Next week marks a significant shift in responsibilities and opportunities for businesses in BC that are required to check for proof of vaccination.
On Sunday, everyone over the age of 12 will need to present their BC Vaccine Card to show they are fully immunized against COVID-19. And then on Monday, the province is lifting restrictions on capacity limits in specific situations. This will allow more people who are fully immunized to gather together on Vancouver Island and other areas of BC with high vaccination rates.
"The provincial health officer order restricting capacity limits to 50% for inside organized events and gatherings will be revised to allow 100% capacity in those settings where the BC Vaccine Card is in place and proof of vaccination status is checked," BC's Ministry of Health said in a news release. "In addition, the requirement to remain seated at a table in restaurants and pubs will be lifted. Indoor mask requirements remain in effect for all indoor gatherings and events."
The changes mean that many theatres, stadiums and events such as weddings can return to full capacity.
A new report reveals that 43% of office space being built outside the region's core is already pre-leased. One of the examples cited is Plexxis Software, which is constructing a six-storey concrete and glass headquarters in the City of Langford. The 60,000-square-foot office next to Langford Lake is expected to be finished by 2023.
A return of office workers from their home offices is also expected to reduce vacancy rates in downtown Victoria.
The Chamber continues to call for the federal government to confirm it will extend the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Both are scheduled to end on Oct. 23, but many businesses continue to face ongoing operating and capacity issues. The tourism and hospitality industry, specifically, needs help making it through the fall and winter.
The federal government had, as of Sept. 26, reportedly paid out $94 billion through the wage subsidy program to 4.4 million employers, as well as about $6.6 billion in rent subsidies to more than 1.6 million organizations.
The Chamber, through our national network, is asking the federal government to replace CEWS and CERS with a program for businesses still hurt by pandemic restrictions, as well as to commit to not introducing new taxes and forgiving interest payments on government-backed loans to businesses that were hardest hit by COVID-19.
News that the US will open its land borders to fully vaccinated Canadians within a few weeks is being welcomed by businesses who depend on the flow of goods and people between countries.
In Greater Victoria, the move helps create certainty for marine passenger services Clipper Navigation Ltd. and Black Ball Ferry Line and helps them plan for a successful return to service.
"We know COVID will remain a concern for some time but we also know how to safely reduce our risks," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Businesses in Greater Victoria have had more than their share of challenges during the pandemic. They're
poised and ready to help our region's economy take flight. As the world begins to re-open and opportunities for economic growth return, we will continue to call on government to take measured steps based on science that allow us to welcome more of the world back to Greater Victoria."
It was an emotional moment last Friday when the Victoria Clipper sailed into the Inner Harbour for the first time since the pandemic began. Families waited anxiously for the boat to dock so they could reunite with relatives.
For business leaders, there was also a sense of relief as a vital link for our visitor economy was finally restored.
The federal government re-opened the marine border after vocal advocacy efforts by The Chamber, Clipper Navigation and our community partners, including Destination Greater Victoria and the City of Victoria. And a special thanks to CFB Esquimalt, Harbour Ferries and the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority for helping make the welcome back event so special!
The campaigning is over, the results are in, and now we need the federal government to renew its focus on investing in economic growth led by business.
"It's time for the federal government to take the steps needed to enable the private sector to create jobs and wealth that we need to move away from deficits and reduce public debt," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says.
The Chamber and our national network are calling on parliament to:
If you want to see where Greater Victoria's newly re-elected MPs stand on these and other issues, check out our online sessions with candidates.
The province is now seeking feedback to help decide if paid sick-leave will be a minimum of three, five or 10 days as it moves into the next stage of its consultation process.
More than 26,000 surveys were completed by employers and employees between Aug. 4 and Sept. 14. The survey results found that employers and employees reported concerns about staff coming to work sick and infecting others. Of the employers who offer paid sick-leave to their employees:
The public can comment on the current round of engagement until Oct. 25. The province plans to implement permanent paid sick-leave on Jan. 1, 2022.
In May, the government announced a temporary paid sick-leave program that paid up to $200 per day to help businesses that didn't already provide paid sick leave. The subsidy was available for up to three days and was meant to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
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.