I keep a pulse on the local business community through regular meetings with business leaders. At the end of British Columbia Chamber of Commerce Week in February, I invited the chambers in Saanich North and the Islands to a video call to hear how I can better advocate for them with the provincial government.
Our riding is diverse, as are the needs of the businesses. In addition to supporting the tourism economy with safer transportation routes and visitor friendly infrastructure, there was overwhelming agreement that workforce housing was the top priority across the peninsula and Southern Gulf Islands.
We have a range of housing needs — for frontline workers, skilled trades, healthcare, the technology sector. The Sidney commercial centre, and the Keating and West Sidney/North Saanich business parks generate more than a billion dollars of activity annually, making them critical contributors to the local and regional economy.
The enterprises in these commercial and industrial zones produce necessary tax revenue for our municipal governments, jobs for our community members and vibrant neighbourhoods for people of all ages.
Currently, thousands of workers commute more than 40 kms to get to work each day. On the Southern Gulf Islands, businesses are struggling because their workers have been priced out of the real estate market, and many rental units have been turned into short-term vacation rentals.
Add all the factors challenging local business competitiveness together and it poses a significant risk that I and my colleagues in elected office must understand and respond to.
Earlier in the week, my BC Green Caucus colleague Sonia Furstenau and I met with the BC Chamber of Commerce board chair Greg Thomas, and president and CEO Fiona Famulak. They visited the legislature to meet with MLAs to advocate for businesses.
Over the last few years, the resilience of businesses across the province has been tested with the global pandemic. The ensuing inflation and rising costs on business has added to their challenges. Many businesses have closed their doors, and many more are threatened.
The BC Chamber pointed to increasing wages, the employer health tax, PST, mandatory benefits such as paid sick leave, and delays of project permitting.
I left these meetings with a fresh reminder of the balance we must strike to ensure that both the workers get paid fairly and have the benefits they need to keep them safe and supported at work, with the reality of the entrepreneurs and investors in our communities who create the jobs, hopefully close to home.