The Chamber is following up on concerns expressed by local post-secondaries facing a serious and unanticipated financial burden from the surprise federal announcement to cap the international student program.
Yesterday, the organization representing Canadian schools sent a joint letter to federal Immigration Minister Marc Miller.
"We urge your department not to impose the letter of attestation requirement for college and undergraduate study permit applications until at least March 31 or until the provinces establish an effective process," the letter from Universities Canada and Colleges and Institutes Canada stated. "Additionally, we request urgent consultations with the sector to modify the cap policy, clarify the many outstanding questions and mitigate the negative impacts."
On Monday, BC announced new regulations that will constrict the number of international students in the province. Of BC's 545,000 post-secondary students, 175,000 are from 150 countries other than Canada.
"After speaking with our members impacted by these changes, The Chamber is concerned that this policy is being presented as a solution to the housing crisis when it will significantly reduce revenue needed by schools," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "A better solution is to invest in more on-campus housing so that schools continue to provide the workforce our economy needs, while creating a pathway for foreign students to become taxpaying new Canadians."
In 2023, generative artificial intelligence was suddenly everywhere. It's showing up in business software applications, Internet search functions and standalone apps that enable even non-technical users to overcome writing, coding and design challenges.
To help businesses benefit by adopting AI responsibly, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce held an AI Executive Summit on Nov. 22. Among the key themes that emerged were:
The themes will guide the work of the recently formed Future of AI Council, a 30-member forum representing a cross-section of organizations. The council "will play a leading role in advocating for government policies that establish AI as a positive economic force through the responsible development, deployment and ethical use of AI in business."
Chamber members have been calling for a better way to recognize certification gained outside BC. New legislation introduced this week is a step forward, recognizing 29 professions overseen by 18 regulatory authorities.
If the international credentials recognition act passes, the province could have a new superintendent by next summer in charge of fair credential recognition.
"We know the stories of highly trained professionals who come to Canada and are only able to find work washing dishes or driving cabs," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "International standards often correspond with provincial standards, so it makes perfect sense to let people who choose to come here continue their careers here. Employers in our region have positions going unfilled and workers are underemployed. Simply put, recognizing international certification will improve this disconnect."
The 29 occupations are:
The Chamber has long called for a more sensible approach to recognizing the skills newcomers bring to Canada. We've all heard the stories of trained doctors driving cabs and other professionals who can't work in their chosen field despite high demand for their service.
"That is changing. I'm thrilled to share the news that British Columbia is moving to help regulatory bodies improve the process of credential recognition," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We hear all the time from employers who are frustrated because they need workers but can't hire qualified newcomers because they were trained out of province."
Upcoming legislation will streamline pathways for skilled people with international credentials while maintaining standards and safety.
According to the provincial government, 387,000 newcomers are expected to enter the B.C. workforce, filling 38% of job openings over the next 10 years.
A new report by the Conference Board of Canada's Workplace Mental Health Research Centre found that your organization's policies on absenteeism could directly affect the productivity of employees. The study noted that it's difficult to measure presenteeism — workers pushing through their day despite feeling unwell physically or mentally. A lack of awareness and sense of trust between employer and employees was cited as a common reason for not addressing presenteeism.
“Without formal productivity measures, how can you tell that somebody is showing up and not delivering 100%?" the reports quotes one unnamed employer. "I don’t know that you can.”
Most of the causes for presenteeism were related to symptoms of illness, stress and and trouble sleeping. Stigma around mental health continues to be a major factor for workers punching the clock when feeling unwell. There remains concerns about how disclosing an illness could impact their standing in the workplace.
The report suggests organizations can take active strategies, such as accommodations for caregivers — predominately women — so they can remain on track for career growth and can overcome the many barriers they face.
The conference board established the research centre to increase awareness and understanding of workplace mental health through research, analysis and dialogue.
Housing supply is at the core of Chamber advocacy. Greater Victoria, like much of North America, is facing a crunch — not enough homes are being built to meet demand. This affects the cost of living for employees, delays people from starting a family and impacts the availability of shelter for people experiencing homelessness.
A group of Canadian housing sector organizations recently released the National Housing Accord: A Multi-Sector Approach to Ending Canada’s Rental Housing Crisis. The report offers 10 solutions that aim to focus the efforts of all levels of government and industry on policies to support more building.
"It's a bit of a Catch 22 in that we need skilled tradespeople to build homes so that the market has enough supply for skilled tradespeople to be able to afford to live here," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "The lack of housing affects people at all income levels but is particularly concerning for people early in their careers and those who have the added costs that come with raising kids."
The provincial government released the first cohort of municipalities that have been targeted to increase housing supply. The City of Victoria as well as the District of Saanich and the District of Oak Bay are on the list.
The Housing Supply Act allows the province to set housing targets that encourage municipalities to make construction more efficient so housing can be built faster. Some of the suggested tools include updated zoning bylaws and streamlined approval processes.
“The housing crisis is hurting people and holding back our economy, and we’re taking action with our partners to cut red tape and get homes built faster for people. Municipalities are our critical partners in addressing the housing crisis and building healthy, economically viable communities,” BC's Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon said.
“We welcome being part of a first wave of communities challenged to accelerate building homes for people," Victoria mayor Marianne Alto said. "These targets reflect the city’s own commitment to housing current and future Victorians.”
The other municipalities are Abbotsford, Delta, Kamloops, North Vancouver, Port Moody, Vancouver and West Vancouver. A second cohort of 10 municipalities will be announced later this year.
The provincial government announced today it is providing $2.5 million to Vancouver Island Life Sciences to create a 650-square-metre facility to help up to six companies with access to low-cost, specialized lab space. The lab will be in Greater Victoria, but the specific location is still in the works.
Vancouver Island Life Sciences is a volunteer, non-profit society in Victoria that connects Island researchers with the global life science community.
The provincial government announced Tuesday that is focusing on five pillars to help businesses find and keep employees. They are:
“I’m hearing from businesses, small and large, that finding skilled labour is one of their biggest challenges,” said BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation Brenda Bailey, who will be speaking at The Chamber's Business Leader Luncheon on Monday, May 8.
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.”
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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No surprises here, but our region is once again earning praise as a great place to visit and build a life.
This time, the City of Victoria gets the credit as Best Small City in Canada, according to Resonance Consulting. The international firm ranked six categories: place, product, programming, people, prosperity and promotion to determine the top 25 small cities in Canada.
Victoria placed on top for access to post-secondary education and bike lanes (product) as well as for its restaurant scene and activities (programming). The rank is well deserved, of course, though locals know that the city couldn't do it without all of the neighbouring municipalities that make up Greater Victoria. The list did include the District of Saanich, which placed No. 23. Saanich's only real knock seems that it is lesser known then the official capital!
Hopefully being featured in lists such as this will help more people choose to join our community and contribute to our workforce and economy.
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.
The Chamber applauds news that the federal government will allow international students to work more than their current limit of 20 hours.
Having access to a larger workforce will help us better achieve our economic potential. Allowing students to earn more money without interfering in their studies will also improve the economic situation of new graduates. Canada also relies on immigration to meet employment forecasts, and having people who have studied and worked here will only help with the adjustment to Canadian society.
The pilot project begins Nov. 15 and is scheduled to run until the end of 2023, though there are already calls to make the extended hours permanent.
A plan to level up Greater Victoria's film industry received a boost last week. The provincial government's BC Bid website posted a Request for Pre-Qualification for a film studio at Camosun College's Interurban campus.
“The process is intended to result in an innovative proposal that benefits the college, students and the local economy,” Camosun College President Geoff Wilmshurst said in a news release.
The request could lead to a respondent being pre-qualified to design, build and fund a film and digital media education centre in exchange for a 99-year lease. The deadline to submit is Sept. 30, with next steps dependent on the numbers of responses received. The size and construction timeline will be part of a future step in the process.
The fastest-growing region in Greater Victoria is getting a new post-secondary campus. The province announced today it was contributing $77 million toward the $98 million project that will see Royal Roads University, the University of Victoria, and Camosun College join forces as part of a group of educational providers at the campus.
Located in the City of Langford, the five-storey mass timber building will make it easier for students from the West Shore to attain a post-secondary education. The facility is expected to open in 2024 with 600 students, and expand to 1,300 students by 2036.