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.
A proposal to add at least 180 units of affordable housing in Vic West has been made in an effort to help our region's housing crisis. The owners of Bayview Place have offered to donate $15 million to the Greater Victoria Housing Society for an 18-storey building. The property is on the corner of Catherine Street and Esquimalt Road.
Bayview Place is currently working to build new housing on land around the historic E&N Roundhouse.
Word is getting out about the best small cities in Canada. On Monday, Chamber CEO Bruce Williams took part in a Black Press podcast discussing why the City of Victoria and District of Saanich are great places to live and work. The podcast, by Peter McCully, appears on 75 newspaper websites.
"These lists are a lot of fun and there certainly are other Greater Victoria municipalities that could have been included," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Having Victoria place No. 1 and Saanich in the Top 25 does help raise awareness about our region, which attracts visitors, workers and investment."
The unseasonable weather has been the major theme of casual conversations this summer. And while it's been a welcome break from the prevalence of pandemic chatter, we can't close the door on COVID yet. Last Thursday, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam reported that "it is reasonable to expect we could see an increase in case numbers in the coming weeks."
The next wave comes during the heart of summer so its impact will be mitigated by the warm weather and the opportunities for gathering outdoors. Immunization, including boosters, is also key to help protect our community. The Chamber is monitoring the situation and will strive to provide Greater Victoria's business community with evidence-based information from reputable sources. We all have the resilience and experience to keep our economy and community moving forward.
Housing supply is foundational to a strong economy, and The Chamber applauds progress being made on the largest housing supply project ever on Vancouver Island. The $250 million Nigel Valley development in the District of Saanich will add 800 homes to the region, including 440 non-market rental units and 255 market homes. The other units include social housing with supports.
“It's amazing what can happen when multiple stakeholders, including our local community associations, take a collaborative and proactive approach to challenges like housing," Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said in a news release. "This project caters to a wide range of housing needs in Saanich and I look forward to seeing how it will enhance our community over the years to come.”
BC Housing is contributing more than $50 million, and Broadmead Care and Island Health are each providing more more than $5 million.
The Nigel Valley redevelopment, near Saanich's municipal hall, is being done in three phases over the next 10 years.
The provincial government's latest attempt to attract new family doctors to BC is a good start, but more innovations are needed to make a real difference.
Many regions in BC, including Greater Victoria, are experiencing a challenge finding and keeping general practitioners. The province has offered a $25,000 bonus to any new family medicine residents but, so far, none have taken the bait.
"We've met with recruiters who tell us there needs to be a change in the administrative burden that doctors are expected to take on," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "People become doctors to help others — not to deal with the extensive paperwork and burden of operating a highly regulated business. There are some truly innovative concepts being proposed that will help, but they need to be supported by government."
The Chamber will continue to advocate for improvements to healthcare delivery, especially making sure families have access to doctors and appropriate care in Greater Victoria.
The Chamber shares the community's concern for everyone affected by the traumatic incident that happened in Saanich on Tuesday. The scenes of violence have shaken everyone.
"Our thoughts are with those police officers who bravely faced extreme danger to protect the many civilians in the area," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We know that safe communities are a foundation all of us need so we can function in our homes and workplaces. Witnessing violence is not something anyone expects to do while going about their business, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by being nearby as this tragic scene unfolded."
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.