Equitable taxes, thoughtful spending and fair funding for police are key to budgets
Municipalities across Greater Victoria are working through their budget deliberations, and the decisions made by local councils often have a direct impact on our daily lives.
The Chamber acknowledges the work done by all of our region's mayors and councils, and we urge them to stick to the principles and values that create great communities. Taxes need to be fair and affordable, services need to meet expectations and people need to feel safe.
"I speak with our area mayors often and I know they understand the importance of business and they say they want to help and not unfairly add regulatory and financial hurdles," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And I know that most of the business owners I speak with understand the importance of taxes and paying a fair share for operating in a municipality. In return they expect proper levels of policing to keep their employees, customers and property safe, and thoughtful investment in infrastructure, programs and services that improves everyone's quality of life."
Provincial legislation requires municipalities adopt their financial plans by March 31 and tax rate bylaws before May 15.
Registration is now open for organizations and individuals interested in taking part in this year's Moose Hide Campaign Day on May 11. There is also a separate registration for schools with K-12 classes looking to participate.
The Moose Hide Campaign Development Society helps promote safe communities by calling for all Canadians to speak out against violence towards women and children. Last year, more than 400,000 people took part.
This year's Moose Hide Campaign Day event will be held May 11 in Victoria and livestreamed across the country. The day begins at 7 am with a sunrise ceremony and ends with a fast breaking followed by Community Feast from 6 to 7 pm.
Almost everyone enjoys having the sun stick around a little longer in the evening. However, the switch to Daylight Savings Time this Sunday also creates challenges for many employers dealing with tired staff adjusting to the shift in routine.
WorkSafeBC issued a reminder that the change can create real risks for workers who drive for a living.
“Fatigue is a type of impairment that reduces mental and physical performance,” Road Safety at Work program director Trace Acres said, noting people who drive for work could be more at risk of crashing as body clocks take time to catch up with alarm clocks. “Research shows (fatigue) is a contributing factor in about 20% of crashes.”
Road Safety at Work suggests employers make sure their drivers know their responsibilities and procedures to deal with fatigue. The goal is to avoid risk by ensuring adequate breaks for fresh air, sticking to daylight hours when possible and scheduling outside of peak-accident time of 3 to 6 pm.
The Chamber has advocated for an end to shifting clocks and helped convince the provincial government to survey British Columbians. The result showed 93% support for stopping the twice-annual time change. To avoid cross-border confusion, BC has said it's now waiting for the Pacific US states to get federal approval to also put a permanent end to the switch.
BC Budget 2023 addresses symptoms of unaffordability but offers little help for business
Yesterday, the 2023 budget was released with a focus on addressing many of the symptoms of unaffordability affecting British Columbians. However, there was a lack of new investment aimed at improving the province’s business climate.
The Chamber is traditionally the first business association to host the finance minister after the unveiling of the province's annual budget and BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy addressed more than 100 business and community leaders today at the Hotel Grand Pacific.
Among the highlights of BC Budget 2023 are $1 billion in new money for mental health and addiction services, new funding to improve food security and the $480 million Future Ready Plan, which will help employees gain the skills needed by employers.
The province is forecasting deficits for the next three years but has chosen to increase spending this year.
Minister Conroy said global inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic are contributing to systemic challenges that make life less affordable for British Columbians.
In the next 30 days, the $3.6 billion surplus left over from last year needs to be spent and will be used for a number of projects currently in the works. Details of that spending will be made available in the coming weeks.
“The Chamber has heard from our members that they need help finding and keeping workers, and they want more done to ensure safe communities for all,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, noting there are also annual increases to the Carbon Tax, which will add to the cost of doing business. “This budget will help by addressing symptoms of unaffordability through the renter’s tax credit, school food programs and a significant increase to healthcare funding. It’s a start but we would have liked to see BC Budget 2023 give a higher profile to the role business plays in improving the quality of life for all British Columbians. Businesses are the ones who make the investments needed to build resilience and create real solutions to affordability.”
The Chamber takes its role as the voice of business seriously. When our members ask us to speak up on their behalf, we listen.
The power of that unified voice was on display last week as Chamber CEO Bruce Williams collaborated with the Downtown Victoria Business Association, Destination Greater Victoria, the Hotel Association of Greater Victoria and the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association to call on the province to keep government jobs in Greater Victoria.
A letter sent to the Deputy Minister to the Premier, Shannon Salter, expressed the concerns of Greater Victoria's business community about a directive taking effect April 1. The BC Public Service, like almost every employer, is struggling to find and keep staff. A proposal to hire workers who would report to offices in other BC communities and connect with co-workers virtually was being touted as a modern solution.
The Chamber celebrates change — specifically those "pivot pilots" who quickly found new ways of serving customers and showed the way forward during the pandemic. However, we also can't stand by and watch good jobs be removed from regional economy — particularly our regional downtown that drives a significant share of that economy.
Public sector workers are protected from recessionary pressures that face most private sector workers. Having that as a foundation is one of the keys to allowing a relatively small city like Victoria develop an internationally envied tourist economy and high tech sector.
"The Deputy Minister wrote back to us four days later to reassure Chamber members that government has heard our concerns," Williams said. "All we want is government to consider the impact of any directive on business before the harm is done."
A priority for business that has become more urgent in recent years is the fundamental need for safe communities. It's clear there's no simple answer, but one of the evidence-based solutions is the need to do more to address mental health.
"Our members have been vocal about the need for better support for people facing mental health and addiction challenges," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "This is how we can begin to address the situation we see on our streets and in parks, as well as the hidden struggles that many people are going through silently in their own homes."
The Chamber has advocated to government for investment in complex care, so we applaud the news of an $8.2-million provincial grant to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We are honoured to be part of the solution, co-designing care to improve health, social and employment outcomes for people with long-term experience of complex barriers to employment," CMHA BC Division CEO Jonny Morris said. "We are excited to see the expansion of behavioural health-care integration with primary-care centres in more sites in B.C.”
It's Budget Season for all levels of government. After the province reveals BC Budget 2023 on Feb. 28, the federal government will announce its own budget at some point in the following weeks. Municipalities in BC don't have the same flexibility, with legislation requiring financial plans be adopted by March 31 and tax rate bylaws before May 15.
The Chamber is working to remind Greater Victoria municipalities that they need to support their community's businesses through fair taxation. We encourage Chamber members to get involved with their local government through however they can. In the City of Victoria, for example, Council is asking The Chamber for member feedback on a 6.96% increase to residential property taxes that's largely the result of inflation. While that's down from the almost 9% increase initially proposed in January, there might be more opportunities to find efficiencies.
Businesses that pay property taxes in Victoria are urged to voice their formal feedback by:
If you have questions or concerns about municipalities outside Victoria, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. And watch for more coverage on The Chamber's budget advocacy on social media and in upcoming editions of BizNews.
A transformative housing development is going to the City of Victoria for approvals this week. The proposal for Harris Green Village includes 1,500 suites and more than 100,000 square-feet of commercial and retail space.
The neighbourhood, adjacent to downtown Victoria, is considered an up-and-coming-area of the city. The proposal by Starlight Investments goes to Public Hearing on Feb. 9, for council to consider an amendment to the Official Community Plan and rezoning for 1045 Yates St. and the 900-block, as well as a development permit for Phase 1.
"We know our region needs housing supply and this is a significant opportunity to create much needed rental homes in an area that has a lot of appeal," said Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who is speaking at the hearing via video on behalf of the need for housing.
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:
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."
How can business help solve complex challenges regarding addiction and toxic drugs in our communities? The opioid crisis has caused immeasurable distress in many people's lives, affecting families, colleagues and others close to us at an unprecedented scale.
Island Health hopes that innovation, which the private sector is renowned for, can make a difference. The health authority is is seeking Expressions of Interest from not-for-profit organizations, local governments, Indigenous Nations and local businesses. A $1 million fund has been set up to provide grants of up to $50,000 for projects and initiatives that:
Details on the grants, including how to apply are available at: New Resilience and Safety Grants - Island Health
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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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.”
British Columbia is not seeing a surge in people needing to be hospitalized due to respiratory illnesses, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said today.
Over the summer, there were concerns that the fall flu and cold season would see an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations. So far, that has not happened.
Dr. Henry said the current situation does not warrant a formal mask mandate.
"While COVID-19 continues to circulate in communities, the situation has changed ... and the number of people at risk for serious outcomes from COVID-19 has dropped significantly," states the provincial news release. "There are many tools to get people through respiratory illness season. The most important is to maximize protection through vaccination. People are also encouraged to check daily for symptoms of respiratory illness, wash their hands regularly and practise respiratory etiquette. This includes wearing a mask if they have mild symptoms, covering coughs and disposing of tissues appropriately."
Changing times create disruption but also present tremendous opportunities for forward-thinking organizations. The tide of high inflation has highlighted the need to create more resilient local production and supply networks.
Groceries are a good example of the need for investment in suppliers located closer to home. The provincial government's Buy BC program and the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance's Island Good shows the value of supporting innovation led by business.
On Monday, BuyBC hosted an event in Victoria called Every Chef Needs a Farmer, Every Farmer Needs a Chef. Among the exhibitors was Finest at Sea Ocean Products.
"There is clear evidence of the value that bring local brings to a community, but it's not always top of mind when we're at the grocery story purchasing produce for our families," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The Buy BC and Island Good programs makes it easier to remember the value in buying local, both in terms of freshness and health as well as in ensuring local farmers feel they are supported so they can take the risks needed to build their business."
Housing remains a drag on the vitality of our region, though overall quality of life in Greater Victoria has improved.
According to the 2022 Vital Signs Report, released this week, Greater Victoria's grade has moved up from a B grade last year to a B+ this year.
Housing earned an F grade this year, a significant drop from a D+ last year.
"Vital Signs is a great check up on our region's economy, and The Chamber was happy to contribute as a community partner this year," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The grades are a good way to illustrate concepts that contribute to our overall quality of life."
It's the 19th edition of the annual report, which uses surveys as well as stories and graphics to provide snapshots of the past year.
This year's theme asked What Does Community Mean To You? Respondents rated the natural environment and climate as the best things about Greater Victoria. The aforementioned Housing crisis and cost of living were the two most important issues, according to the survey.
The report looks at 12 areas, with grades ranging from a B-plus for Learning and Sports and Recreation, to an F for Housing and a C- for Health and Wellness.
Access to primary health care is an important element of safe communities. The Chamber applauds news that the provincial government is taking serious steps to retain existing family doctors and attract new ones to the province.
A new payment model will be available for family doctors starting in February. The deal will change how patients interact with their doctors, allowing for more focused visits. The current model has been criticized for emphasizing the number of patients seen per day rather than the quality of the visit.
Recent media reports about break-ins that seem to be targeting specific types of business are renewing calls for solutions to downtown crime.
"Businesses, of course, want to feel safe," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told Global News. "They want to know that they themselves and their employees are safe when they come and go from work."
Of course, the situation is complex. The toxic drug crisis continues to cause damage throughout society, and, particularly, with people involved in street life who are at risk of homelessness. Addictions, as well as mental health challenges, are often at the root of criminal behaviour that makes the news. Any solutions need to intersect with the healthcare system, which is why organizations such as Island Health are critical to have onboard.
On Tuesday, The Chamber and Island Health hosted a gathering of about 40 people at the University Club at the University of Victoria. The discussion focused on how businesses and non-profit organizations can work with Island Health to develop innovative solutions to complex problems around mental health and addiction. Other topics included work being done to attract and retain more doctors, support workplace mental health and streamline health care delivery.
It was a good opportunity to combine the nimbleness and creativity of the private sector with the resources and gravitas of the public health authority. The spirited discussion resulted in a number of ideas that The Chamber and our members will continue to follow up on in the months ahead.
Saturday marks the end of border restrictions that have been in place for much of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government has confirmed travellers will no longer need to show proof of vaccination or wear masks aboard planes and trains. There will also be no requirement for testing or quarantines.
The ArriveCan app will still be available to submit customs and immigration declarations, but will no longer be mandatory.
"There's a real sense of relief in the tourism industry that their recovery will benefit from making it easier to welcome international travellers," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The restrictions served a purpose but we're at a different place in the pandemic, and a lot of people have been calling for these changes for awhile. Hopefully we can heal some of the divisions that resulted from the times being so uncertain."
The shift also represents a time to reflect on how government responded during the pandemic. Canadian Chamber of Commerce CEO Perrin Beatty was co-chair of the Lessons Learned report that will help policy makers plan for future situations that require restricting access to our border.
An enthusiastic roomful of Chamber members enjoyed a heartfelt and engaging presentation by Jonathon Morris, CEO of the BC Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
The event, part of The Chamber's Business Leaders Luncheons series, was held at the Parkside Hotel & Spa on Tuesday afternoon. Morris spoke about the benefits of better understanding the psychological health of our workplaces. Many employers in the room noted ongoing efforts to reduce the stigma of mental illness and promote safer and more productive organizational cultures.
Morris and Chamber CEO Bruce Williams discussed how businesses can improve their bottom line by taking steps to ensure staff feel safe and supported.
Special thanks to event sponsors Coastal Community Credit Union.
On Monday, Sept. 5, a shameful moment in Greater Victoria's history will be commemorated with a walk and an official apology.
The ceremony marks the 100th anniversary of the decision to segregate Chinese students up to Grade 7 in Greater Victoria.
On July 27, Alan Lowe, chair of the Victoria Chinatown Museum Society, appeared before the current board of the Greater Victoria school district to ask for a formal apology.
The Chamber is also hoping to formally apologize at this time for the role our organization played in advocating for this discriminatory action.
"I want to acknowledge The Chamber’s role in supporting the racist and non-inclusive statements and practices of that time in our history, and I apologize unequivocally," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And I promise we will continue working to be welcoming of all businesses so we can better represent the true diversity of our region."
The Chamber was founded in 1863 to promote investment in our region.
"Over the course of our history in Greater Victoria, there were times when we did the wrong thing. We acted with indifference or even encouraged discriminatory practices," Williams said. "This was the case with segregation of Chinese students, which had the insidious intent of making it harder for the Chinese community to live and work here. It was racist and it was wrong 100 years ago."
Today we know that diversity is what makes all of us strong. We also know we need more than just words. To that end, The Chamber has created a committee to promote Inclusion, Diversity and Equity.
Access to a family doctor is one of the keys to ensuring safe communities, which are fundamental to good business.
With an ongoing shortage of primary care providers in BC, there are serious concerns about what can be done to encourage more doctors to commit to serving BC communities.
To try and stabilize the situation, the province announced today that it is providing $118 million through a partnership with Doctors of BC. The funds will be used over four months, starting Oct. 1, to support operational costs for family doctors and medical clinics.
About 3,480 family doctors who have their own practices and 1,100 family doctors working in walk-in clinics are expected to receive funding. That represents more than 70% of family doctors working in the province.
The Chamber has long called for a renewed approach to policing in Greater Victoria in order to ensure resources are available where they're most needed.
A decision by the Township of Esquimalt to not renew a 10-year agreement with the City of Victoria to share policing costs creates an opportunity for the provincial government to look at a regional police force.
"Perhaps this might be an opportunity to make major structural changes in the makeup of the police departments here in the south Island,” VicPD police chief Del
Manak told the Times Colonist.
A report released this spring by the province from the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act suggested that a regional police force is past due.
The report stated that, when the provincial government ordered the merger of the Esquimalt and Victoria police forces in 2002, 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."
It's a familiar story that has the statistics to back it up. Greater Victoria as a region is one of the safest places in Canada, but the downtown core in the City of Victoria faces challenges that require urgent attention.
A report released this week by Statistics Canada shows Greater Victoria has a Crime Severity Index of 71.5, which is less than the national average. However, there is a huge discrepancy between municipalities. With a CSI of 148, Victoria is an outlier compared to the region's other municipalities.
“If there’s any region that could benefit from amalgamation or a regional police force, it would be the Capital Regional District, given that we have the makeup of so many smaller agencies and the Victoria Police Department is carrying the lion’s share of the workload,” VicPD police Chief Del Manak told the Times Colonist.
The Chamber continues to call for Better Regional Services and Safe Communities as fundamental requirements for building good business and great community for all.