Greater Victoria employers continue to struggle finding and keeping workers, and The Chamber continues to advocate for help. With limited immigration during the pandemic, Canada experienced its slowest population growth since 1916. That is expected to change this year, as the federal government has increased immigration targets for 2021, 2022 and 2023.
Greater Victoria employers will also get some relief with the return of post-secondary students to our region this fall.
"Finding and keeping workers was an advocacy priority before the pandemic and will be even more so as we emerge from restrictions and the economy recovers," says Chamber CEO Bruce Williams, who recently spoke to CBC and CFAX about this issue.
Many employers in Greater Victoria already pay above minimum wage but will continue to face challenges as our region also deals with a limited supply of affordable housing and child care.
"We're working with our partners and government to address the housing shortage and challenges with child care," Williams said.
The future of transportation will include a blend of public and private options, with more convenient transit and car-sharing playing roles. A recently formed citizens' group, Better Mobility Saanich, has reached out to the District of Saanich to encourage adoption of services such as Evo, which currently has a fleet available in the City of Victoria. With Evo, members are able find cars parked within a "home zone" and pay a small fee that lets you drive as needed. When you're done, you park the car back in the home zone.
The federal government needs to be loud and clear about how the $4.3 billion cruise industry will be able to get back to business in Canada. The Chamber is part of a coalition of industry and community leaders calling for a roadmap showing how and when cruises can resume and get back to contributing to Canada's economy. The cruise industry employs 17,000 people in BC whose livelihoods could be at risk if government doesn't act quickly. Cruise lines and passengers are already planning trips in 2022, and they need to know that Canada will be open for business.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and The Chamber are concerned that lobbyists in the United States will succeed in removing the requirement for cruise ships to stop in Canada when travelling between Washington State and Alaska. The US government has temporary suspended the requirement during the pandemic because of Canada's restrictions on cruise. However, the lack of a clear plan could lead to the change becoming permanent.
We've said it before and we'll keep saying it as long as it takes for government to hear us. Businesses need certainty and they deserve to know how and when our economy will re-open. The BC Restart Plan has helped, but the federal government risks doing serious damage to Canada's tourism sector with its prolonged suspension of cruise ships. The Chamber along with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and other business organizations are calling for a clear signal that the industry is welcome and can plan to return to full capacity by next year.
“Cruise lines need time to prepare for the full resumption of cruise and the Government of Canada, through Transport Canada, needs to signal that they are prepared to welcome the industry back in a safe and measured way,” GVHA CEO Ian Robertson said in a news release. “The decision needs to be made in line with the reopening plans for the Canada-USA land and marine borders. We cannot afford to play roulette with something that is such a vital economic lifeline for our province.”
With another year lost for the cruise industry, Greater Victoria will lose about $260 million in economic benefits derived from those visits. The blow has disrupted businesses across the region — even as there are new reasons to be concerned about government inaction.
The federal government's decision to close international borders prompted the state of Alaska to push for changes to US legislation that has been critical to the growth of the cruise industry in BC. Under a 19th-century law, ships travelling between US ports — such as in Washington State and Alaska — were required to stop in another country along the way, unless the vessels were built in the US. In a move that caught the provincial government off-guard, the law was temporarily changed to allow ships to bypass Canada while our borders are closed.
The Chamber is working to support local businesses and organizations, including the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, to make sure our provincial and federal governments understand that this change cannot be allowed to become permanent.
To hear from locals affected by the loss of cruise ships, check out this video produced for the GVHA by Roll.Focus.Productions, with comments from Seaspan and The Bay Centre.
A ferry between the City of Colwood and downtown Victoria continues to break waves. The Capital Regional District's Transportation Committee looked at the concept last week and decided the idea is worth a feasibility study. The CRD's board will now vote on May 12 to decide whether to work with the province and other partners to pursue the study.
"In a region surrounded by water, it would be irresponsible not to fully explore the feasibility of marine travel as one approach to addressing traffic congestion and achieving our active transportation and clean energy goals," Colwood mayor Rob Martin said in a news release.
Last year, BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins told a Chamber Business Restart Series that a ferry from Royal Bay to Victoria could make a profit. The route would connect to Ship Point and, potentially, Esquimalt and service commuters working downtown or at the naval base.
On April 27, BC's Minister of Finance Selina Robinson provided Chamber members with an overview of the recently unveiled budget and she answered questions about the state of the province's economy.
If you missed seeing it live, you can still watch a recording of the event to hear what Minister Robinson had to say about government plans to help business and families, and implement new initiatives to ensure our economic recovery continues.
Request Access to the Video
Improved infrastructure and more environmentally sustainable buses are being welcomed by the University of Victoria. On Tuesday, the federal and provincial governments announced funding to provide BC Transit with six natural-gas buses that will replace diesel buses currently in the system. As well, UVic is getting an enhanced transit exchange on campus that includes better paths and bike storage to encourage students to cycle to school.
“This project will help us reach our goal of having 70% of all trips to and from campus facilitated by public transit or active transportation," UVic's president and vice-chancellor Kevin Hall says. "These transit improvements complement our Campus Cycling Plan and give our campus community and neighbours greener and healthier commuting choices from their doorstep to school, work and play.”
The new buses will be fueled by compressed or renewable natural gas, and replace buses at the end of their service life.
The federal contribution will be $4.9 million while the province will provide $4.5 million. The Victoria Regional Transit Commission and UVic will chip in $1.9 million.
The City of Victoria is extending its network of bike lanes, adding 4.8 kilometres with a recently approved plan. The new lanes will serve riders of all ages and abilities and connect Fernwood, Oaklands and the Jubilee area with downtown.
Safe cycling lanes encourage active commuting, contribute to safe cities and help employers' efforts to find and keep workers. To have your say in the ongoing discussion about the city's cycling network, visit engage.victoria.ca.