Next week, Chamber members will be among the first to learn about the 2024 provincial budget and hear directly from BC's Finance Minister.
The Speech from the Throne is set for Feb. 20, followed by Budget Day on Feb. 22 and the Finance Minister lunch with the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 23, sponsored by Coastal Community Credit Union.
"As the oldest Chamber in Western Canada, we have a long tradition of connecting government with the private sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "That includes the tradition of being the first chamber to host the finance minister after the provincial budget is unveiled. We're thrilled Minister Conroy will join us, once again, and I look forward to seeing many of our members at the Hotel Grand Pacific."
Fentanyl abuse is wreaking havoc in many cities, including Greater Victoria. The Chamber advocates for safe communities for all, though there is no simple solution to addiction and the health challenges that are at the root of the issue.
Earlier today, BC's Minister of Mental Health and Addictions issued a statement marking the one-year anniversary of drug decriminalization in BC.
“This past year has seen a concerning increase in toxic drug deaths in provinces across the country, and British Columbia was no exception. Ending this measure will not save a single life. As the toxicity of illicit street drugs continues to increase, more people are at serious risk. There is no single solution to this complex and unrelenting public-health emergency, and we will continue to use every tool available to save lives and connect people to care," Minister Jennifer Whiteside said, promising to invest in early intervention and prevention services, expanded access to harm-reduction supports, increased medication-assisted treatments, and expanded treatment and recovery services.
The statement comes in the wake of recent comments by former Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe, who criticized the government for not providing better access to help while making the case for an ongoing pragmatic approach to decriminalization.
Lapointe spoke with CBC Radio about her experience and what she believes is needed to address this crisis.
The Chamber continues to call for better access to treatment and care, and applauds the recent funding for Our Place Society's New Roads Recovery Community Centre. The province is providing $9 million to fund 20 beds for women to try and replicate the success the men's program has had at the View Royal facility.
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.
They're a common sight in many cities around the world, but will e-scooters find their niche as part of the transportation puzzle facing many BC communities? The province announced today that it will begin a new safety review in April to continue the work of a pilot program that started back in 2021.
In places where motorized scooters are available, they have been shown to reduce the use of larger vehicles while supporting other modes of public transportation. The pilot project was done in 13 BC communities, with Nanaimo the only Island city. The next phase will run for four-years in any BC community that authorizes their use. Those communities will be able to prescribe where electric scooters can be used, subject to new regulations.
"During the next phase of examination, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will lead an ongoing safety evaluation, together with government partners, ICBC and the BC Injury Research and Prevention Unit," the ministry stated in a media release. "This work will complement safety evaluations supplied by communities participating in the review."
The provincial government released its Q2 fiscal update on Tuesday, calling for a smaller deficit than previously forecast. The difference is due to bringing in more revenue from personal and corporate income taxes as well as $358 million in federal funding for wildfire recovery.
BC's Second Quarterly Report now projects a $5.6-billion operating deficit this year, and an improved debt-to-GDP ratio of 17%.
Next week, BC's Minister of Finance is scheduled to meet with the Economic Forecast Council to discuss next year's budget, which will be released on Feb. 22. Traditionally, the minister addresses members of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce shortly after budget day.
Among other highlights in the Q2 report were:
Chamber members have been calling for a better way to recognize certification gained outside BC. New legislation introduced this week is a step forward, recognizing 29 professions overseen by 18 regulatory authorities.
If the international credentials recognition act passes, the province could have a new superintendent by next summer in charge of fair credential recognition.
"We know the stories of highly trained professionals who come to Canada and are only able to find work washing dishes or driving cabs," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "International standards often correspond with provincial standards, so it makes perfect sense to let people who choose to come here continue their careers here. Employers in our region have positions going unfilled and workers are underemployed. Simply put, recognizing international certification will improve this disconnect."
The 29 occupations are:
The Chamber strongly supports safe communities. Everyone needs to feel safe at home, at work and in our communities.
Last week, new legislation was introduced to ban the use of illicit drugs from:
The legislation attempts to address concerns raised now that personal possession of small amounts of illegal drugs is permitted. The rule change is part of a pilot program to reduce stigma, cited as a barrier holding people back from seeking help.
If passed, the legislation will allow police officers to stop people from using drugs if they don't move to a supervised consumption site or other appropriate area.
Cutting through red tape is another way to help construction projects get started faster and proceed more efficiently.
Starting next spring, 16 local governments — including the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria — are piloting a new digital tool that could speed up the process of building new homes.
“Digitizing the BC Building Code and building permit processing will help builders more efficiently obtain approvals to deliver the homes and job spaces British Columbians need,” Urban Development Institute president and CEO Anne McMullin said. “UDI is pleased to participate on the digital advisory council for this pilot partnership and is committed to working with the government on innovative solutions like this.”
Chamber advocacy is helping make changes that will increase housing supply. This is critical to a sustainable economy. We need more homes for people of all incomes so our region remains attractive as a place to grow a business, build a career and raise a family.
One of the keys to building more houses is for our construction sector to have enough skilled workers. The industry is expecting more than 72,000 jobs to open up over the next decade.
A new fund, announced today, will provide grants of up to $5 million per project. The Workforce Innovation Fund will:
"We continue to work with all levels of government, our partner organizations and our national chamber network to call for investment in the construction industry," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Builders need to have the people and resources required to improve our critical housing supply."
Secondary suites have long played an invaluable role in our economy, offering affordable housing for many workers who are vital to keeping our economy vibrant.
The Chamber applauds Monday's announcement that will see less red tape for homeowners who want to add secondary suites — which also creates income that helps with the cost of living. As well, an incentive administered by BC Housing will provide a forgivable loan to qualified homeowners of up to $40,000 to add a secondary suite. The unit must be on the property where the homeowner lives and rent for less than market rates.
The province has prepared the Home Suite Home guide to provide more info on programs that incentivize the creation of new rental housing.
BC Ferries is waiting to see if it can raise rates, starting next April, to help the organization steer itself through the unsteady waters created by global inflation and the challenges of finding and keeping workers.
There is a shortage of qualified mariners, and new vessels are needed for BC Ferries fleet. The BC Ferries Commission, which is distinct from the provincial government and operations, sets the amount that prices can increase.
The public has until Sept. 30 to contact the commission to provide input to help with its decision. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
With school returning for thousands of students next week, commuters can expect heavier congestion on their way to work. Make sure to give yourself extra time, especially along routes affected by ongoing construction. Highway 17 near Keating Cross Road, for example, has been singled out by BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
"With the Highway 17 Keating Crossroad Overpass project well underway, traffic congestion is expected along the detour near the Keating Elementary School during child drop-off and pickup periods," a ministry news release said. "To ensure a smoother journey, commuters who have the flexibility to do so should consider leaving earlier in the morning or later in the evening when traffic is anticipated to lighten. People dropping off or picking up children should plan their journeys with extra time to account for delays."
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.
Travel restrictions are being lifted tonight for many areas of Interior BC devastated by wildfires, but for people and businesses forced to flee their homes recovery will take time.
“The emergency order we put in place on Saturday has had the effect we required and thousands of hotel rooms were made available for people forced from their homes, as well as the many firefighters and emergency crews who are protecting us during the worst wildfire season in our history," BC's Minister of Emergency Management and Climate Readiness said in a news release.
The Chamber has been in conversation with affected chambers to offer support during this difficult time.
"We know that Greater Victoria is an exceptionally compassionate and generous community," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "There are ways to help now, and there will be a need to help communities as they work to recover from so much loss."
How to help:
Housing supply is at the core of Chamber advocacy. Greater Victoria, like much of North America, is facing a crunch — not enough homes are being built to meet demand. This affects the cost of living for employees, delays people from starting a family and impacts the availability of shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
A group of Canadian housing sector organizations recently released the National Housing Accord: A Multi-Sector Approach to Ending Canada’s Rental Housing Crisis. The report offers 10 solutions that aim to focus the efforts of all levels of government and industry on policies to support more building.
"It's a bit of a Catch 22 in that we need skilled tradespeople to build homes so that the market has enough supply for skilled tradespeople to be able to afford to live here," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The lack of housing affects people at all income levels but is particularly concerning for people early in their careers and those who have the added costs that come with raising kids."
The Royal BC Museum has brought back one its most beloved sections. Old Town, an exhibit originally designed to recreate the look and feel of an early-20th-century settler community, reopened to the public last weekend. The space had been closed for a year-and-a-half for repairs and modernization.
"The museum plays a vital role in Greater Victoria as an anchor for local tourism and as a space where the stories of our province are shared with hundreds of thousands of visitors every year," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "It's good to see people once again enjoying and learning from Old Town. The museum is working hard to give a voice to Indigenous peoples whose stories need to be heard, and to the many communities that settled here and helped make BC what it is today."
Arriving at work to find your storefront window smashed or property vandalized can be a nightmare for business owners and their staff. Dealing with the cost of repairs or insurance paperwork can add to the anxiety.
A new provincial program starting in the fall will help businesses invest in preventative measures, and assist with the clean up if a property crime happens. The $10.5 million Securing Small Business Rebate Program will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023.
Businesses can apply for up to $2,000 to help cover the cost of cleaning up broken glass and graffiti and up to $1,000 for vandalism prevention such as security cameras or gates.
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 situation is still uncertain for Vancouver Island communities that have had their main transportation routes cut off by wildfire.
Highway 4, connecting Tofino and Ucluelet with Port Alberni and the rest of the Island, remains closed after fire burned more than two square kilometres of forest along the route.
"Right now, our thoughts are with everyone in those Island communities," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The alternate routes are for essential traffic only. They're needed to ensure supplies and emergency personnel can get through. So we're working with our friends at 4VI to encourage people who had planned trips to impacted communities to consider other Island destinations that remain open."
Yesterday, the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce relayed that they're trying to stay optimistic. However, businesses will be challenged until they are able to fully reopen.
“(We're) really pleased to hear that the fire is now being held, so that gives some businesses time to arrange for alternative arrangements for things coming in, but this is definitely going to be hard on the community,” Alberni Chamber CEO Jolleen Dick told CHEK News.
The Chamber applauds the ongoing investment in new workers through the Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning Pathways. Camosun College received $240,625 in funds for 2022/23. and, this year, the province is providing $3.8 million to help students earn pre-requisites for post-secondary programs they need to meet career goals.
The provincial government released the first cohort of municipalities that have been targeted to increase housing supply. The City of Victoria as well as the District of Saanich and the District of Oak Bay are on the list.
The Housing Supply Act allows the province to set housing targets that encourage municipalities to make construction more efficient so housing can be built faster. Some of the suggested tools include updated zoning bylaws and streamlined approval processes.
“The housing crisis is hurting people and holding back our economy, and we’re taking action with our partners to cut red tape and get homes built faster for people. Municipalities are our critical partners in addressing the housing crisis and building healthy, economically viable communities,” BC's Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon said.
“We welcome being part of a first wave of communities challenged to accelerate building homes for people," Victoria mayor Marianne Alto said. "These targets reflect the city’s own commitment to housing current and future Victorians.”
The other municipalities are Abbotsford, Delta, Kamloops, North Vancouver, Port Moody, Vancouver and West Vancouver. A second cohort of 10 municipalities will be announced later this year.
Every year, The Chamber gathers comments and concerns from our members in order to present them to the province's all-party Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. The committee travels BC to consult with businesses and residents about budget priorities for the year ahead.
Public budget consultation closes June 16, at 2 pm, and The Chamber will have an opportunity to address the panel at a later date.
You can share your thoughts directly or send them to email@example.com. We'll gather feedback and help amplify individual concerns as the voice of business for Greater Victoria.
The minimum wage in this province makes a significant jump tomorrow, going from $15.65 to $16.75 an hour.
The increase was previously announced on April 5.
"This is a cost increase that will affect more than people who pay or are paid minimum wage," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "With inflation still very much dominating business news, we are concerned that this measure will prolong the pain by increasing prices for consumers and suppliers and prevent the Bank of Canada from lowering interest rates in the near term."
BC now has the highest minimum wage of any province in Canada.
How will this affect your business? Will you need to raise prices or reduce staff? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Your feedback helps inform The Chamber's advocacy efforts when we speak with decision makers in government.
The province received some welcome news about its financial state of affairs when Moody's reaffirmed BC's AAA credit rating on May 17. Moody's is the last credit agency to release its results. In April, Fitch Ratings maintained its AA+ rating for the province, while S&P Global Ratings downgraded BC from AA+ to AA. On May 1, DBRS Morningstar kept BC at AA(high).
Moody’s noted British Columbia’s attractiveness to businesses and individuals, as well as migration into the province.
Good credit ratings are vital for the province to get competitive rates on borrowing for infrastructure projects and service demands. BC has the highest credit rating among Canadian provinces across the four agencies.