I’m always tempted to call every fourth fall “silly season” as suddenly, everyone’s a wanna-be candidate, has all the solutions to our municipal issues, and the phone never stops ringing. A more charitable term might be “interesting times.”
Certainly we are in interesting times in our super-charged political climate these days. The off-again, on-again cuts to the size of Toronto City Council come to mind; the Appeals Court has now sided with Premier Doug Ford. Our local municipal election is currently reflecting some good issues-related debate.
Our Chamber is canvassing all Kelowna’s mayoral and councillor candidates, posting questions and responses on our website. We’re also hosting a live mayoral debate closer to the October 20 election date. October is a politically-charged month: the mail-in ballots asking British Columbians their views on electoral reform-proportional representation go out on October 22.
We’re hosting a panel discussion of the issue, Pro-Rep, and No to PR – both sides are sending their number ones to Kelowna on October 17 to present their cases to our membership. Bill Tieleman represents the ‘no’ side – a long-time NDP strategist, Bill makes compelling arguments for his views whenever he speaks. The ‘yes’ side will be represented by Marina Dobrinskaya, a supporter of Vision Vancouver, and ardent spokesperson for moving to a system of proportional representation.
On that same day, of course, Canada marks the legalization of recreational cannabis. It doesn’t look like much will change, at least not right away. Stores won’t be opening up on every street corner, as City Councils across the country wrestle with the issue of business licenses for the new industry.
What our Chamber sees is just that: a new industry and opportunities for businesses to establish a new framework for success. Many have been preparing for this date for years, getting federal licenses, business plans, people and funding in place.
We have encouraged our own City Council to revisit the introduction of private liquor stores in the province, and the lessons learned at that time. Spot zoning, with public hearings for each address, then proved not only costly and time-consuming, but ultimately, unnecessary, and a barrier to commerce. Simple text amendments to zoning bylaws became, generally, the order of the day. Efficient and less costly.
We hope to see Kelowna City Council allow businesses which have already invested significant dollars and time in getting ready for this new industry to get on with it; two years from now, the market will have voted with its feet, and the success stories won’t be hard to identify. Late in September the City proposed that a cannabis retail business license would be priced at $10,000, with applications accepted between October 1 and November 30, 2018.
Thinking about municipal zoning and licensing issues makes me think about our upcoming election. When it comes to candidates for office in municipal elections, it is crucial for would-be politicians to understand their roles and responsibilities. Under the Community Charter, elected Mayors and Councillors are autonomous, responsible and accountable; their governance is established and continued by the will of the residents of their community, and they require adequate power and discretion to address existing and future community needs, within a legislative framework.
As our municipal mayors who spoke out against the Speculation Tax during the September UBCM said, the introduction of the tax by the Province without prior consultation with local government runs contrary to the principle of respect for local government as an “order of Government” entrenched in the Community Charter. Newly elected municipal officials will have a steep learning curve!
As October continues to unfold, our much-anticipated business excellence awards are handed out at an October 24 gala evening for a crowd of members, sponsors and Finalists. We prepped for the gala with a Semi-Finalist event earlier this month, at which we announced 33 Finalists in eleven categories. We did have more nominations than ever this year: 323. Our independent judging panel had to work very hard to interview all the businesses on their site visits!
The Legislature began its fall sitting this month – on the agenda, long awaited details on the Speculation Tax, the Employer Health Tax, and a look-ahead to next year’s budget. While we were pleased in August when the Finance Minister announced Budget 2017 results were in the black – with a budget surplus of $301 million – the Chamber continues to keep a close watch on the current budget year, with the new spending on programs and ambitious promises.
All this in an environment when we know provincial income from property transfer taxes and real estate-related income – one of the biggest contributors to provincial revenue – is down some 25%.
The Government layering on new taxes without a broad consent-based plan for paying for them presents a challenge to all British Columbians in the year ahead. We were concerned September 19 when the Fraser Institute computed that the ‘average BC family will pay an additional $969 in taxes.’ “While the government claims it is making life more affordable for B.C. families, that’s a significant amount of money,” said Niels Veldhuis, president of the Fraser Institute. Crucially, the $969 does not include increased property transfer taxes, the foreign buyers’ tax, the speculation tax and the school tax, which together total more than $500 million in increased taxes.
Late September also saw the Kelowna Chamber travel to the annual Canadian Chamber conference and national policy sessions. Three of us traveled to Thunder Bay, including our President Carmen Sparg, to debate the 66 policies proposed by Chambers from across the country. It was a pleasure to present our two policies from Kelowna: one, recommending that interprovincial trade barriers be removed in order to give more opportunities to BC and other provinces’ businesses for trade within Canada; and a second, recommending the federal government continue to provide incentives to expand and protect Canada’s digital media industry. I only realized this year that BC, for the first time, surpassed Ontario in digital media income: BC posted $2.991 billion in 2017 against Ontario’s $2.977 billion. Film, gaming, TV, computer-based graphics.
And, interestingly, 32% of the 66 policies tabled in Thunder Bay came from BC against Ontario’s 35%. Perhaps next year, BC will surpass Ontario in that category, as well. A goal to shoot for!
I’ll close, as always, with a big welcome for our newest members since my last column in September. BC Oil and Gas Commission; International House of Prayer; Kaizen Communications; Telep Distributors; Strathcom Media Inc.; Sotheby’s International Realty; Crohn’s and Colitis Canada; Adventist World Aviation; BlackCap Creative; Kelowna Hot Shot Service; 101025205 Saskatchewan Ltd.; Sayvee Creative Inc.; Build 4 Value Consulting; WSP (formerly OPUS); EVS Canada; Marcel LaFlamme Barrister & Solicitor; Mexican Treasures; Sherpa Group Events; MPC Mutanho Professional Corporation; Ricco Bambino Winery; Teema Recruitment; The Fraser Patridge Group – RE/MAX; and upgraded member Ric Lazare at Xeva Mortgage. Welcome all!
Dan Rogers is Executive Director, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce