Greater Victoria employers continue to struggle finding and keeping workers, and The Chamber continues to advocate for help. With limited immigration during the pandemic, Canada experienced its slowest population growth since 1916. That is expected to change this year, as the federal government has increased immigration targets for 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Greater Victoria employers will also get some relief with the return of post-secondary students to our region this fall.
"Finding and keeping workers was an advocacy priority before the pandemic and will be even more so as we emerge from restrictions and the economy recovers," says Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who recently spoke to CBC and CFAX about this issue.
Many employers in Greater Victoria already pay above minimum wage but will continue to face challenges as our region also deals with a limited supply of affordable housing and child care.
"We're working with our partners and government to address the housing shortage and challenges with child care," Williams said.
Tourism businesses received welcome news on Monday as the federal Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Mélanie Joly, announced the $500-million Tourism Relief Fund. The program aims to help businesses and organizations make their products and services more resilient from future shocks.
Money can be used for adapting to new regulations, modernizing products and encouraging environmentally sustainable and inclusive practices. As well, the funds can aid with strategic planning that helps with destination development. The funds are not available for restaurants, retailers or hotel chains.
Eligible applicants can receive up to $100,000 in non-repayable contributions for 50% of eligible costs, or up to to $500,000 in repayable contributions for up to 75% of eligible costs.
Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams has been named to the inaugural Canadian Chamber of Commerce BIPOC and Inclusion Council.
Diversity initiatives across the country are playing a part in creating a more socially inclusive economy. Small businesses play an important role, but often don’t know where to start.
"Chambers are experts at building connections and bringing people together," Chamber CEO Bruce Willams says. "We talk about being more inclusive and diverse, and we also need to walk the walk by hearing directly from voices and lived experiences that will guide us in making meaningful change."
The new council will inform the Canadian Chamber’s initiatives in supporting BIPOC, drive meaningful action to address the identified challenges and opportunities BIPOC face in participating in the Canadian economy, share and recognize best practices and advocate for changes that facilitate diversity and inclusion.
The Chamber has repeatedly advocated that inclusion is a key economic driver. Across Canada, improved participation rates could add 2.2 million workers to the labour force by 2040, including more women, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities, thereby growing our economy by $101 billion.
There are more people working in Greater Victoria than before the pandemic, with 212,200 people employed in June. That compares to 194,200 in June 2019 and 187,400 last year. One explanation for the increase could be migration into Greater Victoria.
The unemployment rate was 5.4% in June, still higher than it was before COVID-19, but BC didn't enter Step 3 of the province's Restart Plan until July 1. With visitors from across Canada now welcome, the expectation is for the numbers to improve in July. However, until international travellers return, the recovery will continue to be difficult for many businesses in the tourism sector. The Chamber has been working with our national network and our community partners to ensure government has a plan to safely open borders and support the return of cruise ships.
The pandemic has made it clear that affordable and accessible child care is needed to ensure employers can access the talents and skill sets of parents. Last week, the federal government announced that BC will receive $3.2 billion over five years to improve access to child care for kids under six years old. The provincial and federal governments say they are working toward $10 per day child care, with BC also committing another $2.5 billion over three years. The agreement is expected to lead to 40,000 new child care spaces in the next seven years.
"Studies show that for every dollar invested in early childhood education, the broader economy receives between $1.50 and $2.80 in return," states the federal government news release.
The Chamber is hearing concerns from the construction industry about the provincial government's introduction of compulsory trades training. The goals and intent of the plan raise more questions than answers.
BC's construction industry is critical to our economic recovery, and we call on the province to do better at consulting with key stakeholders. We also agree with our partners in the industry that there has been a lack of evidence showing how the proposal will work. Construction employers, as with all industries, are already struggling to find workers and we can't risk red tape impeding the creation of jobs or the work being done to increase housing in our region.
“You don’t attract more people to the trades by closing the door to get into them and forcing contractors to navigate a sea of red tape,” Chris Gardner, president of the Independent Contractors and Business Association of BC, told the Vancouver Sun.
The Chamber has submitted a request to speak to BC's Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. The annual process helps the provincial government plan for its next budget.
As our economy takes flight and the pandemic recedes from view, we need government to focus on being fiscally responsible and enable growth to be led by the private sector. Government has tools to encourage an increase in housing supply and more efficient transportation options for our region. We need to attract more workers and keep them here. Immigration will be key. And we need to do better at including Indigenous businesses and workers.
Another focus will be on investing in economic opportunities that create jobs and improve food security as one way to mitigate climate change through innovation.
Do you have questions or concerns about the next provincial budget? Send us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The move to Step 3 of BC's Restart Plan has renewed optimism among the many businesses that had been stifled by pandemic restrictions.
"We're gradually expanding our capacity to move a little closer to whatever normal is going to be," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told CFAX's Al Ferraby. The two also discussed the need for Canada to open its border to international travellers.
Getting back to business is not without its challenges. Employers continue to struggle finding people to fill available jobs, and supply chains are still working through some of the bumps caused by extended shutdowns. The Chamber and our community partners also continue to urge the provincial government to return its workforce to downtown offices.
Williams also spoke to CFAX about The Chamber's effort to support Indigenous business and follow through on calls to action outlined by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The Chamber Board recently approved the creation of a new task-force committed to listening and working alongside First Nations' businesses and Indigenous entrepreneurs. Another way we're supporting economic reconciliation is through a new membership program created for Indigenous-owned business.
The federal government needs to be loud and clear about how the $4.3 billion cruise industry will be able to get back to business in Canada. The Chamber is part of a coalition of industry and community leaders calling for a roadmap showing how and when cruises can resume and get back to contributing to Canada's economy. The cruise industry employs 17,000 people in BC whose livelihoods could be at risk if government doesn't act quickly. Cruise lines and passengers are already planning trips in 2022, and they need to know that Canada will be open for business.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and The Chamber are concerned that lobbyists in the United States will succeed in removing the requirement for cruise ships to stop in Canada when travelling between Washington State and Alaska. The US government has temporary suspended the requirement during the pandemic because of Canada's restrictions on cruise. However, the lack of a clear plan could lead to the change becoming permanent.
Construction has started on a new project in Victoria that includes nine homes with a novel approach to making them affordable for middle-income families, seniors and individuals.
The six-storey building at 1301 Hillside Ave. has a total of 49 units, with nine set aside for buyers with household incomes under $116,330 ($163,220 for the two-bedroom homes). Buyers receive a no-interest, no-monthly-payment second mortgage to support their purchase. This helps with the equity portion of the purchase, making it easier to obtain a first mortgage.
The project is being built by Abstract Developments through BC Housing’s Affordable Home Ownership Program.