In July, when Vancouver-based credit union and financial research firm Central 1 reported that real GDP growth for BC has slipped to its slowest pace since 2015 – from 2.4 per cent to 2.2 per cent – Kelowna and other chambers in the Thompson Okanagan were engaging with ministers from the government over numerous issues which are impeding growth in the province.
Central 1 attributes the slippage to ‘trade deterioration; retrenchment in the forestry sector; and reduced consumer spending.’ The report also notes that the province’s very low unemployment rate shows some similarities to levels prior to the 2008 financial crisis. The Kelowna Chamber believes that the multiple layers of taxes: municipal, provincial and federal – are a strong contributing factor.
The Kelowna Chamber hosts Central 1’s Chief Economist for a Kelowna-specific economic update in Kelowna November 13.
The Kelowna Chamber welcomed senior officials from twelve BC Government ministries at the end of July in the first ever regional consultation between the Province and the BC Chamber network. The day-long consultation was the first of a series of regional meetings around the province that is meant to expedite discussion on critical issues impacting BC’s economy. In past years, policies and specific recommendations for government, adopted at the BC Chamber annual conference were forwarded to government with a request for written responses; a process that often took months to complete. These new regional discussions get to the heart of the issues faster. Eleven chambers from the Thompson Okanagan region plus the BC Chamber’s senior executive were also at the table.
“This new format – engaging face-to-face with Deputy Ministers and senior staff – and enabling immediate feedback created a meaty, substantive, intense day that moved the dial on a wide range of issues,” said Ron Cannan, Vice President of the Kelowna Chamber, who attended the seven-hour session. “Kelowna submitted eight policies to the BC Chamber in May 2019; all were adopted, and this was an immediate opportunity to bring our policies to the attention of the applicable ministry and know that the recommendations are now on the table in Victoria.”
Valley-area chambers are debriefing the takeaways from that meeting, and planning the policy year ahead at the end of August. We firmly believe that working together regionally makes us much stronger, and helps us create the famous wedge offence where once we make even small inroads, the weight of our colleagues helps drive us forward.
Out of the Kelowna Chamber’s roster of policies adopted by the BC Chamber network over the past 14 months, several got singled out for significant discussion.
End the Speculation Tax. The Kelowna Chamber’s position continues to be that the “Spec Tax” will not alleviate the rental housing crisis. The tax seems popular only in areas where it is not implemented, or with a demographic slice that does not include homeowners. Our Chamber recommends that the provincial government eliminate the speculation tax immediately, and destroy all submission records from citizens. The Kelowna Chamber did request that all information and data exchanged between the Finance Minister and the local government representatives she meets with prior to the upcoming UBCM be made public so it is clear both how much money is being raised in Kelowna and West Kelowna as a result of this new tax and getting a guarantee that all funds raised are being reinvested back into the communities where the additional tax is being levied.
Accelerating Transportation in the central Okanagan corridor. While some municipal steps are being taken to broaden active transportation – walking, transit, bicycling, scooters – getting industrial products to and from markets isn’t making much progress. Our Chamber’s favourite line in 2019 has been “you can’t put a log on a bus”. Our policy recommendations – strongly supported by our collegial valley chambers – include engaging the business community and industry leaders in identifying strategic regional investments in the transportation network in the Okanagan – including planning for an eventual second lake crossing; highway bypass routes; and other highway upgrades that would improve safety and efficiency of the system from the US border in the south to the intersection with Highway 1 in the north. Industry wants and needs to be at the table when regional planning occurs, and this session allowed us to make that point to the Ministry officials in the room. Penticton and Wine Country Chamber has taken on our policy and will be presenting it at the Canadian Chamber, seeking federal government support, at the end of September.
We also promoted our Community Court policy. The City of Kelowna, local judiciary and the Chamber all support ongoing efforts to establish a community court in Kelowna. The government is currently focused on “Situation Tables” wherein better identification – prior to the ‘next offense’ are meant to keep streets safer and focus on treatment and removal of the individual from the negative-focused environment.
Recycling policy. The Chamber got a positive reception from BC Chamber delegates when we tabled this policy in May. Essentially calling for higher tech solutions to the pesky issue of recycling plastic and glass bottles, cans and the like through reverse vending machines, the policy would increase recycling levels particularly in more rural and remote areas of the province and divert much product from the waste stream. We are delighted at the reception of the policy by the Ministry of the Environment, who have just tabled a report calling on private vendors, as we did, to up their game, and take on more recycling responsibilities while increasing the flow-through consumer-paid and -refunded deposit rates.
“Presenting our policies to government is a critical part of our network’s robust policy process,” says Val Litwin, CEO of the BC Chamber of Commerce. “We look forward to working collaboratively with government in the year ahead on numerous files for the betterment of all BC’s regional economies.”
“We eagerly anticipate hearing from our chamber colleagues as they engage with BC Government officials in these regional meetings. We are the largest and most influential voice for business in BC and representing our members’ interests here in the Okanagan is a key member benefit that our Chamber provides,” concluded Cannan.
The complete BC Chamber Policy & Positions Manual for 2019-2020 can be accessed online at http://www.bcchamber.org/policies
Dan Rogers is Executive Director for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce