Greater Victoria will be the first region in BC to benefit from access to TELUS premium 5G spectrum. The company announced Friday it was rolling out the high-speed network in select cities across Canada.
“The deployment of our 3500 MHz spectrum is an important step to unlocking the potential of 5G, particularly as it fuels innovation across different industries," Tony Geheran, Executive Vice-President and Chief Operations Officer at TELUS said in a news release. "We believe that Canada should follow international best practices to ensure enough spectrum is available as quickly and affordably as possible so that all Canadians have access to the social, environmental and economic benefits that 5G brings, which is why we continue to advocate for responsible, strategic and predictable regulatory policy as a critical opportunity to drive timely and ubiquitous availability of 5G.”
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.
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.
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.
The City of Langford is looking at plans for two 20,000-square-foot sound stages at the former Western Speedway property, reports the Times Colonist. The project would be a boon to Greater Victoria's burgeoning film industry, which is also anticipating three sound stages at Camosun College's Interurban campus and a potential film studio on Malahat Nation land.
"We need these investments in infrastructure to take the industry to a new level," says Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who recently hosted a Chamber Chat with Camosun's Geoff Wilmshurst about their plans.
Record low unemployment in Canada was reflected in Greater Victoria as the regional rate dropped to 4.1% in March. That's down from 4.2% a month earlier.
“We’ve had one of the lowest unemployment rates for years, which is a mixed blessing for our regional economy,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist. “We are fundamentally sound and many sectors have rebounded from the pandemic, but the challenge facing all employers, including our members, is finding and keeping the right staff.”
Statistics Canada figures show 229,800 people in Greater Victoria were available to work in March, up 4.3% from March 2021.
"That’s welcome news as people need jobs and employers need people to achieve their economic potential. But people also need homes and our region’s population is growing faster than we’re able to add new homes," Williams said. "The Labour Market numbers really highlight how urgently we need a concerted effort by all levels of government to increase housing supply.”
It's time to get the Citizens' Assembly process back on track. In 2018, voters in the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria gave a mandate to their respective councils to explore the pros and cons of merging the two municipalities. The good faith discussions were interrupted by the global pandemic, but they're far from forgotten. In fact, recent news about policing challenges shows how vital a Citizens' Assembly might be for the future of our region.
The Chamber has long advocated for Better Regional Services. We don't know what a Citizens' Assembly will find, but it is the right approach to get answers to questions about governance — and merging services such as policing — in Greater Victoria's largest municipalities.
As the province moves closer to Step 4 of the BC Restart Plan on Sept. 7, it's time for the Citizens' Assembly process to get back on track.
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.
A Greater Victoria craft whiskey maker is in the news after raising the ire of the Scotch industry. Lawyers have told Victoria Caledonian Distillery owner Graeme Macaloney that he has to change the name of his award-winning whiskey brand.
"It's nonsense," Macaloney said to the CBC. "It's really a frivolous, quite damaging lawsuit, to be honest."
The industry says Macaloney's name and the words "Island" and "Caledonian" will confuse consumers. Trade rules prohibit whiskey not made in Scotland from being called Scotch, which Macaloney has been careful not to do. Craft producers play a vital role in our region's tourism economy. Hopefully the courts see this suit to be as silly as it sounds to us.
What will the future hold for one of Greater Victoria's most iconic streetscapes? The City of Victoria is inviting the public to help shape Government Street, which looks much the same as it did 50 years ago. The time-worn benches, aging traffic signals and mature trees are nearing the end of their useful lives. The need to upgrade provides an opportunity to ensure the popular tourism spot meets the needs of the region for the next 50 years.
The first of three phases involves gathering public input for a design concept that will be shared with the community in the fall. The concept will be refined and go back for more public feedback in January 2022 before a final concept is presented to City Council.
The deadline for the first phase is July 11. You can submit ideas and images at engage.victoria.ca/government-street-refresh.
The District of Oak Bay continues to look at permitting secondary suites to help create affordable housing options in the community.
The municipality is in the fourth of a five phase approach to gauge community support and look at how suites have been supported in other jurisdictions.
Housing supply is an important issue for our region. The Chamber continues to hear from members who are struggling to find and keep workers, with the cost of housing one of the main deterrents for people wanting to live and work in Greater Victoria.
We've said it before and we'll keep saying it as long as it takes for government to hear us. Businesses need certainty and they deserve to know how and when our economy will re-open. The BC Restart Plan has helped, but the federal government risks doing serious damage to Canada's tourism sector with its prolonged suspension of cruise ships. The Chamber along with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and other business organizations are calling for a clear signal that the industry is welcome and can plan to return to full capacity by next year.
“Cruise lines need time to prepare for the full resumption of cruise and the Government of Canada, through Transport Canada, needs to signal that they are prepared to welcome the industry back in a safe and measured way,” GVHA CEO Ian Robertson said in a news release. “The decision needs to be made in line with the reopening plans for the Canada-USA land and marine borders. We cannot afford to play roulette with something that is such a vital economic lifeline for our province.”
We hope that we can learn the names and better understand the stories of the 215 children found buried in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops residential school.
This has been devastating news for First Nations. It is difficult for Canadians to learn about our shameful past and the burden all of us must bear today. The days ahead will be painful if we are to address this wound and begin to let it heal.
The Chamber encourages all of our members to learn more about the residential school system, and to listen with purpose to the stories of our Indigenous friends and neighbours.
We must also do more to ensure Indigenous businesses are included in all of our communities. Please consider connecting with a local Indigenous business that is doing great things in Greater Victoria.
The Chamber is working with our national chamber network to improve our connections and conversations with Indigenous businesses across Canada. It's time to do better.
Greater Victoria's film industry had a banner year in 2020, despite physical productions closing down for a portion of the year. The Vancouver Island South Film & Media Commission reports that a rush of new productions resulted in $55 million in direct spending — almost triple the previous record of $20 million.
The province's film and digital media industry generates $3.2 billion annually, employing more than 71,000 British Columbians.
The Island's film commissioner, Kathleen Gilbert, told the Victoria News that the commission has more than 800 crew in its South Island database.
“Anyone with experience would have been able to work full time since production resumed in July of last year,” Gilbert said.
The health of the film industry has been especially beneficial for tourism businesses hard hit by the pandemic.
“Certainly, given the impact on tourism that COVID has had, this is very welcome business and almost a lifeline for some of these hotels,” Bill Lewis, Chair of the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria, states in the film commission's 2020 Annual Report.
The Canadian Chamber is looking for guidance on their advocacy work with the Canada Revenue Agency. As a business, what changes will make it easier for you to fill out your tax forms?
If you have a peeve or a bright idea on how tax forms can be digitized, consolidated or eliminated, let the Canadian Chamber know by filling out an online form.
What's one small change that would make a big difference to you?
Council meetings will run a little more efficiently in the District of Saanich after the municipality adopted a new procedure bylaw. The new rules are meant to save time, including using a consent agenda to allow for non-controversial business to be addressed quickly. If an item requires more consideration, a member of the public or an individual councillor can ask for it to be added to the regular agenda.
The changes will also ensure council meetings are used for making decisions and that less formal debates happen at the committee-of-the-whole stage.
Tuesday's announcement of a $50 million fund for BC's tourism sector is welcome news, but might be too little too late.
"On the one hand, The Chamber has been working with our community partners to get government relief for the hard-hit tourism sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "However, what's still missing is a plan. As we've been saying for some time, businesses need time operationally to ramp up. We still have no direction from the province about how and when restrictions will be lifted."
The $50 million fund will offer up to $1 million in grants to major attractions. Applications are open until June 7, with funds delivered by July. The province says eligible expenses include payroll, rent and utilities related to restarting or ramping up operations in preparation for gradual reopening in alignment with provincial health orders. The funding is available for not-for-profit organizations and businesses.
“For large attractions entering a second year of a 90% reduction in revenue, we appreciate this funding gesture as it will help contribute toward some fixed costs like insurance or property tax,” Butchart Gardens CEO Dave Cowen said in the province's news release.
The funds are also available for tour bus companies, who, along with accommodation providers, are desperately waiting for information they can pass on to agencies and tour operators who are already booking trips into next year.
“We are in the midst of the largest (tour operator) trade show in Canada right now, Rendez-vous Canada, and we’re talking with people from all over the world (who want to book in 2022) and we have nothing to tell them,” Wilson's Group of Companies CEO John Wilson told the Times Colonist.
The Chamber and the Downtown Victoria Business Association commend the City of Victoria for reducing property taxes for business. It's the right thing to do as the pandemic continues to create challenges for our region’s economy.
The City of Victoria has approved a two per cent decrease in taxes — about $146 for business with an average assessed value of $647,000. During 2020, the assessed value of commercial property dropped by an average of 5.29 per cent. Residential assessed values in the city increased by 2.26 per cent.
“We’re grateful that Victoria council has acknowledged the struggles businesses are facing with uncertain conditions and the pace of change spurred by the pandemic,” Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce says. “We’re seeing many businesses pivot successfully and develop innovations that allow them to adapt. Reducing taxes during this time shows that the city wants to work with the business community, so that all of our employers and operators have a chance to get through this together.”
The tax break reflects an adjustment to the city’s current policy of equalizing changes to taxes across all classes. If council had chosen to follow that policy, the average assessed business would have had a tax increase of $122.
The Chamber will recap property tax rates for businesses in all Greater Victoria municipalities as the information becomes available in the coming weeks.
Chamber News Release
The restaurant industry has been told to expect restrictions on dining inside to extend beyond April and through to May. Representatives from the industry, including the BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, met with BC's Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry this week. The restrictions, which the province called a circuit breaker, were set to expire on April 19.
Applications open for Circuit Breaker grants
Businesses adversely affected by the unexpected imposition of restrictions on March 30 can now apply for grants to help cover costs.
Businesses with between five and 99 employees or contracted staff are eligible for $5,000. Business with 100 or more employees can get $10,000, while businesses with between one and four people on staff can receive $2,000. If the business does not have any employees or contracted staff, a grant of $1,000 is available.
Apply for Grant
The pandemic and the "unprecedented uncertainty" we've all had to live with for more than year is not an excuse for surprise decisions that damage businesses.
Monday's announcement that restaurants, pubs and bars had mere hours to implement severe restrictions could have been handled better. Business has been leading the charge on following restrictions and keeping our community safe, but we need the government to work with us.
"It's clear that decision makers in government don't understand business, which is why we're calling for the province to do a better job of working alongside organizations such as ours," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "I'm talking to our partner organizations in Greater Victoria and the other Island chambers to offer the province a readily available advisory network that understands the challenges facing businesses."
Monday's decision left the restaurant and hospitality industry reeling. The Downtown Victoria Business Association reports that business owners are worried about wasting food purchased as part of plans for Easter weekend. Staff are also anxious about their jobs, while the tourism industry has been left feeling kicked while already on the ground.
Destination Greater Victoria says it's hearing from hotels that, after Monday's announcement, guests have cancelled planned visits as far out as September. According to DGV, the sector could lose $900,000, based on 6,000 hotel rooms with an average room rate of $150.
The District of Saanich is hoping to lead the way for Greater Victoria municipalities after council voted unanimously to reduce the speed limit on side streets to 30 km/h. Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes has reached out to other municipalities that had agreed to a previous plan to reduce speeds to 40 km/h. The hope is they will agree to a further reduction and can make a joint request to the provincial government. The default speed for streets in BC is currently 50 km/h.
Proponents note multiple benefits of reducing side streets to 30 km/h. Fewer collisions and better experiences for pedestrians and cyclists would immediately improve the many streets in Saanich without sidewalks.
Employers can now apply for the BC employer tax credit originally announced last September.
"With 2020 payrolls finalized, businesses will know if they are eligible for a credit that could equal up to 15% of any increase in total eligible payroll paid in the last quarter of 2020. The tax credit could be as much as $2,230 per employee," states the provincial news release.
The credit will be applied to any outstanding Employer Health Tax or other debt owed to the province. Businesses that don't pay EHT or owe less than their credit will receive a refund.
With spring in the air, there's good news for BC's farmers markets. The province has lifted restrictions so that artisans can once again set up shop in markets. The change will allow non-food vendors, such as flower vendors, to sell at farmers markets, which must still follow Provincial Health Office rules.
A casino in the District of Saanich could spur development of a hotel and resort and offer a new source of revenue that would take some of the burden off residents, business and industry. The BC Lottery Corp. has asked Saanich if there is interest in pursuing the idea, after plans for a casino in downtown Victoria fell through.
“It’s an opportunity to get some real funding for our amenities … bicycle paths, sidewalks. How about a third ice surface for Saanich?” Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes told CHEK News.
The discussion is in early stages but Mayor Haynes suggested the location will be in east Saanich, between the Swan Lake area and Gordon Head.