Rising costs and finding and keeping staff are two of the biggest challenges facing employers. Yesterday, BC Ferries was told it could only increase fare prices by 3.2% annually between April 1, 2024 and March 31, 2028. The increase had been forecast at 9.2% but was reduced because of a $500 million provincial government subsidy.
The ferry corporation — part of the foundation of Vancouver Island's economy — was also told yesterday that the province will begin levying fines for missed sailings on select routes. The penalties will apply when core services are cancelled — $7,000 if a major route and $1,000 if a minor route. Many of the details have yet to be announced.
Over the summer, ferry cancellations made headlines and frustrated travellers as mechanical issues and a lack of available staff affected numerous sailings.
"BC Ferries provides a vital connection between the Mainland and the Island, so we do need certainty that sailings will happen as scheduled," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "But perhaps there are regulatory changes or innovative solutions that can be made to modernize staffing requirements while maintaining public safety as the priority."
Uber Canada is hoping Chamber members can help give the province feedback on proposals that could have a profound impact on the sustainability of "app-based workers." Often referred to as the gig economy, this sector has evolved quickly alongside technological advances. The Chamber is a strong advocate for Fair Rules for emerging and established businesses.
Uber is siding with proponents of labour reforms that would mandate benefits and protections for workers while preserving the flexibility of their work environment.
A discussion paper was published in the summer by the Ministry of Labour, exploring employment standards for app-based rideshare and food delivery workers. The paper itself focuses on:
The government has asked for feedback by Sept. 30, emailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BC Ferries is waiting to see if it can raise rates, starting next April, to help the organization steer itself through the unsteady waters created by global inflation and the challenges of finding and keeping workers.
There is a shortage of qualified mariners, and new vessels are needed for BC Ferries fleet. The BC Ferries Commission, which is distinct from the provincial government and operations, sets the amount that prices can increase.
The public has until Sept. 30 to contact the commission to provide input to help with its decision. Email email@example.com for more information.
Schools are back in session next week and that means it's time to slow down. Last year, the Victoria Police Department teamed up with the Greater Victoria School District SD61 to remind drivers that a change in speed limit takes effect on many streets in Greater Victoria.
Police are typically out in force to ensure motorists slow down so that the walk to school is safer for students. With more families embracing active transportation, this message is more important than ever.
With school returning for thousands of students next week, commuters can expect heavier congestion on their way to work. Make sure to give yourself extra time, especially along routes affected by ongoing construction. Highway 17 near Keating Cross Road, for example, has been singled out by BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
"With the Highway 17 Keating Crossroad Overpass project well underway, traffic congestion is expected along the detour near the Keating Elementary School during child drop-off and pickup periods," a ministry news release said. "To ensure a smoother journey, commuters who have the flexibility to do so should consider leaving earlier in the morning or later in the evening when traffic is anticipated to lighten. People dropping off or picking up children should plan their journeys with extra time to account for delays."
Some good news for Greater Victoria's tourism economy as the Victoria Airport Authority approved a proposal to build a 129-room hotel. The three-storey hotel, one of Marriott International’s extended stay brands, will be located on 3.5 acres of commercial zoned land at the corner of Highway 17 and Beacon Avenue West.
“The addition of the TownePlace Suites Hotel at YYJ will provide travellers and visitors to the region with convenient access not only to the airport and Sidney, but also to the many amenities and services in the area and the Pat Bay highway into Victoria,” Victoria Airport Authority President and CEO Geoff Dickson said in a news release.
The all-suite hotel will have studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units with fully equipped kitchens, a gym, pool and 1,500 square feet of meeting space. There will also be a full-service restaurant.
Preparations for construction on site will begin in the fall and the hotel is expected to be completed in time for summer 2025.
The board of the Capital Regional District has agreed to a $53.5 million plan that will widen and add lighting to sections of the Galloping Goose and Lochside regional trails. The sections are on the Galloping Goose between the Selkirk Trestle and Grange Road, and the Lochside Trail between the Switch Bridge and Borden Street.
The plan was developed over several years through public engagement. About three million people use the trails per year and the CRD says user volumes "will increase significantly due to trends in population growth and a shift toward active transportation and healthy lifestyles."
Cyclists account for about 80% of traffic on the trail, compared to 20% for pedestrians.
The BC Day long-weekend is a popular time for out-of-towners to pop by and enjoy Greater Victoria's sublime summer weather.
Here are a few suggestions from BC Ferries to help your friends or family members make their trip to the Island a happy one:
And for making the most of the weekend in our region, check out our article below on things to do for BC Day in Greater Victoria.
It's been far from a smooth process bringing an end to the strike affecting Canada's Western ports. The "off again on again" strike created a significant disruption to supply lines on the Island and across the country.
The strike has kept $9.9 billion worth of goods from flowing smoothly from the ports to businesses and consumers, according to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.
"Every day that the strike is going adds to the uncertainty that many businesses are feeling," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "I spoke with a number of chamber members and we are concerned for smaller businesses that don't have large warehouses to store inventory. Many of these businesses rely on efficient shipping to get specialty foods, parts or items based on current demand. It's also a stressful time for businesses that rely on the ports for exports. Hopefully the backlog caused by the strike will clear up as soon as possible."
Island communities cut off by wildfires received some good news as the province announced Highway 4 will reopen to limited single-lane travel starting this weekend.
Fallen trees and debris that had been blocking the route have now been cleared. As well, mesh curtains suspended by cranes are being deployed to protect passersby as the impacted slope continues to settle alongside the highway.
An alternate route continues to be used by about 1,000 vehicles daily, helping ensure essential goods are available. Tourism support includes increased flights so that visitors can bypass the affected road.
One of the ways we can help employers address labour shortages is by improving regional transportation planning. Making commutes more convenient opens up areas outside of the core where housing costs can be less expensive. Efficient transportation is also vital for reducing harmful emissions.
The Chamber applauds the recent move by the Capital Regional District to prioritize transportation governance in Greater Victoria. The CRD Board has asked for feedback from municipalities, local areas, the province and relevant agencies to help with future decisions about how to shift modes of transportation, reduce emissions and better address congestion.
E-bike are being lauded as a game changer for getting commuters to make the shift from cars to active transportation. And, to help more people choose an e-bike as a way to get around, the province is offering rebates to all British Columbians over 19. Based on income, rebates range from $350 to $1,400, with $6 million available to subsidize as many as 9,000 e-bike purchases.
The program will be administered by the Scrap-It Society.
Efficient regional transportation is one of the keys to attracting and retaining workers. E-bikes also produce less emissions than motor vehicles as well as being a healthier alternative for commuters — especially those with sedentary jobs.
If you're interested, check out Chamber members who supply or service e-bikes.
A well-known ride-sharing brand has been approved to begin operations in Greater Victoria, the company announced today.
Uber Canada had been awaiting a decision by the Passenger Transportation Board to allow a licence transfer from a company that had been approved previously but was never operational. The news is welcomed by Greater Victoria's tourism and hospitality sectors.
"The Chamber wrote to the PTB in support of Uber," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Our members have been clear that they want ride-sharing options here, and that we need to have international brands available."
Adding Uber to Greater Victoria also benefits many late-night workers who have found it challenging to get home after their shifts. Transit is a great option to get to work, but does not operate late enough for many people working in Victoria restaurants and bars. Having the option to take an Uber home means that staff have a reliable and safe way to get home.
"Over the next few weeks, we will work hard to ensure a smooth transition and activate our platform for drivers and riders as soon as possible," Uber said in a letter to The Chamber. "Thank you for everything you have done to get us here. We achieved this milestone because of your strong support and advocacy."
Creating more housing supply is key to making Greater Victoria more economically sustainable. Employers need staff, and employees need to be able to afford where they live. With homes in high demand in our region, we need all levels of government to be part of the solution.
The Chamber applauds the recent decision by the District of Saanich to create more homes in the municipality. The New Small Apartment Infill Zone will allow single-family lots to be redeveloped as multi-unit apartments. There are guidelines to ensure the zoning is used on appropriate lots.
“We have heard that there’s an interest in building these in Saanich,” Saanich Mayor Dean Murdoch told the Times Colonist. “We’ve got a very large university and college campuses in Saanich and there’s a desire to build housing types like this that would serve that student population.”
The Tofino Bus is returning to service starting May 4, the Wilson's Group of Companies announced last week. The service was paused in December as the company needed to shift to a seasonal approach to stay sustainable. The drop in passengers taking the bus over the winter was too much for the company to subsidize the service based on summer revenue.
The Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector service will re-start with weekend service from Thursdays to Mondays, and could ramp up to seven days a week in June. “We expect to see lower passenger counts to start, however, we typically see a rise around the May long weekend which lasts throughout most of the summer” Wilson’s Group of Companies Brand Manager Samantha Wilson-Newton said.
The Chamber applauds the increased connectivity for Island communities, and continues to call on government to invest in safe transportation options.
It was a warm welcome on a cold morning as the first cruise ship of 2023 in Canadian waters pulled into Ogden Point yesterday.
“It’s great to have the cruise ships back because of the economic boom that it brings to the city,” Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told Black Press. “People disperse around the region — they stay downtown, they go to Butchart Gardens, they go to other attractions around (Greater Victoria) and they bring that whole energy that we need to get us back into the swing of things.”
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority expects 850,000 passengers will visit Greater Victoria aboard 330 ships between now and October. The 209-foot Sapphire Princess can carry 2,600 passengers.
The industry injects about $130 million into our regional economy, helping many businesses beyond those that cater directly to passengers.
The next ship arrives April 21. And regardless of the temperature, it's a clear sign that business is heating up for our hospitality and tourism sectors.
Last week, the province announced it was contributing $9 million for the GHVA's efforts to bring shore power to their facilities. That will allow ships to use electricity rather than generators, cutting down on emissions and noise in the neighbourhood.
A new era for rapid transit in Greater Victoria began this week with the launch of BC Transit's Blink RapidBus Route 95. The first of the orange-topped buses hit the road Monday, taking passengers from Downtown Victoria to Langford. The new route replaces Route 50 and promises more convenient service with buses running every seven to eight minutes in peak times.
"Rapid transit takes time to implement, so while this modest step will increase our service levels, frequency and reliability for customers, more infrastructure is needed to make Blink RapidBus even faster," states BC Transit's website.
In a big win for business, sustainability and Chamber advocacy, the provincial government announced today it was moving forward to bring shore power to Ogden Point.
Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming, MLA for Victoria-Swan Lake, announced $9 million for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. The money will be used for planning and installation of infrastructure that will let cruise ships turn off their engines while docked by enabling access to electricity from BC Hydro.
GVHA expects 320 cruise ships this season, carrying 850,000 passengers.
“Innovation led by business is key to addressing the biggest challenges facing our community and our planet,” Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams said. “Adding shore power to Ogden Point benefits people living nearby. It also shows how the cruise ship industry is adapting to public demand and embracing new ways of doing business. The Chamber has a long history of working closely with all levels of government and the cruise industry. We are grateful for the work of Minister Fleming to help champion this important project for our region.”
GVHA has been working on plans for shore power with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, BC Hydro, the cruise industry and the City of Victoria.
“Today’s funding announcement by the Province of British Columbia is key to launching the next phase of this important initiative,” GVHA CEO Robert Lewis-Manning said. “Shore power is one of several initiatives supporting a sustainable working port cherished by the Lekwungen people, residents and visitors alike."
The court-imposed deadline for deciding the future of the Island rail corridor arrived yesterday, but there is still much work to be done to decide the fate of the former E&N Rail line.
"In September 2021, the British Columbia Court of Appeal asked the federal government to decide by March 14, 2023, on restoring the railway corridor or allowing a segment of lands to vest in Canada for the use and benefit of the Snaw-Naw-As First Nation," said a joint statement by the federal and provincial governments, explaining that the decision was made to return 11.4 acres to the Snaw-Naw-As.
The corridor still has tremendous potential for Vancouver Island, which is expected to reach a population of more than one million people in the next decade.
“To that end, we are committing $18 million to allow for future corridor planning involving affected First Nations and regional districts," BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming said. "The funding will also allow First Nations to assess identified concerns such as flooding, access, noise, or safety issues where the corridor crosses their land."
The Island Corridor Foundation had been waiting for the governments to announce their intention, and will now begin reviewing options for the best use of this important transportation link.
Parking in downtown Victoria is one of those topics that has sparked debate in coffee shops, board rooms and council chambers for decades. Whether its a frustrated driver searching for an open spot or a cyclist lamenting car-centric culture, it seems we all have an opinion on parking.
That said, compromise is unavoidable if we want to make progress as a region on this extremely complex issue. Parking has been in the news recently as the City of Victoria looks to raise revenue to cover rising expenses. One idea council is considering is to expand the hours that drivers are required to pay for street parking.
Another recent story involving parking involves plans by Merchant House Capital to build a 12-storey tower with 160 rental units on Douglas Street where the heritage Victoria Press Building (former home of the Times Colonist) is located. Currently, the plans state that no parking will be provided for the rental units. The proposal will go to the neighbourhood community at a meeting on March 20 before a formal proposal is submitted for municipal approval.
Meanwhile, another important project that could add 1,500 much-needed homes in downtown Victoria has taken an unexpected turn. The duly considered proposal by Starlight Investments for Harris Green has passed third reading but now has additional amendments to parking requirements that need to be addressed before the plan is adopted.
"I know that Victoria city council has agreed that housing supply is a top priority for residents of the entire region, of which downtown is an important part of," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "And we know that part of the attraction of living downtown is its proximity to the many services and experiences in neighbouring municipalities. It's one thing to walk or cycle to work on weekdays, but many people use their weekends to shop outside the city proper, or to visit forests and beaches that are a short car ride away."
Regardless of personal opinions about parking, the fact is we continue to require it — for residents, delivery drivers and commuters. Parents need vehicles to transport kids from care and school to sports and activities. Seniors and others with mobility issues use vehicles to get from point to point, and often require parking close to their destination.
With the adoption of zero emission standards and accelerating shift to electric vehicles, opinions about the future of driving are shifting. Care needs to be taken before we lose a resource that is vital to commerce, and that will be essentially impossible to get back when it's gone.
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.”
Employers need employees, so there's reason to applaud initiatives that make our region more attractive as a place to live, work and raise a family. Making neighbourhoods more accessible for people to walk or cycle to work, and making those routes safer, are steps in the right direction.
“We know that people make healthier, greener transportation choices when the options are there,” said Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, who serves as Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.
Last week, the province announced $20 million in funding for the Active Transportation Infrastructure Grants program to help cover costs of multi-use pathways, protected bike lanes, pedestrian bridges and regional connections, as well as lighting, sidewalks and other safety improvements. Greater Victoria projects include:
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.
The planned RapidBus route between the West Shore and downtown Victoria will be a game changer for commuters when it launches April 10.
The service will run every 15 minutes, making the ride more convenient. That's key for convincing people to leave their cars at home. Buses will run between 7am and 10pm Monday to Saturday and 8am to 10pm on Sundays. There will be additional buses during peak times on weekdays to improve customer experience, BC Transit said.
"Smart regional transportation is important for businesses that depend on staff being able to get to the workplace," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Taking the bus instead of a car is much better environmentally, especially with BC Transit's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its fleet."
Housing supply is a hot topic as many regions compete for skilled workers. The demand is especially high for homes accessible to people who earn a living in Greater Victoria's economy. One of the solutions is to think about workforce housing as an investment that directly benefits our region's employers. Last week, BC Housing announced the Capital Regional District Housing Corporation project in the City of Langford is now open. The five-storey wood-framed building at 2782 Spencer Rd. includes 58 rental units for families and individuals.
BC Housing also announced 72 new units in the City of Victoria — 51 affordable housing and 21 supportive units — are open at 210 Gorge Rd. in partnership with the Cool Aid Society. A five-storey wood-framed building as well, the Victoria site includes ground-floor offices that include supports that will help residents become more employable and make the community safer.
“We are already seeing the positive impact of this unique project," Victoria Cool Aid Society CEO Kathy Stinson said in a news release. "Families, single people, seniors and people who need supports are getting to know one another, which is having the desired effect of helping to reduce the stigma around homelessness and creating a sense of community for everyone who lives there.”