Chamber staff took part in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting this week, helping adopt a number of policy resolutions that address important issues for our members.
"By joining with our Chamber network, we can amplify our calls for government to better serve Canadians by focusing on helping the business community," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "Greater Victoria shares many of the concerns of other regions in Canada, such as ensuring indigenous communities are included in conversations about local economies and advocating for investment in marine industries in Canada."
The Chamber also heard from a panel of experts on what to expect after next Tuesday's elections in the US.
“I just hope that everybody doesn’t retreat into their corner of the sandbox and play by themselves because this will cause both health risks and economic collapse,” said panelist David MacNaughton, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S. from 2016 to 2019.
The City of Colwood is enjoying time in the spotlight as the West Shore municipality undergoes an impressive uptick in popularity. So much more than a source of commuters, Colwood is becoming a hub for new jobs being created in the region.
Recently announced projects include a new home for the Royal BC Museum's archives, collections and research as well as a $26 million complex for Seaspan Victoria Shipyards. There's also a massive mixed-use development in the works from Omicron.
“Colwood is at a really pivotal time right now where we’re shifting from a bedroom community to something very dynamic and I think dynamic is good,” Colwood Mayor Rob Martin told the Times Colonist.
City of Colwood: Member since 2020
Omicron Canada Inc: Member since 2015
Seaspan Victoria Shipyards: Member since 2002
Royal BC Museum: Member since 1994
Statistics Canada's latest unemployment numbers offer more evidence about the impact of the pandemic on jobs in Greater Victoria. Our region is improving from the summer, with the jobless rate at 9.1% for September compared to 10.3% in August and a low of 11.1% in July.
However, we are currently the 22nd ranked Census Metropolitan Area in Canada. Before COVID-19, Greater Victoria consistently had the lowest or second lowest unemployment rate in the country.
Our ranking is largely attributable to a 39% drop in the number of people working in accommodations and food services — the sector hit the hardest by measures to control the pandemic.
The decision to get BC government workers back in the office is welcome news. In June, The Chamber wrote to provincial Finance Minister Carole James — who is also MLA of Victoria-Beacon Hill — and asked what her plan was to return civil servants to their workplaces. The request was made after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised that it was safe to go back to the office, and after WorkSafeBC published extensive guidelines on how to do so.
Greater Victoria's economy needs a vibrant downtown, and downtown businesses need support. Restaurants, cafes and retailers struggle without the civil servants who shop or buy meals before and after work and during their breaks.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist that businesses outside of downtown are generally faring well, but those in the core are fighting for their survival.
"It’s put a real serious challenge in front of many business owners downtown.”
In the letter to the finance minister, which was co-signed by the Downtown Victoria Business Association and the City of Victoria, we called on government to model best practices for a safe return to work. We're thankful our voice was heard, and that the return of public service workers gives hope to the many businesses that are hanging on downtown.
WorkSafeBC: Member since 2006
Downtown Victoria Business Association: Member since 2007
City of Victoria: Member since 1962
Greater Victoria's geographic advantages would seem to make our region a natural home for the proposed Ocean Futures Innovation Hub.
Last Friday, the federal government announced it was kicking in $100,000 to help complete a feasibility study for marine businesses in our region. The case for the hub will be crafted by the City of Victoria, the South Island Prosperity Partnership and the Association of BC Marine Industries.
Marine-focused businesses in Greater Victoria came together last year to call for a hub that could share resources, incubate innovation and increase the profile of the region as an international leader in ocean-based technology.
City of Victoria: Member since 1962
South Island Prosperity Partnership: Member since 2017
The Greater Victoria School District (SD61) has a Return to School Plan ready to go as students head back into classrooms.
The school district is following the BC Ministry of Education's restart plan, which focuses on the safety of students and staff while trying to give kids as much in-class instruction as possible. To help with the extra level of planning needed this year, the federal government is providing BC with $242.4 million to implement COVID-19 protocols for child care, transportation, health and safety and learning supports.
There's no question anxiety levels have been heightened during the pandemic, and the provincial government is spending an additional $2 million on school-based wellness programs. If it means fewer people suffering from mental health issues in the years ahead, it will have been an invaluable investment.
To help families manage back to school stress and anxiety, The Chamber is also happy to give a shout out to Telus for hosting two seminars by clinical counselor Lindsay Killam. You can get more details and register for the Sept. 10 or Sept. 14 event here.
It's a critical time for families in British Columbia as we learn to live with COVID-19, and continue to work on restarting our economy. The Chamber encourages everyone to follow the most current advice of BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. There is less uncertainty around COVID-19 than there was in the spring, and efforts to slow transmission are much more focused — as detailed in today's announcement of a $1.6 billion plan for the fall and winter.
After experiencing a dramatic drop in passenger arrivals this spring, the Victoria International Airport is starting to see an increase in the number of domestic passengers.
With no international arrivals since April, the total number of passengers going through the Victoria airport in July was still down 79% from 2019. However, the 34,055 domestic arrivals represents an increase from 13,437 in June.
August is expected to exceed 40,000, airport spokesperson Rod Hunchak told the Times Colonist. That would bring the total number of passengers to about 404,000 for 2020 so far. That compares to a 12-month total of 1.9 million in 2019.
As parts of Greater Victoria's economy emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, there continues to be good news from the construction and real estate sectors.
The Vancouver island Construction Association says the value of building permits is on the rise after an initial slowdown caused by the outbreak of the pandemic.
“Victoria’s residential building construction investment spending surged in May to $163.49 million following a pandemic-related contraction in April,” Rory Kulmala, CEO of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, said in a news release.
“Despite the significant impacts of COVID-19 on our economy, the construction sector has remained active and has demonstrated its resiliency in these uncertain times. We will continue to be a key element towards our economic recovery”
As well, a report by Colliers International shows that commercial vacancy in downtown Victoria has increased slightly to 5.9% from 5.1% for the first three months of 2020. The difference is attributed to two provincial ministries moving their offices to a new complex in James Bay. The impact of COVID-19 has been nominal, the report found. However, the rate could increase as more leases are up for renewal in the months ahead.
Housing starts have also been strong, with more homes being built this July than the same month last year. The numbers announced Tuesday by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reflect the fact the construction industry has been able to keep working safely throughout the pandemic.
The District of Saanich is continuing to explore a longstanding plan to create a municipal hub along the Uptown Douglas corridor.
On Monday night, Saanich council asked staff to clarify a few items before sending the proposal to public hearing. The plan looks at the potential use of a 155-hectare area for the next several decades. The goal is to make the gateway to Greater Victoria's core a catalyst for housing, transportation and economic development. Saanich Mayor said he expects staff to report back with their findings next month.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has submitted its ideas to the federal government for driving the economy forward as the country emerges from COVID-19 restrictions.
In a pre-Budget submission, the Canadian Chamber has listed recommendations that reduce regulatory burden, rethink taxes, encourage innovation and get Canadians back to work.
A total of 33 recommendations aimed at promoting private-sector growth and competitiveness are being presented to the federal government to consider ahead of its critical 2021 Budget.