In 2023, generative artificial intelligence was suddenly everywhere. It's showing up in business software applications, Internet search functions and standalone apps that enable even non-technical users to overcome writing, coding and design challenges.
To help businesses benefit by adopting AI responsibly, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce held an AI Executive Summit on Nov. 22. Among the key themes that emerged were:
The themes will guide the work of the recently formed Future of AI Council, a 30-member forum representing a cross-section of organizations. The council "will play a leading role in advocating for government policies that establish AI as a positive economic force through the responsible development, deployment and ethical use of AI in business."
New housing on campus at the University of Victoria is helping ease pressure on the region's rental market.
A residence opened in September, providing 385 single rooms for first-year students. UVic guarantees on-campus housing to help new students acclimate to university life.
A lounge for Indigenous students also opened as part of the multi-stage project, which will add 621 new beds and 162 replacement beds, increasing on-campus housing by 25%.
The Songhees Nation gave UVic permission to use lək̓ʷəŋən names for the new buildings to honour the territory on which the buildings stand.
The first residence, Čeqʷəŋín ʔéʔləŋ (Cheko'nien House), is named after what is now known as Oak Bay, while Sŋéqə ʔéʔləŋ (Sngequ House) is named after a village located in what is now known as Cadboro Bay.
The Chamber has been a vocal advocate for the on-campus housing to help free up rental units for our regional workforce.
A report by Deloitte Canada released this week offers an insightful look into how housing plays a direct role in our economic productivity. Specifically, the report examines housing "not entirely governed by the laws of supply and demand."
The report calls this "community housing," which includes co-ops, non-market homes, social housing and lower-cost market rentals. Among the findings is that housing affordability in Canada is at its lowest point since 1990. Canada is also facing a problem with lagging productivity and we need to find ways to boost output without causing inflation to rise.
Through its research, Deloitte found adding community housing to a region supports economic development and productivity. Community housing had been a much more prevalent part of home construction until the 1980s. After several decades of little investment in this type of housing, more units are now being built — though they still represent a relatively small share of total stock being added.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation recently reported that Canada needs 3.5 million new homes by 2030 to achieve affordability. Deloitte's report concluded that government investment in community housing will help meet this demand and boost our economy's potential output growth.
"If Canada’s community housing units as a share of total housing units were to increase from 2023 Q2’s level of 5.5% to 7% by 2030 this would require an increase of 371,600 units in Canada’s total community housing net stock," Deloitte's report stated.
For BC, this would equate to 50,870 additional units by 2030 — a 42% increase from 2023 levels. Doing so would increase provincial productivity by up to 9.3% adding $25
billion to BC's GDP.
After years of flirting with football fans in Atlantic Canada, the CFL is turning its attention to the West Coast. The first Touchdown Pacific game will take place at Royal Athletic Park on Aug. 31 between the BC Lions and Ottawa Redblacks.
“As a lifelong fan of the CFL, I am thrilled to welcome Touchdown Pacific to Victoria," City of Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto said in the news release. "The passionate fans in our community, combined with our historic natural grass stadium, will make this Labour Day contest a classic football match, and a highlight of the 2024 CFL season, with family-friendly festivities beforehand.”
The stadium, which serves as the home of the Victoria HarbourCats, will be expanded to hold up to 14,000 fans, including standing room.
In 2023, Touchdown Atlantic generated more than $10 million in overall economic impact for businesses and communities in the Halifax region.
In Greater Victoria, sports tourism helps drive more than $100 million in visitor spending annually. Destination Greater Victoria and the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission were key in bringing Touchdown Pacific to Victoria.
The provincial government released its Q2 fiscal update on Tuesday, calling for a smaller deficit than previously forecast. The difference is due to bringing in more revenue from personal and corporate income taxes as well as $358 million in federal funding for wildfire recovery.
BC's Second Quarterly Report now projects a $5.6-billion operating deficit this year, and an improved debt-to-GDP ratio of 17%.
Next week, BC's Minister of Finance is scheduled to meet with the Economic Forecast Council to discuss next year's budget, which will be released on Feb. 22. Traditionally, the minister addresses members of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce shortly after budget day.
Among other highlights in the Q2 report were:
The federal government's much-anticipated fall economic statement was released yesterday, Nov. 21. There were few surprises from a government that has little room left to spend and a tepid economic environment to work with.
"(The federal government) followed a highly stimulative fiscal framework following the pandemic, from which they had not significantly withdrawn as the economy hit its capacity in the past two years. That forced the Bank of Canada to apply even more restrictive monetary policy to offset the effects of the government’s stimulative impulses, akin to pushing the brake and gas pedals at the same time," the Conference Board of Canada said in its analysis. "Let us hope that the two policymaking bodies can begin to row in the same direction in the future as inflation pressures subside. Interest rates will likely be coming down next year, but negative federal fiscal balances also need to be pushed back toward neutral territory at a greater pace."
There are some positives for business as the statement included proposals to ensure open access to markets, fewer taxes on mental health support and relief for mortgage holders at risk from higher interest rates. The government also earmarked $15 billion for rental home construction, though there are no details on how the funds will deliver 30,000 new units as promised.
Consultations have begun on the 2024 federal budget and The Chamber will work with our national network to give members a voice in the process.
It's a strange time for the real estate industry, which is a major contributor to Greater Victoria's economy. The winter typically brings a slow down, but high interest rates and uncertainty about the future are chilling activity in our region and across the country.
"Overall, property sales drifted down in October compared to the previous month, likely due to consumers continuing to navigate interest rates higher than those seen in nearly two decades," Victoria Real Estate Board Chair Graden Sol said. "The uncertainty around the direction of the Bank of Canada rate announcement in mid-October may have caused some buyers to push their purchasing plans into the future because it was unclear if rates were going to be hiked again or remain stable."
VERB said sales were down 15.2% in October compared to the same month last year. Total listings have increased by 25.7% over the same time. Meanwhile, the benchmark value for a single family home in the region's core in October was $1,305,900 — up 3.9% from October 2022.
"Greater Victoria typically fares better than many other regions during economic downturns because of our diversity of sectors," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We have a large public sector, for example, that relies on the services and goods of other industries. What we've seen in the past is that those who can, lend support to those in need. This current situation will pass, but let's remember to exercise compassion and kindness in the spirit of supporting our local economy."
The Chamber supports efforts to embrace and learn from Indigenous ways of knowing as an opportunity to add resilience and sustainability to our economy.
A conference set for next week in Toronto promises to raise awareness at a national level. Indigenomics on Bay Street, hosted by Chamber member Indigenomics Institute, bills itself as a "gathering to activate value creation in the $100 billion Indigenous economy." The figure represents the changing landscape of Indigenous wealth and influence on policy and business, as identified in a 2019 study.
The conference is open to business leaders looking to advance the knowledge, tools and actions needed to activate economic reconciliation.
For more information, go to indigenomicsinstitute.com/events/bay-street.
The findings of a report released today calculating the cost of living in Greater Victoria is not a surprise.
According to the Community Social Planning Council, the 2023 Living Wage for Greater Victoria is $25.40 per hour. That's $1.11
(4.6%) higher than the 2022 rate of $24.29 per hour.
"The Chamber continues to work on helping employers find and keep workers, and one of the biggest challenges for organizations is the impact of labour costs on top of all the other input costs that have gone up over the past year," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Our members are great employers, but it's not easy passing on higher prices to customers. We need all levels of government to address the root of these rising costs."
Annual household expenses for a family of four are up $2,393.29 from 2022. The report, released in partnership with United Way Southern Vancouver Island, cites shelter and food costs as well as non-MSP health expenses for the increase.
“Given the pressures of housing and inflation, the rise in the Living Wage is alarming but not
totally unexpected,” UWSVI Executive Director Erika Stenson said. “It also provides us — whether we are employers, any level of government, business, or labour—with the incentive to convene and discuss realistic, pragmatic ways to help families in Southern Vancouver Island manage the issues around affordability."
Some good news this morning for businesses and households feeling the pinch of higher borrowing costs.
The Bank of Canada kept its target for the overnight rate at 5%, signalling that earlier efforts to cool inflation by slowing the economy are working.
Interest rates climbed faster than expected as inflation spiked after a series of global crises. The war in Ukraine, climate events in agricultural areas and disrupted supply chains have been cited for increasing input costs.
The central bank said today that it might still raise interest rates further, though some experts say the message is likely more bark than bite.
The Conference Board of Canada said that fears of a recession could become a "self-fulfilling prophecy."
The Bank of Canada’s recent Survey of Consumer Expectations found that 55% of respondents expect a recession is coming.
"It is likely these recession fears are encouraging households to scale back their spending, a finding backed by trends seen in our Index of Consumer Spending and Index of Consumer Confidence," the Conference Board said in its report. "This additional pull-back could give the final nudge to materialize a recession within Canada."
Advocacy efforts to extend the CEBA repayment deadline appear to be working. The Chamber and our national network along with many other business organizations are calling on the federal government to give businesses more time to repay without losing the forgivable portion of their CEBA loans.
Chamber Chair Kris Wirk said in a September media release that “The reality facing many small businesses — especially those in hospitality, tourism and retail — is that they have a viable path to making a full recovery but it’s going to take longer than expected.”
This week, federal Small Business Minister Rechie Valdez told BNN Bloomberg that she's heard the message and seen the struggles facing businesses firsthand. She promised to go back to government to do more.
Under the Canada Emergency Benefits Account, businesses that needed help during the pandemic were offered loans of up to $60,000. Part of the appeal was that one third of the loan would be forgiven if paid by the deadline, which was extended from Dec. 31 to Jan. 18. And while 2024 seemed like a long way off in the depths of the pandemic, unforeseen challenges with inflation and interest rates has kept many businesses from fully recovering.
Chamber member Megan Johns, owner of The Green Kiss explained the situation succinctly to CBC, noting that she was on schedule with her CEBA loan until operating costs began to soar faster than her business could grow.
"Margins are getting smaller and smaller and smaller due to the rising costs across the board," Johns said. "Every aspect of the business has become more challenging and it is more challenging now than it was in 2020 so far."
How much is too much when it comes to adjusting price points to ensure your business stays sustainable? In a speech yesterday to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce, the Bank of Canada said changes to how prices are set has become a risk for inflation.
"In ordinary times, prices are sticky. Companies typically don’t adjust prices often, even if input costs change or consumer demands shift. Why not? Because it can be expensive to change prices," Bank of Canada Deputy Governor Nicolas Vincent said, citing steps in a typical process to analyze competitive risks. "But during the recovery from the pandemic, firms were faced with fast-rising input costs and they saw that consumers had less choice because supply was low everywhere. This allowed them to pass those changes on to consumers more quickly and more fully than usual."
The Bank, which is scheduled to make its next interest rate announcement on Oct. 23, said it's concerned that rising prices are now seen as normal.
"If stores expect their suppliers and competitors to change prices more frequently, and consumers are willing to continue paying higher prices rather than shopping around, then it creates a feedback loop," the Bank said. "This could make prices more sensitive to shocks, making it more difficult to get inflation back to our 2% target."
The Chamber advocates for Climate Action Leadership as businesses adapt and respond to changing expectations for seasonal weather events. Updated provincial legislation will help modernize the ability of businesses and their communities to better respond to emergencies and disasters.
British Columbia's new Emergency and Disaster Management Act will replace the Emergency Program Act, which is almost 30 years old.
"Including Indigenous knowledge — by developing regulations in consultation with First Nations — is important and something The Chamber fully supports as work toward a sustainable future," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The climate has changed and we will continue to experience extreme weather events every year. This, of course, goes beyond borders and even local planning needs to consider the global context."
The changes align with the international agreement to protect communities from climate events. For more , go to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Rising costs and finding and keeping staff are two of the biggest challenges facing employers. Yesterday, BC Ferries was told it could only increase fare prices by 3.2% annually between April 1, 2024 and March 31, 2028. The increase had been forecast at 9.2% but was reduced because of a $500 million provincial government subsidy.
The ferry corporation — part of the foundation of Vancouver Island's economy — was also told yesterday that the province will begin levying fines for missed sailings on select routes. The penalties will apply when core services are cancelled — $7,000 if a major route and $1,000 if a minor route. Many of the details have yet to be announced.
Over the summer, ferry cancellations made headlines and frustrated travellers as mechanical issues and a lack of available staff affected numerous sailings.
"BC Ferries provides a vital connection between the Mainland and the Island, so we do need certainty that sailings will happen as scheduled," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "But perhaps there are regulatory changes or innovative solutions that can be made to modernize staffing requirements while maintaining public safety as the priority."
Unless you're stuck under the proverbial rock, you know that economies around the world are facing some serious doldrums. The latest report from the Conference Board of Canada adds to the dreary outlook. Headlined, "Consumer confidence falls to Its second lowest point to date," the index of Consumer Confidence shows that Canadians are feeling bummed about their finances.
"We had hoped to be through the rough patch by now but it's proving persistent," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting that the fight against inflation and the re-balancing of global supply chains continues to take a toll. "We will get through this, as we have countless times in the past, by supporting each other. So much work has gone into building a resilient economy for Greater Victoria, and, as a result, we are in a better place than many other regions."
The Index of Consumer Confidence was 59.6 in September, compared to 61.2 in August. The Conference Board said wildfires likely contributed to the pessimistic outlook in BC.
The effect of high interest-rates is measurable, with Statistics Canada's latest Survey on Business Conditions showing many businesses are challenged by increasing costs and reduced customer spending.
The Canadian Chamber's Business Data Lab explores the stories behind the numbers, including an analysis by Chief Economist Stephen Tapp.
"Continuing cost pressures explain why firms’ pricing behaviour still hasn’t normalized yet, even though headline inflation has slowed," Tapp said. "Thankfully, the labour market is loosening up, although there are still significant challenges in sectors such as health care, accommodation and food services, manufacturing and construction. Supply chains are also recovering from their peak difficulties of last year, but they too remain problematic for affected companies."
The Consumer Price Index rose 4% year over year in August, Statistics Canada reported this week. That's up from a 3.3% increase in July.
"In addition to facing higher energy prices, Canadians paid more for rent and mortgage interest in August," Statistics Canada said. "Moderating the all-items CPI were declines in prices for travel-related services and a smaller increase in food prices compared with the previous month."
The rise in inflation could impact the Bank of Canada's next interest rate decision. In a summary of deliberations, released today, the Bank noted that they had concerns about pausing rate increases last month. The Bank said it needs to make sure Canadians aren't expecting interest rates to be lowered soon, and that there is still a risk of ongoing high inflation.
A report released Wednesday morning offers a tangible take on how many new homes need to be built in Canada to restore affordability.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation said that the slowing economy and growing population have changed the forecast for where housing is most needed.
We need about 3.5 million new homes by the end of the decade, with BC and Ontario dealing with the largest gaps between supply and demand. The predicted shortfall has grown since last year as the CMHC forecasts a slowing economy, tougher financing climate and stretched labour force will result in less construction.
"For British Columbia, higher estimated household numbers in 2030 and slightly lower estimated income per household lead to a relatively neutral impact on overall demand," the report states. "Still, the supply gap increases because of a lower projected number of housing units that will be built."
The CMHC said its analysis shows the importance of modelling demographic changes as well as economic conditions when planning policies to increase housing supply.
Construction has begun on the Royal BC Museum’s collections and research building in the City of Colwood.
The 15,200 square-metre building will be a state-of-the-art facility using mass timber to house the Province’s collections and BC Archives. There will also be dedicated research labs and learning spaces.
“The provincial collections and archives help us to share the stories of our cultures and communities. It’s vital to ensure they’re kept safe for future generations,” said RBCM's acting CEO Tracey Drake in a news release. “This exceptional facility will also provide a window into the world of the museum, enabling visitors to see our paleontologists, entomologists, botanists, zoologists and more, engaged in active research projects.”
The $270 million project is expected to be substantially completed by fall 2025, a public opening is planned for 2026.
The latest sales figures show a slight increase in the number of homes for sale, though the demand for housing continues to affect the cost of living in our region.
According to the Victoria Real Estate Board, there were 2,490 listings at the end of August. That's up 2.9% from the previous month and higher than the 2,137 homes listed in August 2022.
"The focus in our market and by all levels of government needs to be on opening up more supply," VREB chair Graden Sol said in a news release. "Our inventory levels, though up from last year, are still too low to support a well-balanced market. A decade ago, we saw over 5,000 active listings in August."
Sol noted that many listings were for single family homes, which are at the top of the residential market.
"Missing middle homes, such as townhomes and condos represented only 37.1% of listings for sale," Sol said. "Townhomes, which in my experience are what a lot of families hope to purchase, represented only 9.8% of the residential properties for sale. This imbalance in the mix of housing options means there is the potential for more price pressure on these types of properties because demand is concentrated at more attainable price points."
The benchmark value for a single family home in August was $1,323,900. That 's up $5,100 from July but down $3,800 from last summer.
BC Ferries is waiting to see if it can raise rates, starting next April, to help the organization steer itself through the unsteady waters created by global inflation and the challenges of finding and keeping workers.
There is a shortage of qualified mariners, and new vessels are needed for BC Ferries fleet. The BC Ferries Commission, which is distinct from the provincial government and operations, sets the amount that prices can increase.
The public has until Sept. 30 to contact the commission to provide input to help with its decision. Email email@example.com for more information.
A new report by the Conference Board of Canada's Workplace Mental Health Research Centre found that your organization's policies on absenteeism could directly affect the productivity of employees. The study noted that it's difficult to measure presenteeism — workers pushing through their day despite feeling unwell physically or mentally. A lack of awareness and sense of trust between employer and employees was cited as a common reason for not addressing presenteeism.
“Without formal productivity measures, how can you tell that somebody is showing up and not delivering 100%?" the reports quotes one unnamed employer. "I don’t know that you can.”
Most of the causes for presenteeism were related to symptoms of illness, stress and and trouble sleeping. Stigma around mental health continues to be a major factor for workers punching the clock when feeling unwell. There remains concerns about how disclosing an illness could impact their standing in the workplace.
The report suggests organizations can take active strategies, such as accommodations for caregivers — predominately women — so they can remain on track for career growth and can overcome the many barriers they face.
The conference board established the research centre to increase awareness and understanding of workplace mental health through research, analysis and dialogue.
Social media platforms have revolutionized the way businesses market their products and services. And while a new study shows a growing disaffection with some of the toxic traits of social media, it's clear the Internet is firmly cemented into our everyday lives.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority's recently published Canada's Internet Factbook survey found that people are finding social media less beneficial. In 2023, only 18% said there was a benefit to social media compared to 25% in 2022 and 35% in 2020. Facebook continues to be the most popular platform, used by 65% of British Columbians. YouTube is used by 54%, Instagram by 43% and LinkedIn by 28%.
British Columbians also report a preference for patronizing Canadian retailers when they shop online (67%) and 43% say they primarily shop locally or equally between local and chain stores.
"It seems highly unlikely that our dependence on the internet will decline anytime soon," states the survey's Executive Summary. "In the meantime, the best course of action is to accept the many positives we derive from this indispensable technology while taking whatever positive and intentional actions we can to reduce the impact of the negatives—or even avoid them altogether."
Indigenous business support is one of The Chamber's key advocacy priorities. We all stand to benefit by having First Nations participate in the economy, and that requires supporting self-determination.
The University of Victoria recently received a federal research grant that will allow a team to "design and advance a sustainability framework for decision-making in Indigenous communities that ensures their values, knowledge and concerns are at the forefront as they assess development proposals on their lands."
The UVic team will build off a successful system that has been used for five years with Toquaht Nation in BC, as well as with communities in New Zealand and Indonesia.
“This project is very critical to the empowerment and self-determination of Indigenous governments and peoples," said Cloy-e-iis Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council and a member of the project’s Council of Senior Advisors. "Basing models on traditional knowledge and ways of knowing directs the work to be done and utilizes self-determination to its fullest. Sharing models with other Indigenous communities around the world adds to the richness of what can be contained in the models. Establishing their own indicators on what is important to each Nation is also building on governance and putting the decision making in the hands of the people.”
The provincial government announced today that it received more revenue than expected for fiscal 2022-23.
Public Accounts show B.C. ended the year with a $704-million surplus and no operating debt, helped in part by income tax generated by high employment.
BC Minister of Finance Katrine Conroy, who spoke to Chamber members on March 1, said investing in people and businesses is paying off.
“We’ve seen time and again that when we invest in people and the services they count on to build a good life here, it makes our economy stronger and more resilient,” Conroy said in the news release, which also noted that BC has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in Canada.
The Chamber will continue to work with decision-makers in all levels of government to reduce the tax burden faced by business, while also calling for smart investment.
"These revenue figures show that the province clearly can do better at reducing costs borne by businesses, such as the Employer Health Tax," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The best investment any government can make is creating the right climate for entrepreneurs and businesses, who drive the majority of employment in BC."
The next report on provincial finances will be the first quarterly report for 2023-24 in September.