiencing homelessness had been living in Greater Victoria for more than a year. A further 4% weren't able to answer or chose not to answer. Our region has struggled for years to help people transition to more permanent housing. We do not have the capacity to become a destination for people from across the country who would be better served by accessing services in their communities.
Feds extend commercial rent relief
In August, the federal government heard our calls to extend the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program. In the fall, the program was replaced by an improved plan that no longer required landlords to carry the burden of risk.
New EI standard helps move workers off CERB
In August, the federal government announced plans to move Canadians off the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and onto an updated Employment Insurance system. The CERB was an early response to the pandemic to help Canadians who suddenly lost their income as the economy was shut down. However, The Chamber shared the concerns of employers who were finding CERB made it harder to get staff back to work. The new program makes it easier for people to earn money without having their benefit clawed back, and will better protect contract workers.
BC Ferries eligible for government relief funds
The Chamber welcomed news in August that BC Ferries will receive emergency funding from the provincial and federal governments. BC Ferries provides an essential link to Greater Victoria and The Chamber supports efforts to ensure the service continues without having to drastically increase fares. The money will come from the Safe Restart Agreement, announced July 16 as part of a cost sharing plan that will also help transit systems. "We look forward to working with the Province to learn details of the Safe Restart Agreement," BC Ferries President and CEO Mark Collins said.
Feds freeze EI premiums, announce paid sick leave
In August, the federal government announced new paid sick-leave and care-giver programs as well as a two-year freeze to the Employment Insurance premium rate paid by employers. The moves reflect advocacy efforts of The Chamber along with our Canadian chamber network.
BC Housing adds 50 supported units in Victoria
In August, BC Housing announced the purchase of property at 1053 and 1075 Meares St., in order to build 50 homes with support services for people vulnerable to homelessness. Each unit is a self-contained studio home and residents will have access to onsite outreach workers, life-skills training, employment assistance and connections to community services and support groups. Staff are on site 24/7 to work with residents as individuals with specific needs and goals. The Chamber applauds the ongoing work of BC Housing and other agencies committed to addressing the homeless crisis affecting our province. In order to have a safe community for everyone, there needs to be a shift from tent cities to managed communities.
BC approves municipal bans on single-use plastics
In September, the provincial government's approved municipal bylaws banning single-use plastics in Victoria, Saanich and other BC municipalities. The move followed what many businesses have been doing for years as they react to public demand to reduce waste and show leadership in the fight against climate change. The Chamber worked extensively with the City of Victoria on its bylaw, helping officials understand the innovations already in place. Those efforts were key to ensuring the rollout of the rules were well-received. The Chamber also successfully advocated that the same regulations be copied by other municipalities — including the District of Saanich — to ensure a seamless process for regional retailers and shoppers.
South Island Transportation Strategy released
The Chamber has been calling for better governance of regional transportation in Greater Victoria. We can't have disparate approaches to transportation infrastructure as the population of our region continues to grow. The release of South Island Transportation Strategy wasn't as robust as we hoped, but the conversation is underway. Shortly after the strategy was released, regional mayors called on the province to make regional transportation governance a priority
Carriage homes will increase housing in Saanich
A decision by Saanich council in Septmeber, supported by The Chamber, could see hundreds of affordable homes built in the municipality without the direct involvement of government. The District of Saanich now allows for carriage homes on properties that meet the necessary requirements. “It took years for us to get here,” Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes told CHEK news. “Imagine there’s 30,000 single-family homes ... If just 1,000 properties (build a carriage home), we’ve added 1,000 rental homes without government involvement.”
New funding adds housing, mental health teams
The Chamber continues to advocate for safe communities by calling for proven solutions that address the root causes of homelessness. In September, the federal government announced $1 billion for cities to spend over the fall and winter on housing for vulnerable people. The Rapid Housing Initiative will be used to build modular homes, buy land or purchase existing accommodation, such as motels and hotels. The provincial also government announced it was adding a new Assertive Community Treatment team in Greater Victoria, along with five others across BC. These teams provide support to individuals, helping adults with "serious, complex and often persistent mental health challenges that make it difficult to manage day-to-day activities." The teams can also help people with substance abuse issues that bring them into conflict with the law by diverting them to treatment aimed at recovery.
Feds replace CERB with improved relief programs
The Chamber added our voice to our national network calling for a new approach the Canada Emergency Relief Benefit, which was creating a disincentive for some people to return to work. The federal government listened and, on Sept. 29, a new benefit came into effect designed to help transition people back into the workforce. The multi-pronged approach includes a new Canada Recovery Benefit of $500 per week for up to 26 weeks for people ineligible for Employment Insurance, including those who are self employed. As well, the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit provides $500 per week, for up to two weeks, for people who can't work because they are sick or must self-isolate due to COVID-19. There is also a new Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit of $500 per week for up to 26 weeks for people unable to work because a dependent requires their care.
Regulatory standard vital to single-use plastic ban
The Chamber supports efforts to protect the environment from harmful single-use plastics. We were happy to hear federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson announce a plan to work with business eliminate waste plastic by 2030. The goal is to target single-use plastics, specifically plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and hard-to-recycle food containers. A national strategy will help ensure the rules are standardized so that businesses understand their requirements. The public has, for many years, supported businesses that provided alternatives to plastic waste. Going forward, governments need to ensure they are following the lead of the public and businesses in order to get the best response to this new initiative. Also, in September, the provincial government approved municipal bylaws banning single-use plastics in Victoria, Saanich and other BC municipalities.The Chamber worked extensively with the City of Victoria on its bylaw, helping officials understand the innovations already in place. Those efforts were key to ensuring the rollout of the rules were well-received. The Chamber also successfully advocated that the same regulations be copied by other municipalities — including the District of Saanich — to ensure a seamless process for regional retailers and shoppers.
Victoria votes to extend patio season to help business survive
When The Chamber called on Victoria Council to extend the Build Back Victoria plan, the city listened. Allowing more patio and outdoor space for restaurants, cafes and pubs helped many Victoria businesses sustain their operations over the summer and into the fall.
New commercial rent relief plan an improvement
The federal government unveiled a new plan in October to help commercial tenants struggling with a loss of revenue due to the pandemic. The Chamber had called on government to replace the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), which expired in September. CECRA suffered from low uptake and faced criticism from many businesses that found it exceptionally difficult to implement. The new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) will be provided directly to eligible tenants — unlike CECRA which relied on buy-in from landlords. The government touts CERS as providing "simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021." "A program that is easier to access is good news for many commercial tenants that are struggling right now," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "The new plan is an improvement and allows businesses to plan for the winter and spring. We'll have to see how it's rolled out, and how well it works for our most vulnerable businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector." Also announced in October was an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (until June 2021). As well, the Canada Emergency Business Account was expanded allowing businesses to access an additional $20,000 interest-free loan on top of the initial CEBA loan of $40,000.
Return of downtown office workers welcome news
In June, The Chamber wrote to provincial Finance Minister Carole James — who is also MLA of Victoria-Beacon Hill — and asked what her plan was to return civil servants to their workplaces. The request was made after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised that it was safe to go back to the office, and after WorkSafeBC published extensive guidelines on how to do so. Greater Victoria's economy needs a vibrant downtown, and downtown businesses need support. Restaurants, cafes and retailers struggle without the civil servants who shop or buy meals before and after work and during their breaks. The Province listened and began to safely return workers to downtown offices. The process is not expected to be seamless as the world faces a second wave of COVID-19. Renewed restrictions in November put the return of downtown workers on hold, and The Chamber continues to advocate for relief for the hardest hit sectors of the economy.
Municipalities streamline business licence process
Doing business in a region with 13 municipalities can be confusing. The Chamber continues to advocate for better governance through fewer governments, and we have strongly supported the Citizens' Assembly process that was started by Saanich and Victoria to explore the pros and cons of amalgamation. One area that many municipalities have been trying to streamline is the business licence application process. The City of Victoria announced in October that it was moving the process online, enabling businesses to apply, pay and print licences without having to go into city hall. The City of Langford offers perpetual business licences that don't need to be renewed unless the business closes or moves. The City of Colwood also doesn't charge businesses an annual fee but does require licences to be renewed. This year, Colwood is encouraging businesses to use its online online application process. The District of Saanich offers step-by-step instructions for businesses looking to apply for a business licence. Businesses that carry on work across Greater Victoria can apply for Inter-Community Business Licences.
Chamber network amplifies advocacy efforts
Chamber staff took part in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting in October, helping adopt a number of policy resolutions that address important issues for our members. "By joining with our Chamber network, we can amplify our calls for government to better serve Canadians by focusing on helping the business community," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "Greater Victoria shares many of the concerns of other regions in Canada, such as ensuring indigenous communities are included in conversations about local economies and advocating for investment in marine industries in Canada." The Chamber also heard from a panel of experts on what to expect after next Tuesday's elections in the US. “I just hope that everybody doesn’t retreat into their corner of the sandbox and play by themselves because this will cause both health risks and economic collapse,” said panelist David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2016 to 2019.
Chamber network advocates for new aid programs
The Chamber welcomes the federal government's latest effort to provide relief for businesses continuing to struggle due to the pandemic. Bill C-9 was tabled In November after the national Chamber network outlined a number of concerns raised by our members. The legislation extended the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy, resdesigned the commercial rent subsidy and filled gaps in relief programs needed to ensure all businesses can make it through the pandemic.
Child care spaces open in school district 61
The pandemic has been especially difficult on working parents, with women disproportionately suffering income loss as they leave jobs or reduce hours to care for children. The Chamber has been calling for investment in accessible child care for years. Some good news in November as the Greater Victoria School District announced on Friday that it is creating 316 childcare spaces across the region. The school district has completed four childcare studios in Saanich and is building five others that are expected to open in early 2021.
Feds plan to boost immigration to grow economy
The Chamber has been a vocal advocate for increased immigration as Vancouver Island is facing a severe labour shortage over the next decade. The federal government announced an ambitious increase to immigration levels to try and make up for the low number of new arrivals this year. Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Minister Marco Mendicino said Canada will bring in 401,000 immigrants next year, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023. "It’s difficult to predict exactly how many newcomers will arrive in the Capital Region over the next three years," the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria says in its latest newsletter. "Usually, we see roughly 2,000 annually." The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is calling on government to ensure new arrivals to Canada are a match for sectors that need workers. The pandemic has skewed the unemployment rate, though the fundamental concerns will likely still be there after the economy recovers.
Shop local, Chamber Local, and support our business community
We've always supported local business. Back to our founding in 1863, we helped Greater Victoria's economy thrive by serving as a unified voice for enterprise. Today, we continue to adapt and evolve our efforts to help the community by ensuring a strong regional economy. As we launch our new Chamber Local campaign, we want to hear from you. What does local mean to your business and to you and your family? What binds this community together is our connections and our willingness to help. Maintaining our local businesses past 2020 and well beyond requires all of us to think about how shopping local supports our whole region. After all, when was the last time Amazon shopped at your business or sponsored your kid's sports team? In the News: Read Jack Knox's interview in the Times Colonist with Chamber CEO Bruce Williams: If our stores go dark, it really will be Black Friday