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.
Unemployment was up slightly for April, with fewer people active in the labour force in Greater Victoria, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada.
Our region's unemployment rate was 4.4% last month, compared to 4.1% in March. There were a total of 228,100 people in the labour force in April, down from 229,800 in March.
Greater Victoria's business community has a well-deserved reputation for its compassion and generosity.
The Chamber is hearing from members who want to help people fleeing the ongoing war in Ukraine.
"We're connecting with our national chamber network and have reached out to the federal minister of immigration," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We want refugees arriving in Canada to know that Greater Victoria is a welcoming community."
Canada has approved more than 91,000 of the 204,000 applications it has received through the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel process. Less than 2,000 will likely be re-located to Vancouver Island. However, those that do will need housing and, in many cases, jobs to help them integrate into our community.
The Chamber is working with our community partners to identify potential opportunities for billets or temporary housing. Employers in Greater Victoria can help by posting any job openings to a special federal job bank for Ukrainian refugees.
"We know many of our members have opportunities for skilled workers and we will do everything we can to try and provide stability for Ukrainians who have been forced to flee their homeland through no fault of their own," Williams said.
Affordable and accessible child care is vital to the economy because it creates opportunities for working parents to contribute to the labour force. As such, The Chamber has long called for child care to be considered an investment that attracts families to our region and helps organizations find and keep workers. The provincial government now offers a wage enhancement for Early Childhood Educators and is working with the federal government to reduce the costs that families pay for care.
However, it will take more than funding for new spaces to address the lack of access to child care in Greater Victoria. Our region needs qualified workers for the many positions currently going unfilled.
“Finding an early childhood educator seems like trying to find a unicorn these days,” said Mira Laurence, executive director of the Oaklands Community Association which runs the Oaklands Little Acorn Centre. “There are no people,” Laurence said, in an interview with CHEK News. “The four-dollar top-up doesn’t even seem to be working.”
"We're having discussions with post-secondary institutions as well as with government about how we can get more Early Child Care workers," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We need to create pathways that lead from school to jobs, or ease immigration for qualified foreign workers. And when we find staff, we need to keep them by making sure they feel valued."
Housing supply continues to present a major bottleneck for Greater Victoria's economy. The latest figures on Greater Victoria’s real estate market show low inventory, rising interest rates and buyer fatigue has the industry off to a slow start in 2022.
Spring is typically the busiest season fro real estate sales.
"This tells an interesting story because activity traditionally peaks over the course of the spring, and this year we have seen a gradual softening of the market," 2022 Victoria Real Estate Board President Karen Dinnie-Smyth said in a news release. "As we have reported many times in the past years, the market hinges on supply and demand."
A total of 824 properties in Greater Victoria sold in April, down from 1,116 in April 2021. The board's benchmark value for a single-family home increased to $1.27 million, up from $1.23 million the month before.
The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation is forecasting Greater Victoria housing starts to “decline in 2022, strapped by capacity constraints, before moderating in 2024.”
CMHC’s Senior Analyst of Market Insights, Pershing Sun, said 2022 will be a moderating year in Greater Victoria’s housing market.
“Rising borrowing cost, affordability erosion, and constraints in construction will anchor sales and slow down price growth,” Sun said in a recent report. “Improved job market and migration inflow will drive rental demand over the next few years.”
The CMHC report said the market is expected to slow down after breaking records last year, with prices rising slower than the “frenzied pace in 2021.”
The Chamber has been calling on all levels of government to address obstacles hindering the construction of more homes. With builders operating at their slowest pace in the past 10 years, the industry needs more workers, improved supply chains and streamlined regulations to meet demand.
The District of Saanich is the second municipality in BC to fast-track affordable housing. On Monday night, Saanich Council unanimously approved a motion to accept the streamlined process adopted earlier this month by the City of Victoria.
The decisions will streamline the approval of development proposals as long as they fit with each municipality's Official Community Plan. This will help increase the supply of homes for workers in our region — vital to finding and keeping the staff needed for employers achieve their economic potential.
Investing in child care allows more working parents to stay in the labour force and helps our region achieve its economic potential. The addition of 395 new licensed child care spaces in Greater Victoria, announced April 19, will help parents continue careers or pursue employment while knowing their children are being looked after.
"The Chamber has led the way in encouraging investment in child care as a way to boost our economy and help our region remain an attractive destination for working families," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We'll continue to advocate for good policies that build good business and great community for all."
A move to make it easier for skilled workers from other countries to continue their career in BC is welcome news.
On Tuesday, the province announced it will provide $12 million to help internationally licensed nurses get to work. It typically takes years for foreign-trained workers to get the recognition required to fill vacant positions in BC.
The new funding will consolidate various assessment processes, provide bursaries for internationally educated nurses and raise awareness about the process.
Nurses have been in high demand due to the pandemic and other health care challenges facing the province. There are also many other internationally trained workers who could help BC employers fill openings if a similar approach is taken.
"The Chamber has been asking for a streamlined process to recognize people who have the skills needed for BC jobs," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We know employers in Greater Victoria need solutions to help them find and keep employees, and we hope this announcement serves as a model for other trades and professional skills in high demand here."
The City of Langford is looking at plans for two 20,000-square-foot sound stages at the former Western Speedway property, reports the Times Colonist. The project would be a boon to Greater Victoria's burgeoning film industry, which is also anticipating three sound stages at Camosun College's Interurban campus and a potential film studio on Malahat Nation land.
"We need these investments in infrastructure to take the industry to a new level," says Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who recently hosted a Chamber Chat with Camosun's Geoff Wilmshurst about their plans.
Record low unemployment in Canada was reflected in Greater Victoria as the regional rate dropped to 4.1% in March. That's down from 4.2% a month earlier.
“We’ve had one of the lowest unemployment rates for years, which is a mixed blessing for our regional economy,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist. “We are fundamentally sound and many sectors have rebounded from the pandemic, but the challenge facing all employers, including our members, is finding and keeping the right staff.”
Statistics Canada figures show 229,800 people in Greater Victoria were available to work in March, up 4.3% from March 2021.
"That’s welcome news as people need jobs and employers need people to achieve their economic potential. But people also need homes and our region’s population is growing faster than we’re able to add new homes," Williams said. "The Labour Market numbers really highlight how urgently we need a concerted effort by all levels of government to increase housing supply.”
The federal budget will be unveiled tomorrow at 1 pm and is expected to include plans for long-term economic growth. However, high inflation and uncertainty over the war in the Ukraine could see the government focus on new spending priorities, states an analysis by RBC Dominion Securities.
Housing affordability will be the cornerstone of the budget, according to media reports that suggest new rules will prohibit foreign buyers of real estate for the next two years. CTV also says the budget will include:
The budget is also expected to include a surtax on banks and insurance companies, and billions of dollars in new spending for the military.
The RBC analysis notes that Canada's economic recovery has been stronger than expected, allowing the feds to announce new spending and lower deficit projections. The analysis also points out that private capital will be required to grow the economy over the long term and to begin addressing chronic labour shortages facing all sectors.
The Chamber has lent its support to the long-standing career centre program at the Greater Victoria School District. The SD61 school board is expected to announce funding cuts as part of finalizing its budget tomorrow.
"We understand that this year’s budget process requires difficult decisions, and we do appreciate that every trustee is doing their best to make the right decision. That said, we urge the school board to continue adequately funding career centre staff positions," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams stated in a letter to trustees. "Education is about helping students grow and learn to be successful adults who contribute to making our world a better place. Students receive positive direction to fulfill their academic potential, and they deserve to also have positive direction to prepare them for working life."
Career centre staff are able to help students learn to build connections and professional relationships. Without that assistance, there might be fewer students available to take on traditional student positions. With Greater Victoria experiencing a workforce crisis, hiring students helps employers and gives young people a chance to earn money to pursue their own dreams.
Employers have a little more clarity about the new requirement for five days of paid sick leave. On Monday, BC's Labour Minister Harry Bains said the requirement is for every "calendar year" of employment, regardless of an employee's start date.
As well, the government amended language relating to collective agreements so that no employees are excluded.
The Chamber continues to collect feedback from the business community about the introduction of paid-sick days in BC. Let us know your experiences to help inform our advocacy efforts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finding and keeping workers starts with connections.
On Monday, The Chamber teamed up with the University of Victoria and the UVic Students’ Society to connect thousands of students with more than 60 employers in Greater Victoria.
About two-thirds of all students at UVic typically work while undertaking their studies. This has traditionally been a key addition to Greater Victoria’s labour force, especially as the region has one of the highest employment rates in the country.
Monday's Hiring Day event attracted 63 employers, ranging from financial institutions to tourism and hospitality businesses.
"We are proud to have a long-standing partnership with The Chamber — students can make a real impact in workplaces across the region, and they are key to supporting the economic recovery in this community. This type of hiring event helps facilitate these important connections,” said Andrea Giles, Executive Director of UVic’s Co-operative Education Program and Career Services.
One of BC's often overlooked economic sectors is getting a closer look. The province has contracted a Labour Market Study of the non-profit sector, which includes about 29,000 organizations employing 86,000 people and generating $6.7 billion in economic activity.
In the early months of the pandemic, the Victoria Foundation was part of a group of organizations that worked together to report on how non-profits were faring. They found that organizations focused on helping arts and culture and sports and recreation had reduced revenue, while those in the health and social services sectors were in high demand.
The 20-month study is being conducted by Vantage Point at a cost of $290,000.
A lack of crew has forced Washington State ferries to suspend its Sidney-to-Anacortes ferry until at least the end of summer. The service carried 135,000 people in 2019 before the border was closed to non-essential travel between the US and Canada at the start of the pandemic.
"International service to and from Sidney, BC remains suspended until further notice due to continued significant crewing and vessel availability challenges," reads a statement by the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The provincial government says new legislation will make it easier for people to understand liens and protect property rights.
"Liens commonly give people the right to keep another person’s property to secure payment for services that improve the property’s value," the province said in a news release.
The proposed Commercial Liens Act will apply to the following services:
The change will unify rules for repair, storage and transportation liens, which have caused confusion in the past, the province said.
Housing affordability for many Greater Victoria employees has become even more strained in recent months as the cost of renting increased by 3.1% and the vacancy rate dropped to about 1%.
With more people choosing to move to our region, the demand for new housing is putting intense pressure on our ability to add to the supply. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Market Survey Data Tables for Greater Victoria shows that a total of eight private apartments were added in the City of Victoria between October 2020 and October 2021. A further 643 were added in all other Greater Victoria municipalities during the same time. Meanwhile, the region's population increased by 29,467 between the 2021 and 2016 censuses.
The provincial government recently announced plans for a "cooling-off period" for home buyers, allowing them to opt out of purchases for a limited time after agreeing to buy. BC Finance Minister Selina Robinson said the goal is to reduce pressure on buyers so they can make sound decisions.
However, the Victoria Real Estate Board says there are better solutions than the government proposal, which doesn't address the root of the problem — a lack of housing supply.
The BC Real Estate Association says the province needs to add another 25,000 homes for sale before supply will be in balance with current demand.
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.
The last two years have shown that we need a robust healthcare system for our economy to prosper. The recent announcement that the province is funding 602 new spaces at post-secondary schools to train nurses is welcome news.
The cost of housing is a serious concern for affordability in our region. There simply are not enough homes for the number of people who want to live, work and put down roots. It's a challenge facing most of BC, which is why The Chamber supports news that the provincial government is looking at helping municipalities fast-track more homes.
“The bottom line is that municipalities are not approving enough housing for our population growth,” Eby said in a CHEK News story. “I think it’s quite possible that we’re going to need to be more prescriptive. One thing is clear is that the status quo is not acceptable.”
The Chamber looks forward to hearing more about initiatives to make housing supply a priority for all governments, including solutions for increasing labour supply and securing supply chains.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce welcomes news from the federal and provincial governments that will boost business in our region.
“I’m not much of a dancer. However, I think many of us are doing a little jig — either in our mind or literally — upon hearing this news,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. “The sun is shining a little brighter and the birds are singing a little sweeter today. We are all ready to soar after a long winter of doing what we needed to keep each other safe. Let’s keep moving forward and respect each other as we find our footing and our own pace as we begin to step a little lighter.”
The federal government’s announcement on Tuesday will make it easier for visitors to travel to our destination and enjoy all of the attractions, goods and experiences we have to offer. Starting Feb. 28, fully vaccinated travellers arriving in Canada from any country will face easier testing requirements. As well, Transport Canada will allow international flights to return to more Canadian airports starting Feb. 28.
Also, BC’s Provincial Health Officer has updated the timeline for easing restrictions in British Columbia. This is great news for the events industry, fitness centres, dance clubs and organizations such as sports teams that depend on ticket sales.
The province is lifting capacity restrictions on gatherings and events; exercise and fitness; and bars, clubs and restaurants as of 11:59 p.m., Feb. 16.
For now, business will still be required to have COVID-19 Safety Plans. As well, masks and the BC Vaccine Pass are still required in indoor public spaces.
The provincial government has passed legislation bringing in the controversial Skilled Trades BC Act. The hope for the plan is that it will address critical labour shortages, but there are some serious concerns being voiced by industry.
The current plan is focused on skilled trades certification that "will require people to register as an apprentice or be a certified journeyperson to work in one of the 10 initial mechanical, electrical and automotive trades."
Good intentions are admirable but there are structural issues that likely need to be addressed if the program is to succeed. We need more investment in trades training so there are spaces available for people who want to learn skilled trades.
And the business community needs to be included in the conversation so that innovations being used by industry are part of the strategy. We all share the goal of building up our skilled workforce and don't need inefficient bureaucracy to impede progress from being made.