A new era for rapid transit in Greater Victoria began this week with the launch of BC Transit's Blink RapidBus Route 95. The first of the orange-topped buses hit the road Monday, taking passengers from Downtown Victoria to Langford. The new route replaces Route 50 and promises more convenient service with buses running every seven to eight minutes in peak times.
"Rapid transit takes time to implement, so while this modest step will increase our service levels, frequency and reliability for customers, more infrastructure is needed to make Blink RapidBus even faster," states BC Transit's website.
In a big win for business, sustainability and Chamber advocacy, the provincial government announced today it was moving forward to bring shore power to Ogden Point.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, announced $9 million for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The money will be used for planning and installation of infrastructure that will let cruise ships turn off their engines while docked by enabling access to electricity from BC Hydro.
GVHA expects 320 cruise ships this season, carrying 850,000 passengers.
“Innovation led by business is key to addressing the biggest challenges facing our community and our planet,” Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams said. “Adding shore power to Ogden Point benefits people living nearby. It also shows how the cruise ship industry is adapting to public demand and embracing new ways of doing business. The Chamber has a long history of working closely with all levels of government and the cruise industry. We are grateful for the work of Minister Fleming to help champion this important project for our region.”
GVHA has been working on plans for shore power with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, BC Hydro, the cruise industry and the City of Victoria.
“Today’s funding announcement by the Province of British Columbia is key to launching the next phase of this important initiative,” GVHA CEO Robert Lewis-Manning said. “Shore power is one of several initiatives supporting a sustainable working port cherished by the Lekwungen people, residents and visitors alike."
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.
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.
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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."
Join The Chamber for a discussion with the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition and Island Corridor Foundation on the work done towards identifying the need for, and public interest in, reinstating Island Rail Service.
"The provincial government is quickly approaching a critical decision point and must provide an answer on the future of the Island corridor by March 14," said coalition representative Paul Robinson, noting that reinstating Island rail service could help the Island's tourism economy and get more vehicles off the roads. "VITCC believes that rail is, by far, the most equitable mode of ground-based transportation as there are no age, health, ability, income impediments, and no requirements for vehicle operator ownership, licensing, and associated expenses."
The Chamber will be leading the discussion on rail as part of our role in The Island Chamber Advocacy Alliance, connecting business across the Island.
This free, virtual event is open to members of Chambers across Vancouver Island.
Island Corridor Foundation: Member since 2020
A movement that initially took hold in the City of Victoria is set to become a Canada-wide initiative as of Dec. 20. The federal Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations aims to stop the manufacture, import and sale of bags, cutlery and other items made with problematic plastics.
The Chamber worked closely with Victoria and other local governments. Our goal was to make sure the initial regulations incorporated innovations that businesses were already using to address consumer concerns. The public has, for many years, supported businesses that provided alternatives to plastic waste. Having the same rules across the country will help businesses work with the requirements efficiently and effectively.
Changing times create disruption but also present tremendous opportunities for forward-thinking organizations. The tide of high inflation has highlighted the need to create more resilient local production and supply networks.
Groceries are a good example of the need for investment in suppliers located closer to home. The provincial government's Buy BC program and the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance's Island Good shows the value of supporting innovation led by business.
On Monday, BuyBC hosted an event in Victoria called Every Chef Needs a Farmer, Every Farmer Needs a Chef. Among the exhibitors was Finest at Sea Ocean Products.
"There is clear evidence of the value that bring local brings to a community, but it's not always top of mind when we're at the grocery story purchasing produce for our families," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The Buy BC and Island Good programs makes it easier to remember the value in buying local, both in terms of freshness and health as well as in ensuring local farmers feel they are supported so they can take the risks needed to build their business."
Innovation led by business is vital to addressing climate change. A prime example is the work being done by Harbour Air to switch to an all-electric fleet. On Aug. 18, that goal came a little closer as the company celebrated the successful 45 mile flight of a De Havilland Beaver. The plane was completely retrofitted in 2019 to operate using 100% electricity.
“I am excited to report that this historic flight on the ePlane went exactly as planned” said Kory Paul, Harbour Air’s Vice President of Flight Operations.
To stay up to speed on the latest progress from Harbour Air, go to ePlane Updates.
Fueled by surging gas prices, Canada's inflation rate rose again last month to 8.1%. If the cost of gas is taken out, the rate would be 6.5%.
Other factors contributing to our higher cost of living include jumps in grocery bills, accommodation and ticket prices for sports and concert events. If there is a silver lining it is that the increase was less than expected. Whether this signals peak inflation is unclear. Many experts are forecasting inflation to begin falling in the next few months.
The Chamber is working with a number of members to get a clearer picture of what rising rates mean for business. Watch for updates in future editions of BizNews.
British Columbia will be among the first provinces to engage in consultations with the federal government on planning for a new economy based on renewable energy.
The Regional Energy and Resource Tables will include representatives from municipalities, First Nations, universities, industry and business groups. The discussion will look at opportunities that come with investing in a net-zero economy.
“It's about actually doing the manufacturing of batteries and electric vehicles and a range of other products that utilize critical minerals in this country,” Minister of Natural Resources Jonathon Wilkinson told Glacier Media. “I see this as actually a generational opportunity for Canada.”
An initiative that started in the City of Victoria, was supported by business and took root across Greater Victoria is moving to the national stage. As of the end of this year, the federal government is banning the production or importation of single-use plastic bags, straws, stir sticks containers and other items that clog up landfills and contaminate natural ecosystems.
The Chamber worked closely with local governments on the initial regulations to ensure government followed innovations already being introduced by business. This helped the implementation unfold smoothly as the rules were a response to public demand as identified by businesses, ensuring success. The best way to address the seriousness of climate change is by supporting innovations led by business.
A renewed call to protect the Island Rail Corridor is being made to the Capital Regional District today, June 15.
The Town of View Royal voted last week to ask the provincial and federal governments to commit to maintaining the corridor. In a 2021 ruling, the BC Court of Appeal gave the federal government until March 2023 to clarify its intentions for the future of the corridor. The Island Corridor Foundation has released a business case for restoring rail service. All that's needed is the political will to make it happen.
“We want to bring real focus to this problem that we need to solve, and we need the upper levels of government to solve it with us,” View Royal Mayor David Screech told the Goldstream News Gazette.
Last June's heat dome caused major disruption across the province, shutting down a number of businesses because of uncomfortable or even unsafe conditions. The weather event was especially damaging because it caught people off guard. Tragically, the extreme heat was also linked to the deaths of 619 British Columbians. The province has now launched a Heat Alert and Response System to identify and support people at risk during extreme heat. The system will categorize extreme heat events as warnings or emergenices, with thresholds varying across regions.
As well, prevention and mitigation strategies can help the public better prepare for future climate events.
With cooler than seasonal temperatures so far this spring, experts are continuing to watch their long-range forecasts for any indication of a summer heat wave.
Capital Bike is hoping to inspire more people to choose bikes to get where they need to go. Go By Bike Week runs May 30 to June 5, and anyone can participate as individuals or by registering as a team. The week-long event, previously known as Bike to Work Week, is a great chance for co-workers to boost their mental and physical health in a collaborative and fun way. Capital Bike is planning Celebration Stations along popular bike routes with more than $20,000 in prizes available.
The Chamber hosted BC Ferries President and CEO Mark Collins last week, with more than 60 business leaders at the Coast Victoria Hotel & Marina by APA.
“We had a highly engaged audience who learned about ongoing efforts to electrify the ferry fleet and reduce greenhouse gas and noise emissions," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, adding that many employers in the room were also keenly interested in BC Ferries work to find and keep workers. The recent addition of 500 new employees helped the corporation add more than 100 extra sailings for the Victoria Day Weekend.
City of Colwood Mayor Rob Martin, who attended the meeting, stood up to eloquently ask everyone in the room to call on the province to fund a formal study of a commuter ferry between Royal Bay and downtown Victoria. The concept is supported by BC Ferries and The Chamber, and now requires political will to become a reality.
“The Chamber has a long history of working with BC Ferries to connect this vital Island link with leaders in Greater Victoria’s business community and it was great to hold another successful in person meeting,” Williams said of the May 12 Business Leaders Luncheon, sponsored by Seaspan Victoria Shipyards.
Innovation led by business is key to tackling climate change and The Chamber is committed to working with all levels of government to help them understand how the private sector is providing real solutions to meet public demand. The City of Victoria has designated staff to work on ensuring food service businesses are using the most sustainable materials available.
City staff have developed a Draft PDF of a Sustainable Takeout Guide that they hope will help businesses. Staff have also asked The Chamber for feedback on the city’s plan. The Chamber worked closely with the city on plastic bags regulations holding a roundtable of city staff and business owners to identify what was already working, what could be efficiently implemented and the tools needed to do so. As a result, the regulation was welcomed by most businesses and served as a model for municipalities across the region.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made several appearances in Greater Victoria on Monday, including a meeting with City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to talk about housing affordability, climate change and the opioid crisis.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister was at Royal Roads University to speak about the federal government's effort to increase sales of electric vehicles and the number of charging stations.
The PMO announced it wants 60% of all new vehicles sales to be electric by 2030, and 100% by 2035.
To help British Columbians deal with high gas prices, ICBC announced last week it is providing drivers with a one-time $110 rebate ($160 for commercial drivers).
Rising fuel prices — caused by what Premier John Horgan called "Putin's illegal war in Ukraine" — have made life more expensive and led to calls for the province to reduce fuel taxes. And while consumers will welcome the rebate, there are concerns that the cash back from ICBC could increase demand for fuel. A better solution, some economists say, would be to focus relief on commercial vehicles facing higher costs — costs that will inevitably be added to the price of goods and services.
The ICBC rebate will be directly deposited in customer's accounts or applied to their credit card, depending on how they pay for vehicle insurance. ICBC will not text or email information about the rebate and warns customers to be vigilant about fraud attempts.
BC Minister of Finance Selina Robinson met with Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce members today to address your questions about the province's 2022 Budget, unveiled yesterday.
Minister Robinson expects economic growth even as provincial debt increases.
This year's $71 billion budget is forecast to have a deficit of $5.5 billion, followed by a $4.2 billion deficit in 2023/24. Robinson said the main reasons for the deficits are the anticipated costs of rebuilding damaged transportation infrastructure to withstand future climate events.
Asked whether the province planned to ease the burdens of the EHT — which took $207 million more than anticipated from BC employers last year — or paid sick days, the minister defended the government's current policies. She also acknowledged concerns about linking the minimum wage to inflation and said she will work to make the change as smooth and predictable as possible for business.
Greater Victoria is getting two complex care facilities, though specific locations were not announced. The budget also includes $84 million over three years for planning and capital funding for upgrading the Belleville Terminal.
The tourism sector has been allocated $25 million to help with recovery efforts, though a further $915 million was set aside for potential pandemic-related expenses, including health care costs or economic recovery funding.
Greater Victoria is also in line for numerous “bus and shoulder” expansions to improve regional transit, and money has been earmarked for the transit hub at Uptown in Saanich.
“The Chamber has long advocated for child care as an investment in our economy, and we applaud the province’s commitment to adding 40,000 new spaces within seven years. We also are encouraged by some of the steps to address our lack of housing supply,” Williams said.
A survey of Greater Victoria businesses will gather data to help better understand challenges facing the region's economy in 2022. The survey, launched by the South Island Prosperity Partnership, is open until Feb. 11 and takes less than 10 minutes to fill out. Questions range from what your experiences have been with supply-chain disruptions to various affordability concerns, including housing supply.
The results of the survey will be used by industry and business associations, including The Chamber, to help our advocacy efforts with government.
An area near the heart of Greater Victoria is changing quickly as our region grows. To help guide development, the District of Saanich has unveiled its Uptown-Douglas Plan for the next 20 to 30 years.
“It really is an ambitious plan and future envisioning that addresses climate change, affordability and the quality of life,” Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes told CHEK News.
Some of the highlights of the plan include creating a central district and transportation hub for a fast-growing population that will be less reliant on cars. The area is currently the crossroads for a number of major routes in the region.
The plan goes to Public Hearing Feb. 15.
More housing, especially housing that is affordable for working individuals and families, is vital for our regional economy to reach its potential.
Applications open Jan. 26 for the third intake of the CleanBC Communities Fund, which has $134 million in federal and provincial money for initiatives that address climate change.
Projects are eligible for funding if they manage renewable energy, improve access to clean-energy transportation, improve energy efficiency of buildings or generate clean energy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Businesses, non-profits, municipalities and Indigenous communities can apply.
To date, more than $240 million has been invested in local projects that increase clean energy and energy efficiency in buildings, transportation and other community-owned infrastructure.