Join The Chamber for a discussion with the Vancouver Island Transportation Corridor Coalition and Island Corridor Foundation on the work done towards identifying the need for, and public interest in, reinstating Island Rail Service.
"The provincial government is quickly approaching a critical decision point and must provide an answer on the future of the Island corridor by March 14," said coalition representative Paul Robinson, noting that reinstating Island rail service could help the Island's tourism economy and get more vehicles off the roads. "VITCC believes that rail is, by far, the most equitable mode of ground-based transportation as there are no age, health, ability, income impediments, and no requirements for vehicle operator ownership, licensing, and associated expenses."
The Chamber will be leading the discussion on rail as part of our role in The Island Chamber Advocacy Alliance, connecting business across the Island.
This free, virtual event is open to members of Chambers across Vancouver Island.
Island Corridor Foundation: Member since 2020
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.
After a trying two years, the cruise ship sector made a spectacular comeback in Greater Victoria. The 2022 season was the best yet recorded, with 329 cruise ships stopping at Ogden Point.
The industry was shut down as the pandemic hit. The stoppage even raised questions about whether ships would be back in Victoria, but hard work and effective advocacy by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and The Chamber has paid off.
Next year could be even better. GVHA CEO Ian Robertson told the Times Colonist he's predicting one million cruise ship passengers will visit Victoria in 2023. That would be a leap from the 715,000 arrivals this year, but cruise operators are excited about being back in our region. There are 340 ships already confirmed, Robertson said.
Before this year, the record for most visits was 257 in 2019.
The RapidBus service between the West Shore and downtown Victoria is expected to launch in early 2023. Construction on Douglas Street is ongoing, BC Transit said.
"RapidBus is transit service that outperforms the personal automobile in speed, comfort and reliability," states BC Transit's website. "It is connected, frequent, fast and reliable."
The idea is to provide faster and more convenient transit to encourage more people to use the bus to commute. The goal is to go from 80,000 daily transit users today to 200,000 by 2038.
The project is included in the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure's South Island Transportation Strategy, released in 2020.
Better transit is one solution for improving transportation planning in Greater Victoria — something The Chamber continues to advocate for.
As we mark the start of fall, tourism and hospitality businesses can look back on a successful summer.
A return of customers kept many restaurants operating at capacity, though they did face other constraints. A lack of staff and a public sector strike that made stocking liquor a challenge cast a shadow on a season that many businesses rely on to make it through slower seasons.
Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the BC Restaurant & Food Services Association told CHEK News that many Victoria restaurants operated with 80% of their staff.
The accommodation sector also enjoyed strong season. The latest Victoria Tourism Bulletin from Chemistry Consulting reports that occupancy rates in July were up from 2021 and close to 2018 levels. The average rate for a room was $305 in July, up from $230 in July 2021 and $250 in July 2019.
BC Ferries also reported a return to pre-pandemic levels in vehicles, though there were fewer passengers and buses onboard in July.
The Victoria International Airport welcomed 162,000 passengers, which is getting closer to the 185,000 in July 2019. And the Victoria Conference Centre saw a big increase this year with 8,211 delegate days in July compared to 3,633 in July 2019.
The Chamber applauds the provincial government's initiative to seek public input on plans to rejuvenate Belleville Terminal.
The facility in the Inner Harbour has served as a gateway for international visitors arriving by water since 1924. As a champion of our region's tourism industry, The Chamber has consistently advocated for the terminal and the need to modernize it with the times.
"We've been calling for renovations for decades, and it's taken time to get all levels of government onboard," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "Now that we've done that, there's no time to lose. The requirements to be a border crossing have changed and there's a real risk we could lose our port of entry."
More than 680,000 passengers travelled through Belleville Terminal in 2019 and spent about $174 million in Greater Victoria, says the province's project plan.
Belleville Terminal generates 220,000 overnight visitors and sells over 16,000 vacation packages annually to their passengers, all of which are provided by local businesses in Victoria.
The province is developing a business case for the project. It's expected to cost up to $290 million and be completed by fall 2027.
A temporary terminal will be built until a new facility is ready.
People in Greater Victoria could soon have access to the ride-sharing brand that is ubiquitous in most of the rest of the world.
Uber Canada announced today that it has asked the province's Passenger Transportation Board to allow the company to operate in Greater Victoria and Kelowna. Uber was rejected by the board last year, which was concerned about allowing competition affecting business hurt by pandemic restrictions. However, the new request is for a transfer of licence from a company that was already approved by the board but is not operational.
The Chamber supports Uber's efforts as the company is a recognized global leader in the provision of ridesharing. Their international experience would be a welcome addition to Greater Victoria, particularly as international visitors return to our destination.
Innovation led by business is vital to addressing climate change. A prime example is the work being done by Harbour Air to switch to an all-electric fleet. On Aug. 18, that goal came a little closer as the company celebrated the successful 45 mile flight of a De Havilland Beaver. The plane was completely retrofitted in 2019 to operate using 100% electricity.
“I am excited to report that this historic flight on the ePlane went exactly as planned” said Kory Paul, Harbour Air’s Vice President of Flight Operations.
To stay up to speed on the latest progress from Harbour Air, go to ePlane Updates.
A new hotel has been proposed at the Victoria International Airport.
“We see the addition of a hotel at this location as a logical fit and a great new amenity for the airport and community,” Victoria Airport Authority’s President and CEO Geoff Dickson said in a news release. “It is an opportunity for Victoria International Airport to further diversify its revenue base which has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic.”
The proposal is for a 129-room New TownePlace Suites by Marriott.
Construction is expected to begin in 2023 and the hotel will include a restaurant, meeting space, pool and gym.
As a globally connected nation, Canada depends on reliable international supply chains to make sure businesses have the goods needed for their customers. The pandemic and last year's series of climate emergencies provided tough lessons in the importance of building resiliency in our supply chains. To better prepare for future shocks, the federal government created the National Supply Chain Task Force.
"The Task Force is to report to government within 100 days, which is fast approaching," states a news release from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. "As the Task Force finalizes its interim report, the business community is looking for a partner to address the preventable items hindering our transportation systems."
The chamber network is calling on the federal government to prioritize infrastructure and economic growth. In Greater Victoria, we are part of the Western Gateway for goods entering Canada and the Greater Victoria Chamber continues to call for investment in infrastructure on the Island.
The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is preparing to welcome the nine millionth passenger to the Victoria Cruise Ship Terminal at Ogden Point. The lucky passenger arrives Friday afternoon.
"Many businesses in Greater Victoria provide services for cruise ships and their passengers, and welcoming the ninth million unique visitor shows how much the work of these businesses has made our region appealing to travellers," Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams said. "As travel opens up around the world, we are proud to see Greater Victoria has earned its place as a preferred destination for cruise ships."
The ten millionth cruise ship passenger is expected in Victoria by 2024.
BC Ferries is offering advice to help travellers navigate the unique challenges of a weekend book ended by national holidays in Canada and the US.
Expect heavy traffic, book early and be patient are a few of the suggestions. Other tips include planning to travel mid-weekend to avoid the heaviest traffic and planning ahead to beat the heat while waiting for your ship to arrive.
A surge in the supply of goods from overseas over the next few months could see retailers offering discounts if they suddenly need to balance inventory with demand.
North American ports have faced major disruptions over the past few years, with BC's main port in Vancouver ranked among the most inefficient in the world in 2021. The only ports that fared worse in the Container Port Performance Index were on the US West Coast.
The uncertainty caused by the pandemic and volatile trade conditions has made it more difficult to manage the arrival of goods from overseas. The situation is improving but it will take time for supply chain networks to return to previous efficiencies. This might be good news for consumers and help reduce inflationary pressure but will mean many businesses need to remain nimble and adjust their overseas purchases.
It's also a reminder of the importance of supporting local producers who are less affected by shipping disruptions. As well, the proposal to improve the deep sea port facility at Port Alberni represents a tremendous opportunity for the Island and the entire province.
A renewed call to protect the Island Rail Corridor is being made to the Capital Regional District today, June 15.
The Town of View Royal voted last week to ask the provincial and federal governments to commit to maintaining the corridor. In a 2021 ruling, the BC Court of Appeal gave the federal government until March 2023 to clarify its intentions for the future of the corridor. The Island Corridor Foundation has released a business case for restoring rail service. All that's needed is the political will to make it happen.
“We want to bring real focus to this problem that we need to solve, and we need the upper levels of government to solve it with us,” View Royal Mayor David Screech told the Goldstream News Gazette.
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.
Capital Bike is hoping to inspire more people to choose bikes to get where they need to go. Go By Bike Week runs May 30 to June 5, and anyone can participate as individuals or by registering as a team. The week-long event, previously known as Bike to Work Week, is a great chance for co-workers to boost their mental and physical health in a collaborative and fun way. Capital Bike is planning Celebration Stations along popular bike routes with more than $20,000 in prizes available.
The Chamber hosted BC Ferries President and CEO Mark Collins last week, with more than 60 business leaders at the Coast Victoria Hotel & Marina by APA.
“We had a highly engaged audience who learned about ongoing efforts to electrify the ferry fleet and reduce greenhouse gas and noise emissions," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said, adding that many employers in the room were also keenly interested in BC Ferries work to find and keep workers. The recent addition of 500 new employees helped the corporation add more than 100 extra sailings for the Victoria Day Weekend.
City of Colwood Mayor Rob Martin, who attended the meeting, stood up to eloquently ask everyone in the room to call on the province to fund a formal study of a commuter ferry between Royal Bay and downtown Victoria. The concept is supported by BC Ferries and The Chamber, and now requires political will to become a reality.
“The Chamber has a long history of working with BC Ferries to connect this vital Island link with leaders in Greater Victoria’s business community and it was great to hold another successful in person meeting,” Williams said of the May 12 Business Leaders Luncheon, sponsored by Seaspan Victoria Shipyards.
If you're flying out of Victoria International Airport, be prepared to get there early and have plenty of patience. The airport's website recently added a live update for the current wait time to get through security screening to help passengers plan ahead. The website currently suggests domestic travellers arrive 90 minutes before their flight, while international travellers give themselves two hours.
A pent-up demand to travel has resulted in long lines at airports across Canada. "This follows two tumultuous years that resulted in a significant number of layoffs throughout the aviation industry, including the security-screening workforce," states a news release from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.
Record-breaking gas prices are the latest challenge for businesses that need to transport goods across our region. The cost per litre of regular gas hit $2.219 this week. That compares to $1.526 in December. The rapid increase is partly linked to global shortages caused by sanctions on Russian energy supplies after the invasion of Ukraine. However, supply issues existed before the war began and are expected to become more of a concern as demand for gas increases in the summer.
The sudden jump in gas prices has led to spirited debate in BC's Legislature, and highlighted efforts to switch to alternative fuels.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made several appearances in Greater Victoria on Monday, including a meeting with City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps to talk about housing affordability, climate change and the opioid crisis.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister was at Royal Roads University to speak about the federal government's effort to increase sales of electric vehicles and the number of charging stations.
The PMO announced it wants 60% of all new vehicles sales to be electric by 2030, and 100% by 2035.
The cruise ship season is expected to begin Saturday with the arrival of Holland America's Koningsdam.
The season was initially set to kick off today, but, as we've come to expect over the last two years, the arrival of the Caribbean Princess has been delayed out of an abundance of precaution.
"We're learning to live with COVID-19, and that means we can expect occasional hiccups," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said. "We are in good place, with the vast majority of people protected through immunization against serious illness. However, The Chamber supports the work of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority to put safety first as it welcomes a new cruise ship season."
Last fall, The Chamber was part of a multi-organization effort to work with government to ensure cruise ships would be back in 2022. At the time, the GVHA estimated 759,000 passengers will visit our region aboard 350 ships from now until November.
For an up-to-date schedule of cruise ship arrivals at Ogden Point, go to gvha.ca.
“The start of cruise ship season is another sign that Greater Victoria is reconnecting with the world,” Williams said. “International visitors provide a significant boost to our region’s economic ecosystem, which truly flourishes when all sectors are able to achieve their potential. It’s exhilarating to once again show off our spectacular corner of the world to travellers. On behalf of all Chamber members, I’m thrilled to welcome the first passengers back to Greater Victoria.”
Transportation services such as commuter buses were hit hard by pandemic restrictions.
BC Transit is reporting ridership levels have recovered to about 70% of pre-pandemic levels. To ensure the service can carry on until it's fully recovered, the federal and provincial governments announced $28 million in relief. The governments are also providing $176 million to Translink on the Lower Mainland.
To help British Columbians deal with high gas prices, ICBC announced last week it is providing drivers with a one-time $110 rebate ($160 for commercial drivers).
Rising fuel prices — caused by what Premier John Horgan called "Putin's illegal war in Ukraine" — have made life more expensive and led to calls for the province to reduce fuel taxes. And while consumers will welcome the rebate, there are concerns that the cash back from ICBC could increase demand for fuel. A better solution, some economists say, would be to focus relief on commercial vehicles facing higher costs — costs that will inevitably be added to the price of goods and services.
The ICBC rebate will be directly deposited in customer's accounts or applied to their credit card, depending on how they pay for vehicle insurance. ICBC will not text or email information about the rebate and warns customers to be vigilant about fraud attempts.
A lack of crew has forced Washington State ferries to suspend its Sidney-to-Anacortes ferry until at least the end of summer. The service carried 135,000 people in 2019 before the border was closed to non-essential travel between the US and Canada at the start of the pandemic.
"International service to and from Sidney, BC remains suspended until further notice due to continued significant crewing and vessel availability challenges," reads a statement by the Washington State Department of Transportation.