An initiative that started in the City of Victoria, was supported by business and took root across Greater Victoria is moving to the national stage. As of the end of this year, the federal government is banning the production or importation of single-use plastic bags, straws, stir sticks containers and other items that clog up landfills and contaminate natural ecosystems.
The Chamber worked closely with local governments on the initial regulations to ensure government followed innovations already being introduced by business. This helped the implementation unfold smoothly as the rules were a response to public demand as identified by businesses, ensuring success. The best way to address the seriousness of climate change is by supporting innovations led by business.
Starting June 20, travellers will no longer be required to show proof of vaccination when boarding a plane or train in Canada. Federally regulated workers will also no longer need to reveal their vaccination status.
The federal government has opted to suspend the requirements, which could be reinstated if the COVID-19 situation changes.
The change does not affect the steps that need to be taken by Canadians returning from international travel. As well, travelling to other countries requires following their entry rules, including proof of vaccination to enter the US.
Federal vaccine mandates for travel were put in place on Oct. 30, 2021.
Meanwhile, long lineups continue at Service Canada centres caused by people seeking to renew their passport. An additional 600 workers were hired this month to help alleviate the backlog as passport applications jumped.
The federal government expects as many as 4.3 million applications over the next two years. Almost 1.3 million passports applications were processed between April 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022. That compares to 363,000 the previous year.
The provincial government has launched a new BC Bid portal, making it easier for businesses to participate in procurement opportunities offered by hundreds of public sector organizations.
The single-point of access is used by school districts, municipalities, health authorities, Crown corporations and other government agencies to post contracts for goods and services across industries.
Greater Victoria's business community is showing its resilience as a new report shows commerce continues to strengthen and grow.
“Despite headwinds facing the global economy, our region has roared back and we’re in a good position to really take flight as we welcome our traditional tourism season,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. “These indicators make it clear that people can’t wait to get back to our vibrant downtown and enjoy all the amazing experiences our businesses provide.”
The report shows that there were 314,730 more pedestrian trips to downtown Victoria in the first three months of 2022 than the same period last year. The City of Victoria issued 7,623 business licences in the first quarter of 2022, up from 7,187 in the same period in 2019 before the pandemic.
The provincial government appears committed to its plan to rebuild the Royal BC Museum over the next eight years at a cost of $789 million. The museum was founded in 1886 and has been in its current location since 1968.
The Chamber will work to support businesses affected by the change, including attractions that now have an opportunity to increase their profile.
“You can come downtown and go to the Bateman Gallery, you can go to the Bug Zoo, you can go to the Maritime Museum — there are still a lot of attractions around and plenty of things to do,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told CHEK News.
“The work to modernize the Royal BC Museum is a legacy project that will enrich, inspire and continue to benefit British Columbians and Indigenous Peoples for generations to come," RBCM CEO Alicia Dubois said in the provincial news release.
There are plans for travelling exhibitions, regional displays and an interactive walking tour in Victoria while the new museum is being built.
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.”
Innovation led by business is key to tackling climate change and The Chamber is committed to working with all levels of government to help them understand how the private sector is providing real solutions to meet public demand. The City of Victoria has designated staff to work on ensuring food service businesses are using the most sustainable materials available.
City staff have developed a Draft PDF of a Sustainable Takeout Guide that they hope will help businesses. Staff have also asked The Chamber for feedback on the city’s plan. The Chamber worked closely with the city on plastic bags regulations holding a roundtable of city staff and business owners to identify what was already working, what could be efficiently implemented and the tools needed to do so. As a result, the regulation was welcomed by most businesses and served as a model for municipalities across the region.
The District of Saanich is the second municipality in BC to fast-track affordable housing. On Monday night, Saanich Council unanimously approved a motion to accept the streamlined process adopted earlier this month by the City of Victoria.
The decisions will streamline the approval of development proposals as long as they fit with each municipality's Official Community Plan. This will help increase the supply of homes for workers in our region — vital to finding and keeping the staff needed for employers achieve their economic potential.
As municipal councils across the region finalize tax rates for business properties, The Chamber wants to hear from any members facing unfair increases.
“Businesses need to plan for expenses, and they expect to be treated fairly. After all, the long-term health of our communities is directly related to the health of our small businesses,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist. “The Chamber is reaching out to our members to see how (tax increases) affect them individually, and we’ll take that information forward to candidates in the fall municipal election.”
The Chamber recognizes that municipalities must juggle a number of variables when setting rates. Ultimately, each municipality determines how much money they need to deliver services to their citizens and then set rates to raise the revenue to cover most of those costs. Whether an individual property experiences an increase in their tax bill typically depends on whether the property had a higher-than-average increase in value. However, municipalities also need to be fair when allocating costs to commercial properties.
“The business community understands that taxes are a tool used by local governments to provide services, but we’re always watchful of councils who try to shift costs to business and industry and away from residents for political reasons,” Williams said, noting that now is not the time for municipalities to be increasing costs for any taxpayers. “Many businesses are still facing challenges, so any tax increase will weigh on them at a time when we need our economy to take flight.”
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.
The long-delayed Citizens' Assembly looking into merging the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria is going ahead.
“We have all agreed to each contribute $250,000, for a total of $750,000, toward the cost of a citizens’ assembly and to explore the possible outcomes, costs, benefits and disadvantages of amalgamation so that residents have a more complete understanding of what amalgamation may involve," said a statement issued by the three parties.
However, citing challenges with gathering in person during the pandemic, the process has been bumped back until after the Oct. 15 civic elections.
"We recognize there are strong opinions regarding amalgamation, and we want to ensure people have an opportunity to provide input in an open forum and a subsequent decision is well-informed and evidence-based, the statement said."
One of BC's often overlooked economic sectors is getting a closer look. The province has contracted a Labour Market Study of the non-profit sector, which includes about 29,000 organizations employing 86,000 people and generating $6.7 billion in economic activity.
In the early months of the pandemic, the Victoria Foundation was part of a group of organizations that worked together to report on how non-profits were faring. They found that organizations focused on helping arts and culture and sports and recreation had reduced revenue, while those in the health and social services sectors were in high demand.
The 20-month study is being conducted by Vantage Point at a cost of $290,000.
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.
Housing affordability for many Greater Victoria employees has become even more strained in recent months as the cost of renting increased by 3.1% and the vacancy rate dropped to about 1%.
With more people choosing to move to our region, the demand for new housing is putting intense pressure on our ability to add to the supply. The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Rental Market Survey Data Tables for Greater Victoria shows that a total of eight private apartments were added in the City of Victoria between October 2020 and October 2021. A further 643 were added in all other Greater Victoria municipalities during the same time. Meanwhile, the region's population increased by 29,467 between the 2021 and 2016 censuses.
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.
Some big changes are coming to the auto insurance industry in BC. On Monday, ICBC announced that customers with policies expiring on or after May 1, can renew online. The system will actually be available March 17 for people who want to renew early.
Also starting May 1, drivers will no longer need to display an updated insurance decal on their licence plate. BC is expanding the Automated Licence Plate Recognition program, which helps law enforcement detect unlawful, unlicensed and uninsured drivers.
According to numbers released today, almost 30,000 people have moved to Greater Victoria since 2016. This influx has added tremendous stress on housing supply in our region.
It's a big reason why The Chamber encourages efforts such as the District of Saanich's recently adopted 10-year Housing Strategy. Saanich council has approved a four-year funding plan that will help the municipality address housing needs. As the largest and most populous municipality in our region, Saanich's leadership is key to making sure we have a plan that will alleviate pressure on the housing market.
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.
A proposal that could add $1.2 billion to the region's economy was announced by the City of Colwood this week.
The plan is to build 2,850 homes in the Royal Beach area, ranging from single family to condos and townhouses. Over the estimated 15 years it will take to complete the project, which will begin this spring, more than 700 jobs will be created.
"Make no mistake, Colwood is on the map and that’s why notable organizations are making long-term commitments here,” Colwood Mayor Rob Martin said in a news release.
The Royal BC Museum is building a new archives and storage centre in Royal Bay, while Seaspan announced plans for an 85,000 square-foot facility in Colwood.
The Chamber applauds efforts to build new homes in Greater Victoria, as a lack of housing supply continues to be one of the biggest challenges in our region. We need enough homes to meet demand, and allow the market to serve middle income residents vital to our workforce.
An area near the heart of Greater Victoria is changing quickly as our region grows. To help guide development, the District of Saanich has unveiled its Uptown-Douglas Plan for the next 20 to 30 years.
“It really is an ambitious plan and future envisioning that addresses climate change, affordability and the quality of life,” Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes told CHEK News.
Some of the highlights of the plan include creating a central district and transportation hub for a fast-growing population that will be less reliant on cars. The area is currently the crossroads for a number of major routes in the region.
The plan goes to Public Hearing Feb. 15.
More housing, especially housing that is affordable for working individuals and families, is vital for our regional economy to reach its potential.
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.
Greater Victoria has a front-row seat to one of the many challenges facing global supply chains. The SM Busan is currently docked at Ogden Point for emergency repairs. The South Korean-flagged ship is roughly the length of five NHL-sized hockey rinks. About 80% of the containers on the vessel are empty.
The SM Busan left Portland, Oregon, bound for South Korea but began to drift in the Pacific Ocean on New Year's Eve. A tug boat eventually brought the container ship to Ogden Point on Sunday, where it's expected to remain for about a month.
The SM Busan is the first ship to use Ogden Point's Pier B dolphin extension. Completed in 2020, it's one of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority's largest infrastructure projects ever.
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.
BC Assessment has released its latest property assessments based on what it deemed to be the market value as of July 1, 2021. The demand for Vancouver Island real estate has resulted in significant increases across all property types. The total assessment for the Island is $343 billion, up from $269 billion the year before.
The increased assessment doesn't necessarily affect your property tax bill. But, on that note, The Chamber will continue to work with municipalities on behalf of businesses to ensure a fair tax burden. In 2021, Greater Victoria municipalities charged businesses a tax mulitple between 2.02 and 13.27 times what they charged residential properties. It's something we'll keep an eye on as municipalities begin their budget processes.