Last June's heat dome caused major disruption across the province, shutting down a number of businesses because of uncomfortable or even unsafe conditions. The weather event was especially damaging because it caught people off guard. Tragically, the extreme heat was also linked to the deaths of 619 British Columbians. The province has now launched a Heat Alert and Response System to identify and support people at risk during extreme heat. The system will categorize extreme heat events as warnings or emergenices, with thresholds varying across regions.
As well, prevention and mitigation strategies can help the public better prepare for future climate events.
With cooler than seasonal temperatures so far this spring, experts are continuing to watch their long-range forecasts for any indication of a summer heat wave.
The Chamber has added its voice to calls to quickly address reports of increased youth violence in downtown Victoria. Everyone needs to feel safe in their home, on their way to or from work and in their place of employment.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told Global News last Friday that the Victoria Police Department has assured him they were going to increase their presence and shut down any bad behaviour. VicPD arrested eight youths over the weekend and are working with regional groups to make it clear that unlawful behaviour won't be tolerated downtown.
For 17 years, the Victoria Foundation has conducted the Vital Signs Citizen Survey to measure social indicators that help us better understand the health of our region. This year's survey went live on May 5 and is open until July 4.
This year's focus is "What does community mean to you?" Data collected from the survey reflects how a community is integrating economic, social and environmental elements and helps policy makers understand where improvements are needed.
It should be no surprise that a regional police force was one of the common themes of a long-awaited report from the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.
The report, released last week, noted that the City of Victoria and Township of Esquimalt are the only municipalities in BC that share a local police department.
The report also stated that when the provincial government ordered the merger of the Esquimalt and Victoria police forces, the understanding at the time was that "this would be the first step towards regional integration of policing in the Capital Region, but this has not happened."
The Chamber supports a regional police force in order to ensure limited resources are used as efficiently as possible to create Safe Communities for everyone in Greater Victoria.
Open House tonight in Esquimalt
Esquimalt hosted an Open House from 5:30-7:30 pm on May 4 in the gallery at Esquimalt Town Square to hear from residents about the Township's police model.
“We want a dialogue with our community before making any large decisions about policing,” Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins said in a news release. “By joining the conversation about policing in Esquimalt, you will help us make crucial decisions that impact community safety, crime prevention and the use of your tax dollars.”
The province announced it will provide funding to keep five walk-in medical clinics from closing on southern Vancouver Island. The measures will help keep doctors and add nurses to serve Greater Victoria.
BC Health Minister Adrian Dix told CHEK News the five clinics requested funding through the South Island Primary Care Network (PCN) Walk-in Clinic Task Force.
“These five were the ones that participated in this particular task force, and we were able to find this solution in the short run as we work together for longer term solutions,” Dix said.
"Access to health care is a fundamental requirement for a community to achieve its economic potential," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We need to retain doctors and other health care professionals so that our region continues to be an attractive destination for businesses and new residents."
A convoy of honking trucks and anti-government protestors that planned to entrench themselves in James Bay fizzled out before it could gain a foothold.
"Safe, peaceful and lawful protest are protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Occupation is not," states a VicPD media release. "Dangerous and/or unlawful activity will continue to be met with de-escalation and enforcement.
By being proactive, the Victoria Police Department were able to avoid a prolonged disruption to businesses and residents. VicPD consulted with Ottawa police about lessons learned by that city when it permitted a protest that then turned into an encampment.
VicPD Police Chief Del Manak shared his insights as a guest speaker at The Chamber's Public Policy and Advocacy committee meeting this week. Chief Manak was also asked about efforts to create a regional police department that could draw resources from more than one municipality. VicPD works with their neighbouring police forces as much as possible, but there's no question the department faces critical constraints. The job of police is to protect people in their community, regardless of where they're from. In Greater Victoria, that means VicPD protect everyone who visits downtown for work in the day or for all of its entertainment options in the evening.
The Chamber has long called for a regional police force, and we will be looking for indications government is listening when the provincial Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act is released April 28.
Starting Friday, businesses and event organizers will no longer be required by the province to check vaccination status. As well, businesses will only need a communicable disease plan to reduce the spread of all infectious diseases rather than a specific COVID-19 safety plan.
"We expect a few businesses will continue to require proof of immunization, much as many continue to ask that masks are worn in common areas," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We welcome the end of formal regulations and support businesses that know their customers and their staff, and who make decisions that work for their organization."
Innovation led by business is the key to addressing climate change. The Chamber supports the latest round of investment through CleanBC in developing technology that reduces harmful emissions.
On Monday, CleanBC unveiled its fourth round of funding for three streams:
The program is aimed at supporting industrial jobs in communities across BC. The application process is open until April 29 for Emissions Performance RFPs, and May 27 for Innovation Accelerator RFPs.
Employers have a little more clarity about the new requirement for five days of paid sick leave. On Monday, BC's Labour Minister Harry Bains said the requirement is for every "calendar year" of employment, regardless of an employee's start date.
As well, the government amended language relating to collective agreements so that no employees are excluded.
The Chamber continues to collect feedback from the business community about the introduction of paid-sick days in BC. Let us know your experiences to help inform our advocacy efforts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creating safe communities requires getting to the root of issues that make people feel unsafe. The Chamber advocates for adequate funding of enforcement, health care services and housing, and we applaud news that the City of Victoria will receive a grant to increase community safety.
"People in Victoria at risk of harm or victimization will benefit from a $30,000 grant to create a community-based team of front-line workers to deliver better, faster access to services," a provincial government news release states. "The teams, known as 'situation tables,' ... proactively identify vulnerable individuals or families who have a significant probability of committing criminal offences or experiencing harm or victimization, and rapidly connect them to services before they experience a negative or traumatic event."
Safe communities are a fundamental requirement for businesses to operate, and The Chamber applauds news that Greater Victoria is getting 100 complex care spaces. Housing is the foundation for helping people experiencing homelessness, but many also require support with mental health and addictions. Complex care is a good step toward reducing pressure on healthcare and policing, and making our communities safer.
"The pandemic has shown us that mental health challenges affect all of us, including people who haven't had access to the support they need," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We've been clear from the start that solutions such as complex care are needed to help people successfully escape the cycle of homelessness and addiction. We're grateful for this investment in our community, and look forward to working with our partners to get to the root of this complex and challenging issue."
An increase in property crime and reports of violence throughout the pandemic are tied to the larger issues of housing and mental illness. "The first step in stabilizing a person who is self medicating, living with an addiction and without shelter is to provide stable housing and specific supports for their challenges," Williams said.
In the early days of the pandemic, BC Housing made a number of purchases of hotels and other properties to house people experiencing homelessness. The deals cost taxpayers a total of $221 million, raising questions from people concerned about the expense.
Those questions were answered this week by the Office of Auditor General of BC, which released its audit of the purchases.
"BC Housing met all relevant approvals and policy requirements for the purchases of nine properties in Vancouver and Victoria in 2020 and 2021," the report concludes.
"BC Housing obtained market value appraisals for all nine properties as required by internal policies and procedures. The total of the purchases ($202.4 million) was 8.5% below the total appraised market values ($220 million) for the nine properties."
Within Victoria, properties purchased by BC Housing include the former Comfort Inn at 3020 Blanshard St., Paul's Motor Inn at 1900 Douglas St., Capital City Centre at 1961 Douglas St. and a housing project at 225 Russell St.
BC Minister of Finance Selina Robinson met with Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce members today to address your questions about the province's 2022 Budget, unveiled yesterday.
Minister Robinson expects economic growth even as provincial debt increases.
This year's $71 billion budget is forecast to have a deficit of $5.5 billion, followed by a $4.2 billion deficit in 2023/24. Robinson said the main reasons for the deficits are the anticipated costs of rebuilding damaged transportation infrastructure to withstand future climate events.
Asked whether the province planned to ease the burdens of the EHT — which took $207 million more than anticipated from BC employers last year — or paid sick days, the minister defended the government's current policies. She also acknowledged concerns about linking the minimum wage to inflation and said she will work to make the change as smooth and predictable as possible for business.
Greater Victoria is getting two complex care facilities, though specific locations were not announced. The budget also includes $84 million over three years for planning and capital funding for upgrading the Belleville Terminal.
The tourism sector has been allocated $25 million to help with recovery efforts, though a further $915 million was set aside for potential pandemic-related expenses, including health care costs or economic recovery funding.
Greater Victoria is also in line for numerous “bus and shoulder” expansions to improve regional transit, and money has been earmarked for the transit hub at Uptown in Saanich.
“The Chamber has long advocated for child care as an investment in our economy, and we applaud the province’s commitment to adding 40,000 new spaces within seven years. We also are encouraged by some of the steps to address our lack of housing supply,” Williams said.
Our region's numerous police forces are moving in the right direction with the establishment of the Regional Governance Council for Integrated Police Units. The new body will have limited authority, but will help municipalities better understand how they can benefit from shared services. The council will consist of mayors from Greater Victoria, and will be co-chaired by David Screech, Mayor of the Town of View Royal, and Kevin Murdoch, Mayor of the District of Oak Bay.
The Chamber continues to call on the provincial government to contribute its portion of costs for a Citizens' Assembly. In the last civic elections, voters in the District of Saanich and City of Victoria mandated their councils participate in the process. Both municipalities are now waiting for the province before they can begin the next phase.
February marks Black History Month and a chance to learn more about the stories, struggles and accomplishments of Black Canadians. Here's a look at some events happening around Greater Victoria.
February marks Black History Month and The Chamber strongly encourages everyone to learn more about the stories, struggles and accomplishments of Black Canadians.
There have been Black communities in BC since 1858. In that year, Nancy and Charles Alexander were one of the first Black families in Greater Victoria. The Alexanders settled on the corner of what is now Douglas and Fisgard streets before relocating to the District of Saanich, where they farmed for 33 years and raised 10 children. Charles built the first school house in the area and served as a school trustee.
A survey of Greater Victoria businesses will gather data to help better understand challenges facing the region's economy in 2022. The survey, launched by the South Island Prosperity Partnership, is open until Feb. 11 and takes less than 10 minutes to fill out. Questions range from what your experiences have been with supply-chain disruptions to various affordability concerns, including housing supply.
The results of the survey will be used by industry and business associations, including The Chamber, to help our advocacy efforts with government.
It's clear that housing supply will be key to address affordability issues that are making it difficult for people to start families and grow their careers. Employers in Greater Victoria and across Canada have been calling for solutions to address a skills shortage keeping many organizations from realizing their potential.
On that note, The Chamber applauds recent news that Chard Development is working with BC Housing on a project that will add more than 400 units of affordable housing to the City of Victoria.
The proposal to redevelop the site of the former White Spot and Capital City Centre Hotel on Douglas Street is a great example of innovation led by business. If approved, the project will help people who work in the city afford to live there. It will also include day care — vital for helping parents stay in the workforce — and 90 units of supportive housing to help people overcome challenges that put them at risk of homelessness. Other amenities include a 9,000 square foot plaza, retail and office space and a grocery store.
In 2022, The Chamber will continue our advocacy for safe communities as a fundamental need for good business and great community for all.
There is reason for optimism. The Chamber's efforts to partner with other community organizations are being heard by all levels of government. In the City of Victoria, the police chief says approval to hire an influx of new officers will help the Victoria Police Department better face challenges amplified by the pandemic and the toxic drug crisis.
“I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a bounce-back year, and a bounce-back year for all of us,” VicPD Police Chief Del Manak told the Times Colonist.
Thousands of people in need will once again get to have a full Christmas dinner, thanks to Dodd's Furniture & Mattress. The Vancouver Island institution is hosting three meals in communities with a Dodd's location.
In Greater Victoria, Christmas dinner will be Friday, Dec. 17, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm at Our Place Society on Pandora Street. Dinners are also planned for Nanaimo on Dec. 18, and Campbell River on Dec. 22.
Gordy Dodd is well known across the province for his television commercials as well as his philanthropic work helping others. Dodd earned a Lifetime Achievement award at the Chamber's 2019 Business Awards. Dodd, as well as all Lifetime Achievement winners, will be celebrated on Feb. 3 at The Chamber's first-ever Business Hall of Fame Gala.
Downtown Victoria continues to show positive signs of recovering from the pandemic. The latest report from the City of Victoria contains a selection of indicators showing an increase in the value of construction and the number of business licences issued. As well, more people are working downtown, and there has been an increase in the number of pedestrians and visitors staying in hotels.
“Growing our economy is key to ensuring we have strong, diversified and resilient communities now and in the years to come,” said Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams. “The data shows more workers are back in downtown offices, the value of construction has increased considerably and more business licences have been issued this year. Those are all positive signs that our economy is recovering.”
The provincial government has settled on mandating five paid sick days for workers in BC, starting Jan. 1. The announcement was made today after several rounds of consultation were held this year.
"Chamber members have been clear that no one wants sick employees in the workplace," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "We think five days is much more acceptable than 10 days, and that five days fits with what many businesses are already offering."
The new regulations apply to workers covered by BC's Employment Standards Act, including part-time employees. The permanent rules replace temporary measures introduced in May.
Chamber members are part of a compassionate community and many businesses in Greater Victoria have been asking how they can help people who were severely impacted by recent flooding in BC.
"I've reached out to our colleagues at chambers in Merritt and Abbotsford and other communities dealing with devastating weather events," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "Right now they're still focused on getting through the next few weeks but they're grateful to know other communities are ready to help."
Ways to Help:
Abbotsford Disaster Relief Fund
Merritt links for donations
Province of BC Emergency Supports
The opioid crisis continues to impact the safety of all communities in BC. To try and prevent some of the damage created by toxic supplies of street drugs, BC has become the first province to seek decriminalization of illicit drugs for personal use.
More than 7,700 people have died from toxic drugs in BC since a public health emergency was declared in 2016. The crisis affects all corners of society and has had a devastating effect on many urban areas. BC recently announced a new plan to treat mental health and addictions called A Pathway to Hope.
Lessening dependence on illegal drugs is a step on the path to help people with addictions get treatment and access recovery supports.
The province announced its latest iteration of its efforts to reduce climate pollution. The focus of the plan is to shift away from fossil fuel use with initiatives such as increasing the number of public charging stations for electric vehicles.
The plan features eight pathways that will affect the cost of energy and increase regulation for some industries: