CATHERINE HOLT – CEO, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
It’s the year 2030, the start of the fourth decade of the 21st century, and businesses on Vancouver Island are thriving. A shopkeeper takes out the compost before disconnecting from the solar grid and activating the online security service for the night. Orders from her global and local customers have been shipped and will arrive in the morning.
It’s late, but the street is alive with young families enjoying their neighbourhood and dozens of workers making their way home. Electric buses flow by quietly and quickly, whisking their riders across town, out to Metro Victoria’s West Shore or over the Malahat.
Mindful pedestrians read the rhythms of the road and synchronize their paths with the last few daily delivery trucks and the cyclists riding with purpose in their designated lanes.
The shopkeeper’s staff smile and say good night twice. Once in their native language and again in English as they head home to their downtown micro-suites or conveniently connected suburbs. Enhanced immigration policies have been a boon to the Island’s economy. Workers from around the world have been able to move to Canada, eagerly taking on the jobs that businesses had struggled to fill.
On her way home, the shopkeeper takes a slight detour to check on the camp where she had met a young person living on the street. The youth, beset by mental illness and addiction, wanted help, so the shopkeeper connected them with a well-funded agency that always has openings for anyone seeking treatment.
It felt good to see the rough camp empty, the shopkeeper thought, as she pedaled her electric-assist bike along the softly lit and well-policed path.
Of course, it’s 2019 and we are just imagining what our region will become in 10 years. If we manage to achieve the ideal presented above, it would mean we have solved the biggest problems facing our economy today. And it would mean the advocacy efforts of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce have been accomplished.
The Chamber’s role is to call on governments to help us achieve our mission, which is to work together to build good business and great community.
Right now, we are focused on the following priorities:
finding climate change solutions
attracting and retaining workers
advocating for effective local governance and services
ensuring safe communities
and supporting fair regulation.
We think those broad categories capture most of the concerns we hear from the people directly involved in shaping our economy now.
In 2030, what will The Chamber ask of government to ensure a strong economy?
That will depend on which path we choose.
Finding climate change solutions
People pay more attention to environmental issues when the economy is good. In doing so, we have been treating a healthy environment as a luxury item. But that’s changing.
The new economy is being built on climate-first considerations and that will continue to gather momentum over the next 10 years.
Climate change needs to have a global impact, but change will be made locally. Governments need to create serious incentives for business to help save our planet through new technologies, products and services.
And we need to move fast. If we don’t, our economy will be driven by the chaos caused by unpredictable extreme weather events and rising sea levels — everything else will be irrelevant. Human ingenuity is our best bet to save us now. Let’s hope it works. Everything else on this list depends on it.
Over the next 10 years, one area where the imperative to shift to a climate-first economy will play out is in transportation — one of the biggest contributors to the problem. We’re already seeing an acceleration of the transition to electric cars, buses, trucks, ferries and planes. This will create a new problem — how do we generate enough electricity to adequately run all these vehicles?
One answer is fewer vehicles. As an example of a local solution, we are building dedicated bus lanes and need to follow through on plans to extend these to the West Shore and even to Nanaimo. We need practical transit connections to ferry terminals and the airport.
Getting more people to choose transit or commute by bike will lower emissions and make our roads quieter and our air cleaner and maybe leave fewer of us fighting for a parking spot downtown.
Another pivotal change unfolding over the next decade is society’s move away from single-use plastics. The public demand for solutions to plastic pollution will lead to innovations in the way we measure and reduce microplastics — as we do now with other pollutants.
Attracting and retaining workers
It’s hard to imagine this issue going away.
WorkBC anticipates 150,000 job openings on Vancouver Island over the next 10 years. And the Conference Board of Canada forecasts that, by 2034, immigration will account for 100 per cent of population growth in Canada. Put those two facts together, and you can see the need to attract more immigrants to Vancouver Island if we have any hope of having an adequate labour force in 10 years’ time.
Right now, the Canadian economy is in a period of slow growth but with strong job gains and a very tight labour market. In Greater Victoria, the cost of living continues to increase, creating problems for employers — their costs keep going up as do those of their staff.
But economies are cyclical – we’ve been in an unprecedented upswing for almost 10 years. A downturn seems inevitable. Will that leave us with new problems in 2030?
There are a number of other things that will continue to affect our ability to attract and retain workers:
Quality child care:
Our geography and history will continue to make our region an attractive place for young families to settle and enjoy a healthy lifestyle. Unless we become too expensive. If that happens, will we be home to fewer children? Or will there be a new baby boom as the largest generation in history reaches the traditional age for starting a family.
British Columbia could become a destination province for young families, or we can be a place where young people struggle to justify the expense of having children.
Quality child care is difficult to secure in 2019, often forcing parents to scale back how much they are able to work outside their home. Maybe the decision to have kids will depend on whether child care is made an essential service, like education, health and transportation.
And will child care workers finally be seen as the important educators and care givers they are and be paid enough to keep them in their jobs?
Housing keeps getting less affordable, cutting into budgets and making it tougher for workers to stay here.
Will we embrace non-market housing for working families to ensure we have an adequate working population? Or will we continue to build predominantly high-end housing for international buyers? Will private-sector wages climb to levels that enable workers to live here and provide services, despite extreme housing costs? Will the high cost of living mean we have more highly paid public- and tech-sector workers and fewer lower-wage tourism and hospitality jobs?
As the population ages, the lack of workers and the rising cost of health care will become exponentially more expensive. The cost of current services will overwhelm all other government spending.
By 2030, we will need radical new approaches. Maybe we will finally move to a system that puts significant resources into keeping people healthy and diverting them from medical interventions, rather than the disease-treatment system we have now.
Effective local governance and services
The Chamber has served southern Vancouver Island since 1863. For almost as long, our region has debated the pros and cons of being governed by multiple municipalities.
Will we still have 13 municipalities all trying to do what’s best for their residents, regardless of what that means to their neighbours? Or will we think regionally, with planning that looks at the best strategies for Greater Victoria as a single city? At the behest of their residents, Saanich and Victoria are taking the first step in the right direction. The region’s two largest municipalities are working through a Citizens’ Assembly process to look at the pros and cons of amalgamation. Whether that turns out to be a full merger, or better integration of services, the fact this dialogue is happening is reason for optimism.
Other mergers of Canadian municipalities have taken years to work out the kinks and deliver benefits. All the more reason to start now in order to see results by 2030.
Ensuring safe communities
One outcome of the Citizens’ Assembly might be a merger of the Victoria and Saanich police departments. This would go a long way to ensuring our region has the resources needed to deal with the heavy caseload facing officers serving our downtown core.
The foundation of a productive, vibrant community requires that all of us feel safe. From the moment we get out of bed, to our commute to work, throughout the day on the job and in our neighbourhoods at night.
And we need solutions for the opioid crisis that has ravaged families and cast shadows over our storefronts. Homeless people on our sidewalks and in our parks struggle with addictions and mental health challenges. Hopefully, we’ll be better able to address these by 2030.
Will the need for long term therapeutic communities be embraced and funded, providing people with a way out of their addictions, or will we continue to put them through the spin cycle, driving up policing and health-care costs?
Supporting fair regulation
The last decade has been characterized by disruptive technologies vs. established businesses, and we can expect this to continue.
In 2010, Uber, Airbnb and mobile payments were in their infancy and most people had never heard of these services. Who would have thought they would have the impact they have had on business in 2019? Add to that the legalization of cannabis and the world today is a much different environment. Disruption forces policy makers to reactively update rules and regulations to ensure a fair outcome for new and established business models.
In the years ahead, where will traditional banks be if Facebook throws its weight at our financial services? How will our mobility change if cars are autonomous? Will restaurants be staffed by robots, or will it become the norm for all our meals to be delivered to our door? Will all retail shopping require self-service check-out, be online, be paid through mobile apps? Will everything we do or say — everything we need — require a mobile device? All of these are disruptions that are already underway. What about those that we can’t even imagine?
In Greater Victoria, our economy has traditionally been stabilized by our reliance on a large public sector. Will that remain, or will those jobs be downsized and automated too?
Finally, will an institution that has served our region for more than 150 years still be here? The Greater Victoria Chamber of Chamber was founded in 1863 and has seen its share of change. One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for human contact.
As we come to rely more and more on autonomous cars, robotic services and online socializing, our collective sense of isolation will also increase.
Thankfully, The Chamber knows about building real relationships. Our mixers and mingles will be even more popular for people looking to maintain their sanity, sense of humanity and to grow their business.
Or maybe The Chamber will be run by robots too.
Catherine Holt has been CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce since June 2016 and Chair of BC Transit since December 2017. She brings to these roles a wealth of experience, including 17 years as a consultant for public, private and non-profit organizations. She has worked on many transformational projects in Canada and internationally to improve public transit, employment programs, First Nation governance, land title registration, justice system administration, and information technology services. Holt has taught at Royal Roads University, was a producer for CBC National Radio and TV, and served on the boards of the Victoria Police and Vancouver Island School of Art.
This essay was originally published in the Victoria Foundations Vital Signs 2019 report