By Catherine Holt , CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
There’s nothing like a summer night by the Inner Harbour to remind you our region’s focal point is downtown Victoria. On any weekend there are a remarkable number of locals and visitors taking in festivals, enjoying restaurants or having a stroll. All because it’s a beautiful and safe place to be.
We value a peaceful, functional community and we need good policing to manage the things that can disrupt or threaten our community standard.
As the region’s population grows — we had 386,000 citizens in 2016 and forecasts by the Capital Regional District call for about 450,000 by 2030 — the challenge to maintain a great little city will intensify.
As CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, I’m all for efficiency and budgeting oversight. Policing costs must be controlled, especially as population grows. But does it make sense for the Victoria police chief to have the never-ending job of trying to wring enough money out of Victoria and Esquimalt councils to keep the department from imploding?
We have four municipal police services in the region: Oak Bay, Central Saanich, Saanich and Victoria. And RCMP detachments in Sooke, North Saanich/Sidney and the West Shore.
Victoria and Saanich are committed to a Citizens’ Assembly exploring the benefits and costs of amalgamation (and where are they with that, anyway?). An obvious top-of-the-list topic for the assembly is a combined police force.
I am going to boldly assert that Victoria and Saanich are the urban and suburban parts of a single community with an indistinguishable and inexplicable border dividing them. With this in mind, let’s look at a few facts.
The Police Services Division in the B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General publishes statistics on every police department in the province. Their latest numbers are from 2017-18. Plus every municipality publishes budget numbers.
I’m using the ones from 2018. This is not a perfect alignment but close enough to make informed comparisons. I’ve also included Esquimalt as it is served by, and pays for, the Victoria Police Department.
Saanich has about 116,000 people, compared with 86,000 in Victoria and 17,000 in Esquimalt.
Saanich has a larger municipal budget — $291.3 million compared with $241 million for Victoria and $42.4 million for Esquimalt.
But Saanich’s police budget is $42 million and accounts for 14.4 per cent of its total municipal budget. Victoria’s police budget is $53.9 million, which is 23.3 per cent of the city budget. Esquimalt contributes $7.9 million for policing, or about 18.6 per cent of its total budget.
And Saanich has fewer police officers with 161, compared with 245 serving Victoria and Esquimalt.
Saanich’s crime rate is about one-third of Victoria/Esquimalt (35 vs. 104 incidents per 1,000 residents), and it has a lower caseload per police officer (25 vs. 44).
Saanich also has a much lower cost per capita. Saanich citizens each pay about $362 for policing, compared with $626 per Victorian and $464 for each Esquimalt resident.
So Saanich has more people, more money and a bigger budget but lower policing costs, fewer officers and fewer cases per officer. To be clear, there is much more to the daily toil of police officers than working on “cases,” but it is one way to measure relative workload.
If Saanich’s police officers are fully employed with 25 cases each, what does it suggest when an average Victoria police officer has 44 cases?
The per capita cost is also a disturbing stat. As the regional hub, Victoria’s police officers are responsible for the safety of the many Saanich residents who commute downtown or spend their evenings in the city. Eighty per cent of the daily traffic arriving in Victoria is from Saanich.
So why do the citizens of Victoria pay almost twice as much for policing as the citizens of Saanich?
What happens when we combine forces and treat Victoria and Saanich as one municipality? The numbers suggest a more balanced distribution of police costs and responsibilities:
Or just a unit to reduce crime by tracking prolific repeat offenders, like the one the Victoria chief just disbanded to use those resources to try and keep up with an overwhelming number of 911 calls.
Greater Victoria’s numerous police departments have tried to achieve a more specialized level of policing by creating 40 joint committees to share information and resources on matters such as forensics, road safety, sexual predators and serious crime. But it’s voluntary and the sharing stops and starts as priorities change.
So, we continue to have four municipal police forces and three RCMP detachments with 40 committees, as well as plans for a new $24-million shared radio system so they can talk to each other. And, this year, a new $13-million South Island 911/Police Dispatch Centre in Saanich housing 70 staff transferred from three existing police dispatch services. It receives every 911 call in the region and dispatches the appropriate police service.
Wouldn’t one police service be easier than all this?
Let me put it another way. According to Chief Del Manak, on Tuesday, June 25, at 7 p.m., dispatchers at the new 911 centre had 46 calls on hold waiting for VicPD officers, who could not keep up with demand.
At that time, how many calls were on hold for Saanich police? Were there police officers in the suburbs with time on their hands?
For the sake of safety in our region, shouldn’t they be responding to those calls?
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on July 14, 2019.
Catherine Holt is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
I would like to add to the growing concern in this community about the populist tactics of City of Victoria Councillor Ben Isitt (see “Isitt is playing a political game that we have seen before” by Alan Allnut) from the perspective of business and the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair recently provided an excellent description of the risk of populist politics while commenting on Brexit, a tragic waste, and growing threat to British parliamentary democracy. Brexit leaders are textbook populists who intentionally create confrontation to divide people into opposing camps. The job of each camp then becomes to discredit everyone in the other camp and to suggest their viewpoint and participation in public discourse is not valid and, ultimately, they should be excluded from participation in society and government. The aim is that only one camp, with one viewpoint – their’s – is left standing.
Whether led from the left or the right, that outcome is always dangerous. It’s an ego-driven approach to leadership — look for someone to blame and to defeat, rather than a solution.
Here’s the other trap when dealing with populists: most of us in life, politics and business, are looking for a way to get along with people and make things work — not to attack them. We value democracy, free speech and public participation. So when a populist comes along, we are in a tough spot. Do we take their bait and address their extreme views, or do we maintain a dignified silence and hope their provocative language and fringe views speak for themselves?
The risk of staying silent is that they get more strident with time and gain credibility because no one is opposing them.
The Chamber is explicitly non-partisan and we do our best to work with, and to critique, all parties and levels of government. We advocate for a strong economy and safe and healthy community. We seek real solutions for issues such as housing affordability, street drug overdoses and climate change. We try not to make it personal or single out individuals for their political tactics.
But when Ben Isitt chose to attack a legitimate and popular business for no gain other than his own, we decided it was time to end our dignified silence.
The last straw for us was Isitt’s targeting of the horse carriage industry.
In sharp contrast to Isitt, Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe has spent countless hours listening to public concerns and looking at evidence. For many years, she has worked with these businesses to get answers and make improvements as needed. Her pro-active approach has resulted in a horse carriage industry that is supported by horse experts and animal advocates, and can be a model for such operations around the world.
All of those efforts were disregarded and disrespected by Isitt when he brought forward his motion to ban the industry.
It was classic populism. A dramatic gesture that forced people to takes sides, and used emotion to trump reason.
The result would not improve an industry that, by all accounts, is well-run. Rather, it would be — as Donna Friedlander the owner of Tally-Ho Carriage Tours put it — “equivalent to sentencing our companies and our horses to a long drawn-out, complex and heart-wrenching death.”
As we know, what did happen was a groundswell from organizations like ourselves and members of the public that chose to abandon their dignified silence and push back.
Before council could vote on the motion, there was a protest outside city hall. Many speakers addressed council late into the night. It was unnecessary confrontation leading to a necessary outcome.
The matter has now been delayed, and I choose to believe Victoria council will find a way to move past this non-issue and get on with the real priorities facing the city.
However, Councillor Isitt continues. Most recently he responded to criticism of his suggestion that Veterans Affairs and Department of Defence fund policing for Remembrance Day with a ludicrous characterization of this newspaper as being in cahoots with “neo-fascist ‘alt-right’ formations.” As Allnut said in his column, maligning the media whenever they don’t agree with your viewpoint is a tactic used by the grand-daddy of all populists, President Trump.
I like to think people eventually get fed up with leaders who stir up negative emotions and pull them into artificial camps to make false choices. We expect all local politicians to look beyond their echo chambers, listen to a diversity of voices, and make informed decisions in the best interest of our city and region.
We need less drama and more results.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on June 15, 2019.
Local governments make decisions that directly impact our daily lives. From maintaining sidewalks in front of our homes and businesses, to setting property tax rates and making rezoning decisions that can profoundly affect the character of our neighbourhoods.
It’s important work, though too often the tasks at hand don’t seem to be enough for some councillors.
Take the widely publicized decision by Victoria Council to champion a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry. The idea was to have industry pay for costs attributed to climate change. This was an outsized overstep that played well to the choir but prompted everything from eye rolls to outright anger outside the echo chamber.
At the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, we expressed our concern with a letter to council asking them to rethink their decision.
First and foremost, launching a lawsuit against industry is not a good use of city taxpayers’ money.
Victoria council recently went through its first budget since last year’s civic elections. One third of council is brand new to the job, so we can understand their enthusiasm. But turning to legal action to try and fulfill your political mandate is not good leadership.
Lawyers are expensive, and going through the courts is a time-consuming process that will, barring a miracle, take longer than council’s current term. All that, and the outcome is far from certain — in other jurisdictions, similar attempts at litigation have been dismissed.
To her credit, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps acknowledged as much even before the city’s resolution to consider litigation against fossil fuel companies was soundly struck down at the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention on April 14.
Secondly, our region’s economy benefits from being a welcoming destination for all Canadians, including those from Alberta whose livelihood depends on revenue generated from the oil patch. Having a major source market threaten to boycott our region should give the city a pause — especially as they don’t speak for the residents of the other 12 municipalities that make up Greater Victoria.
The thing is, Victoria has already identified a way forward.
In the City’s Climate Leadership Plan, Mayor Helps states that her vision for Victoria will see us driven by amazing entrepreneurs who “leapt at the challenge to innovate and invent the goods and technologies needed for a clean-energy future.”
The Chamber agrees that the answer lies in innovation led by business. We will continue to encourage all levels of government to focus on supporting the investments required to bring about the technological advances and societal uptake needed to become a low carbon society.
Business wants to be part of the solution, and the best thing all levels of government can do is create the conditions that enable innovation. When it comes to climate change, we are all in this together.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
This column was originally published in the April 2019 edition of the Business Examiner
What does it mean to be influential?
At The Chamber, we recently rewrote our vision statement to set a goal of being “the most diverse and influential business association in the region.”
For our board and staff, this means we are actively looking for members who reflect the diversity of our community — big and small businesses, established firms and start-ups, every industry and any sector. We want to connect with organizations led by people from many cultural backgrounds, any gender and all ages. If we’re diverse, we’re in a great position to be influential.
However, I had a lightbulb moment while moderating a panel at the Inclusion Project, a conference held at Royal Roads University on March 30. The event is the brainchild of Ruth Mojeed, a recent grad from RRU’s Masters of Arts in Intercultural and International Communication, who arrived in Victoria from Nigeria in 2015. The goal is to start a dialogue that will result in a greater diversity of people included in the success of Greater Victoria. The room was packed with 170 people from an impressive array of backgrounds. Gender, race and age were the themes of the day and we had a very heartfelt and energetic conversation about improving inclusion.
It struck me that, for many people, diversity does not translate into influence in the way we think of it at The Chamber.
If you’re a newcomer to the community, or your definition of gender is outside the mainstream, or you’re seen as “too young” or “too old” you will too often feel the opposite of influence, which is powerlessness.
To think of it another way, having influence is similar to having information. For some, that means holding it close so only you can wield it. You use information to have power over others.
We see this in fields where acronyms and jargon are only understood by an inner circle — the military, engineering, accounting, IT, medicine and science come to mind. Information as a tool of exclusion. You need to be inside the echo chamber to know what’s going on.
For others, information needs to be shared in order to have power over public opinion or political choices, or global trends, or just your friends and family and co-workers. Being seen as a source of beneficial information can be very powerful. It is the mindset of people, like me, who were trained as journalists. Information enables inclusion.
Influence is kind of the same. You can claim to be influential because you are part of a small group that only talks among itself, and only helps each other make connections to those with the power to make decisions.
Or you can be influential because you have a vast and varied network of connections. You always know someone who knows someone who knows whatever you need to find out or are trying to get to happen. And you can influence things through sheer numbers, volume of voices or impact of votes. The more people you know, and the more diverse those people are, the more influence you have.
It seems blatantly obvious that influence by inclusion is a more rational approach than influence by exclusion.
But that is not the lesson of history.
I realized with concern, when The Chamber says it wants to be the most influential business association in the region, many people attending the Inclusion Project might take this to mean we are an old-style echo chamber for insiders.
I was at the Inclusion Project to try to demonstrate the opposite. Our board and our membership is very clear that The Chamber works best when you walk into one of our events and feel a connection to like-minded people while also getting the sense you are about to expand your network and point of view by meeting someone different.
As our Director of Operations says, The Chamber didn’t get to be 156 years old without changing with the times. Inclusion is the change happening now.
By 2034, 100 per cent of population growth in Canada will be from immigration. Our top 10 source countries in Victoria in the last census period were the Philippines, China, U.S., U.K., India, South Korea, Mexico, Iran, Germany and South Africa. And we need them to fill the 150,000 job vacancies expected on Vancouver Island in the next 10 years — mostly due to retirements.
Canada has a history of absorbing waves of immigrants under one big tent. Being inclusive is not without its challenges, but it will be our global strength if we manage it well while other countries struggle to insulate their echo chambers.
The Chamber has a pretty diverse board and membership now. Of course, we can always do better. We want to be a big tent, too.
Tell your friends.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on April 21, 2019.
Mind the gap. That was the message the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce presented to Victoria City Council earlier this year.
Chamber Chair Dan Dagg and I went to the preliminary budget town hall to provide a voice for business. We wanted the newly elected councillors to know that businesses help create the vibrancy we love about Victoria. Businesses consist of people who provide employment and services and cannot be seen as an inexhaustible source of tax revenue.
In 2019, rising commercial property values have added another variable to the role municipal councils have in setting property tax rates. The Chamber advocates for tax fairness and has been working to shine a light on the higher property tax rates all 13 Greater Victoria municipalities charge businesses compared to residents.
Local governments set their annual budgets by determining how much they need to spend to deliver services to their citizens. After accounting for revenue from sources such as user fees, municipalities use property taxes to generate most of the cash needed to ensure they can balance their budgets.
The two largest classes of properties are residential and business (commercial). Councils must balance the need to keep taxes affordable for citizens with the need to encourage investment and commercial development by not overburdening businesses.
What The Chamber has noticed is a trend in recent years for municipalities to minimize increases to residents by offloading increasing costs to businesses. This was evident in rising tax multiples – for example, in 2016, Victoria charged businesses a tax rate that was 3.1 times the rate charged to residents. This multiple increased to 3.4 in 2017 and 3.5 in 2018. In Saanich, the multiple has climbed from 3.5 in 2016 to 3.9 in 2017 and 4.3 last year.
The impact of a rising multiple has been amplified in the last few years with residential property values soaring while business property values trailed behind.
This year, the opposite has occurred in a number of BC jurisdictions causing a backlash against BC Assessment, which determines the annual value of all properties in the province.
In Saanich, for example, residential properties have increased by an average of 10% while business properties have increased by an average of 20%.
This means that even though municipalities show a decrease to their multiple, the actual tax bill facing businesses could very well still go up.
Greater Victoria municipalities are in the midst of finalizing their budgets, and must adopt a final budget by May 15. The Chamber will continue to track tax rates and urges councils to consider the actual bill they will burden businesses with before setting their budgets.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
This column was originally published in the Business Examiner's April edition.
An event I was at shortly after International Women’s Day was exciting because of what did not happen. I have been waiting for this particular thing to not happen my whole adult life.
It was a very well organized and well attended reception hosted by Pearson College for senior representatives of United World Colleges International, in town for their biannual meeting.
The leaders giving speeches included Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, who is a UWC alumnus; Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin; and Pearson College president Desiree McGraw. Other leaders were acknowledged, including Pearson College chair and former deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean.
You’ll notice that all of those leaders are women. That’s not what I found remarkable.
The remarkable thing was that no one commented on it. It didn’t come up.
I’m aware that my commentary on this lack of commentary might seem contradictory. But what I’m saying is: Maybe we’ve finally got to the point where those who make the decision to appoint, hire or recruit a woman can stop congratulating themselves for taking some kind of perceived risk when they give a woman an opportunity historically reserved for a man.
A decade or two ago, all of the women I mentioned would have been seen as groundbreaking — and there probably would have been no more than one woman on stage. Certainly, all these positions were held by men for a long time. Have you seen the wall of official photos of mayors of Victoria at city hall? Dozens and dozens of men, plus Gretchen Brewin from 1985 to 1990 and now Helps.
It’s hard to be the only one, the first one, the pioneer, the exception, the risk. That takes a brave person. Not just a competent, experienced, capable person, but someone who is willing to risk public scrutiny, criticism and humiliation.
After the first woman comes and goes, and then the second and the third, it is no longer news. Over the past 20 years, many of these positions have been held by women. It’s much more comfortable being one of a long line, one of many, the normal, the expected. And that’s what happened at this event.
Of course, we still have a long way to go. According to the recent report titled The Best and Worst Places in Canada to be a Woman in 2019, by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, women in Victoria earn, on average, 75 per cent of what men earn. As well, 70 per cent of female workers have full-time jobs compared with 85 per cent of male workers. Only six per cent of women work in management roles. The lack of accessible and affordable child care continues to have a disproportionate financial impact on women.
Despite this, Victoria ranks as the third best city for women in Canada. That’s due to our high ranking when it comes to leadership. Women account for 43 per cent of local elected officials. The City of Victoria has five women out of nine positions on council.
The presence of so many women in leadership positions will surely help normalize it in those places that are lagging behind. Are we finally approaching a time in Canada where we recognize that all walks of life do best when the best are allowed to lead — in business, politics, science, education, trades, sports and arts?
In the face of so much bad news on International Women’s Day about the desperate situations for many women in this world, in many cultures and religions and countries that seem stuck in another millennium, I’m glad to have this sign of hope.
When the leadership of women is not remarkable but normal, that is true equality.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on March 24, 2019.
By Catherine Holt, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce cares deeply about the safety of our community. It’s the foundation all citizens rely on to function. At the moment we’re not sure it’s headed in the right direction.
At the recent Victoria Budget Town Hall, the most controversial topic was the police budget. Some asked the City to reduce police officers, while others urged it to hire more. Both sides believe they want the right thing for the citizens of Victoria.
However, the result is we’re now into the second year the police budget is trapped between two municipal decision-makers and the police board. Last year, Esquimalt voted not to provide its share of the increase requested by the police board. And, this year, Victoria is sending the budget back to the board for a revision that the police chief says will actually reduce police resources once inflation, population growth and the EHT are accounted for.
That creates an impasse. When the mayors send the budget back to the police board, they are sending it back to themselves — because they are the co-chairs of the board and they approved it in the first place.
This has unnerving similarities to the regional sewage treatment project, which spent years suspended between municipalities that didn’t want to host sewage treatment facilities and the Capital Regional District, provincial and federal governments, which insisted it was required. At one point, we had the mayor of Esquimalt chairing the CRD when it approved its sewage treatment plan — and the same mayor voting against the CRD plan along with her municipal council.
That happened because a bad governance design by the Province plagues the regional district by allowing local government representatives to play conflicting roles. The impasse was only fixed by the Province stepping in with a separate project board with decision-making authority.
With police board governance, the culprit is Section 25 of the BC Police Act. It forces mayors to chair their municipal police force. No exceptions. Even if a mayor has been convicted of a crime, is married to the police chief or just doesn’t want to find themselves in conflict with their role as mayor, he or she is the chair of the police board. Period.
Civilian oversight of the police is a necessary principle. Obligating mayors to chair the police board is not necessary and leads to the ridiculous situation the police budget is now in.
I know because I was on the Victoria Police Board for a term many years ago and saw this conflicted governance situation firsthand.
If you want a high functioning board, there are a few essential qualities you need in an appointed chair: knowledge of what they will be governing, governance expertise and independence from the organization’s operations.
Mayors get elected to do good things for their community. Mayors Helps and Desjardin were both handily reelected in the fall, which is evidence they are doing their mayoral jobs well. But no mayoral candidate runs to be chair of the police board and they don’t meet the criteria. So why does the Province force them into it?
Section 25 also, inexplicably, prevents mayors from stepping aside if they can’t carry out their responsibility to the board. Normally, with other boards, the chair can be excused temporarily or permanently if they can’t fulfill their responsibilities. But the mayor is the police board chair come hell or high water.
This caused problems with the board’s disciplinary action regarding two previous police chiefs. To sum up those situations as simply as I can, there were concerns the mayors worked too closely with the police chiefs to be objective about their behavior. The public perception was the mayors avoided doing the right thing by not handing their responsibilities over to an uninvolved third party. The reality was, because of Section 25, they had no legal ability to do so.
The current police budget impasse further highlights the shortcomings of Section 25. How can the mayor credibly approve something in one forum and then reject it or criticize it in another? The police board should be free to submit the budget it thinks is credible and necessary, and the mayor and council should be free to critique it and approve it, or not, without having the objectivity of both processes compromised because they are led by the same individuals.
A solution is to have the Province fix Section 25 so that the police board chair is a highly qualified citizen appointed by the mayor and council — as is the case with Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto.
And keeping mayors at arm’s length from oversight of the police department will free them to fulfill their responsibilities to consult with the taxpayers and determine how much they are willing to pay for policing, and get on with it.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on Jan. 31, 2019.
By Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Catherine Holt
A mission statement should capture the reason an organization exists, while its vision statement explains what it will become if it achieves its aspirations.
Summing up these concept in short, memorable phrases helps an organization focus its time and resources. If your organization is going through this process you might find it helpful to learn how The Chamber came up with our new statements.
Last fall, we worked with our board of directors ona mission and vision that will guide us for the next four years.
We decided our mission is that we are: Working together to build good business and great community.
This statement expresses a number of important things about The Chamber.
Members work together to help each other with business and community contributions, as well as personal challenges. As an organization, we work with other associations and community leaders who are taking an active role in ensuring our region prospers.
We also build good business. This phrase has two meanings that capture the spirit and intent of The Chamber. We want our members to prosper, to be doing “good business.” We also want to make the right kind of contributions to our community. Good business is positive and important.
Building great community means more than helping the “business community.” That’s a label I don’t agree with or understand. Business is an essential part of community and we shouldn’t separate the two.
Businesses contribute in ways that make our region a better place. They donate, sponsor, volunteer, mentor, advise, lead, invest, employ and pay taxes. All these contributions help make Greater Victoria a great community.
If we succeed at working together to build good business and great community, we will achieve our vision: The Chamber is the region’s most diverse and influential business association.
As with the mission, the vision should resonate with anyone who wants to understand who we are and what we hope to be.
There are a few important concepts embedded in our vision statement. First, we see ourselves as advocating for the whole region. That’s why our name is the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
To do that, we have to be diverse. We work on behalf of businesses from all 13 local municipalities and beyond. We include big organizations and small businesses. We need long-time members who provide stability, and new members who bring ideas that constantly rejuvenate us. We also want to represent every sector: retail and hospitality, tech, arts, sports, manufacturing, professional services, finance, education, public and not-for-profit.
And we need a diversity of faces at our events and around our board and committee tables. We want everyone who supports the mission of The Chamber to have the opportunity to work together, including new arrivals, indigenous people, young and old, men and women and everyone in between. We benefit from every additional point-of-view and personal contribution.
Diversity and inclusiveness create the pathway that enables us to be the influential business association we aspire to be.
This column was originally published in the January 2019 edition of the Business Examiner
By Catherine Holt,
CEO, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
I read in the Times Colonist that home assessments in our region will be up five to 10 per cent this year. That’s good news because it’s lower than previous, more shocking, increases.
The median house price in the region in 2015 was $550,000. In 2018, it’s about $780,000 — a 42 per cent increase.
The median condo in 2015 was $270,000. In 2018, it’s $410,000 — a 52 per cent increase.
The median after-tax household income in 2015 (last census) was about $61,000. Wages have been going up at about the rate of inflation, around two per cent, so that would mean median household income in 2018 is about $66,000.
What those numbers say about our housing market is that the people earning the average income are no longer the people buying the average home.
The employers I talk to at The Chamber are challenged to find staff. It appears to be the single largest constraint on economic growth in our region. A major obstacle is the price of housing, which is why The Chamber advocates for affordable and available workforce housing.
This is a separate issue from “homelessness.” Homelessness is shorthand for the difficult set of issues that surround mental illness and addictions and the resulting inability to earn a living and find a home. It’s a very important social issue in our region, aggravated by the high cost and scarcity of housing, but it‘s not the same issue as affordable housing for the working population.
Having to reduce business hours, say no to a contract or put aside the idea of opening another location because potential employees can’t find suitable housing in Victoria is an economic issue.
Until the last decade, our region had housing prices that matched the ability of a two-income family to pay a 25-year mortgage using 25 to 30 per cent of their income. That is the long- standing Canadian model, and it is still the model for most of the country — housing is built and priced for the people who live and work in a community.
But our real estate market has become increasingly detached from our labour market. It’s becoming more of a national and international commodity than a local one. Given the size of the international demand for land in a safe haven, that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
Governments can try to moderate real estate prices through measures like the province’s speculation tax, foreign-buyers’ tax or the long-standing property transfer tax. Those measures likely helped moderate the increase in assessed values this year, but they won’t bring the cost of real estate down to match local incomes.
Many in the real estate industry say we’re lacking supply. That suggests if you build more homes, prices will go down. Maybe. But so far there seems to be lots of building going on yet the prices are only going up. To use an extreme example, multi-million dollar condos do increase our housing supply but still leave local workers out in the cold. Land is expensive, building is expensive, neither of which is likely to change, but at the end of the day we need a supply of workforce housing that is not subject to the vagaries of the real estate market.
This is where the concept of non-market housing comes in. We have it now in many forms.
Student housing is non-market housing. The university builds housing and rents it at the appropriate price to ensure students can afford to attend the university.
Some residences for people on fixed income charge a percentage of income, or a stable, affordable amount, rather than the market rate.
However, the new reality is much more of the working population can’t afford market rates. If you’re a working family with an income of up to $104,000 you can now qualify for government-funded housing offered by not-for-profit housing organizations. That used to be more than enough income to ensure a family could buy a house listed through a real estate agent on MLS.
Non-market housing isn’t a free ride. In many models renters pay about 30 per cent of their gross monthly household income. What it does provide is reliable options for shelter for a reasonable proportion of income.
The good news is many agencies are getting involved. BC Housing, the CRD and local governments are providing funding, land, zoning, financing and other creative solutions. They are incentivizing developers to offer below-market rents and affordable units in their buildings. The University of Victoria is planning 600 additional student housing units that will free up lower-end rental units for workers. The Greater Victoria Housing Society says up to 80 per cent of the units in all its future projects will be workforce housing.
The purpose of non-market housing is to provide a good quality long-term home so that people can have successful careers and families. It’s not the housing solution we’re used to, but it is what we need, if we want to keep our regional economy functioning.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on Dec. 26, 2018.
It’s a familiar refrain at this time of year: shop local because it’s the right thing to do.
Of course, it’s also the smart thing to do (if you’re reading this column, it’s safe to assume you know that).
First of all, spending money at businesses in your community creates jobs. And not just frontline staff and employees. Entrepreneurs take on tremendous risk to set up shop. They work long hours to provide goods and services tailored to our community. The byproducts of those efforts are one-of-a-kind retail and dining experiences that make Greater Victoria such a desirable location to live, work and visit. And while tourism provides a big boost that helps our city punch above our weight, it’s the year-round patronage of local residents that allows small businesses to keep the lights on beyond summer.
Another consideration is that local business people support your quality of life in ways that ordering from eBay or Amazon never will. According to ThinkLocalVictoria.com, as much as “three times more money stays in the local economy when you buy from locally owned businesses.”
When the kids in your neighbourhood need someone to sponsor their sports team or band trip, it’s always local businesses that step up to help. They are also the biggest supporter of charities, non-profits, and all of the organizations we rely on to maintain a healthy and vibrant community.
The great news is there is an appetite for local goods and services. For example, the Island Good campaign, announced last year to help shoppers identify products from Vancouver Island, has exceeded expectations and led to an average 16.4 per cent increase in sales for branded items.
The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance commissioned the initial project, which was designed and led by Victoria’s Hot House Marketing. You might have noticed the new brand at participating grocery stores. The ultimate goal is to mark every product as “grown” or “made on Vancouver Island” so we can more easily find them and buy them.
People want to shop local, even as the way we shop is changing. More and more, consumers are using their smart phones to augment their shopping experience. They want to engage over social media but they also want to enjoy life experiences in their neighbourhoods. We need to embrace this as an opportunity and take advantage of modern methods to reach target markets.
Even the smallest businesses should have a web presence and a listing in The Chamber’s business directory — it really is one of the best ways to help raise your profile by ranking higher in search-engine results. The Chamber directory is also the best guide to local shopping you’ll find!
Enjoy your holiday shopping. Keep it local and help your friends and family. Supporting small businesses will ensure our regional economy continues to remain healthy and vibrant for years to come.
Catherine Holt is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
This column was originally published in the December 2019 edition of the Business Examiner.
By Catherine Holt
CEO, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
I attended an event that was filled with hope and celebration late last month on a topic that isn’t often associated with those words. It was the opening of the Therapeutic Recovery Community in View Royal, operated by Our Place Society and funded by the provincial government as well as many private donors.
It is a game changer for our region.
Not everyone on the street has an addiction and not every addict is on the street — but there is a large overlap. And those are the people who will experience the change.
You’d never know by the outcomes, but we actually have a huge web of services for those experiencing homelessness, mental health issues and addiction. The CRD mapped the services last year and the resulting list, and cost to run them, was astonishing. And yet, the problem of how to help those on our streets and keep our downtown safe for everyone seems more unsolvable than ever.
I hear it all the time. In the same month the new Therapeutic Recovery Community opened, I was on a panel, organized by Our Place during the municipal election, asking local government candidates what they planned to do regarding homelessness (answer: not much). I was also the moderator for a discussion about Safe Communities at the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance annual conference where the panel talked much more about the growth of this problem than about solutions. And I have had a wide variety of business owners, worried about the direction this is all going, asking what The Chamber can do about it.
The best answer I have is to support the Therapeutic Recovery Community.
Last spring, I watched as a young man died before my eyes on Johnson Street from a fentanyl overdose. He was brought back to life by paramedics who deal with that situation every single day. Seeing that changes the way you think about what we can do to keep our community safe.
It needs to be safe for that young man, and those who would have been devastated by his loss. It has to be safe for those who are not housed because they can’t afford rent in this outrageous housing market, and it needs to be safe for tourists, for families and shoppers, for business owners and employees – or we won’t have a downtown worth visiting or living in.
Right now, people on the streets suffering from mental health and addiction are managed by shuffling them between temporary housing, various encampments, jail, hospital, detox or short-term treatment. At the end of any of those interventions, there is nowhere to go but back on the street.
The only thing that seems to exist, anywhere in the world, that really helps people with these problems is the approach taken by long-term therapeutic recovery communities. The original community is San Patrignano, Italy – now 40 years old and continually expanding. It offers addicts a place to live where they are supported and held accountable by their peers. They have a safe home, good work and a healthy lifestyle – not just for days or weeks but for years. It is not-for-profit and it does not charge the participant. But its most important claim to fame is its success rate, as described on its website: “From the research, also validated by medical retroactive tests, show that over 70% of the residents of the Community that have completed the program, have fully reintegrated into society and no longer use any type of drug.”
That is unheard of with current addiction treatment. Most treatment on the Island is in for-profit centres that charge tens of thousands of dollars to desperate families for a few months of treatment. Most of these centres don’t publish information on their success rates, so you know it can’t be good.
Portugal is another role model. In an effort to respond to a crisis-level of drug addiction, it is engaged in a country-wide transformation involving the long-term therapeutic recovery community model, which is showing good results.
Victoria is an empathetic community. We have dedicated a lot of resources to our street population for a long time.
With the rate of fentanyl overdoses we are experiencing now, the Therapeutic Recovery Community is likely the only thing that has a hope of giving those addicted to drugs a route to a new life and – in the process – making our streets safer for everyone.
So let’s all do what we can to support Our Place Society and make this thing a success – for the future of our city and all of us who live here.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on Nov. 18, 2018.
Catherine Holt / Times Colonist
Local governments have more influence in our daily lives than any other level of government. They shape our homes, businesses, neighbourhoods and environment. And though municipal elections are notorious for low turnouts, it’s vital for all of us who care about our community to help choose who will represent us for the next four years.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce is doing its part to help you parse the mayoral candidates in your municipality.
We have sent a list of questions to everyone who might occupy the top spot on their local council. Here are the questions, and why we chose them.
Question 1: Will you narrow the gap between business and residential property taxes?
Businesses are burdened by property taxes that grow at a faster rate than residential taxes. They are now between three and six times higher, depending on the municipality. Only Langford, Victoria and Oak Bay try to control the gap.
As senior levels of government offload costs onto municipalities — the employer’s health tax being added to municipal payrolls, for example — councils squeeze more out of businesses by raising their property taxes.
The reason comes down to votes: Businesses don’t have them and residents do. Taxation without representation has led to revolutions in other places.
We don’t want that — we just want to help businesses survive by having them pay the same amount for the same service as residents.
Question 2: Do you support improving transportation through regional governance, funding, planning and delivery?
From commuting from the West Shore to downtown parking, transportation transcends local borders. All 13 municipalities stumble over each other trying to make our transportation work. The bus is the only functional transportation service we have because it’s run by its own regional commission. We need the same thing for all transportation management.
Without it, things are only going to get worse.
Question 3: Do you support a citizens’ assembly process that empowers the public to decide whether to reduce the number of municipalities in our region?
Saanich and Victoria have agreed to ask their voters this question, which is a tentative step toward creating a bigger and better municipality — a win-win outcome. If voters agree to the idea, a citizens’ assembly takes the process out of the hands of politicians and staff with a self-interest in maintaining the status quo. If the citizens’ assembly recommends a merger, voters would still have to formally approve.
There is more than enough evidence that combining Saanich and Victoria would create a great new municipality with more resources and a higher profile. We like to call it better governance through fewer governments.
The cost of the process is estimated to about the same as one latte per voter.
We think it’s worth it.
Question 4: Businesses in Greater Victoria are having trouble attracting and retaining employees due to the lack of affordable housing. What would you do to help solve this problem?
This is perhaps the biggest issue facing employers in our region and one of the greatest risks to our long-term economic health. Greater Victoria is a desirable place to live, work and visit. We have done well to attract the best and the brightest, and our tech sector continues to blossom. We are a world-class tourist mecca, and our public-service workers provide a bedrock for an economy that has helped turned real-estate investment into a primary industry.
However, there is a flip side to our success. The average salary no longer buys the average home. We need lots of creative non-market solutions that detach the idea of home from the idea of wealth creation.
Question 5: What would you do to improve the relationship between municipalities in our region and the provincial and federal governments?
Victoria is the seat of British Columbia’s government, which potentially gives local politicians tremendous access to the levers of provincial power. And few major infrastructure projects get off the ground without financial support from Ottawa. We need politicians who know how to work those levers to ensure the region gets its fair share of investment.
Question 6: Do you support secure and long-term funding for tourism marketing and sales through the Municipal and Regional District Tax system?
We’re asking the last question on behalf of our community partners at Destination Greater Victoria. The chamber has long recognized the value of the tourism sector to our region. In fact, the local tourism bureau started as a committee of the chamber. We want to know if candidates are committed to providing long-term support for tourism through the lucrative revenue provided by the Municipal and Regional District Tax paid by visitors to our region.
As the answers come in, we will post all of them on our fresh new website at victoriachamber.ca. Make sure to visit, read the answers and please vote on Oct. 20.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
Her column was published in the Times Colonist on Oct. 5, 2018.
Catherine Holt / Business Examiner
The provincial government has a plan to get more women and indigenous people involved in the trades, as well as establishing thousands of new positions for apprentices. That was the message from Tom Sigurdson, executive director of the BC Building Trades Council, as he addressed the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s Business Leaders Luncheon on Sept 25.
Sigurdson explained his organization’s involvement with the province's new Crown Corporation, BC Infrastructure Benefits Inc., and the concept of how Community Benefits Agreements can help address the demand for skilled labour.
After the presentation, John Knappett, from Knappett Projects, took the opportunity to directly question Sigurdson about how the province's plan will impact contracting firms such as his own. One of the most contentious issues has been the requirement for all workers on infrastructure projects to join a government authorized union within 30 days. Knappett noted that his firm has worked hard to build a trusted team. Those workers provide him with better certainty on projects than he says he would have if forced to use a labour pool supplied by the province. The concern was echoed by others at the luncheon.
Sigurdson acknowledged what he called the elephant in the room. But he believes the provincial government's approach will effectively address the shortage of apprentices, women and indigenous workers in the trades.
Other comments included how to help more students choose a career in the trades, and ensuring there are adequate opportunities for training at post-secondary schools such as Camosun College, which sponsored the luncheon.
The Chamber invited Sigurdson to speak to Vancouver Island business leaders because there is tremendous concern about the looming shortage of skilled-trades workers. The Chamber is a non-partisan organization that works to represent the best interest of business. We encourage the provincial government to increase the number of apprentices in the province, and make sure the workforce is better represented by women and indigenous people.
We also understand that the method the province has chosen has not gone over well with many other organizations that represent businesses and the construction industry. The first projects to implement the CBA framework include the new Pattulo Bridge over the Fraser River, and the four-laning of the Trans-Canada Highway between Kamloops and Alberta.
A lot has been promised, and the outcome of these projects will be heavily scrutinized to make sure they deliver.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
Chamber Events for October
Tuesday, October 2 l Member Networking Breakfast l 7:30 to 9:00 a.m. l Cedar Hill Golf Course (1400 Derby Rd.)
Wednesday, October 10 l The Business of Cannabis l 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. l Hotel Grand Pacific (463 Belleville St.)
Thursday, October 11 l Prodigy Group Mingle l 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. l 100.3 the Q & the Zone @91.3 (Top Floor – 2750 Quadra St.)
Tuesday, October 16 l Breakfast with Citizens Services Minister Jinny Sims l 7:30 – 9:00 a.m. l Union Club of BC (805 Gordon St.)
Thursday, October 18 l Business Mixer l CFB Esquimalt Wardroom (1586 Esquimalt Rd.)
Labour Day marks the end of summer and the return to routine for students and their families.
It also marks the unofficial kickoff of campaigning for the Oct. 20 civic elections.
The Chamber is non-partisan, which means we don’t endorse individual candidates or political parties, but we do want voters to be informed about issues that matter to businesses throughout our region. In order to keep the number of candidates manageable, we are focusing on mayoral candidates in our 13 municipalities and we will be sending each a survey in the spirit of helping them build a solid campaign.
As a starting point, we have the following three questions for each of them:
Question 1: Will you narrow the gap between business and residential property taxes?
Greater Victoria’s business community has been burdened by the upward creep of property taxes. As senior levels of government offload costs onto municipalities, councils (other than Victoria and Langford) squeeze more out of businesses by raising their property taxes at a greater rate than residential properties.
The simple reason comes down to votes: businesses don’t have them and residents do. But while it makes political sense to appease your largest constituency, the long-term economic damage hurts everybody. When municipal taxes force businesses to relocate, downsize or close, we lose local jobs and the vibrancy of our town centres, as well as the goods or services they offer.
Question 2: Do you support improving transportation through regional governance, funding, planning and delivery?
From commuting to the West Shore to downtown parking, our 13 municipalities stumble through regional transportation issues because they all transcend municipal borders. We need convenient transit options that make it attractive for residents to ride the bus between their homes and workplaces. Traffic flows over borders despite the local politics of whatever municipality it’s passing through. Are municipal politicians prepared to expand their parochial thinking and support decisions that improve our entire region?
Question 3: Do you support a citizens’ assembly process that empowers the public to decide whether to reduce the number of municipalities in our region?
Saanich and Victoria have agreed to ask their voters this question, which is a tentative first step toward creating a single bigger and better municipality. If voters agree to the idea, which The Chamber endorses, a citizens’ assembly takes the decision out of the hands of politicians and staff with a self-interest in maintaining the status quo. If the citizens’ assembly recommends a merger, residents will then have a formal chance to approve the recommendation. The Chamber believes in better governance through fewer governments, and there is more than enough evidence to show that combining Saanich and Victoria will create a great new municipality with more resources and a higher profile than either one has now.
There are many more questions facing our region, but The Chamber believes these three will start the discussion about who will make the best mayor in each of our 13 communities. Make sure to check out VictoriaChamber.ca for full coverage in the weeks to come.
Catherine Holt is CEO of The Chamber (Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce).
Canada will legalize recreational cannabis on Oct. 17 and the business community needs to prepare for the opportunities and challenges to come.
Legalization is causing waves across all three levels of governments, from big picture concerns about crossing international borders to everyday issues such as whether cannabis retailers can operate in your neighbourhood.
Breaking it down, Ottawa will continue to be responsible for criminal activities and rules regarding cultivation and processing.
Provinces will regulate workplace safety, wholesaling and the retail model. In B.C., the provincial government has identified 31 smaller suppliers who will provide product to the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch. The LDB plans to offer a range of cannabis varieties to licensed private retailers through an online sales portal. The LDB will also open B.C. Cannabis Stores, similar to public liquor stores, at various locations across the province.
Local governments will play a vital role in how the public can access cannabis by deciding where retailers can locate, how they can operate within their communities and which ones to license.
Education is one of the areas of responsibility that crosses all three levels of government and is being addressed federally, provincially and municipally.
As Greater Victoria’s Chamber of Commerce, we work on behalf of business and advocate for regulations and policies that build good business and improve the economic vitality of our region’s entrepreneurs, employers and citizens. We want to play an active and forward-focused role in helping businesses in this emerging industry establish themselves as good members of the business community. So, with the October legalization date imminent, we have begun to work with companies that are abiding by the rules as they exist today, which means they have a business license in Victoria.
Fortunately, the City of Victoria has been proactive and has developed a rigorous process for licensing cannabis retailers that is serving as an example for cities and towns across Canada.
Governments are acting because public perception about cannabis has shifted. A 2016 study by Deloitte Touche shows more people support legalization than oppose it, and youth in particular believe that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. The research also shows young people want accurate information about the effects of cannabis rather than relying on anecdotal evidence offered by their peers. Canada is now the world leader in this industry and there will be lots of ground-breaking research and development.
If you’re interested in learning more, I encourage you to attend our “The Business of Cannabis” luncheon on Oct. 10, from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at the Hotel Grand Pacific.
Our expert panel will include Jocelyn Jenkins, Chief Administrative Officer with the City of Victoria, and Peter Guo, BC Enterprise Risk Services Leader and BC Cannabis Industry Leader with MNP.
Catherine Holt is CEO of The Chamber (Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce).
Breathing smoky air is becoming a new summer norm in Victoria. Wildfires have caused chaos and catastrophe across BC, disrupting livelihoods, communities and business, sometimes irretrievably. And it’s putting climate change top of mind for many of us. At last.
What motivates humans to change?
I spent many years as a management consultant and most of that work involved creating and managing change. As anyone who has tried to make big change can tell you – humans resist it. An absolute requirement, in my experience, is what’s referred to in business lingo as “the burning platform.” If people find themselves on one — literally or figuratively —they will take a risk and jump to save themselves. Anything short of that and they prefer to stay where they are.
Do we have a burning platform now? Yes. Have scientist been trying to tell us for decades that we are at risk of burning? Yes. Have we jumped? Not yet.
There are many, many factors that prevent us from acting on what science has tried to tell us is a compelling case for change. I don’t want to over-simplify any of that, but a significant factor is the language used to make the case matters and we have been using the wrong language for decades.
You may have noticed that scientists often communicate with each other in obscure jargon. The scientific process encourages scientists to compare results and to challenge, debate and influence each other’s work — but it doesn’t lead to clear compelling public communication.
Consequently, to describe the biggest crisis facing the planet, they have, over decades, used such ambiguous, cautious and neutral language that, even today, it doesn’t create a sense of urgency.
Science initially labelled the burning platform “The Greenhouse Effect.” That was coined around the year 1900, believe it or not, and was followed by a long insider debate about whether the term was scientifically accurate.
A much bigger problem with the name is that it’s misleading, comforting even. Greenhouses are nice. Who doesn’t like a lovely warm greenhouse full of tropical plants or tomatoes that would otherwise freeze solid in the Canadian winter? Putting our planet in a greenhouse doesn’t sound so bad. No sense of impending crisis was created by that terminology.
What if it had been called “The Oven Effect?” It’s accurate and certainly more terrifying and may have resulted in public concern. No one wants to be in an oven. Simple.
Sometime in the 1990s, the risk of burning started to become real, but still very little movement on the platform. Scientists rightly decided “The Greenhouse Effect” was just not convincing. So they came up with “Global Warming.”
Same problem. Who doesn’t like to be warm? It’s better than being cold, any day. And for those of us living a reasonable distance from the equator, it sounds like a welcome change. Remember the constant jokes about “Global Warming” in Canada? On a particularly chilly winter day someone would inevitably say “Hey, where’s that “Global Warming” when we need it?” The words did not strike fear into our hearts.
What if it was “Global Overheating”? Again, accurate, terrifying and more likely to get attention and action.
So after a decade or so of “Global Warming” resulting in very little change, it was obvious another name was needed to truly express the mounting urgency. The scientific community labored to come up with something irrefutable. So now we call it “Climate Change.”
You know what I’m going to say. Change…. Good change? Bad change? Big change? Little change? Isn’t change the only thing we can count on? Yet again, no urgency in the language or the response.
What we really face is “Climate Chaos.” No one wants chaos. It’s clearly a bad thing. And it’s what the scientist are predicting and we are starting to experience.
If we had started with “The Oven Effect,” moved to “Global Overheating” and now referred to “Climate Chaos,” it’s likely we’d be much further along in making the changes we need to save the planet and ourselves.
It’s starting to feel like too little too late, but let’s try naming this crisis in accurate language that motivates big change and then, just maybe, we’ll jump.
Catherine When is the last time you complained about traffic? Driving home from up-Island on Sunday? Trying to park downtown in the middle of the day? This morning on your commute from Bear Mountain?
There’s no shortage of talk about how bad traffic is in our region. There’s also no shortage of ideas to improve things: Use the E&N corridor for buses, start a ferry from the Inner Harbour to Royal Bay, get more people living downtown so they won’t need cars, attract employers to the West Shore so workers won’t drive so far.
What we do fall short on is governance. There is no regional transportation entity that can set priorities, fund them and make them happen.
The Capital Regional District tried to create a regional transportation service. In March, the latest plan was defeated and the idea put on hold. It wasn’t a surprise.
The CRD doesn’t have the revenue sources or expertise to run regional transportation. And, as demonstrated by the outcome of this proposal, it is often thwarted by its own poor governance design. Board members tend to act for the communities that elected them rather than the region.
It’s time to move on and take a more realistic, proven approach to solving our region’s transportation issues.
Thankfully, we don’t have to look any further than the Victoria Regional Transit Commission, which does a fantastic job of quietly running our bus system.
Created by the provincial government as part of B.C. Transit’s services, the commission is composed of seven elected municipal representatives.
They are appointed by the province to act on behalf of the whole region.
The commission is effective because it has a local government perspective without squabbling over how to cut the pie into 13 pieces.
Commissioners make decisions in the region’s interest, and no community can opt out of the service or the funding required to run it.
So we have one bus system connecting our many communities — not three or six or 13.
The transit commission is also successful because it can get the revenue it needs. It determines the budget required, and individual municipalities must pay their share. That’s bolstered by a sizable grant from the provincial government and by a legislated regional gas tax, also from the province.
As well, the commission’s geographic boundaries make sense for our region’s transit users, as opposed to the borders of the CRD, which includes large rural areas, as well as Gulf Islands.
So, we have a model that works for buses, but could it work for other transportation challenges?
I think it would. In order for the bus system to function, the transit commission already works on high-level transportation issues, such as bus lanes from downtown to the West Shore, potential transit uses for the E&N corridor, and ways to reduce traffic and keep buses affordable through denser housing near transit hubs. But it can’t make those things happen; it has to persuade local governments to let it do them.
The next step is for the provincial government to give the commission the power to do those things. Our region is heavily represented in government. Surely our local MLAs understand the urgency for Greater Victoria commuters.
By scaling up the role and capacity of the transit commission, and renaming it a transportation commission, we could have a well-governed and effective agency capable of tackling regional traffic, starting with better road design, land use and infrastructure. And it could focus on outcomes, such as reducing commute times and carbon emissions, and increasing transit ridership.
If you’re still not convinced, consider these questions:
1. Is it possible the Johnson Street Bridge replacement project would have been more expertly managed, fairly funded and quickly delivered if it were a project owned and run by the region through the commission rather than just one city?
2. Would we have fewer bottlenecks if proper standards were set on a designated regional major road network — space for buses, standard speed limits, an ability to accommodate all modes of travel?
3. Would bus lanes from downtown to the West Shore take fewer years to complete if there were one authority to decide to do them and fund and operate them, rather than having to deal with many jurisdictions?
If you answered yes, then ask yourself: Isn’t it time to embrace this sensible and proven solution to our region’s growing traffic troubles?
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce. Her column was published in the Times Colonist on July 31, 2018.
Catherine Holt, CEO Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
By now, you’ve likely received your property tax notice with its visual aids and colourful graphs providing transparency about what your money is spent on. What isn’t transparent is the growing proportion of municipal taxes being dumped on business for no valid reason.
All 13 of our municipalities charge businesses a much higher rate than they do residential property owners. From 2.1 times more in Central Saanich to six times more in North Saanich, businesses pay multiple times more than residents for property of the same value.
A 2007 report by MMK Consulting for the City of Vancouver found that, on average, residential properties in Vancouver paid $0.56 in property taxes for each dollar of tax-supported services consumed, while non-residential properties paid $2.42 for every dollar of tax-supported services. That was 10 years ago but the gap has continued to grow in many B.C. municipalities.
In Saanich this year, a business will pay 4.3 times more tax than a resident for a property of equal value. That’s up from 3.9 times more in 2017 and 3.5 the year before. That’s a disturbing trend and it’s not the exception — it’s the rule.
The only municipality that has managed to lower its business ratio from 2017 is Langford. Even so, Langford businesses will pay 2.9 times as much as residential property owners in 2018. That’s down from three times as much in 2016 and 2017.
Oak Bay, at a 2.5 ratio, and View Royal, at 3.6, deserve a nod for at least keeping their ratios the same as the previous year.
Municipalities are struggling to keep up with increasing costs downloaded from higher levels of government — most recently the Employer’s Health Tax has been added to everyone’s load — it’s understandable why local politicians focus on keeping residential taxes down. Few issues get voters off the couch and into the ballot booth faster than a hit to their wallets.
But, of course, business owners don’t have a vote. Many suspect more than a coincidence between the lack of vote and the rising share of taxes.
However, dumping costs onto business is really just a diversionary tactic. Adding to the business tax burden means a business needs to earn more, which means it needs to charge more or find ways to cut costs. Residents who enjoy the products and services end up paying more or finding there are fewer options as businesses become priced out of their neighbourhoods.
This is the reality that needs to be considered — especially when the public is faced with headlines, such as the one on the front page of the Times Colonist on May 24, proclaiming that Victoria residents are being treated unfairly because council is taking a bold step to rebalance the tax load.
Victoria Coun. Chris Coleman explained to the Times Colonist that, without a redistribution, businesses would have been taxed at 3.69 times the residential rate.
“To protect the residential component, we kept on increasing the business class,” Coleman says in the article. “It’s just we’ve been loading it on businesses over the years and they are seeing some stress as well. It’s always a balancing act between the classes.”
Even with the redistribution, city businesses will still pay 3.5 times the residential rate, up from 3.4 last year and 3.1 in 2016.
But Councillor Ben Isitt, also quoted in the article, didn’t support the redistribution because “business people ... have larger disposable incomes and are better positioned to absorb tax increases.” It appears that Isitt, despite his two terms on city council, has never actually met a business person in Victoria.
The Chamber endorses Victoria Council’s decision and Langford’s choice to decrease the business rate. Last year, The Chamber sent a letter to all 13 municipal councils asking why businesses are taxed so much more, and requesting they close the gap. As this year’s tax rates show — with these two modest exceptions — the response is underwhelming.
This isn’t good enough. Businesses create jobs, build our downtowns, support community organizations, drive our region’s economy and help provide solutions to serious challenges such as affordable, accessible housing and the need for better transportation systems.
It’s time for all municipalities to stop dumping costs onto the backs of non-voting taxpayers. And to Coun. Isitt, on behalf of the businesses that pay more than their fair share to keep city hall in business, a little gratitude would go a long way.
This column originally appeared in the Times Colonist on June 7, 2018
Ratio of Business to Residential Tax Rates
When B.C. Premier John Horgan broke the news about a potential solution to Greater Victoria’s commuter woes, he chose to do so at a lunch hosted on May 15 by our region’s five chambers of commerce.
The event, organized by the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, was attended by 400 community leaders who understand the value of hearing firsthand from the Premier.
Mr. Horgan announced that the Province wants to use the E&N corridor for moving people, and that there is no business case for using rail. He said he was committed to making this happen during government’s current term and suggested the right-of-way will be used for a rapid bus line. Judging by the applause, this was welcome news for many of the folks packed into Crystal Garden.
Clearly there is a consensus that something needs to be done to ease commuter traffic between the West Shore and downtown Victoria. The decision to move past discussions about using trains on this corridor is, naturally, a tough pill for folks who have long advocated for the return of rail.
A few days after our luncheon, the Premier said using the tracks for a train became much less feasible when the City of Victoria chose to terminate the track in Vic West rather than spend money on running rail lines across the new Johnson Street Bridge.
But that was a different mayor and council and a different government than we have today.
We applaud the decision to find a solution to traffic congestion, and using the E&N corridor makes sense. Running commuter buses along the corridor sounds like an affordable and flexible alternative to a train, though we still need to see the numbers behind the proposal. We also need a schedule for when we can actually expect to see this concept in action.
As MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca, the Premier knows this issue is a longtime concern for commuters in Greater Victoria. In fact, the need for a regional approach to transportation planning is a pillar of The Chamber’s Advocacy Priorities.
Facetime with this level of government is never easy to achieve, and we are grateful Premier Horgan, Finance Minister Carole James and Education Minister Rob Fleming (also local MLAs) were able to join us.
Chambers of commerce like to call ourselves the “voice of business.” We are mandated by our members to listen to their collective concerns and find ways to ensure government decision makers hear them too. At the lunch with the Premier, we heard from him but he also heard from us.
When residents of Victoria and Saanich head to the polls this fall, they’re likely to have an unusual opportunity to vote for a better future. Not in the form of a candidate, at least not yet, but in the form of a question asking if they want to start down the road of amalgamating the two municipalities.
This is a great development for our region. Remember the Capital Integrated Services and Governance Report released by the province last year? It describes 16 types of local government services by municipality, including what the service is, what parts are shared with other governments, the different ways it’s delivered, what it costs per capita, how decisions are made and who pays.
The authors could not identify a single municipal service that is provided the same way for the same cost across this region. That’s not good for citizens or for business.
The need for better governance through fewer governments has been a theme for some time here at the chamber. Victoria was incorporated in 1862. The chamber was established in 1863. I’m going to assume things were well aligned until 1906, when Saanich and Oak Bay were incorporated. Chamber lore has it that that’s when the chamber’s campaign for amalgamation began.
And finally a ray of light, thanks to the citizens’ advisory committee that recommended that Saanich invite all willing municipalities to participate in a citizens’ assembly on amalgamation.
At first glance, the fact that only one other municipality — Victoria — stepped up might be disheartening. In reality, it has created a chance to get this done. We need the leadership of our region’s two dominant municipalities. And we know from experience that the more municipalities involved, the more difficult it is to make a decision.
Let’s start with two. We can always add more later — or not. It’s a big win either way.
Between them, Saanich and Victoria make up more than half the population of our metropolitan area. They have the bulk of our region’s businesses and the largest tax bases, police services and municipal services. These are highly integrated communities, and it’s not difficult to imagine them as a single city. In fact, most citizens don’t pay much attention to where one ends and the other begins, as they go back and forth.
Together, they would be a magnificent new metropolis with the size and clout to compete for funding and opportunities out of reach of either one, and the combined resources to provide an even better level of public service.
Of course, change is never easy and few issues are as close to home — quite literally — as transforming the community in which we live.
We have current evidence that a citizens’ assembly can work because it was used last year by North Cowichan and Duncan, a region that has also had a protracted dance with amalgamation. A civic lottery conducted by Canada Post ensured the assembly was made up of a broad cross-section of residents who reflected the area’s population.
The process was well-defined, with the 36-member assembly spending six of their Saturdays diving deep into the issues over the course of four months. In the end, the group emerged with a clear recommendation to strengthen both municipalities by amalgamating.
It was a credible process and outcome because it was taken out of the hands of those with an interest in the status quo and placed in the hands of engaged citizens.
With the mayors and councils of Saanich and Victoria publicly supporting a citizens’ assembly, we have an incredibly rare window of opportunity to explore the public’s interest in building a remarkable core city for our region.
The single most critical factor will be to avoid any sense that the outcome creates a winner and a loser, but rather a great new municipality that benefits everyone. The second critical factor will be patience. Experience shows that amalgamations need 10 years to work out the bugs and deliver on their promise.
Victoria has a jewel of a downtown, and Saanich is cherished for its neighbourhoods, parks and recreation. Combined, we will have a truly spectacular world-class city and a bigger voice on the national and international stage.
Municipal elections are Oct. 20, and we look forward to citizens of Saanich and Victoria having a clear question on the ballot offering them a chance to dream big.
Catherine Holt is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
This column originally appeared in the Times Colonist on MAY 11, 2018 12:59 AM
Media and much of the public were quick to laugh at BC Ferries “name that ship” contest when it was announced in 2015. But, after all the sarcastic suggestions (i.e. Spirit of Bad Wi-Fi) and headshaking over why the corporation would even consider a PR stunt that left them so vulnerable, something interesting happened.
The contest worked. In fact it exceeded expectations. Not only did BC Ferries end up with great names for their vessels, the social media and marketing department was able to engage with consumers on a level that far surpassed its goals.
That story was one of many entertaining insights from BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins, who spoke to more than 80 people at The Chamber’s Business Leaders Luncheon on April 18.
Mark’s inspirational commentary on BC Ferries served as a reminder of why British Columbians, despite our grumbling, are generally proud of our world-class service.
There is still much work to do though. Challenges include convincing folks on small islands that their input is valued. Mark spoke about the perception in some places that the “suits from the South Island” were only interested in making decisions in the interest of the corporation, not communities.
“This is the feedback I’m getting from customers, and it’s clear they don’t trust us — that’s a problem,” he said, describing how the corporation has had to first prove it’s being honest before it can even begin to work with some communities.
To be clear, people feel safe taking the ferry. But can you imagine trying to sell your product to customers who, for generations, have grown up thinking it’s their birthright to mistrust your organization’s leaders?
To change that perception, Mark says BC Ferries has adopted an aspirational vision “to act in a way that earns the trust and becomes valued by the communities they serve.” The corporation’s new mission is to connect “customers and communities with people and places that are important in their lives.”
No mention of being a transportation service, because that’s not how people think about BC Ferries. It is simply our connection to people, to services and to the goods we need for a healthy regional and provincial economy.
BC Ferries is coming off a record year, having moved 21 million passengers in 2017 – the most ever. The corporation is moving to a new reservation system that will offer more convenience for customers. It makes sense to operate like an airline or train, rather than the current method of charging an extra fee just to guarantee a specific boarding.
Mark also confirmed that he is looking at the feasibility of a route connecting the West Shore with downtown Victoria. It’s very early, he cautioned, but doesn’t that sound exciting?
Catherine Holt is CEO of The Chamber (Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce).
Chamber Events for May:
Tuesday, May 1 l AGM & Annual Mayoral Address l 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. l Delta Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa (100 Harbour Rd.)
Thursday, May 3 l Prodigy Group Mingle l 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. l Strathcona Hotel Rooftop (919 Douglas St.)
Thursday, May 10 l 2018 Greater Victoria Business Awards Gala l 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. l Fairmont Empress (721 Government St.)
Tuesday, May 15 l 5 Chamber Luncheon with Premier John Horgan l 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. l Crystal Gardens (720 Douglas St.)
Thursday, May 17 l Business Mixer l 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. l Marina Restaurant (1327 Beach Dr.)
Wednesday, May 23 l Member Networking Breakfast l Cedar Hill Golf Course (1400 Derby Rd.)
Downtown Victoria has a great reputation as a compact, walkable city. It’s a wonderful place to bike to work or explore from your hotel, which is great.
What isn’t great is the lack of a plan from the City for addressing a growing shortage of parking. The City continues to own and run its trusty parkades and surface lots and to put a priority on preserving on-street parking in the city centre. What has been lost is parking on private property. There have been 1,800 parking stalls lost to development in the last decade. Another 400 will be lost over the next few years.
Having more residents in the condos that now occupy these lots means downtown business have more potential customers within walking distance. But the building boom has also directly contributed to a drastic reduction in parking stalls.
This is not news to Victoria City Council, which in March urgently approved 38 temporary spots in Old Town. That decision was certainly welcome, but Victoria’s business community needs to know there is a multi-year strategy — not just one-off serendipitous solutions. And yes, we understand that, in an ideal world, this problem would have a regional solution since most of the cars arriving downtown come from outside the city. But we can’t wait for that.
We’re not looking for a miracle, we just need to know there is a plan.
After all, other modes of transportation have the ear of the city’s planning department and decision makers. People who once felt intimidated riding a bike downtown are on their way to enjoying a much friendlier cycling experience thanks to the City’s approach of making biking accessible for all ages and abilities.
That same principle of accessibility needs to be applied to people who drive downtown by necessity or choice, as well as to the many delivery vehicles that supply businesses, offices and homes.
Can the City assure us that, after every private lot is built on, downtown will still be accessible for all ages and abilities?
Does the City have any idea how many vehicles are expected on our streets in the near future? Will the number increase or decrease, and by how much? Are there plans for more park and rides in concert with B.C. Transit?
Has the City considered making public parking a requirement of new development? How about leasing city-owned land to a private firm to run as a public service? Such a partnership makes sense to us as it keeps valuable real estate in the public realm while embracing the efficiencies of private business.
The future of parking is a public concern. We can’t afford to disrupt our region’s economy by discouraging those consumers, employers and employees who need to drive downtown. At least until we figure out a real alternative to cars and delivery vehicles.
Catherine Holt is CEO of The Chamber (Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce).
British Columbians, employers included, welcomed the news in the provincial budget that we would no longer be the only Canadians who pay a monthly premium for public health care. But news that revenue from premiums would be replaced with an employer health tax was a surprise that has left many B.C. employers with sticker shock.
The tax kicks in at 0.98 per cent of payroll when payroll reaches $500,000, and maxes out at 1.95 per cent for a payroll over $1.5 million. A tax of less than two per cent might sound minor until you start doing the math.
Here are some real experiences:
• One of our region’s major private-sector seasonal employers of youth will pay 1.95 per cent EHT — a 260 per cent increase above what they have been paying to cover employee MSP premiums. They will also pay EHT on every employee, even though many seasonal young workers are still on their parents MSP coverage.
“Holy cow, it certainly is a material cost for our company that comes at a tough time when we are in the process of raising our entry pay band to start at $15,” said the CEO of that organization.
• A large public-sector employer in our region will also be paying 1.95 per cent EHT — a $5.8 million expense. That’s more than twice the $2.5 million the employer pays now. Does this mean less service? Higher fees? Or more money from government’s limited budget?
The third example is a well-established, thriving not-for-profit that provides essential services in our region. In 2019, the year when employers inexplicably pay both MSP premiums and EHT, this organization will pay $12,015 in MSP premiums and $21,673 in EHT — three times higher than 2018. And they no longer save costs when employees have spouses whose employer pays the MSP premiums.
“Not only is the government double-dipping in 2019 by charging MSP and the tax, but they are double-dipping by having other spouses’ companies pay for health care, when only one company needs to pay now,” said the organization’s executive director.
• A family-owned company with about 220 local staff did not pay employees’ MSP premiums, as it has always been optional for employers. So they will be hit with an unexpected new expense of $150,000 next year.
“We’re looking for ways to reduce our payroll,” said their CEO.
So, what do employers want the province to do with the EHT? Get rid of it, of course. But, if it is implemented, here are 10 fixes that must be made:
1. Problem: EHT will cost most employers way more than MSP premiums.
Solution: Use other sources of revenue to help pay for health care, as government already does, and reduce the EHT so it is comparable to what employers pay now.
2. Problem: Employers will keep wages and benefits down to avoid higher EHT rates. This means hiring less, no wage increases, hiring contractors rather than employees and eliminating benefits such as extended health care.
Solution: Make the tax comparable to current premium costs, and exempt health benefits.
3. Problem: Employers will pay premiums and EHT in 2019.
Solution: Pretty straightforward — end premiums before implementing the EHT.
4. Problem: Employers with payrolls under $500,000 are exempt, which is intended to protect small business. But $500,000 is a micro-business with fewer than 10 employees. Industry Canada’s definition of a small business is one with less than 100 employees, close to the top tier for this tax.
Solution: Redefine the exemption or eliminate it and have everyone pay a lower tax. See No. 1.
5. Problem: Employers didn’t have to pay premiums for employees with spouses or parents who have an employer who pays for MSP premiums. Now all employers pay for everyone.
Solution: Hard to figure out an exemption so, again, see No. 1.
6. Problem: It’s a big hit all at once.
Solution: Phase it in over years, as with the minimum wage.
7. Problem: A tax on payroll doesn’t account for the health of the business or its ability to pay.
Solution: A modest increase in corporate income tax, instead of EHT, would mean that business pay based on profit rather than adding to their costs.
8. Problem: Municipalities must pay EHT so will pass it on through property tax bills, which businesses already pay at two to five times the rate charged residents.
Solution: If we exempt them, the private sector would need to make up the shortfall. A better approach is a lower tax for everyone.
9. Problem: Taxes paid by public-sector employers such as universities, school districts, and Crown corporations simply transfer government funding for programs and services to the health budget — already a behemoth.
Solution: Manage the health budget better. It’s the only area of government that has never had a budget cut. This would help all of the problems on this list.
10. Problem: The government plans to consult with some employers affected by the EHT, such as municipalities and not-for-profits, but, strangely, not businesses.
Solution: All employers are taking the hit. Everyone should have a chance to be consulted so any changes don’t overlook the impact on the private sector.
People don’t like tax surprises. The government now has less than a year to make a bad tax better. All employers in the province will be watching.
Catherine Holt is CEO of Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on March 25.
It’s been 155 years since Victoria’s Chamber of Commerce began advocating for our region’s economic prosperity and building good business. Starting with only 44 members when we launched on February 9th, 1863, one of our first goals was making sure our city benefited from the Caribou Gold Trade.
We’ve led the charge on a few issues since.
We were part of the early development of Greater Victoria and Canada’s Pacific coast by pressing for a steamship link to Asia, as well as improved steamer service to California, Hawaii, New Zealand and Australia.
In 1895, The Chamber helped make Victoria the top outfitting port for Klondike gold miners.
In 1903, Victoria’s Chamber entertained delegates from across the British Empire. This was an early example of promoting our region as “open for business.” That same year, we lobbied the Canadian Pacific Railway to build a large hotel in Victoria. Five years later, the Empress opened.
Over the course of The Chamber’s existence, we have fought to preserve the local shipbuilding industry (1919), backed plans to rehabilitate armed forces personnel so they could rejoin the workforce (1946) and challenged the Province to fast track road work on the Pat Bay Highway (1990) and more recently the McKenzie Highway Interchange (2016). We supported the transfer of the Victoria International Airport to local control and management (1997), and advocated for local businesses by urging the city to allow 90-minute parking at meters, rather than 60 minutes (2001).
In 1978, the region’s first Economic Development Commission was created after The Chamber presented a brief to the Capital Regional District. The goal was to identify what can be done to create opportunities in our region. However, over the decades, it became clear that not just business but the many municipalities had to embrace a regional approach to economic development. This drove The Chamber and its members to take a new approach. We led the discussions and meetings between the 13 municipalities and key regional stakeholders that ultimately resulted in the creation of the South Island Prosperity Project in 2016.
The Chamber has been a constant advocate for better governance through fewer governments in an effort to reduce the frustration businesses feel about the duplication of services and lack of accountability that comes with trying to operate in a patchwork of municipalities. We are happy to report that, just last month, the mayors of Victoria and Saanich jointly requested that the Province establish a Citizens’ Assembly to identify workable options for improving local governance. It may be the start of a real solution.
There is plenty to celebrate about our history, but we know there is much more work ahead. Our now 1,400 members have been loud and clear that they want us to speak out about the big challenges facing our region. Right now, that means doing what we can to advocate for employers having difficulty attracting and retaining employees in our low unemployment, high cost region.
We will continue to work productively with our members, other community stakeholders and governments of all levels to help deliver the services and solutions Victoria needs and in 2173, we hope to celebrate another 155 years of Building Good Business.
B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver has been exerting his influence in several ways on the government’s agenda, and that includes objecting to its promise of universal $10-a-day child care. The universal part means that anyone who needs the program can use it, regardless of income.
Weaver was quoted in this paper as saying: “I’ve made the case many times before — somebody who’s earning $2 million a year clearly doesn’t need to pay $10 for child care. Why would we support a program that would diffuse the limited resources we have to provide a one-size-fits-all [approach]?”
The first is that they endure. That’s because people support what they see as a benefit for themselves. It doesn’t matter if they are using that program right now. What matters is that they’ve paid their taxes and, in return, as a citizen, they can use the program when and if they and their family members need it.
Here are a few examples of universal programs that have built this province and country:
University and college tuition for Canadians is subsidized by government and is not income-tested. We don’t pay more if our family has a higher income. This has led to a highly educated workforce that benefits employers as well as individuals.
We have free, universal, public education from kindergarten to Grade 12 because we want to ensure all our kids have the basic education required to function in society and have opportunities for future success.
We have a universal Canada Pension Plan. We pay into it from our earnings and we get a pension at the end of our working lives. We aren’t cut off once we reach a certain income level.
Even roads and transit are universal programs. The government has removed tolls on bridges in the Lower Mainland, saying people shouldn’t have to pay more based on where they live. And we don’t say you can’t ride the bus because you’re too rich.
And, of course, the grand-daddy of all universal programs is health care. There is one payer — the government — for one system with access based on need. You don’t get better health care in this country because you earn more — or less. And we all benefit from not having to pick between health care and financial ruin.
(As an aside, generating the revenue for that universal access is another issue and one that has become controversial as a result of the government’s new health tax on payrolls — but that’s another column.)
The second universal truth about universal programs is that, counter-intuitively, the only way to make sure there is enough funding to sustain them is to provide them to everyone. The reality is the opposite of what Weaver is suggesting. As government funding gets tight, we don’t cut programs that benefit everyone — we cut programs for the poor. Think health care compared to income assistance.
Or more to the point, we’ve had a low-income child-care subsidy program in this province for decades. It has been squeezed and shaved to the point that you basically have to have almost no income to qualify. And that’s what the government is trying to fix with a universal program.
Yes, we need child care to support single mothers on income assistance. But, equally important, we need child care to support two-income working families who are stretched to the limit by housing and transportation and child-care costs. Employers need all of those parents’ skills and expertise in our full-employment economy. And all children need high-quality child care to get a good start in life before they can go on to get their public school education and post-secondary training and join the workforce.
So to answer Weaver’s question: “Why would we support a program that would diffuse the limited resources we have to provide a one-size-fits-all [approach]?”
We support a one-size-fits-all approach because it is the tried-and-true Canadian way to have a rising tide that lifts all boats.