Greater Victoria had the lowest unemployment rate in Canada in August, according to Statistics Canada's latest Labour Force Survey. The seasonally adjusted rate was 4.2% for our region, below the 4.4% rate of our traditional rival Quebec City. Lethbridge was also at 4.4%.
Last August, Greater Victoria's unemployment rate was 10.7%.
All in all, the rollout of BC's new proof of vaccination requirements has been smooth for most businesses in Greater Victoria. Unfortunately, there have also been reports of rare but disturbing incidents of misplaced anger at businesses and their staff.
"The province has ordered businesses to comply with this order, so anyone who has concerns about the rules should not be bullying people who are trying to make a living. It's not their rule," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "We've been working with our community partners on posters and other materials that we hope will remind everyone that we need to continue to be kind and patient while these requirements are in place."
The Chamber also supports ongoing advocacy efforts underway to ensure the burden of enforcing the vaccine card is not placed solely on the shoulders of business.
"It has been a tough 18 months for restaurants and retailers, and they've worked extremely hard to keep their businesses operating. We can't risk that by making it even harder on them by adding new challenges," Williams said. "Getting your proof of vaccine is a simple process and only takes a few seconds to check. This will be a temporary measure, and it allows businesses to stay open and let's all of us get back to the things we enjoy."
The Chamber has been a vocal advocate for immunization as the best way forward. The data from today's update by BC's Ministry of Health shows that, after factoring for age, people not vaccinated are 37.9 times more likely to be hospitalized than those fully vaccinated.
The Chamber applauds a new initiative by the Town of View Royal to make it easier for the public to track the municipality's spending.
View Royal's new budget variance dashboard provides detailed info on operational finances in a number of areas, and allows comparisons of this year's figures to previous years.
“It’s important that the community holds us accountable to stewarding their financial resources and that they receive regular reports on our progress," View Royal's Chief Administrative Officer Kim Anema said in a news release. "By regularly sharing detailed budget information with the community, we aim to build trust with our residents and demonstrate how we work to meet our financial goals.”
The provincial government's financial picture was better than expected in the first quarter, with the year-end deficit projected to be $4.8 billion — about half of what was initially forecast five months ago in the 2021 budget.
The Chamber recently presented to BC's Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services to advocate for policies that will help grow the economy and allow the province to return to budget surpluses.
The updated numbers show that BC's economy is rebounding, and that the province has the capacity to continue helping hard hit sectors, such as tourism and transportation, until they can fully participate in the recovery.
Starting Sept. 13, anyone over the age of 12 will need to show they've had at least one dose (rising to two doses on Oct. 24) to enter what the province is calling "higher risk social and recreational settings and events."
These include dine-in restaurants, gyms, indoor ticketed events, pubs, bars, casinos and movie theatres. As well, indoor wedding receptions, conferences and events with 50 or more people will require proof of vaccination. No proof will be required for "grab-and-go" fast food or take-out.
On Monday, the province also soft-launched a website that can be used to access a QR code indicating vaccination status. However, the app that businesses will need to scan QR codes won't be available until Sept. 13.
The Chamber called on government to ensure the vaccine card did not increase the burden on business. There remain concerns about the cost of screening customers, and The Chamber wants to hear from members who encounter any challenges with the program.
A transition period will run until Sept. 26, during which the cards received from vaccine clinics will suffice as proof.
"All of us want to avoid further restrictions on business, and the data shows COVID is much less of a risk when people are fully vaccinated," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "We all want to put the pandemic behind us, and immunization continues to be our way forward."
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, the current surge in cases is primarily occurring in people who are unvaccinated. One of the goals of requiring proof of vaccination is to prompt those who are not vaccinated to get their shots.
On Monday, Canada opened its borders to international visitors. The move will give another boost to the tourism sector trying to make the most of the last few weeks of summer.
Visitors don't need to quarantine but do need to meet criteria set out by government. International travellers must show proof they are fully vaccinated at least 14 days before entering Canada. They also need to supply the negative results of an approved COVID test within 72 hours of arriving in Canada.
The opening of the border has attracted attention of travel media, such as Men's Journal which recently included Victoria among its suggested places to visit.
Greater Victoria had $202 million in building permits for July, according to Statistics Canada. The number represents a 56.4% increase over July 2020, and 26.6% jump from June 2021.
In July, Greater Victoria recorded 617 housing starts for a year-to-date total of 2,500. Of that number, 2,182 have been completed.
Across Canada, the value of building permits was $7.5 billion — up 19.6% from a year earlier but down 6.5% from June 2021.
Grants of up to $250,000 are now available to help sports, arts and cultural events get back up and running safely. The provincial government opened the application process last Friday for the Fairs, Festivals and Events Recovery Fund.
A total of $12.9 million is available in one-time grants for up to 20% of an event's budget. Funds can be used for "operational costs, health and safety measures, venue rental, marketing, wages and promotion." Applications are being accepted until Oct. 1 for events that occurred after July 1, or which will take place before Sept. 30 of next year.
"Eligible events include sport, arts and culture events, community celebrations, agricultural fairs, rodeos and exhibitions," states the news release from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culutre and Sports. "Applications submitted by organizations will be required to demonstrate local or regional support and show the economic and social benefits for the community."
With less than two weeks to go before BC introduces a proof of vaccination requirement on Sept. 13, The Chamber continues to work with our partner organizations to ensure the program does not unduly burden staff and businesses while protecting our community.
The Chamber has been a vocal supporter of BC's immunization campaign, including through our #ChamberChangemaker initiative.
"We recognize that vaccines are the path forward and we continue to encourage full vaccinations as the best way to keep ourselves and each other safe," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "What we want from government is assurance that the proof of vaccination requirement will be rolled out in a way that doesn't penalize businesses whose staff are already working at capacity."
The BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, for example, supports the plan but says it is vital there be a "clear implementation plan, simple rules,
hands-on training and industry support."
Quebec was the first province to launch a vaccine passport, with its app going live today. Quebecers will have a two-week leniency period before penalties of up to $6,000 for vaccine passport fraud will be enforced. Ontario also announced today its plan to introduce proof of vaccination requirements by Sept. 22, with an app available Oct. 22.
In BC, people will need to have at least one dose by Sept. 13 to be allowed in specified settings. That requirement will shift to fully vaccinated for at least seven days as of Oct. 24. The measures will be re-assessed on Jan. 31, 2022, to determine if an extension is required.
The province has not disclosed exactly how penalties will be enforced. We expect businesses will be subject to inspections as with the current mask mandate.
The Chamber adheres to the direction and advice of BC's Provincial Health Officer. We also recognize that many people are struggling with the uncertainty of the pandemic and specifically the Delta variant. We'd like to hear from Chamber members about your questions and concerns regarding BC's Proof of Vaccination proposal. Please keep your commentary civil. We will share productive feedback anonymously with decision makers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Monday morning, Chamber CEO Bruce Williams brought concerns raised by our members and Chamber Champions to BC's Select Standing Committee on Fiance and Government Services.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce was asked to present to the committee along with the Burnaby Board of Trade, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and Surrey Board of Trade. These organizations are leading advocates for business in BC and help government set priorities ahead of next year's BC budget. Among the many issues raised were finding and keeping workers, fair taxation and fiscal prudence.
"We thank the province for including the voice of Greater Victoria businesses and we look forward to continuing to working closely on programs and policies that will be key to growing our region's private sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said.
You can listen to Bruce's comments to the committee, starting after the 9:28 mark.