Last week's news that the provincial government is making child care more affordable is a step in the right direction. The Chamber has long advocated for accessible and affordable child care as a vital investment in our economy.
On Friday, the province announced that parents can expect to save as much as $550 in child care costs every month. The new funding will go directly to licensed child care centres so parents don't have to apply. The savings will take effect in December, and help families with children who are kindergarten-aged or younger.
The savings build on earlier cuts to costs and are funded by the federal governments $3.2 billion agreement with BC.
Examples of how the program will help families and allow more parents to continue their careers include:
The latest numbers show inflation has cooled faster than expected. The August Consumer Price Index was up 7% over last year — less than the 7.3% that had been forecast. Core inflation was also lower than expected.
The drop in inflation comes after the Bank of Canada raised interest rates. However, it will take more than numbers to stem inflation and get Canada's economy back on track, said the bank's Deputy Governor Paul Beaudry.
"Some have suggested that policy-makers need to engineer a substantial slowdown — or even a recession — to get inflation back under control," Beaudry said in a speech on Tuesday. "But the best strategy for responding to high inflation needs to consider how people form their inflation expectations. If people understand and believe that the central bank will eventually bring inflation back to target, their expectations will remain 'anchored.'”
Businesses and employers can help by moderating increases to prices or wages, with the understanding that inflationary pressures are temporary. Not an easy task for organizations facing increasing costs and still recovering from pandemic challenges.
As we mark the start of fall, tourism and hospitality businesses can look back on a successful summer.
A return of customers kept many restaurants operating at capacity, though they did face other constraints. A lack of staff and a public sector strike that made stocking liquor a challenge cast a shadow on a season that many businesses rely on to make it through slower seasons.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association told CHEK News that many Victoria restaurants operated with 80% of their staff.
The accommodation sector also enjoyed strong season. The latest Victoria Tourism Bulletin from Chemistry Consulting reports that occupancy rates in July were up from 2021 and close to 2018 levels. The average rate for a room was $305 in July, up from $230 in July 2021 and $250 in July 2019.
BC Ferries also reported a return to pre-pandemic levels in vehicles, though there were fewer passengers and buses onboard in July.
The Victoria International Airport welcomed 162,000 passengers, which is getting closer to the 185,000 in July 2019. And the Victoria Conference Centre saw a big increase this year with 8,211 delegate days in July compared to 3,633 in July 2019.
A plan to make it easier to replace single family homes with multi-unit housing within the City of Victoria is heading into its third debate on Thursday.
The Missing Middle-Housing Initiative is a proposal to make the construction of new homes faster. The plan has been working its way through the municipality's channels since 2019 and went to public hearing this August. However, the outpouring of public commentary was more than could be addressed in the initial hearing. Additional time was required last week but was still not enough to conclude the hearing, which will continue tomorrow at 10 am (Thursday, Sept. 8).
Information on how to participate, including a link to a livestream, can be found here.
A plan to level up Greater Victoria's film industry received a boost last week. The provincial government's BC Bid website posted a Request for Pre-Qualification for a film studio at Camosun College's Interurban campus.
“The process is intended to result in an innovative proposal that benefits the college, students and the local economy,” Camosun College President Geoff Wilmshurst said in a news release.
The request could lead to a respondent being pre-qualified to design, build and fund a film and digital media education centre in exchange for a 99-year lease. The deadline to submit is Sept. 30, with next steps dependent on the numbers of responses received. The size and construction timeline will be part of a future step in the process.
Greater Victoria's housing market continues to become more balanced. The ratio of sales to active listings is at 28.14%. Real estate professionals consider a balanced market to be between 20% and 15%, Victoria Real Estate Board president Karen Dinnie-Smyth said.
“A high percentage means more of the available listings have sold, which shows a high buyer demand and that’s generally a favourable market for sellers," Dinnie-Smyth said.
The benchmark value of a single family home in Greater Victoria's core was $1.39 million. That's down from $1.43 million in July, but up from $1.2 million last August.
Access to a family doctor is one of the keys to ensuring safe communities, which are fundamental to good business.
With an ongoing shortage of primary care providers in BC, there are serious concerns about what can be done to encourage more doctors to commit to serving BC communities.
To try and stabilize the situation, the province announced today that it is providing $118 million through a partnership with Doctors of BC. The funds will be used over four months, starting Oct. 1, to support operational costs for family doctors and medical clinics.
About 3,480 family doctors who have their own practices and 1,100 family doctors working in walk-in clinics are expected to receive funding. That represents more than 70% of family doctors working in the province.
Housing supply is critical in order to address the highest expense directly affecting the cost of living in our region and across Canada. With demand growing due to increases to our population, the challenge of our time is to ensure homes are accessible and affordable for everyone needed to help our community prosper.
"It's fundamental economics. A limited supply results in increased demand, which tends to increase costs," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We need a concerted effort from all levels of government to support builders who need an adequate workforce as well as access to materials and land needed to build more homes."
Some progress is being made. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. recently reported that urban housing starts increased in July compared to June.
“Historically elevated levels of housing starts activity continue in Canada, which have been well above 200,000 units since 2020,” said Aled Ab Iorwerth, CMHC's Deputy Chief Economist.
Greater Victoria's film industry continues to create economic opportunities on southern Vancouver Island. Netflix recently updated a website that provides details on their local productions. The site, Netflix in your Neighbourhood, shows filming locations of recent series such as Rescued by Ruby, Super PupZ and others.
“We had three features and 13 television movies come through last year — that’s amazing,” Vancouver Island South Film and Media commissioner Kathleen Gilbert told CHEK News. The industry was responsible for direct spending of about $55 million per year over the pandemic.
The Chamber continues to work with community partners on several projects looking to build production studios in Greater Victoria.
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."
The fastest-growing region in Greater Victoria is getting a new post-secondary campus. The province announced today it was contributing $77 million toward the $98 million project that will see Royal Roads University, the University of Victoria, and Camosun College join forces as part of a group of educational providers at the campus.
Located in the City of Langford, the five-storey mass timber building will make it easier for students from the West Shore to attain a post-secondary education. The facility is expected to open in 2024 with 600 students, and expand to 1,300 students by 2036.
A new hotel has been proposed at the Victoria International Airport.
“We see the addition of a hotel at this location as a logical fit and a great new amenity for the airport and community,” Victoria Airport Authority’s President and CEO Geoff Dickson said in a news release. “It is an opportunity for Victoria International Airport to further diversify its revenue base which has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic.”
The proposal is for a 129-room New TownePlace Suites by Marriott.
Construction is expected to begin in 2023 and the hotel will include a restaurant, meeting space, pool and gym.
A proposal to add at least 180 units of affordable housing in Vic West has been made in an effort to help our region's housing crisis. The owners of Bayview Place have offered to donate $15 million to the Greater Victoria Housing Society for an 18-storey building. The property is on the corner of Catherine Street and Esquimalt Road.
Bayview Place is currently working to build new housing on land around the historic E&N Roundhouse.
A report by the Chartered Professional Accountants of BC has confirmed expectations that people are moving to Greater Victoria faster than homes can be built for them. Our region added 5,941 residents in 2021 bringing our regional population to 432,062. Going back five years, Greater Victoria has added 31,500 people. And, although 16,942 housing units have been completed in that time, they have not met the demands of the market.
“Across the region, there has been strong housing construction activity. However, developments have typically been smaller attached units replacing older stock, with limited mid-sized units,” said Chamber Governor Lindalee Brougham, President of LL Brougham Inc. “The strongest demand has been for larger units, which has put significant pressure on housing prices for family homes.”
All of the region's growth is coming from migration as people move here from other parts of Canada. Greater Victoria's natural growth remains negative as fewer babies are being born here compared to the number of residents dying.
Concerns over inflation and the resulting increase in interest rates sparked by the Bank of Canada have worked to cool down housing sales in our region. The Victoria Real Estate Board's latest statistical analysis shows 35% fewer homes were sold in June compared to the same month last year. There are more listings on the market allowing it to settle into a more typical pace than the frenzied conditions experienced during the pandemic.
However, the benchmark value for homes continued to increase to $1,464,400 in June from $1,446,400 in May.
"It may seem counterintuitive to continue to talk about the need for supply at a time when inventory is rising," VREB President Dinnie-Smyth said in a news release. "We must keep the conversation alive, and we urge all levels of government to continue to aggressively address the housing supply situation. We need more supply of all types of housing."
A lack of housing supply is a major factor in the challenge many employers face finding and keeping workers.
“We are always advocating for more affordable housing and housing supply, as well as security and sustainability in supply chains to get the needed materials in place to create housing,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist.
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.
The provincial government's latest attempt to attract new family doctors to BC is a good start, but more innovations are needed to make a real difference.
Many regions in BC, including Greater Victoria, are experiencing a challenge finding and keeping general practitioners. The province has offered a $25,000 bonus to any new family medicine residents but, so far, none have taken the bait.
"We've met with recruiters who tell us there needs to be a change in the administrative burden that doctors are expected to take on," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "People become doctors to help others — not to deal with the extensive paperwork and burden of operating a highly regulated business. There are some truly innovative concepts being proposed that will help, but they need to be supported by government."
The Chamber will continue to advocate for improvements to healthcare delivery, especially making sure families have access to doctors and appropriate care in Greater Victoria.
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.
A notable increase in full-time work helped drive job numbers for May, Statistics Canada said. The figures also show that absences from work due to illness or disability are back to pre-pandemic levels. Statistics Canada also said that wages grew by 3.9% ($1.18) in May compared to the same month last year.
Though work still needs to be done to close the gender wage gap, salaries among women have grown by 17.8% since January 2018, compared to 14.9% for men. Students are also experiencing higher wages, with average hourly wages up 5.7% year over year.
Other trends include one in five Canadians working exclusively from home, the same as the previous month, while slightly more (6.3%, up 0.5%) employees reported splitting time between home and office.
Greater Victoria had an unemployment rate of 4% in May, down from 4.4% in April.
People looking to buy a home in Greater Victoria have more options to choose from as there were 30.1% more listings in May compared to April.
"The real estate market in Greater Victoria is returning to a steadier pace following the strange two years we experienced over the course of the pandemic," Victoria Real Estate Board President Karen Dinnie-Smyth said in a news release. "While inventory is still below historical levels for a spring market, it is now within our pre-pandemic five-year average, which is good news for buyers."
The cost of a single family home continued to increase, however, with the benchmark value for May at $1.446,400. That's up from $1,424,900 in April.
A new housing project in James Bay is a good example of how all levels of government can work to address affordability concerns in our region. The Michigan Square project will create almost 100 homes for people with moderate and low incomes. The majority of units will provide housing that helps much needed workers afford to live in our community.
The new buildings at 330-336 Michigan St. will provide 97 new units and replace three aging buildings rendered uninhabitable by water damage. The project includes 24 units at the provincial shelter rate as well as 22 units with rent geared to income and 51 units aimed at moderate income earners and rented at market rates.
The Capital Region Housing Corporation will own and operate the new buildings, with the Capital Regional District contributing $1.1 million and the City of Victoria providing $620,000. BC Housing is providing $11.7 million in low-cost financing through the HousingHub and $4.6 million through the Building BC: Community Housing Fund. A further $4.5 million is being funded through a partnership between CRHC, the province and the federal government.
The minimum wage in BC increased June 1 from $15.20 to $15.65 per hour. The increase is based on the average annual inflation rate of 2.1% in 2021.
"According to the province, the increase helps workers but if governments really want to tackle affordability concerns they need to address the fundamental reasons affecting the cost of living," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. " We need more housing, which requires a concerted effort to allow builders to build — less red tape and more help attracting workers and getting materials to our region."
The Chamber continues to advocate for real solutions that add to Greater Victoria's workforce housing and reduce costs of other major expenses, such as child care and transportation.
"Raising minimum wage can hurt the economy by making it harder for some of our major employers to get high school and college students into the workforce," Williams said. "We'll keep working with our partner organizations to make sure employers have a say on any future increases to minimum wage — especially with atypical factors affecting inflation right now. Government needs to understand that increasing the cost of doing business affects affordability for everyone."
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.