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.
Chamber CEO Catherine Holt was a guest of CFAX talk radio host Mark Brennae on Wednesday (Feb. 21, 2018). The two talked about BC Budget 2018, announced on Feb. 20. Follow this link to listen to the interview here. Audio courtesy of CFAX 1070. For more on The Chamber’s position on the Budget, see Finance Minister addresses Chamber Business Leaders Luncheon.
This is bound to be an extra lively year as The Chamber rolls up its sleeves on behalf of our members. The Chamber’s theme for 2018 is Building Good Business, something we’ve done for the last 155 years.
Adding to the usual mix of lively issues, the region goes to the polls in October to vote for our respective mayors and councilors. There is power in numbers so we’re asking our members to vote for the candidates you think can address the following three issues:
First, employers are having a hard time finding and keeping workers to keep their companies going and our economy healthy. We need commitment to:
• Market our region to attract people from other regions, provinces and countries and then help them to get here and fill a job.
• Housing is expensive and rentals almost non-existent. Part of attracting workers is ensuring they can find and afford a place to live - workforce housing developments need to be fast tracked. More student housing is needed on campus to free up rentals.
• After housing, child care is the second most expensive thing for a young family – if they can find it. We need affordable, quality child care, so parents can work. Employers need them.
• When living costs are high, we need cheaper transportation options. Workers need public transit to be affordable, frequent, speedy, and to go where they need to be.
The second issue is our long-standing need for better governance through fewer government. Amalgamation may be the means but ultimately the outcome needed is better service for our tax dollars. I recently learned from one of our distinguished governors, Terry Farmer, that in 1959, Eric Charman, legendary Victoria mover and shaker, and Stuart Keate, then publisher of the Victoria Times, hired J.J Deutch, a UBC faculty member “to do a study on the possible amalgamation of Victoria and the surrounding municipalities”. That was 60 years ago. We are encouraged that Victoria and Saanich both passed motions in January asking the Province to create a Citizen’s Assembly to examine the same issue, but we need to seriously speed up the timeline.
Third, safe communities are a critical cornerstone. We all pay the price when parts of our city become associated with homelessness, anti-social and criminal behavior. Safe communities require the rule of law, adequate police resources, the active participation of citizens and adequate housing and services to care for those who cannot care for themselves. We are encouraged again, by motions passed by Victoria and Saanich councils in support of a regional police force comprised of Victoria/Esquimalt, Saanich, Oak Bay and Central Saanich. The combined resources would enable a big step up in public safety.
Finally, there are new and disruptive technologies and public demands for change that mayors and councilors must assess. The public should have access to innovative services and products as long as those companies operate under the same rules as existing businesses. In other words, they don’t avoid tax, public safety requirements, or fair employment standards. We’ll be watching to see how the cannabis industry is regulated, how retailers are affected by the plan to reduce plastic bags, how short term vacation rentals are managed and how ride sharing rolls out.
This will be a year to set expectations for what we want from government. Let’s use it to Build Good Business.
In 2018, The Chamber will be celebrating its 155th anniversary. That kind of longevity only comes with strong leadership and vision. We’ve continued that proud tradition with this year’s incoming board.
Dan Dagg, President of Hot House Marketing takes over the role of Chair for the next two years and John Wilson, CEO, Wilson’s Group of Companies is our incoming Vice-Chair. Both provide a wealth of business leadership expertise and experience and have been involved in many aspects of the economy and community in Greater Victoria.
We have three new additions to our well-seasoned board, each providing a diversity of business and community leadership experience.
Christina Clarke is Executive Director at the Songhees Nation as well as serving on several prominent community boards. Christina led implementation of the First Nations Fiscal Management Act (FMA) for Songhees Nation, helping to achieve the first FMA laws in Canada and first debenture bond issue by the First Nations Finance Authority. She also played a key role in the award-winning Songhees Wellness Centre.
Ian Batey, Principal at IPB Consulting provides consulting services to non-for-profit organizations and businesses. Ian is actively engaged on the issue of affordable housing and homelessness and also serves on the board of the Coalition to End Homelessness, Greater Victoria Housing Society and Our Place.
Rahim Khudabux is the General Manager and Owner of Max Furniture, a furniture store specializing in Canadian-made furniture for your home or office. Rahim has worked closely with The Chamber for many years including chairing the Prodigy Group Committee. He actively gives back to the community, volunteering his time at local events and mentoring up and coming professionals.
Our new board members will be working with seasoned board members including recently re-elected Lise Gyorkos, President of Page One Publishing, Patricia Jelinski, CEO, United Way of Greater Victoria and Kris Wirk, Partner at Dickson Dusanj & Wirk.
Other continuing board members include: Jason Boyd, Commander of Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, Carmen Charette, Vice President, External Relations at the University of Victoria, Mark Mawhinney, Investment Advisor at Odlum Brown Ltd. and Mark Smith, Chief Experience Officer with Query Technologies Corp. We are privileged to benefit from these active and experienced board members.
As we bid auld lang syne to 2017, we send our thanks and best wishes to Natasha Reger, owner of The Reger Group and Gary Kinar, Kinar Curry Lawyers, who have both served two terms on our board and provided their time and advice.
Al Hasham moves to Past Chair. Al has been an active member of The Chamber for 30 years and, in recognition of his tireless efforts and dedication to us and many other organizations and charities in town, we are pleased to say that he is our recipient of the 2018 Chamber Member of the Year award which he’ll receive at this year’s Business Awards.
Finally, a very special thanks to Frank Bourree, CEO of Chemistry Consulting Group Inc., whose term as Past Chair is ending. This draws to a close (for the time being) his long service to The Chamber board where he has been a director since 2001. Thank you Frank, we have all benefitted from your presence.
A very happy new year to all of our members and thank you for helping us keep our business community vibrant and strong.