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.
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.
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."
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.
On Feb. 14, The Chamber facilitated a Zoom session with Paul Robinson of the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition and Larry Stevenson, CEO of the Island Corridor Foundation.
Members of chambers from across Vancouver Island attended to listen and ask questions about the corridor's future. It's currently uncertain as a March 14 court-imposed deadline looms. In 2021, the BC Court of Appeals gave the federal and provincial governments 18 months to renew their commitment to improve the infrastructure required for rail. The deadline was triggered by a lawsuit launched by the Snaw-naw-as First Nation. They want to reclaim the land that runs through their territory, arguing the right-of-way granted by Canada in 1912 is no longer being used as intended.
Island communities enjoyed rail service for more than 100 years, until it was suspended indefinitely in 2011. Since then, a vocal group of train enthusiasts, environmentalists and transportation planners have been calling for a modern passenger train that will reduce the number of cars and transport trucks on Island highways, cut greenhouse gas emissions and offer an alternative for commuters.
Island communities have also lost inter city bus service creating yet another barrier to safe travel for people who can't access a vehicle. The Chamber has asked the Federal Government to subsidize a return of that service.
The Chamber supports the provincial government's effort to make National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30 a statutory holiday.
"We know statutory holidays directly impact employers but, to their immense credit, chamber members have said they believe in honouring the resilience of Indigenous communities in the face of intergenerational trauma," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting the solemn tradition of wearing orange shirts on Sept. 30 has helped raise awareness of Indigenous issues. "Taking action on reconciliation is in everyone's best interest as we build a more inclusive economy."
The province announced the proposed legislation yesterday, though many collective agreements in BC have recognized the federal holiday since 2021.
Sooke Mountain and Discovery Island Marine provincial parks could be included in treaties with the T’Sou-ke Nation and with the Songhees Nation, the province announced Monday.
"Treaties help everyone in BC by providing better clarity for First Nations and surrounding communities and will result in better social and economic opportunities for all communities in southern Vancouver Island,” BC's Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Murray Rankin said.
The move is part of ongoing negotiations with the Te’mexw Treaty Association, consisting of the T'Sou-ke and Songhees, as well as the Malahat Nation, and the Beecher Bay (SC’IA⁄NEW) and Snaw-Naw-As nations.
Sooke Mountain Park is being considered as part of the T’Sou-ke Treaty, while Discovery Island Park is being considered as part of the Songhees Treaty.
To learn more about how the Te’mexw treaties will create jobs, promote investment and economic development, build housing, support tourism and encourage investments in infrastructure, in-person open houses are planned for:
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
Before the pandemic, The Chamber was a leading voice calling for changes to the province's Employer Health Tax. A lot has happened since then, but the EHT remains a concern for businesses throughout BC.
And while The Chamber is a non-partisan organization, we welcome the announcement Jan. 25 by the BC Green Party proposing an increase to the EHT exemption threshold. The change would benefit businesses with payrolls between $500,000 and $1.5 million. It would also remove the disincentive for businesses that are growing or paying employers more and face being burdened by the EHT if they surpass $500,000.
It's an idea that the chamber network has supported in the past, and one that deserves to be back in the conversation in 2023.
Access to affordable housing is key to ensuring Greater Victoria employers are able to find and keep workers. Yesterday, the province announced a new ministry would be created to focus solely on housing and, on Monday, BC Premier David Eby unveiled three actions aimed at quickly getting more homes built.
"The Chamber has long been vocal about the need to streamline processes and invest in programs that increase housing supply," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We're happy our new Premier is listening, and we look forward to working with the province to connect the businesses and people who make housing happen with the policy makers who need to support them."
The new Minister of Housing will be named on Dec. 7, when Premier Eby shuffles cabinet. The action plan will see strata rules changed to reduce vacancies and end restrictions against young families. As well, the province will monitor municipalities and step in if local governments are unable to get homes built.
“Housing affordability and availability are among the biggest problems people in Saanich and across the province are facing," District of Saanich Mayor Dean Murdock said in the news release. "We all need to work together to address this issue and deliver the homes people need for sustainable and thriving communities. I’m glad the Province is taking these steps to help ensure municipalities build the housing people in their communities need.”
Housing remains a drag on the vitality of our region, though overall quality of life in Greater Victoria has improved.
According to the 2022 Vital Signs Report, released this week, Greater Victoria's grade has moved up from a B grade last year to a B+ this year.
Housing earned an F grade this year, a significant drop from a D+ last year.
"Vital Signs is a great check up on our region's economy, and The Chamber was happy to contribute as a community partner this year," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The grades are a good way to illustrate concepts that contribute to our overall quality of life."
It's the 19th edition of the annual report, which uses surveys as well as stories and graphics to provide snapshots of the past year.
This year's theme asked What Does Community Mean To You? Respondents rated the natural environment and climate as the best things about Greater Victoria. The aforementioned Housing crisis and cost of living were the two most important issues, according to the survey.
The report looks at 12 areas, with grades ranging from a B-plus for Learning and Sports and Recreation, to an F for Housing and a C- for Health and Wellness.
The legal sale of cannabis in BC continues to grow, potentially reducing the size of the black market. Statistics Canada's figures show that British Columbians spent $57.3 million on legal cannabis in July — the highest month yet recorded.
Since cannabis was legalized four years ago, statistics show one in five people report using the product over the past year. The Chamber supports fair rules for all businesses, and we believe that the community benefits from an industry operating with legal regulations that protect the public and provide certainty to businesses.
New data released by the City of Victoria shows downtown continues to make significant strives toward economic recovery. A number of key indicators are now back to or even above pre-pandemic levels.
In the second quarter of 2022, there has been a 37.9% increase in pedestrian counts downtown, as well as a 16.2% increase in business licences and a 22.7% jump in street parking.
“When you shop at businesses deeply connected to our community you’re investing in your neighbours, friends, family and fellow local taxpayers. They are the people who make our region a great place to work, live and raise a family,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said.
The provincial government announced changes on Monday to the way certain property values are assessed. The move could potentially ease a burden faced by businesses whose property has been assessed based on its potential value. For example, a one-storey non-profit serving a downtown neighbourhood assessed as if it housed a high-rise condo resulted in massive unsustainable property tax increases.
The Chamber advocates for Fair Regulations, and we were successful in getting the province to review BC Assessment's "highest and best use" practice.
The changes announced this week will allow municipalities to choose lower tax rates for select properties.
On Monday, Sept. 5, a shameful moment in Greater Victoria's history will be commemorated with a walk and an official apology.
The ceremony marks the 100th anniversary of the decision to segregate Chinese students up to Grade 7 in Greater Victoria.
On July 27, Alan Lowe, chair of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, appeared before the current board of the Greater Victoria school district to ask for a formal apology.
The Chamber is also hoping to formally apologize at this time for the role our organization played in advocating for this discriminatory action.
"I want to acknowledge The Chamber’s role in supporting the racist and non-inclusive statements and practices of that time in our history, and I apologize unequivocally," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And I promise we will continue working to be welcoming of all businesses so we can better represent the true diversity of our region."
The Chamber was founded in 1863 to promote investment in our region.
"Over the course of our history in Greater Victoria, there were times when we did the wrong thing. We acted with indifference or even encouraged discriminatory practices," Williams said. "This was the case with segregation of Chinese students, which had the insidious intent of making it harder for the Chinese community to live and work here. It was racist and it was wrong 100 years ago."
Today we know that diversity is what makes all of us strong. We also know we need more than just words. To that end, The Chamber has created a committee to promote Inclusion, Diversity and Equity.
Municipal governments are responsible for services and infrastructure that have very real impacts on the daily lives of businesses in their community. Having good quality governance is critical to making sure money raised from taxes is well spent.
On Oct. 15, voters will have a chance to choose who will represent them on their municipal councils for the next four years.
"This is an opportunity for individuals to take a look at the candidates and what they represent, and (ask if it's) in the best interest of you, your family, your business, your neighbourhood," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told Global News. "So make sure you're voting for the right people."
Exactly who your options are will be known by 4 pm on Sept. 9, as that's the deadline for candidates to put forward their nomination.
For key dates in this year's civic elections, which includes voting in a new school board for your districts, check out this link.
The pace of Greater Victoria's housing market is returning to a "calmer and more friendly environment" said the president of the Victoria Real Estate Board.
Rising interest rates have effectively slowed sales and allowed supply to return to more typical levels. In July, 510 properties were sold, which is down 16.7% from June and 38.9% from July 2021.
"The government's recent focus has been on demand-side mechanisms and other market modifiers such as a mandatory three-day cooling off period to start in 2023," VREB President Karen Dinnie-Smyth said in a news release. "A better long-term approach to housing affordability for our future is to address housing supply constraints which will be central to the next round of upward pressure on home prices."
A Governance Review by MNP LLP has outlined a number of recommendations to improve the work being done by the City of Victoria council.
The report unveiled a high level of unhappiness with the job being done by council, with 81% of respondents saying they were dissatisfied (21%) or very dissatisfied (60%) with governance.
"The Chamber supports positive change in governance to enable good business and great community for all. We commend the city for taking a long look in the mirror and hope that other municipalities do the same to find better efficiencies," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We agree with MNP's recommendations, which aim to keep meetings on track and more accessible to busy people who want to have a say in council's decisions."
The report comes ahead of scheduled municipal elections in October, and The Chamber will reach out to the new council to encourage them to make positive changes.
Changes are coming to one of downtown Victoria's most celebrated boulevards. The City of Victoria has been working on a redesign of Government Street, which has retained much of its streetscape for 50 years.
Last week, Victoria's Committee of the Whole set a date to vote on approving the redesign for July 28. The Chamber worked with members and partner organizations to provide input on the proposal.
"Government Street is an attraction for residents from around our region and visitors to our destination," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Investing in a refresh helps build economic resilience, but we'd like to see the businesses that have made Government Street so attractive steer this project to make sure it has the best chance of success."
The Chamber has been effective in our work to keep lines of communication clear between government and the business community. BC's Attorney General David Eby responded to a letter by The Chamber, co-signed by the Surrey Board of Trade and the Alberni Valley and Campbell River and District chambers of commerce.
"We were clear that the Lobbyists Transparency Act as implemented is missing its intended mark," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We support open and transparent government but this is red tape that is casting a chill on many small chambers due to its heavy handed reporting requirements. Threats of fines and public shaming aimed at preventing conflicts of interest are causing collateral damage to non-profits working for the benefit of communities. This flies in the face of the work that chambers do to build connections that enable informed decisions and successful policies."
The Chamber will continue to work with the AG to refine the LTA to better achieve its intended outcomes.
Housing supply is foundational to a strong economy, and The Chamber applauds progress being made on the largest housing supply project ever on Vancouver Island. The $250 million Nigel Valley development in the District of Saanich will add 800 homes to the region, including 440 non-market rental units and 255 market homes. The other units include social housing with supports.
“It's amazing what can happen when multiple stakeholders, including our local community associations, take a collaborative and proactive approach to challenges like housing," Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said in a news release. "This project caters to a wide range of housing needs in Saanich and I look forward to seeing how it will enhance our community over the years to come.”
BC Housing is contributing more than $50 million, and Broadmead Care and Island Health are each providing more more than $5 million.
The Nigel Valley redevelopment, near Saanich's municipal hall, is being done in three phases over the next 10 years.
Starting Canada Day, the provincial government will require "marketplace facilitators" charge the PST for the purchase of certain online good and services.
BC defines a marketplace facilitator as a person who:
Businesses with annual sales of less than $10,000 are exempt.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce added our voice to calls from the Surrey Board of Trade, Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce and Campbell River & District Chamber of Commerce to rethink new rules that are casting a chill on the traditional role of business as a trusted voice for decision makers. The new rules require communication with government officials to be logged monthly using a multi-step process.
“Chambers of commerce and boards of trade are embedded in the fabric of our communities," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Our mandate is to give voice to business. In healthy communities, the public sector and private sector co-exist in a balance that creates employment and healthy economies and enables sound policies. This isn’t new, but it is being threatened by onerous requirements that miss their target. We are putting historic relationships at risk with this paternalistic red tape that is effectively censuring important conversations.”
The organizations co-authored a letter to Attorney General David Eby requesting that chambers and boards of trade be exempt from the BC Lobbyists Transparency Act.
In 2020, significant changes to BC’s lobbyist registration regime came into effect creating confusion and concern for every business or organization whose role includes communicating with BC government officials.
Read the letter here: Letter: Re: Exempting Chambers and Boards of Trade from BC Lobbyists Transparency Act
Digital platforms allowing people to book short-term rental accommodation have been one of the disruptive innovations that will define the past decade.
As with many technological changes, there are pros and cons, including a loss of long-term rental housing for locals and unfair competition for traditional accommodation providers.
The Chamber advocates for Fair Rules for new and established businesses and supports new initiatives to level the playing field. One proposal is to require companies promoting short-term rentals to share information with local governments. This would help municipalities track and ensure all businesses providing accommodation are licensed.