The Chamber has kept a watchful eye on the promise of better governance from fewer governments in our region. We're pleased to see the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich have taken the next step to explore the pros and cons of merging municipalities.
A Toronto-based agency has been hired to create a Citizens' Assembly, and has launched a new website at victoriasaanich.ca. The website highlights the following steps:
Pictured above: Jaime Clifton-Ross, left, and Taryn Malcolm, right, from the Victoria Foundation bookend Chamber staffers Hanna Bohm, Julia Banks and Summer Sandhu after dropping off cookies at the Chamber office.
The gesture was part of Random Acts of Kindness Week, Feb. 12-17, which asks people to "do something nice for someone and ask for nothing in return," other than to perform another act of kindness to someone else.
Today is also Valentine's Day, so The Chamber sends our love to our members and all of Greater Victoria's business community. Make sure to celebrate with your valentine and enjoy flowers, chocolates or a dinner out!
This weekend is also Family Day so another great opportunity to support your fellow Chamber members, whether that's sharing a meal, enjoying our region's parks and rec centres or simply spending time together with family.
The Chamber office is closed Monday, Feb. 19.
Housing supply is a keystone issue. It affects almost all other Chamber advocacy priorities, so we're pleased with yesterday's announcement of the BC Builds program. The goal of speeding up construction of more homes for middle-income earners is vital for ensuring we have the skilled workforce needed by employers.
It's too soon to know all the details of BC Builds, which the province says will leverage land owned by government, municipalities or non-profits along with $2 billion in low-cost financing and a commitment of $950 million for the overall program.
The Chamber has called on all levels of government to look at solutions used in other jurisdictions around the world, including Vienna, Austria. BC Builds appears to do just that — though some municipal leaders are already pointing out gaps in infrastructure that need to be addressed.
The executive lead for BC Builds, former Victoria mayor Lisa Helps, told Business in Vancouver the program will allow construction to continue on rental homes at a time it is being slowed by other forces.
“BC Builds is not an affordable housing program, it's not supportive housing, it's not subsidized housing. It's really meant to close the gap above where BC Housing programs end and where we … start to really see a slowdown in rental development if there isn't an intervention,” Helps said.
BC Builds at a glance:
> At least 20% of all BC Builds homes will have rents at least 20% below market rate for projects in partnership with non-profits and First Nations.
> All BC Builds units have a target of middle-income households spending no more than approximately 30% of their income on rent.
> The rents for BC Builds will not exceed market rent for that community, and will in many cases be below.
> All households living in BC Builds homes are income tested at move-in.
> The income levels vary by community, so homes are within reach for that community’s middle-income households.
> BC Builds projects aim to deliver more two-, three- and four-bedroom homes, as many as possible with below-market rents.
> Projects owned and operated by non-profit providers mean rents will remain low over time, creating more affordability.
The board of directors of the Royal BC Museum announced today that Tracey Drake has been officially appointed CEO of the Royal BC Museum, effective March 1.
“Based on Tracey’s exceptional progress, we are removing the 'acting' from her title,” RBCM Board Chair Leslie Brown said. “It has become clear to the board, as well as those working closely with Tracey, that she continues to be the leader to guide the museum and add stability and vision for what is an exciting time of growth, along with important community and province-wide consultation."
As CEO, Drake oversees Royal BC Museum operations, BC Archives, and IMAX, as well as province-wide community engagement, repatriation and DRIPA implementation as well as the archives, research and collections building project in Colwood.
Last month, the Royal BC Museum announced a diverse slate of feature exhibitions for 2024, including Stonehenge, Canadian Modern and Wildlife Photographer of the Year.
Watch the recent Chamber Chat with the RBCM's Tracey Drake
Next week, Chamber members will be among the first to learn about the 2024 provincial budget and hear directly from BC's Finance Minister.
The Speech from the Throne is set for Feb. 20, followed by Budget Day on Feb. 22 and the Finance Minister lunch with the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 23, sponsored by Coastal Community Credit Union.
"As the oldest Chamber in Western Canada, we have a long tradition of connecting government with the private sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "That includes the tradition of being the first chamber to host the finance minister after the provincial budget is unveiled. We're thrilled Minister Conroy will join us, once again, and I look forward to seeing many of our members at the Hotel Grand Pacific."
Cyber-security will only become more important to businesses as economic activity shifts online. Even traditional storefronts embraced digital sales during pandemic lockdowns, and many are continuing or expanding their services to meet consumer expectations.
With that shift, The Chamber recognizes that cyber-security is fundamental to our advocacy for safe communities. On Monday, our national chamber network addressed the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security to speak to Bill C-26.
Canadian Chamber senior director Ulrike Bahr-Gedalia said more than 98% of Canadian businesses are small- or medium-sized enterprises, and need greater awareness and protection from cyber-security threats. She advocated for a prevention-first approach, calling for clear rules to ensure incidents are reported appropriately as well as better communication by the government so businesses can prevent incidents before they happen.
There's reason for optimism in Greater Victoria's real estate sector, as a sense of stability is returning after what felt like truly turbulent times.
"Mortgage rates have levelled out, inventory is slowly creeping back up, and we are no longer in that highly pressurized market of recent years which created complicated and sometimes stressful conditions for buyers and sellers,"
Victoria Real Estate Board Chair Laurie Lidstone said in the organization's latest news release.
"If balanced conditions continue, buyers and sellers will have more time to make decisions and there will be less pressure on pricing. Of course, there are many factors that impact the market here in Victoria, and, as we've seen in the past, things can change very rapidly."
The real estate board had 2,140 active listings for sale at the end of January, a 23.1% increase from 12 months ago.
The benchmark value for a single family home in January was about $1.24 million, down from December's value of $1.27 million. The benchmark value for a condominium in the Victoria Core in January was $559,000, down from the December value of $562,000.
Understanding economic trends is invaluable to helping businesses plan for the future. The Chamber relies on a number of sources for information and analysis, including our national network.
On Tuesday, Canadian Chamber Chief Economist Stephen Tapp provided members of The Chamber's Public Policy and Advocacy Committee with his insights.
"We're fortunate to have access to a deep pool of experts who help us make effective use of our advocacy efforts," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has a long history as Western Canada's first chamber and we continue to play an active role with the Canadian Chamber."
Tapp spoke about the state of the economy and expectations for interest rate cuts, using the latest numbers from the Business Data Lab. Click the image to view Tapp's presentation.
For information on joining a Chamber committee, go to victoriachamber.ca/committees for contact info.
Canada is a trading nation, and many businesses in Greater Victoria provide goods and services to an international customer base. Building connections across borders is vital to helping business operate as smoothly as possible.
On Monday, the Chamber welcomed Vancouver-based US Consulate General Jim DeHart to Victoria.
"I've spoken with Mr. DeHart during trade missions in the past and he's always expressed an interest in learning more about Greater Victoria and Vancouver Island," Chamber CEO Bruce WIlliams said. "I'm glad we were able to host him for a roundtable with some of our region's business leaders for a discussion on trade and cross-border relations."
Topics covered an array of interests, including labour force mobility, credential recognition and ongoing efforts to streamline regulations.
Investing in celebrations of sports, arts, culture and farming helps build great communities. The economic return also benefits many tourism and hospitality businesses — a sector that is still recovering from the pandemic and the current slowdown in consumer spending.
The Chamber continues to be a vocal advocate for this sector, and we applaud this morning's news that the BC Fairs, Festivals and Events fund is being extended.
“The BCFFE program single-handedly saved our business and that of many of our colleagues here in BC," 17 Black Events executive director Scott Gurney said. "The program has also ensured that businesses within BC’s live event ecosystem, like specialty service providers, suppliers and rental companies, have been able to survive, too. The impact of this program reaches far and wide with its economic outcomes, but more importantly, from a social point of view, it has ensured that British Columbians have continued access to arts, culture and live events.”
Events between April 1, 2024, and Sept. 30, 2025, are eligible for funding to cover expenses ranging from operational costs, Indigenous consultation and honorariums, to venue rental, marketing, wages and promotion.
Applications are being accepted until 11:59 pm, Feb. 25. Organizations are encouraged to submit their applications as soon as possible.
“We are extremely grateful for the past two years of BCFFE funding," Rifflandia Entertainment Company president and CEO Nick Blasco said. "Suffice to say, the program has been essential to the growth and future of our festival and so many others throughout the province.”
The Secondary Suites Incentive Program, introduced to all BC municipalities last fall, is being expanded to 16 regional districts, including the Capital Regional District.
“We’re using innovative solutions to make it easier for homeowners and communities to build homes faster, so people can live and work in the communities they love,” BC Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon said in a news release.
The three-year pilot SSIP will provide about 3,000 homeowners with forgivable loans for as much as $40,000 to create a new secondary suite or an accessory dwelling unit on their property. To qualify, the units must be rented below market rates for at least five years.
In a separate news release, Kahlon also announced that the province issued a request for proposals that could lead to BC adopting an innovative housing solution used in places such as Seattle and New York City.
A common practice in Europe, the solution involves allowing single staircases in residential buildings by updating an 80-year-old rule in BC's building code that currently requires two stairwells. The change would allow for larger apartments with more daylight, cross breezes and greenspaces.
"The Chamber encourages all levels of government to embrace innovations that allow builders to provide the housing supply we need," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Looking at how other places in the world have solved the same issue we face makes sense."
The Chamber is following up on concerns expressed by local post-secondaries facing a serious and unanticipated financial burden from the surprise federal announcement to cap the international student program.
Yesterday, the organization representing Canadian schools sent a joint letter to federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller.
"We urge your department not to impose the letter of attestation requirement for college and undergraduate study permit applications until at least March 31 or until the provinces establish an effective process," the letter from Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada stated. "Additionally, we request urgent consultations with the sector to modify the cap policy, clarify the many outstanding questions and mitigate the negative impacts."
On Monday, BC announced new regulations that will constrict the number of international students in the province. Of BC's 545,000 post-secondary students, 175,000 are from 150 countries other than Canada.
"After speaking with our members impacted by these changes, The Chamber is concerned that this policy is being presented as a solution to the housing crisis when it will significantly reduce revenue needed by schools," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "A better solution is to invest in more on-campus housing so that schools continue to provide the workforce our economy needs, while creating a pathway for foreign students to become taxpaying new Canadians."
British Columbia's population is expected to reach 7.9 million by 2046, with Greater Victoria accounting for 655,000 people. Overall, the province is getting older than the rest of Canada, with a lower fertility rate, according to a BC Stats report released yesterday.
BC's current population is 5.58 million, with about 450,000 living in the Capital Regional District. The province's annual growth rate of 3.3% is the highest since 1972. The growth is from historic levels of international immigration as 66,190 people from outside Canada settled in BC. However, the province also experienced a net loss in people migrating within Canada as 4,634 more people left for other provinces than moved here.
A new report offers insight into how shifting consumer behaviours are changing the way small businesses operate post pandemic.
On Monday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s Business Data Lab released A Portrait of Small Business in Canada: Adaption, Agility, All At Once.
The findings shed light on how businesses can thrive despite the rising cost of doing business, the highest borrowing costs in over two decades and the increased pandemic debt loads.
Examples for businesses include investing in technology, staying agile to embrace shifting trends and working with their chamber to call for less red tape from government.
The report also explores the unique realities, challenges and opportunities for small businesses owned by women, persons with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ2s+ community, immigrants to Canada, Indigenous peoples and visible minorities.
Fentanyl abuse is wreaking havoc in many cities, including Greater Victoria. The Chamber advocates for safe communities for all, though there is no simple solution to addiction and the health challenges that are at the root of the issue.
Earlier today, BC's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions issued a statement marking the one-year anniversary of drug decriminalization in BC.
“This past year has seen a concerning increase in toxic drug deaths in provinces across the country, and British Columbia was no exception. Ending this measure will not save a single life. As the toxicity of illicit street drugs continues to increase, more people are at serious risk. There is no single solution to this complex and unrelenting public-health emergency, and we will continue to use every tool available to save lives and connect people to care," Minister Jennifer Whiteside said, promising to invest in early intervention and prevention services, expanded access to harm-reduction supports, increased medication-assisted treatments, and expanded treatment and recovery services.
The statement comes in the wake of recent comments by former Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, who criticized the government for not providing better access to help while making the case for an ongoing pragmatic approach to decriminalization.
Lapointe spoke with CBC Radio about her experience and what she believes is needed to address this crisis.
The Chamber continues to call for better access to treatment and care, and applauds the recent funding for Our Place Society's New Roads Recovery Community Centre. The province is providing $9 million to fund 20 beds for women to try and replicate the success the men's program has had at the View Royal facility.
The federal government announced this week that it was putting a cap on the number of international students permitted in Canada each year. The measure is an attempt to ease the demand for housing, which is in short supply across the country.
However, the one-size-fits-all approach will hurt efforts to train international students needed to fill vacancies in industries facing a severe labour crunch. Child care and health care are two examples that depend on foreign workers to help meet the need.
There are also concerns about the cap giving Canada a black eye with overseas students who will look to study in more welcoming countries.
“The message has to be external, that Canada is open for business for international students. That’s hugely important,” Royal Roads University president Phillip Steenkamp told CHEK News. “There is still a commitment to bring a significant amount of international students. They make an enormous contribution to our economy and society, and we’ll continue to welcome them here.”
The Times Colonist reports that Camosun College and the University of Victoria have experienced fluctuations in the number of international students from before the pandemic to now.
Camosun had 2,094 international students enrolled in fall 2023, compared to 1,674 in 2019. UVic has roughly 1,600 international students in the current school year, and had more than 2,500 in 2019.
There can be no doubt about it, Greater Victoria loves hockey. That was on full display last week as the many communities that have a connection to the sport came together for a celebration of Canada’s game.
Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada was a major success, raising community spirits and bringing activity to businesses downtown and across the region.
The mid-January festival took place over four days last week, with the official "hockey day" bringing 20,000 people to Ship Point in the Inner Harbour on Saturday.
"We heard reports that it was like a summer day for tourism," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting that $100,000 was raised for the Courtnall Society for Mental Health.
The impact on tourism is still being assessed, as more than nine million Canadians saw images and stories of Greater Victoria during a full-day of NHL broadcasts on Sportsnet.
“Civic pride was the big thing here,” Williams told the Times Colonist. “We were successful because people came together and really celebrated the game we love so much.”
The Chamber was among many organizations that stepped up to sponsor the event.
As expected, the Bank of Canada left its overnight rate at 5% — though there were suggestions in today's announcement that rates could come down eventually.
The bank remains concerned about ongoing high inflation and forecasts core costs to continue increasing by 3% in 2024, before easing to the target rate of 2% in 2025.
Among the metrics the bank is watching are wages, which continue rising around 4% to 5% annually, even as job vacancies are being created at a slower rate than population growth.
"Global economic growth continues to slow, with inflation easing gradually across most economies. While growth in the United States has been stronger than expected, it is anticipated to slow in 2024, with weakening consumer spending and business investment," the bank said. "In Canada, the economy has stalled since the middle of 2023 and growth will likely remain close to zero through the first quarter of 2024. Consumers have pulled back their spending in response to higher prices and interest rates, and business investment has contracted."
C's restaurants are facing a crisis. A new warning was issued this week by the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association and Restaurants Canada calling for urgent policy changes in order to avoid last call for the industry.
The document, formatted to resemble a menu, details the challenges facing the restaurant industry and offers policy solutions that pair well together. For example, under Entrees, the report offers:
- - -
Struggling To Make Ends Meatloaf
Cost: 35% of restaurants are losing money
A one-time classic that’s barely holding it together. Slices are becoming thinner and thinner with each passing day.
Policy Pairing: Provide rental assistance and offer rebates for energy, packaging, and municipal taxes
- - -
The report states the province has 15,000 restaurants, employing 185,000 people and contributing $18 billion in annual sales.
South Island Prosperity Partnership's CEO is stepping down on March 15 for a business opportunity.
Emilie de Rosenroll is the founding CEO of SIPP, which has its roots in an Economic Development Committee started by The Chamber before becoming its own organization in 2016. The Rising Economy Taskforce and the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technology (COAST) are among de Rosenroll's achievements.
“On behalf of the SIPP Board of Directors, I am very grateful for the tremendous contribution Emilie has made to the organization and region,” SIPP's Board Chair Frank Bourree said.
SIPP is working with an executive search firm to help find its next CEO.
The Consumer Price Index rose 3.4% on a year-over-year basis in December, following a 3.1% increase in November. The increase adds a little more uncertainty to what the Bank of Canada will do at its next interest rate announcement on Jan. 25.
Some of the reasons for the acceleration in inflation include higher costs for airfares, fuel oil, passenger vehicles and rent. Prices for food rose 4.7% year over year in December.
After months of planning and preparation, Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada kicked off with an incredible night of storytelling. The Legends of Broadcasting event, held Tuesday night at the Bayview Presentation Centre, saw an awestruck crowd watch Ron MacLean host a panel discussion with Jim Robson, Bernie Pascall, Jim Laing and Tim Ryan.
Stories about chopping trees with Muhammad Ali, the eternal debate between Gretzky vs. Orr and being the voice behind some of the most iconic broadcasts in Canadian sports history brought cheers and laughter.
Unfortunately, snowy weather caused Wednesday morning's activities with school kids to be cancelled. However, the Skate with the Stanley Cup and the Player Draft for Friday's Alumni and Celebrity Classic were still able to go ahead.
Go to victoriahockeyday.ca for the latest on events and activities happening this week.
Greater Victoria's unemployment rate of 4.1% in December was unchanged from November 2023. According to Statistics Canada, the region's population increased to 367,400 from 366,700 over the month.
Our local labour force was also up with 244,700 people in December compared to 242,900 in November.
The stats reflect the national trend as employment growth slowed in the second half of 2023 with population growth outpacing the number of new jobs added to the economy.
"The momentum in the labour market is weakening alongside the fastest population growth in more than 50 years," Canadian Chamber Senior Economist Andrew DiCapua stated in a news release. "With essentially flat job growth in December, the Canadian labour market ends 2023 with over 5% wage growth and an unemployment rate steady at 5.8%. Although hours worked rose for the month, this will be a drag on fourth quarter GDP as we round out the year. This signals to the Bank of Canada that the guise of a strong labour market is cracking amid strong labour force gains. With wages accelerating, the Bank was wise to not celebrate at their last meeting, possibly delaying their intentions to begin rate cuts."
A new year means a new Board of Directors for the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
Kris Wirk enters his second year as Chair, along with Christina Clark as Vice Chair, John Wilson as Past Chair and James Gatsi as Secretary. New to the Board Executive this year is Treasurer Deborah Huelscher.
Returning Directors include Rose Arsenault, Judith Ethier, Pedro Marquez, Richard Michaels, Josue Dubon, Ann Squires Ferguson and Jessica Stigant.
Captain (Navy) Kevin Whiteside also returns as an appointed Director because of his role as CFB Esquimalt Base Commander.
Family Business Committee Chair Dean Clarke begins his first full year as a Director.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams and Emerge Committee Chair Frumsa Ibrahim will serve the Board as non-voting Directors.
Board elections are held every summer, with terms officially beginning Jan. 1 every year.
The Canadian Chamber has sent an open letter to the Prime Minister's Office calling for the government to focus its foreign policy on results rather than "good feelings."
"It is clear that we can no longer take for granted the stable and peaceful international conditions that Canada helped to shape following the Second World War. This moment calls for a sober assessment of our international priorities and a recalibration of how we engage with other nations," states the letter from Canadian Chamber President and CEO Perrin Beatty.
The Chamber is concerned about Canada's place in a world that has profoundly changed over the last few years, "with the international order being challenged and undermined on many fronts."
The letter notes that, other than the Indo-Pacific Strategy, Canadian foreign policy has become reactive and unfocused, "signaling that we have too often concentrated our efforts on policies designed to produce good feelings instead of on those that will produce good results."
The Canadian Chamber has proposed three ways to improve Canada's international standing. The first is to fulfill our trading potential as a reliable global supplier. The second is showing a serious commitment to economic and security commitments that Canada helped establish after the Second World War. And the third is recognizing the value of good relationships with our North American neighbours by promoting Canada's importance in those countries.
"The Canadian Chamber of Commerce is a longstanding advocate of unlocking Canada’s international potential, and we support our businesses in trade advocacy, navigating global markets and representing Canada at key multilateral fora," the letter concludes. "The Canadian business community recognizes that our collective long-term prosperity is closely tied to how we engage with the world."