Our Policy Advisory Committee provides leadership in identifying and responding to municipal, provincial and federal issues that affect business in Kelowna. 

Chaired by a member of the Chamber Board of Directors, this group works with Chamber staff to increase community awareness and provide advocacy on public issues that impact the long-term health and vitality of the economy of Kelowna. 

For more information about the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce’s Policy Advisory Committee and how to get involved please contact us or raise your concern here. Keep reading below for a summary of the key municipal, provincial and federal issues we are working on.

 

The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce works directly with elected officials and staff to raise our members concerns and find solutions that work for business. The Policy Advisory Committee is active on the following issues:

2017 (passed)

The Kelowna Chamber successfully tabled a Resolution at the BC Chamber Policy Forum, and the Canadian Chamber Policy Forum, most recently September 2017, calling for increased spending and focus on preventing zebra and quagga mussels from infesting bodies of fresh water in BC. 

Following a successful pilot program last year, in March of 2017, the province boosted the BC mussel defence program by $2 million.  This allows eight permanent mussel inspection stations installed at major entry points along BC’s borders.

Quagga and zebra mussels pose a serious threat to BC’s aquatic ecosystems, salmon populations, hydro power stations and other infrastructure facilities. They can clog pipes, cause ecological and economic damage, displace native aquatic plants and wildlife, degrade the environment and affect drinking water quality.

While BC Hydro, FortisBC, Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin Trust have contributed $2 million to the program, more attention and spending is needed. 

We call on the provincial government to ensure all border stations have trained personnel to intercept infested boats and water-based equipment on a 24-7 basis, and to expand the monitoring for invasive mussel species, as well as increasing highway signage alerting the public.

2014 (expiring 2017) (re-submitted september 2017 & passed)

 

 

2017 (expiring 2020)

A low vacancy rate for residential rental accommodation can be a significant barrier to employment, particularly in locations that have high home ownership costs.  Employers who hire for short-to-medium durations are especially constrained by a lack of suitable rental stock, created (in part) by rent controls.

A justice system that resolves disputes in a timely and cost-effective manner is a foundation upon which our civil society is based. When legal disputes are allowed to interrupt the lives and business longer than necessary, we all bear the cost. To thrive, business in British Columbia needs a justice system that delivers predictably expeditious resolution of legal matters in accordance with law.

National parks represent important economic drivers, and this is particularly true for British Columbia. British Columbia has the opportunity to be the beneficiary of Canada’s next national park, which has been proposed for South Okanagan-Lower Similkameen (the “Proposed National Park”). 

When the federal government moved in 2013 to eliminate the extended small business tax credit benefit for credit unions, the government of British Columbia showed good sense by not mirroring this harmful change in provincial tax law. Our provincial government has continued to insulate credit unions from the full impact of the federal change in policy. The provincial government should continue to show leadership in this area by shielding credit unions from the federal tax change indefinitely and working to have the federal policy change reversed.

Mental illness and addiction affect one in five people across Canada, significantly affecting business and the economy. Further, un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions are pervasive within the homeless population, which can lead them to present in anti-social ways, affecting public safety that can, in turn, affect local business. In addition, un- or under-treated mental illnesses and addictions complicates the transition of homeless into permanent housing and can lead to recidivism in offenders, increasing the costs of social housing and to our justice system.

2016 (expiring 2019)

There is clear evidence that availability of primary care has significant implications for British Columbia’s economy both in terms of overall population health and the impact of employee productivity and absences on business. Though our government has made expanding availability of primary care a key priority, British Columbia still suffers from a lack of primary care.

2015 (expiring 2018)

Affordable housing is important to the business community both as an economic driver in its own right, and also as a competitive advantage in the search for a skilled workforce and community growth.

Inter-provincial trade barrier reform: beer and wine industries

Inter-provincial barriers in Canada prohibit growth and limit consumer choice in too many businesses and industries. A prime example of an industry still hampered by antiquated inter-provincial trade barriers is the wine, beer and spirits industry.

Harmonizing British Columbia’s regulation of worker hours

Many businesses in British Columbia’s resource sector must grapple with differences between the employment standards legislation of B.C. and Alberta. This places an undue burden on many small businesses, and may result in a competitive disadvantage to B.C. businesses relative to those based in Alberta.

The rapid spread of invasive zebra and quagga mussels through fresh waters east of Saskatchewan has had devastating impacts on hydroelectric power, marine shipping, fishing and tourism industries. These species have recently spread through waterways in the southwest United States, and now pose an imminent threat to fresh waters in British Columbia. The provincial government must take decisive action now to avoid irreversible damage to our marine and tourism industries.

Through more productivity and innovation, B.C.’s Digital Media, Film and Animation industries are growing rapidly and continue to create jobs, business opportunities and economic growth for our province. These three industries often combine digital technologies to produce their work and each sector is experiencing similar impediments to expand with this growth, making this policy issue still relevant today and over the next years ahead.

 

Submission to Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services

Prepared by The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce

October 15, 2017

INTRODUCTION

There are six key issues we wish to highlight for the Committee.  A brief summary is provided in this document but we would be pleased to elaborate on any of the items if desired.  Follow-up can be made by contacting the Executive Director of the Kelowna Chamber, Dan Rogers.  Contact information is provided at the end of this submission.                                                                    

1. Balanced Budget/Prudent Fiscal Planning/Triple A Credit Rating

The province has had a balanced budget for five years in a row.  It currently has a Triple A credit rating, the only province in Canada with that mark of financial stability.  The Budget 2017 update from the government shows a surplus into 2020, although it shrinks dramatically between 2016-17 and 2017-18.

At the end of the last government in June, BC had enjoyed a stretch of first-rate fiscal stewardship unparalleled in the country. The province's debt-to-GDP ratio was at that point 16.1 per cent – which compares to 40.3 per cent for Ontario and 48 per cent for Quebec.

The new September 2017 budget update, and predictions of Budget 2018 show a concerning swing to increased spending.  The prudent fiscal planning which has allowed BC companies and businesses to flourish, to add employees, to construct new developments, and to enjoy renewed infrastructure, seems at risk. 

Our Chamber, and our business members, strongly endorse fiscal prudence; particularly so that the province can maintain its Triple A credit rating so that we can pay down debt, rather than service it as do other provinces; and to steer a middle path between spending on vital social services, and retaining financial stability for the future.

2. Continued attention to, and spending on the invasive species program

The Kelowna Chamber successfully tabled a Resolution at the BC Chamber Policy Forum, and the Canadian Chamber Policy Forum, most recently September 2017, calling for increased spending and focus on preventing zebra and quagga mussels from infesting bodies of fresh water in BC. 

Following a successful pilot program last year, in March of 2017, the province boosted the BC mussel defence program by $2 million.  This allows eight permanent mussel inspection stations installed at major entry points along BC’s borders.

Quagga and zebra mussels pose a serious threat to BC’s aquatic ecosystems, salmon populations, hydro power stations and other infrastructure facilities. They can clog pipes, cause ecological and economic damage, displace native aquatic plants and wildlife, degrade the environment and affect drinking water quality.

While BC Hydro, FortisBC, Columbia Power and the Columbia Basin Trust have contributed $2 million to the program, more attention and spending is needed. 

We call on the provincial government to ensure all border stations have trained personnel to intercept infested boats and water-based equipment on a 24-7 basis, and to expand the monitoring for invasive mussel species, as well as increasing highway signage alerting the public.

3. Attention to, and resources to help small businesses understand how to prepare for natural disasters such as floods and fires

The new government certainly has a clear view of the enormous costs in terms of time, management and resources from dealing with floods and fires after 2017.

Somewhat more hidden from view, however, are the individual, sometimes very small, impacts on individual businesses.  From farmers who lost barns; who lost stock either through destruction by fire, or lost due to burnt fencing; to gas stations; mom and pop groceries; and simply businesses which couldn’t operate or operate effectively for weeks on end – the list of business challenges and failures is sadly, nearly endless.

Preparation for disaster is certainly one thing; financing of fire- and flood-fighting important.  Equally important are resources to assist business continuity, including pre-disaster education and preparation, and recovery funding and resources after the fact. 

We want to see an effective disaster relief program in place before the next round of natural disaster/s strike our province. We know that you have announced “upgrading wildfire infrastructure, protecting communities from wildfire, and supporting community recovery with a $255 million investment.”

We all know that we will likely be faced with more environmental challenges as weather patterns continue to shift.  We echo local government’s call for better Provincial readiness, in particular how it impacts small businesses.  For example, in 2003 when the Okanagan Mountain Park fire led to the evacuation of 30,000 people, there was untold suffering by small businesses – from lost business to actual evacuations.  Kelowna rallied locally and came up with loans funded through Community Futures to provide bridge loans for 6 months to viable businesses that could demonstrate loss or impact. Solely relying on the banks to assist these small businesses is a not a great strategy and we would recommend a comprehensive approach that has appropriate resources to educate, mitigate and assist with post event recovery.  Chambers across BC are well positioned to be a key point of contact along with local governments in administering/overseeing such a comprehensive approach to ensure business continuity in the face of extreme weather events related to climate change.

4. Appropriate funding for much needed transportation initiatives to serve one of the fastest growing regions in the province.

Clearly this is an enormous subject, but one we want to ensure doesn’t get lost in the mega-projects and transportation challenges of metro Vancouver.  We, too, in the Okanagan, need provincial support for regional transportation plans and initiatives to meet the needs of growing communities and economies. We believe the province must make adequate investment in provincial infrastructure relating to highways and bridges to ensure the efficient movement of people and products through the region.  This includes having a bold vision for long term investment in highways and transportation corridors throughout the Okanagan.

Further, we want to ensure that the province, as stated, puts appropriate emphasis on a growing city such as Kelowna, and works collegially with municipal interests, to spend wisely and well on transportation that will best serve our businesses, residents and visitors in the short, mid and long term. 

This includes investment in highways and roadways that adequately addresses needs related to the movement of goods in and around the city while also continually enhancing alternative transportation options for people through investment in public transit.

5. Balance desired plans to strengthen residential tenancy act with need to create competitive environment that encourages private sector investment in rental accommodation.

The desire to strengthen the act should be tempered with the realization that an unintended consequence of such action could be the creation of an environment that discourages developers from considering an investment in market driven rental housing. Developers have long financial timelines, and if their ability to create a reasonable rate of return on this segment of housing is jeopardized by changes to the tenancy act, history has shown they may choose not to serve this much needed segment of the market.

We have numerous Chamber members involved at all stages of the construction industry; developers, builders, realtors, mortgage brokers, other finance interests, as well as manufacturers, lumber yards, appliance and furniture retailers.  This is a delicate food chain that needs to be fed to thrive. 

We would ask that a sensible plan be tabled in advance of any irretrievable policies which the government states will “reduce wait times and help renters and landlords understand their responsibilities with a $7 million investment over three years”.  

6. Continuation of tax credits and labour market development programming to continue the growth of the local technology sector (digital media, gaming and programming) in Kelowna.

The government should be applauded for their recent Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) aimed at the tech sector.  As an economic immigration program, the BC Provincial Nominee Program (BC PNP) enables the Province to nominate economic immigrants (skilled workers and entrepreneurs) for permanent residence based on BC's economic needs, priorities and selection criteria. The 2016 TechTalentBC Report identifies access to talent as the biggest issue facing the tech sector, posing the most significant barrier to economic growth. The BC PNP Tech Pilot provides a fast-track, permanent immigration pathway for in-demand foreign tech workers and international students.

The BC PNP Tech Pilot features:

  • A dedicated concierge service so tech employers understand the immigration process with timely and relevant information about the application process.
  • Weekly invitations for tech registrants to apply so employers have timely access to qualified individuals in the 32 key technology occupations.
  • Priority processing to meet the sector’s fast-paced demands so if you are working in the technology sector and you submit a complete application to the BC PNP, your file will be assigned the next business day to a dedicated technology sector-focused team.
  • Focused outreach and engagement with the technology sector and industry partners with tailored presentations, networking opportunities and one-on-one employer support 

This is a great step forward for the industry.  As well, each year the Federal Government allocates those PNP spots to the Provinces in Canada.  More pressure needs to be placed on Ottawa for an increased number of spots to fall to the Provinces, and particularly British Columbia, which, a recent National Audit pointed out, was the best run PNP program in Canada.

The provincial government has a responsibility to continue the tax credits that help these emerging companies set up, grow, thrive, hire, expand, and enjoy economic stability in a highly competitive, ever-changing business and creative environment, where only the fastest managers, and the very best companies survive. 

Specifics regarding the digital media sector:

Industry Scan:  industry in Kelowna (Bardel Entertainment, YetiFarm Creative, HyperHippo, Disney Interactive) and regional secondary and post secondary institutions are working together to design and deliver an innovative education pathway from secondary to post-graduate, to grow required skills base for the new job opportunities in the growing digital media sector in the region

Training Pipeline:  Central Okanagan School District 23, Okanagan College, UBCO, and Vancouver Film School are in the process of articulating a training pipeline including an innovative 'badge' system for industry recognized accreditation for various digital media skills – a program that will integrate with fully integrated co-op apprenticeship-style post-secondary work experience programs at both College and University levels

Trade Standards: Program delivery is being designed to meet BC educational and trades training standard, and to be aligned with BC Government training funding programs like the BC Jobs Grant, regional LMP/CJG/PBLMT funding partnerships for further industry training or retraining (up-skilling and re-skilling).

Short Term Goals:  Short term goal over the next 3-5 years is to create a foundation of digital skills training programs specific to the regions, to meet industry needs to attract 250-500 new digital media jobs to the Thompson Okanagan. This is approximately 10-20% of the estimated new 2500 positions projected to be required in BC by 2020.  (Currently the Thompson Okanagan employs about 7% of digital media positions in BC)