Equitable taxes, thoughtful spending and fair funding for police are key to budgets
Municipalities across Greater Victoria are working through their budget deliberations, and the decisions made by local councils often have a direct impact on our daily lives.
The Chamber acknowledges the work done by all of our region's mayors and councils, and we urge them to stick to the principles and values that create great communities. Taxes need to be fair and affordable, services need to meet expectations and people need to feel safe.
"I speak with our area mayors often and I know they understand the importance of business and they say they want to help and not unfairly add regulatory and financial hurdles," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And I know that most of the business owners I speak with understand the importance of taxes and paying a fair share for operating in a municipality. In return they expect proper levels of policing to keep their employees, customers and property safe, and thoughtful investment in infrastructure, programs and services that improves everyone's quality of life."
Provincial legislation requires municipalities adopt their financial plans by March 31 and tax rate bylaws before May 15.
The fight against inflation is working as the Consumer Price Index for February was down 5.2% year over year. That compares to 5.9% in January and is the largest deceleration since April 2020. Lower costs at the pumps and for home energy helped lower the CPI, while the cost of groceries remains high as supply constraints and weather-related production issues is adding to the cost of food.
The global economy is getting back to normal but there's still a ways to go, says the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Chief Economist Stephen Tapp.
"In this context, the latest Canadian Survey on Business Conditions shows that costs and labour issues remain the biggest near-term obstacles for Canadian companies," Tapp said the Q1 2023 Canadian Survey on Business Conditions Report. "Even as higher interest rates slow demand, there are a few bright spots. First, while long-standing supply-side bottlenecks for the workforce and supply chains remain elevated, they have eased in recent surveys. This might be
because businesses are taking proactive steps to address these problems, such as raising wages, embracing flexible work options and working with suppliers. Second, while the near-term outlook for sales is clearly subdued, all things considered, most companies remain optimistic about the year ahead, especially larger firms and those in services."
Registration is now open for organizations and individuals interested in taking part in this year's Moose Hide Campaign Day on May 11. There is also a separate registration for schools with K-12 classes looking to participate.
The Moose Hide Campaign Development Society helps promote safe communities by calling for all Canadians to speak out against violence towards women and children. Last year, more than 400,000 people took part.
This year's Moose Hide Campaign Day event will be held May 11 in Victoria and livestreamed across the country. The day begins at 7 am with a sunrise ceremony and ends with a fast breaking followed by Community Feast from 6 to 7 pm.
The Chamber applauds news of a Canadian Armed Forces housing benefit that will help make life a little more affordable for people stationed at CFB Esquimalt. With one of the higher costs of living in the country, Greater Victoria is a challenging region for employers looking to find and keep employees. This is amplified when people living in areas with lower housing costs are asked to move here for their job.
The Canadian Forces Housing Differential takes effect July 1 and replaces the current allowance for members of the military living in expensive communities. The new benefit is tied to income to help lower earning members.
The Chamber is also supportive of ongoing efforts to develop more housing for CFB Esquimalt members. The Department of National Defence has previously announced plans for an 84-unit apartment on the base.
"This is a great example of how non-market housing can help add homes to our region's housing supply that are catered to the needs of a specific employer or sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "This will eventually allow for more market homes to be available to people in other industries."
The City of Victoria is moving forward on a bylaw that will require restaurants to serve food and drinks in reusable containers. The bylaw will also make single-use straws, stir sticks and utensils only available by request.
Victoria council made the decision at its March 9 Committee of the Whole meeting and will look to ratify the new rules at the March 23 council meeting. The bylaw would then go through readings in April before going to the BC Ministry of Environment for approval before being officially adopted.
City council did decide not to look at imposing a fee for using disposable cups and containers, noting that the impact would not likely be worth the burden it would add to businesses.
If the measure makes it though all stages of approvals, businesses will have a grace period to implement the rules.
The court-imposed deadline for deciding the future of the Island rail corridor arrived yesterday, but there is still much work to be done to decide the fate of the former E&N Rail line.
"In September 2021, the British Columbia Court of Appeal asked the federal government to decide by March 14, 2023, on restoring the railway corridor or allowing a segment of lands to vest in Canada for the use and benefit of the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation," said a joint statement by the federal and provincial governments, explaining that the decision was made to return 11.4 acres to the Snaw-Naw-As.
The corridor still has tremendous potential for Vancouver Island, which is expected to reach a population of more than one million people in the next decade.
“To that end, we are committing $18 million to allow for future corridor planning involving affected First Nations and regional districts," BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming said. "The funding will also allow First Nations to assess identified concerns such as flooding, access, noise, or safety issues where the corridor crosses their land."
The Island Corridor Foundation had been waiting for the governments to announce their intention, and will now begin reviewing options for the best use of this important transportation link.
The 48th annual Greater Victoria Flower Count ended today with a multi-billion bloom bouquet. Community and elementary school engagement were strong, with 33.4 billion blossoms counted over the week-long event.
The winner of the “Bloomingest” community this year is Sidney, with a total of 7.58 billion blossoms counted. The runner-up community this year is North Saanich, with 7.56 billion blossoms counted.
Elementary school participation is a major component of Greater Victoria Flower Count. This year’s winning elementary school class is Ms. Jessica Manness’s class at Hillcrest Elementary School in Saanich. The Grade 4 class counted 1.56 billion blossoms and has won a special trip via L.A. Limousines to the ultimate floral experience at Butchart Gardens. The winner of the photo contest draw will be notified by end of day.
“It was great to see our community come together for another successful Greater Victoria Flower Count,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. “The blooms were out and residents responded by submitting their counts from across the region. Congratulations to Sidney and Ms. Manness and thank you to our sponsors and prize donors for making it such a great event.”
The end of Flower Count is a good sign that patio season is right around the corner. Last week, the hard work of business and industry associations was rewarded when the provincial government announced it was giving businesses more time to make outdoor seating permanent. The deadline has been extended to Dec. 31, 2024.
During the early days of the pandemic, many restaurants, pubs, bars and breweries found innovative solutions to create safe spaces for customers. These outdoor areas were well received by the public and helped economic activity thrive. To support the efforts of business, the province provided temporary expanded service area (TESA) authorizations to thousands of liquor-licensed businesses.
“Many licensees have not applied to make their TESA permanent due to the stress and pressure as a result of the effects of the pandemic and the unprecedented labour shortage," BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association president and CEO Ian Tostenson said. "We would like to thank government for being conscious of this and providing the much-needed extension.”
Meanwhile, the CIty of Victoria will have to decide tomorrow, March 16, how it will proceed with its new Patio Regulation Bylaw. The bylaw updates the emergency measures implemented during the pandemic to provide more municipal oversight. City staff have been engaging with businesses and neighbourhood groups to develop its rules before the provincial TESA program was originally supposed to end. Now that an extension has been granted, the City should have more time to ensure its changes are workable for businesses.
The Provincial Budget for 2023 was only recently announced but consultation for the 2024 is already underway. The Chamber has asked to meet in-person with the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services, as we do every year.
Public hearings are anticipated to take place in late May and June. Chamber members with questions or comments on next year's budget are encouraged to share with our team at email@example.com.
The Pacific Ocean wields immense influence over the weather, regulating Greater Victoria’s famous mild climate and warming the air deep into Central Canada. It’s why our region is typically the first in the country to experience the signs of spring. The phenomenon gave rise 48 years ago to a tradition that continues to this day.
The 2023 Greater Victoria Flower Count — which officially begins today — kicked off on Monday with speeches on the immaculate front lawns of the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Flower Count only lasts one week: March 8 - 15, so we invite you to get involved!
Count your blooms to make sure your municipality becomes this year's Best Bloomin' Community, and enter our social media contest and #humblebrag with a pic of local flowers. You may even win Afternoon Tea for two at the Fairmont Empress! See below for more information.
The event was well attended by local media. You can read their coverage here:
Seeing tiny buds turn to bright blossoms is a sure sign of spring. Another, at least in Greater Victoria, is the growing buzz around the region's real estate. Sales in February were up 65.5% from the month before — though still down from February 2022.
"The market is seeing some positive growth as we move into springtime, which is traditionally the busiest market for home sales," Victoria Real Estate Board Chair Graden Sol said in a media release. "Inventory levels are starting to increase, a welcome trend when compared to the record lows of last year. We're also seeing a stabilization at some price points and properties that are priced in accordance with current market conditions are selling at a good pace."
There were 1,809 active MLS listings for sale in Greater Victoria at the end of February. That's up from 849 for the same period in 2022. The benchmark value of a single family home was $1.25 million in February, down from $1.32 million in February 2022. Benchmark value for a condo dropped from $580,900 to $568,200.
Parking in downtown Victoria is one of those topics that has sparked debate in coffee shops, board rooms and council chambers for decades. Whether its a frustrated driver searching for an open spot or a cyclist lamenting car-centric culture, it seems we all have an opinion on parking.
That said, compromise is unavoidable if we want to make progress as a region on this extremely complex issue. Parking has been in the news recently as the City of Victoria looks to raise revenue to cover rising expenses. One idea council is considering is to expand the hours that drivers are required to pay for street parking.
Another recent story involving parking involves plans by Merchant House Capital to build a 12-storey tower with 160 rental units on Douglas Street where the heritage Victoria Press Building (former home of the Times Colonist) is located. Currently, the plans state that no parking will be provided for the rental units. The proposal will go to the neighbourhood community at a meeting on March 20 before a formal proposal is submitted for municipal approval.
Meanwhile, another important project that could add 1,500 much-needed homes in downtown Victoria has taken an unexpected turn. The duly considered proposal by Starlight Investments for Harris Green has passed third reading but now has additional amendments to parking requirements that need to be addressed before the plan is adopted.
"I know that Victoria city council has agreed that housing supply is a top priority for residents of the entire region, of which downtown is an important part of," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And we know that part of the attraction of living downtown is its proximity to the many services and experiences in neighbouring municipalities. It's one thing to walk or cycle to work on weekdays, but many people use their weekends to shop outside the city proper, or to visit forests and beaches that are a short car ride away."
Regardless of personal opinions about parking, the fact is we continue to require it — for residents, delivery drivers and commuters. Parents need vehicles to transport kids from care and school to sports and activities. Seniors and others with mobility issues use vehicles to get from point to point, and often require parking close to their destination.
With the adoption of zero emission standards and accelerating shift to electric vehicles, opinions about the future of driving are shifting. Care needs to be taken before we lose a resource that is vital to commerce, and that will be essentially impossible to get back when it's gone.
Almost everyone enjoys having the sun stick around a little longer in the evening. However, the switch to Daylight Savings Time this Sunday also creates challenges for many employers dealing with tired staff adjusting to the shift in routine.
WorkSafeBC issued a reminder that the change can create real risks for workers who drive for a living.
“Fatigue is a type of impairment that reduces mental and physical performance,” Road Safety at Work program director Trace Acres said, noting people who drive for work could be more at risk of crashing as body clocks take time to catch up with alarm clocks. “Research shows (fatigue) is a contributing factor in about 20% of crashes.”
Road Safety at Work suggests employers make sure their drivers know their responsibilities and procedures to deal with fatigue. The goal is to avoid risk by ensuring adequate breaks for fresh air, sticking to daylight hours when possible and scheduling outside of peak-accident time of 3 to 6 pm.
The Chamber has advocated for an end to shifting clocks and helped convince the provincial government to survey British Columbians. The result showed 93% support for stopping the twice-annual time change. To avoid cross-border confusion, BC has said it's now waiting for the Pacific US states to get federal approval to also put a permanent end to the switch.
New legislation introduced yesterday by the provincial government will require employers to include wage or salary ranges on all advertised jobs. The move is aimed at closing the gender pay gap in BC. The new law, once passed, will prohibit employers from asking prospective employees about their pay history or prevent staff from disclosing their own pay to co-workers or job applicants.
The rules will take effect Nov. 1, and will also include a staged implementation of reporting requirements for employers.
BC's Ministry of Finance will publish an annual report by June 1 that will serve as centralized reporting of gender pay in British Columbia.
As expected, the Bank of Canada held off on changing its target interest rate. The move signals that efforts to curb inflation are working. The forecast is for inflation to keep falling and reach 3% by summer. Statistics Canada will provided its next update on the Consumer Price Index on March 21.
Camosun College announced last week it has selected a company to be pre-qualified to design, build and fund a film studio with education components.
The Visionary Group of Toronto will now enter into discussions with Camosun to determine the scope, timelines and cost for the project.
In 2021, the province gave Camosun $150,000 to explore educational opportunities for students in the BC film industry and the potential development of an on-campus film studio. The project has been touted for land at Camosun's Interurban Campus in the District of Saanich.
BC Budget 2023 addresses symptoms of unaffordability but offers little help for business
Yesterday, the 2023 budget was released with a focus on addressing many of the symptoms of unaffordability affecting British Columbians. However, there was a lack of new investment aimed at improving the province’s business climate.
The Chamber is traditionally the first business association to host the finance minister after the unveiling of the province's annual budget and BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy addressed more than 100 business and community leaders today at the Hotel Grand Pacific.
Among the highlights of BC Budget 2023 are $1 billion in new money for mental health and addiction services, new funding to improve food security and the $480 million Future Ready Plan, which will help employees gain the skills needed by employers.
The province is forecasting deficits for the next three years but has chosen to increase spending this year.
Minister Conroy said global inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic are contributing to systemic challenges that make life less affordable for British Columbians.
In the next 30 days, the $3.6 billion surplus left over from last year needs to be spent and will be used for a number of projects currently in the works. Details of that spending will be made available in the coming weeks.
“The Chamber has heard from our members that they need help finding and keeping workers, and they want more done to ensure safe communities for all,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting there are also annual increases to the Carbon Tax, which will add to the cost of doing business. “This budget will help by addressing symptoms of unaffordability through the renter’s tax credit, school food programs and a significant increase to healthcare funding. It’s a start but we would have liked to see BC Budget 2023 give a higher profile to the role business plays in improving the quality of life for all British Columbians. Businesses are the ones who make the investments needed to build resilience and create real solutions to affordability.”
A $204.8-million contract has been awarded for a major project that will see the Royal BC Museum build an important new facility in the City of Colwood.
Construction is expected to begin this summer on the museum's Collections and Research Building as part of a long-term plan to protect the Province’s collections, including more than seven million artifacts and the BC Archives. Total capital project costs for the building are valued at more than $270 million. The project is being undertaken in consultation with the Songhees Nation and Esquimalt Nation.
The state-of-the-art facility will be 163,611 square feet and use mass timber construction to safely house the Province’s collections, BC Archives and research departments. There will also be dedicated research labs and learning spaces.
“Alongside the safe and modern storage of the collections and provincial records, the (Collections and Research Building) will be a dynamic and welcoming community space,” RBCM CEO said Alicia Dubois said. “We hope to inspire future paleontologists, entomologists, botanists and historians through greater learning opportunities by enhancing public access to our work.”
The new building will provide a secure location for a number of items that had been at risk, such as: archival books and manuscripts; rare and priceless artworks, including watercolours from the 1700s; several paintings by Emily Carr; and early provincial maps.
The Chamber takes its role as the voice of business seriously. When our members ask us to speak up on their behalf, we listen.
The power of that unified voice was on display last week as Chamber CEO Bruce Williams collaborated with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Destination Greater Victoria, the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria and the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association to call on the province to keep government jobs in Greater Victoria.
A letter sent to the Deputy Minister to the Premier, Shannon Salter, expressed the concerns of Greater Victoria's business community about a directive taking effect April 1. The BC Public Service, like almost every employer, is struggling to find and keep staff. A proposal to hire workers who would report to offices in other BC communities and connect with co-workers virtually was being touted as a modern solution.
The Chamber celebrates change — specifically those "pivot pilots" who quickly found new ways of serving customers and showed the way forward during the pandemic. However, we also can't stand by and watch good jobs be removed from regional economy — particularly our regional downtown that drives a significant share of that economy.
Public sector workers are protected from recessionary pressures that face most private sector workers. Having that as a foundation is one of the keys to allowing a relatively small city like Victoria develop an internationally envied tourist economy and high tech sector.
"The Deputy Minister wrote back to us four days later to reassure Chamber members that government has heard our concerns," Williams said. "All we want is government to consider the impact of any directive on business before the harm is done."
A priority for business that has become more urgent in recent years is the fundamental need for safe communities. It's clear there's no simple answer, but one of the evidence-based solutions is the need to do more to address mental health.
"Our members have been vocal about the need for better support for people facing mental health and addiction challenges," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "This is how we can begin to address the situation we see on our streets and in parks, as well as the hidden struggles that many people are going through silently in their own homes."
The Chamber has advocated to government for investment in complex care, so we applaud the news of an $8.2-million provincial grant to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We are honoured to be part of the solution, co-designing care to improve health, social and employment outcomes for people with long-term experience of complex barriers to employment," CMHA BC Division CEO Jonny Morris said. "We are excited to see the expansion of behavioural health-care integration with primary-care centres in more sites in B.C.”
Employers need employees, so there's reason to applaud initiatives that make our region more attractive as a place to live, work and raise a family. Making neighbourhoods more accessible for people to walk or cycle to work, and making those routes safer, are steps in the right direction.
“We know that people make healthier, greener transportation choices when the options are there,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, who serves as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Last week, the province announced $20 million in funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants program to help cover costs of multi-use pathways, protected bike lanes, pedestrian bridges and regional connections, as well as lighting, sidewalks and other safety improvements. Greater Victoria projects include:
On Feb. 28, the provincial government will unveil its 2023 budget for the province. It should offer more details on how Premier David Eby plans to pay for many of the promises he's made over his first 100 days in office. The next day, The Chamber will be the first business organization to host a conversation with BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy after the budget has been made public.
As a Chamber member, you can be among the first to hear from Minister Conroy about how Budget 2023 will help your organization thrive. This is an opportunity to speak to a high-ranking cabinet minister about your priorities for your business. This event will sell out fast so register now to reserve your spot.
With the uncertain state of international economies, businesses are concerned about rising costs. It's important government understands concerns and questions about BC Budget 2023.
Send your questions about BC Budget 2023 to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add them to our list to ask the Finance Minister.
It's Budget Season for all levels of government. After the province reveals BC Budget 2023 on Feb. 28, the federal government will announce its own budget at some point in the following weeks. Municipalities in BC don't have the same flexibility, with legislation requiring financial plans be adopted by March 31 and tax rate bylaws before May 15.
The Chamber is working to remind Greater Victoria municipalities that they need to support their community's businesses through fair taxation. We encourage Chamber members to get involved with their local government through however they can. In the City of Victoria, for example, Council is asking The Chamber for member feedback on a 6.96% increase to residential property taxes that's largely the result of inflation. While that's down from the almost 9% increase initially proposed in January, there might be more opportunities to find efficiencies.
Businesses that pay property taxes in Victoria are urged to voice their formal feedback by:
If you have questions or concerns about municipalities outside Victoria, please let us know by emailing email@example.com. And watch for more coverage on The Chamber's budget advocacy on social media and in upcoming editions of BizNews.
The planned RapidBus route between the West Shore and downtown Victoria will be a game changer for commuters when it launches April 10.
The service will run every 15 minutes, making the ride more convenient. That's key for convincing people to leave their cars at home. Buses will run between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday and 8am to 10pm on Sundays. There will be additional buses during peak times on weekdays to improve customer experience, BC Transit said.
"Smart regional transportation is important for businesses that depend on staff being able to get to the workplace," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Taking the bus instead of a car is much better environmentally, especially with BC Transit's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its fleet."
Housing supply is a hot topic as many regions compete for skilled workers. The demand is especially high for homes accessible to people who earn a living in Greater Victoria's economy. One of the solutions is to think about workforce housing as an investment that directly benefits our region's employers. Last week, BC Housing announced the Capital Regional District Housing Corporation project in the City of Langford is now open. The five-storey wood-framed building at 2782 Spencer Rd. includes 58 rental units for families and individuals.
BC Housing also announced 72 new units in the City of Victoria — 51 affordable housing and 21 supportive units — are open at 210 Gorge Rd. in partnership with the Cool Aid Society. A five-storey wood-framed building as well, the Victoria site includes ground-floor offices that include supports that will help residents become more employable and make the community safer.
“We are already seeing the positive impact of this unique project," Victoria Cool Aid Society CEO Kathy Stinson said in a news release. "Families, single people, seniors and people who need supports are getting to know one another, which is having the desired effect of helping to reduce the stigma around homelessness and creating a sense of community for everyone who lives there.”