The Chamber has kept a watchful eye on the promise of better governance from fewer governments in our region. We're pleased to see the City of Victoria and the District of Saanich have taken the next step to explore the pros and cons of merging municipalities.
A Toronto-based agency has been hired to create a Citizens' Assembly, and has launched a new website at victoriasaanich.ca. The website highlights the following steps:
The New Year marked the start of new rules for Canada's Pension Plan. The change introduces a second earnings ceiling for middle-income earners making more than $73,200.
For employers, this means changes to the amount they need to withhold for eligible employees. And for the self-employed, the changes impact CPP contributions based on net income.
The federal government says the enhancement will increase the maximum CPP retirement pension by about 50% for people who have recently entered the workforce.
In 2023, generative artificial intelligence was suddenly everywhere. It's showing up in business software applications, Internet search functions and standalone apps that enable even non-technical users to overcome writing, coding and design challenges.
To help businesses benefit by adopting AI responsibly, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce held an AI Executive Summit on Nov. 22. Among the key themes that emerged were:
The themes will guide the work of the recently formed Future of AI Council, a 30-member forum representing a cross-section of organizations. The council "will play a leading role in advocating for government policies that establish AI as a positive economic force through the responsible development, deployment and ethical use of AI in business."
Provincial regulations announced in the summer are set to take effect this month, banning certain single-use plastics in BC. The rules aim to prevent single-use and plastic waste, divert more waste from landfills and keep consumer products working longer.
Starting Dec. 20, businesses can't use:
By customer request only or from a self-service station:
The Chamber supports innovation done by business to meet public demands and reduce waste. We will continue to work with regulators to ensure regulations address the changes already implemented by businesses championing climate action leadership.
Uber Canada is hoping Chamber members can help give the province feedback on proposals that could have a profound impact on the sustainability of "app-based workers." Often referred to as the gig economy, this sector has evolved quickly alongside technological advances. The Chamber is a strong advocate for Fair Rules for emerging and established businesses.
Uber is siding with proponents of labour reforms that would mandate benefits and protections for workers while preserving the flexibility of their work environment.
A discussion paper was published in the summer by the Ministry of Labour, exploring employment standards for app-based rideshare and food delivery workers. The paper itself focuses on:
The government has asked for feedback by Sept. 30, emailed to: email@example.com.
The provincial government announced today that it received more revenue than expected for fiscal 2022-23.
Public Accounts show B.C. ended the year with a $704-million surplus and no operating debt, helped in part by income tax generated by high employment.
BC Minister of Finance Katrine Conroy, who spoke to Chamber members on March 1, said investing in people and businesses is paying off.
“We’ve seen time and again that when we invest in people and the services they count on to build a good life here, it makes our economy stronger and more resilient,” Conroy said in the news release, which also noted that BC has the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in Canada.
The Chamber will continue to work with decision-makers in all levels of government to reduce the tax burden faced by business, while also calling for smart investment.
"These revenue figures show that the province clearly can do better at reducing costs borne by businesses, such as the Employer Health Tax," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The best investment any government can make is creating the right climate for entrepreneurs and businesses, who drive the majority of employment in BC."
The next report on provincial finances will be the first quarterly report for 2023-24 in September.
A panel of experts has been tasked with developing a Community Safety and Well-Being Plan for the City of Victoria. The goal is to address multiple complex issues such as "declining civility and social cohesion, increasing social disorder, inadequate housing supply and homelessness, poverty, inequality, addictions, mental and physical health challenges, criminal activity and other factors."
The panel will work over the next 15 months to advise Victoria council on immediate interventions as well as long-term solutions.
"I’m in frequent contact with the business community throughout the downtown and beyond and I’m consistently hearing that the impact of the pandemic is far from over," Fort Properties Ltd. CEO/co-owner Suzanne Bradbury said in the city's news release. "I believe that this is the right initiative at the right time and I’m honoured to bring a small business perspective.”
Along with Bradbury, the panel includes:
Businesses that need help protecting their intellectual property will have access to a new set of tools through Innovate BC. The province gave Innovate BC $2.5 million to leverage $12.5 million from the federal government going to Accelerate IP.
The investment aims to help the growing knowledge sector of the economy, which includes creators and innovators. Understanding the legal and financial implication of IP can be complex, and the new tools will help make the process easier.
The Chamber continues to strongly advocate for Safe Communities. Everyone needs to feel safe at work, in their community and at home. The ongoing toxic drug crisis as well as a shortfall in available mental health care has contributed to a rise in the number of people experiencing profound distress in public places.
On Monday, BC's Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions announced the Westshore was one of the regions that will be getting a Mobile Integrated Crisis Response Team. The program has shown success in Victoria.
"We've called for the province to focus on the fundamental need to have the resources to help people when they need it," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "It's not enough to ask someone in distress to wait weeks or months for treatment. Too often this ends up with calls to the police and people going through the criminal justice system."
Crisis Response Teams provide on-site emotional and mental-health assessments, crisis intervention and referrals to appropriate services in the community. This helps people in need access treatment and frees up police resources to focus on crime.
For more on what's being done, check out the new series of Chamber Chats focused on mental health in the workplace and community.
Managing mental health in the workplace
Talking about mental health in the workplace
The non-profit sector plays a critical role in our region's economy, particularly as a decent work employer. That's one of the findings of the 2023 State of BC's Non-Profit Sector: Safety Net report.
Several organizations partnered to conduct the survey, including the Victoria Foundation and Vancity Community Foundation. The report builds on research conducted in 2021 and 2022.
"Non-profits are indispensable," the report concludes. "They have evolved to do more than small scale good deeds. Balancing the work of private interests and the public good, the non-profit sector is a major employer that provides a range of essential services to help ensure healthy and connected communities."
Recommendations include the need for new investments to build capacity in non-profit organizations as well as increased trust in organizations to reduce time spent on reporting and onerous requirements. A third recommendation is for improvements to workforce development and labour force strategies.
A well-known ride-sharing brand has been approved to begin operations in Greater Victoria, the company announced today.
Uber Canada had been awaiting a decision by the Passenger Transportation Board to allow a licence transfer from a company that had been approved previously but was never operational. The news is welcomed by Greater Victoria's tourism and hospitality sectors.
"The Chamber wrote to the PTB in support of Uber," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Our members have been clear that they want ride-sharing options here, and that we need to have international brands available."
Adding Uber to Greater Victoria also benefits many late-night workers who have found it challenging to get home after their shifts. Transit is a great option to get to work, but does not operate late enough for many people working in Victoria restaurants and bars. Having the option to take an Uber home means that staff have a reliable and safe way to get home.
"Over the next few weeks, we will work hard to ensure a smooth transition and activate our platform for drivers and riders as soon as possible," Uber said in a letter to The Chamber. "Thank you for everything you have done to get us here. We achieved this milestone because of your strong support and advocacy."
The province has adopted recommendations from the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission to add six new electoral districts to BC. The changes include carving out a new jurisdiction to recognize the influx of new residents in the City of Langford.
"The population of Langford has grown by approximately 32% over the past five years and is projected to continue growing rapidly," states the provincial news release. "To address this, a new electoral district is being added whose boundaries follow the municipal boundaries of the city of Langford and the district of Highlands."
The minimum wage in BC is going up to $16.75 an hour starting June 1. The increase is expected to affect 150,000 employees in the province. The current minimum wage is $15.65 an hour.
The new rate was brought in to reflect the high rate of inflation in 2022. After the change, BC will have the second highest minimum wage in Canada after the Yukon, where it is $16.77 an hour.
"The Chamber is concerned about how businesses will be affected by this decision, which was made without adequate consultation," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Most of our members pay their employees higher than minimum wage but this increase has the potential to create a domino effect that will add unexpected costs for all businesses as well as for consumers who ultimately pay the price."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.