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.