Chamber staff took part in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting this week, helping adopt a number of policy resolutions that address important issues for our members.
"By joining with our Chamber network, we can amplify our calls for government to better serve Canadians by focusing on helping the business community," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "Greater Victoria shares many of the concerns of other regions in Canada, such as ensuring indigenous communities are included in conversations about local economies and advocating for investment in marine industries in Canada."
The Chamber also heard from a panel of experts on what to expect after next Tuesday's elections in the US.
“I just hope that everybody doesn’t retreat into their corner of the sandbox and play by themselves because this will cause both health risks and economic collapse,” said panelist David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2016 to 2019.
Voters in Victoria will soon find out who is on the ballot for the city's Dec. 12 by-election. The candidate nomination period opened yesterday, and closes Nov. 6.
The by-election was rescheduled after its original date in April was cancelled due to the pandemic. Any candidates who were previously nominated will need to go through the process again if they still plan to seek election. Candidate nomination forms are available by calling Victoria City Hall at 250-361-0571 or emailing email@example.com. For more information, visit victoria.ca/election.
As soon as candidates are confirmed, The Chamber will provide our members with opportunities to find out where council hopefuls stand on issues of importance to the business community.
The Chamber strongly supports Greater Victoria mayors who are calling on the new provincial government to do better to improve regional transportation on southern Vancouver Island. Specifically, we have been calling for a regional approach to how transportation is governed. We need to think broadly to address transportation issues and take advantage of opportunities to create 21st century solutions.
The mayors of Saanich, Victoria, Colwood and View Royal were among the group that co-authored a letter to the province.
Greater Victoria municipalities will get $13.1 million from a new federal fund for emergency housing, announced yesterday. The $1 billion Rapid Housing Initiative will create as many as 3,000 homes for Canadians in need across the country.
The government determined how much of the fund cities will get by metrics such as the percentage of people experiencing homelessness, and the level of renters in severe housing situations. The initiative provides cash to quickly build modular multi-unit rentals, and to transform abandoned or derelict and non-residential buildings into livable, affordable housing units. Applications can be submitted until the end of the year to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.
Soon after the results of the provincial election are confirmed, The Chamber will be calling on government to ensure relief programs are available for sectors that are struggling due to COVID-19. The sooner we get our economy back to where it was before the pandemic, the better all of us will be.
One initiative we'd like to see improved is the province's Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grants program, announced Oct. 9. The program sets aside $300 million for grants between $10,000 and $30,000 to business that meet a range of criteria. The program also offers additional grants between $5,000 and $10,000 to tourism businesses that meet additional criteria.
The Chamber is concerned the program could leave behind businesses struggling to survive. Many are in vulnerable situations and need an immediate lifeline to make it through until spring, when revenue streams are expected to stabilize.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams spreads the word about the importance of shopping locally — especially during Small Business Month. Williams joined City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Downtown Victoria Business Association executive director Jeff Bray on Government Street for a media event yesterday.
"It's never been more important for us to support each other, and The Chamber celebrates the many businesses that are working so hard to get through this time together," Williams says. "By sharing the story of Small Business Month, we want to encourage everyone in our region to pitch in and support local businesses."
Doing business in a region with 13 municipalities can be confusing. The Chamber continues to advocate for better governance through fewer governments, and we have strongly supported the Citizens' Assembly process that was started by Saanich and Victoria to explore the pros and cons of amalgamation.
One area that many municipalities have been trying to streamline is the business licence application process. The City of Victoria announced this week that it was moving the process online, enabling businesses to apply, pay and print licences without having to go into city hall.
The City of Langford offers perpetual business licences that don't need to be renewed unless the business closes or moves.
The City of Colwood also doesn't charge businesses an annual fee but does require licences to be renewed. This year, Colwood is encouraging businesses to use its online online application process.
The District of Saanich offers step-by-step instructions for businesses looking to apply for a business licence.
Businesses that carry on work across Greater Victoria can apply for Inter-Community Business Licences.
The federal government unveiled a new plan last Friday to help commercial tenants struggling with a loss of revenue due to the pandemic.
The Chamber had called on government to replace the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), which expired last month. It suffered from low uptake and had faced criticism from many business that found it exceptionally difficult to implement.
The new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) will be provided directly to eligible tenants, unlike CECRA which relied on buy-in from landlords. The government touts CERS as providing "simple and easy-to-access rent and mortgage support until June 2021."
"A program that is easier to access is good news for many commercial tenants that are struggling right now," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "The new plan is an improvement and allows businesses to plan for the winter and spring. We'll have to see how it's rolled out, and how well it works for our most vulnerable businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector."
Also announced Friday was an extension of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until June 2021, and an expanded Canada Emergency Business Account offering access to an interest-free loan of $20,000 in addition to the initial CEBA loan of $40,000.
The decision to get BC government workers back in the office is welcome news. In June, The Chamber wrote to provincial Finance Minister Carole James — who is also MLA of Victoria-Beacon Hill — and asked what her plan was to return civil servants to their workplaces. The request was made after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised that it was safe to go back to the office, and after WorkSafeBC published extensive guidelines on how to do so.
Greater Victoria's economy needs a vibrant downtown, and downtown businesses need support. Restaurants, cafes and retailers struggle without the civil servants who shop or buy meals before and after work and during their breaks.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist that businesses outside of downtown are generally faring well, but those in the core are fighting for their survival.
"It’s put a real serious challenge in front of many business owners downtown.”
In the letter to the finance minister, which was co-signed by the Downtown Victoria Business Association and the City of Victoria, we called on government to model best practices for a safe return to work. We're thankful our voice was heard, and that the return of public service workers gives hope to the many businesses that are hanging on downtown.
WorkSafeBC: Member since 2006
Downtown Victoria Business Association: Member since 2007
City of Victoria: Member since 1962
The Chamber supports efforts to protect the environment from harmful single-use plastics, and we call on governments to work with businesses to support innovations that address these concerns.
Today's announcement from federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson to eliminate waste plastic by 2030 is welcome news. The plan is to target single-use plastics, specifically plastic checkout bags, straws, stir sticks, six-pack rings, cutlery and hard-to-recycle food containers.
Having a national strategy will help ensure the rules are standardized so that businesses understand their requirements. The public has, for many years, supported businesses that provided alternatives to plastic waste. Going forward, governments need to ensure they are following the lead of the public and businesses in order to get the best response to this new initiative.