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.
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.
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.
Virtual Fireside Chat Series
As part of The Chamber's commitment to getting businesses back to work, Chamber CEO Catherine Holt will host a fireside chat with a series of experts on COVID-19 related to challenges and opportunities. This is your opportunity to get answers on pressing issues and information to help you manage through these unprecedented times.
Let's also 'flatten the curve' for business
We've all heard Dr. Bonnie Henry refer to her goal of "flattening the curve" of COVID-19. That means reducing the impact on our hospitals, health care providers and suppliers of equipment by minimizing the number of cases at any one time. This will ensure the health care system can continue to function and that resources are available for everyone in need.
The same strategy is important for our economy. We need to flatten the curve of a financial downturn caused by consumers doing their public duty and staying home and by businesses being ordered to close by the government. The more businesses that remain viable — even at a reduced level of demand or in a maintenance mode — the sooner they can resume operations and we can get back to a new normal and start an economic recovery. This matters very much for business owners and also for the vibrancy of our community, the future of employees as well as the revival of tax revenue to governments.
Government investment now will help flatten the curve of business failures and will certainly contribute to governments' financial picture down the road, and their ability to continue providing public services.
The Chamber has vigorously advocated for the government to provide very generous support for businesses, as was done in many European countries. I was extremely relieved to hear the announcement by the prime minister that Canada will provide a 75% wage subsidy for small to medium sized businesses to enable them to keep their employees, or hire them back. This is a much better option as it leaves more money in the pockets of employees and enables employers to hold on to their teams.
Prime Minister Trudeau announced that GST payments due at the end of this month can be delayed until June, which helps businesses preserve more cash for longer. This is helpful, but The Chamber will continue to ask for a reduction in taxes from all levels of government and not just deferrals.
The prime minister also said businesses can access $40,000 in loans that will be interest free for a year. This is in addition to the measures announced earlier this month delaying income tax payments.
We have also asked for help with commercial rent, which is likely to be a provincial government measure. And we continue to call for a large recovery fund, which the federal government may act on when we are closer to recovery. At the moment they are rightly focused on business preservation.
On March 26, in response to our advocacy letter, I had a very good conversation with the federal Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Finance Minister, Mona Fortier. We had initially connected, courtesy of Mayor Lisa Helps, when the Minister was visiting Victoria back (in the good old days) on March 4. At that time, the Minister and I talked about the problems of a booming economy. That discussion resulted in the Minister asking me to talk with her about the current crisis, and helped make sure she understood the challenges facing our region.
I am impressed by the efforts of our federal, provincial and local government to respond quickly to the drastic loss of business due to public health measures to control COVID-19. I am optimistic this help will continue through our recovery which, based on countries ahead of us in this pandemic, is hopefully only a month or so down the road.
How The Chamber is helping businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure they're ready to thrive during the recovery
Rolling up our sleeves to do what we can to help, and showcasing innovative solutions from our members and our community
Resources to all of the information about new government programs and initiatives that can help you get through this crisis