Housing supply is a hot topic as many regions compete for skilled workers. The demand is especially high for homes accessible to people who earn a living in Greater Victoria's economy. One of the solutions is to think about workforce housing as an investment that directly benefits our region's employers. Last week, BC Housing announced the Capital Regional District Housing Corporation project in the City of Langford is now open. The five-storey wood-framed building at 2782 Spencer Rd. includes 58 rental units for families and individuals.
BC Housing also announced 72 new units in the City of Victoria — 51 affordable housing and 21 supportive units — are open at 210 Gorge Rd. in partnership with the Cool Aid Society. A five-storey wood-framed building as well, the Victoria site includes ground-floor offices that include supports that will help residents become more employable and make the community safer.
“We are already seeing the positive impact of this unique project," Victoria Cool Aid Society CEO Kathy Stinson said in a news release. "Families, single people, seniors and people who need supports are getting to know one another, which is having the desired effect of helping to reduce the stigma around homelessness and creating a sense of community for everyone who lives there.”
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.
There are a few fresh faces on the Victoria Regional Transit Commission. On Monday, the province appointed six new people to the commission:
The transit commission decides on fares, routes and service levels as well as distribution of its share of revenue raised from taxes on fuel and property.
After hosting The Chamber's 160th celebration, the Royal BC Museum continues its work reinventing itself for the future. The Victoria landmark has long been an important anchor for tourism business that cater to the visitors attracted to our destination. The museum lobby is currently hosting the 17th annual Mammoth Sale, featuring props from former exhibits as well as merchandise from the gift store.
On Monday morning, the museum was the site of an inspirational moment as members of the Nuxalk people were on hand to receive a totem pole that was taken from its home near Bella Coola in 1912. The pole will make its way back to Nuxalk territory.
"The museum is part of the fabric of Greater Victoria and many people feel strongly about what they want to see happen," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "I'm fully confident in the work that museum staff are doing to modernize their facility, and The Chamber is excited about helping to ensure the museum continues to serve its important role in our region for generations to come."
The tradition of a throne speech is a chance to embrace the pomp and ceremony of our form of government as well a chance to hear about the priorities are for legislators as they get back to work.
The speech, delivered by Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin, promised help for British Columbians struggling with higher costs as well as plans to increase housing supply, improve health care and make communities safer.
"I was at the speech and it was good to hear directly from our elected officials about how their priorities align with chamber members," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We'll keep working to make sure the voice of business is heard, and I'm looking forward to seeing the provincial budget when it comes out on Feb. 28."
A few of the throne speech highlights included:
The Chamber's top advocacy priority for at least the last five years has focused on helping employers find and keep workers. It's a complex problem that affects many layers of our economy. Housing, child care and affordability are key and real progress is being made to find solutions.
However, everyone who cares about our region's long-term prosperity should be concerned about a proposal that could upend a cornerstone of Greater Victoria's economy. The province is being pitched a plan that could mean fewer public sector workers downtown, and potentially see jobs shipped out of our region.
“The fact that people living anywhere in B.C. can apply for these jobs means that yes they can stay home and work that would create some prosperity in other places but it doesn’t help the circumstance here when the economy has largely been framed around government workers working downtown in office buildings,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told CHEK News.
The Chamber is urging the province to consider the full implications the proposal would have on the stability of BC's capital city. Speaking to the Times Colonist, Williams said "there is a long-standing synergy" between many family-supporting businesses that have been built to service government workers.
“The public sector is a cornerstone of our economy and communities depend on that stability,” Williams said in in the article.
The Chamber is listening to our members about how their business could be impacted by this plan, which contrasts with federal government efforts to increase productivity in its workforce by having employees back in office more often.
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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.
Another tool for emergency service providers will help people feel safer downtown.
The Victoria Police Department and Island Health are working together to create a new team to help people in distress. The Co-Response Team will consist of a mental health professional and a police officer who will be available from 8 am to 8 pm, seven days a week.
“These services provide rapid interventions, connect people with services and aim to reduce a person’s involvement with emergency health services, the criminal justice system and law enforcement,” Island Health Board Chair Leah Hollins said.
The Chamber is a vocal advocate for safe communities, and we support efforts to address the root cause of these issues — mental health and addiction — that make people feel unsafe.
A health emergency that affects all segments of society resulted in 2,300 deaths in BC last year. As a response, the province formally announced that people will no longer face criminal charges for possessing a cumulative total of as much as 2.5 grams of opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and MDMA for personal use. The substances are still illegal but police are no longer arresting drug users or seizing their supply. Instead, they will provide information on available social supports, health care and treatment options.
“By supporting British Columbia in this exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, (the federal) government is providing the Province with the ability to help divert people away from the criminal justice system and toward the health and social services they need," federal Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health Carolyn Bennett said.
Addiction and toxic drug deaths cause immeasurable damage to families and communities, and add huge costs to society. However, The Chamber is calling on the federal and provincial governments to do more to ensure treatment options are readily available.
"We know that programs like Our Place Society's New Roads has a proven track record of helping people recover from addiction," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The therapeutic-community based model has some of the best outcomes of any treatment in the world. However, it needs support from government to ensure it can remain operational and increase intake. We have an opportunity to do more, and eventually recreate the success of New Roads at facilities across the province."
Canada's economy continued to grow in November, although at an almost negligible rate of 0.1%, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada.
Many economists are calling for a brief recession this year as higher borrowing costs are starting to impact consumer spending and business investment. The Bank of Canada said that it expects inflation, currently about 6.3%, to return to its target rate of 2% later in 2023. That will enable the bank to lower interest rates and stimulate the economy with less risk of overheating.
"Greater Victoria has traditionally fared better than many regions during recessions due to our large public sector." said Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who also spoke to CHEK News about the need to consider broad implications before making quick decisions on future of public sector work. "Those workers are very important customers to many local businesses. They've created a synergy over many decades that can't take be taken granted. We need decision makers in government to understand how important it is to keep workers in Greater Victoria for the stability of BC's capital city."
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:
Cruise ship season is tentatively set to begin April 11 with the arrival of 2,600 passengers aboard the Sapphire Princess. The year is shaping up well as the industry appears to have fully bounced back after the pandemic.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority anticipates 330 ship calls at the Victoria Cruise Terminal between April and October, with about 850,000 cruise passengers getting a taste of our destination. According to a survey, 53% of people who stopped in Victoria aboard a cruise ship said they would be back for another visit within five years.
“GVHA is focused on sustainable growth that benefits the region. We understand that, along with many economic benefits to the community, cruise also presents some challenges. We want to make sure we address those challenges,” GVHA CEO Ian Robertson said in a news release. “Shore power is top priority, and we continue to work with the federal government to get that funding piece in place. It’s a modest investment to realize huge potential and impact, and time to finalize the funding and move this ahead.”
The Royal BC Museum is a major attraction in Greater Victoria that has been important to our region since its inception in 1886. The current building has been in place since 1968. Last year, plans to redevelop the site were stopped after a much publicized outcry. Since then, the RBCM has been rethinking its future.
A series of public engagement opportunities continues tomorrow with Dialogue Sessions in the afternoon and evening at the museum.
"This is a chance to make sure we do it right. That the museum tells the many stories that reflect all of us who live here," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We can do much better at providing opportunities for First Nations to share their stories in their words. I encourage all chamber members to participate in the engagement process and show your support for keeping the museum in Greater Victoria."
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.
A plan for the Bateman Foundation Gallery and the Maritime Museum of BC to swap spaces makes sense for both organizations. The idea is for the Bateman Gallery to set up a temporary exhibition space at 744 Douglas St., where the Maritime Museum currently resides.
The board chair of the Bateman Foundation, David Schneider, said the move will allow their organization to "re-imagine how we can connect people to nature through the power of art in a community-focused interactive space.
It would also achieve a major goal of the Maritime Museum, which has had its eye on setting up in the CPR Steamship building.
“We do want to get a toehold in the building,” Maritime Museum chair Jamie Webb told the Times Colonist. Webb added that he's hopeful BC's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which manages the Steamship Building, will agree to the plan and provide a "favourable lease" that lets the museum establish itself in the new location. Webb received good news yesterday when the estate of Cora Shaw donated $1 million to help secure the museum's long-term viability.
One of the solutions for helping employers find and keep workers in Greater Victoria is to ensure there are homes for all income levels. A proven method to do that is non-market housing that provides homes for the people who help tourism and hospitality businesses operate at their full potential. Affordable rent is key, and helping non-profit organizations manage housing to create homes for workers is a practical way to keep our region's economy resilient and sustainable.
The province's recent creation of a $500 million Rental Protection Fund has the potential to help, by allowing non-profits to acquire affordable housing units facing market pressure to be redeveloped. "According to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation data, between 1991 and 2021, approximately 97,000 purpose-built rental units in B.C. were either redeveloped or converted to more expensive units." states the province's news release.
The provincial government appears to be sharpening their scissors as they look to cut through red tape slowing new homes from being built in BC.
On Monday, Premier David Eby announced a "one-stop-shop" for provincial permitting to make it easier for more housing to be created. The Permitting Strategy for Housing co-ordinates housing-related permits across ministries. This eliminates the need for multiple applications to get permits for "riparian area approvals, water licences, transportation approvals, road rezonings, contaminated sites, and requirements for heritage inspection."
Having fewer bureaucrats shuffling paper on projects is a positive sign that the province is serious about adding urgency to promises to increase housing supply.
"From finding and keeping workers to helping people without homes and making sure Greater Victoria remains attractive for people looking to start their careers and raise families, the biggest challenge is the lack of accessible housing," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We have had great conversations with local governments about adding to our region's housing supply. Speeding up the provincial process is a signal to municipalities that housing is critical, and they need to lead the way to get more homes built to meet demand."
As property assessments arrive in BC mailboxes, people in Greater Victoria can expect a mixed message about the value of their properties.
“Homeowners across Vancouver Island can generally expect about 10% to 20% rise in assessment values with a few exceptions," BC Assessment's Vancouver Island Deputy Assessor Jodie MacLennan said in a news release. “While the current real estate market has been trending downwards, it is important to consider that 2023 assessments are based on what your home could have sold for as of July 1, 2022, when the market was performing higher."
The increase in property values is reflected in an increase to the threshold for the Home Owner Grant, which is now available for properties worth up to $2.125 million. The grant amount has not changed, however.
An increase in your BC Assessment does not directly result in an increase to your property taxes. If your property increased by the average rate or less for your municipality, your taxes could decrease.
BC Premier David Eby gave cabinet a new look today.
Among the changes for Greater Victoria, Oak Bay MLA Murray Rankin remains as Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation but will no longer serve as Attorney General. Saanich South MLA Lana Popham is the new Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport.
Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming retains his role as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean stays on Minister of Children and Family Development. Victoria-Beacon Hill MLA Grace Lore was named Minister of State for Child Care.
Victoria-raised Ravi Kahlon, MLA for Delta North, will lead the newly created Ministry of Housing.
Other prominent roles went to Katrine Conroy, who takes over as Finance Minister, and Niki Sharma, who is now AG.
BC Premier David Eby hasn't wasted any time putting his stamp on the provincial government. In less than two weeks, the province has rolled out a series of almost daily announcements that take aim at some of the top concerns facing British Columbians.
Among the barrage of news releases was a promise to add $230 million to RCMP funding to increase staff and a plan to train more doctors. Those, along with announcements of a new Housing Ministry and a strategy for making communities safer, are welcome news. The Chamber will continue to advocate for business as these announcements move from the idea stage to implementation.
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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.”
Safe communities are fundamental to business as everyone deserves to feel secure at home and in their workplace as well as on the commute between.
The new Safer Communities Action Plan includes a promise to make it harder for violent repeat criminals to get back on the street after being jailed. The plan also states there will be more help for people suffering a mental health crisis to try and prevent situations from escalating to the point police are needed. As well, the gains of crime will be targeted by a new “unexplained wealth order.”
“Root causes of tragedy, crime and victimization are found in social, economic, cultural and societal systems that create inequities and disadvantages for individuals, families and communities," Police Victim Services of BC executive director Ian Batey said in the province's news release.
Victoria Police Chief Const. Del Manak said police officers deal with the impacts of mental health and addictions daily, including challenges with violent, repeat offenders.
“I support initiatives that enhance social services, connect people to the services they need and prioritize public safety," Chief Manak said. "I look forward to working with government on our shared vision toward community safety and well-being.”
A pair of announcements over the last week offered good news for efforts to find and keep workers in Greater Victoria. On Nov. 16, the federal government listed changes to the types of jobs considered high demand. Sectors such as health care, construction and transportation will benefit from having 16 new occupations included under the Express Entry system.
Meanwhile, BC announced today a plan to encourage more skilled immigrants to settle outside of the Lower Mainland. That should help regions such as Greater Victoria. The incentives give candidates in the Provincial Nomination Program a higher priority if they have worked outside of Metro Vancouver. The same priority will be given to recent grads of post-secondary schools outside of the Lower Mainland.
The provincial government has announced funding for close to 100 events in BC through the Tourism Events Program. Among the Greater Victoria events to receive grants are the Rifflandia Festival, the Royal Victoria Marathon, Dragon Boat Festival, JazzFest and Symphony Splash.
In April, the province announced $4.8 million for the program, which aims to boost BC's reputation as a destination for major events.