The BC throne speech in February centered around making life more affordable for British Columbians. This is of course welcome news, as families struggle to manage even everyday costs like housing and child care. Affordability is also impacting on the business community. In February, the BC Chamber of Commerce released its 2018/19 Collective Perspective Survey Report. Based on online survey responses by 883 business leaders from across BC, this survey provides insight into the mood of BC business.

The good news is that individual business optimism has remained reasonably steady year over year. However, this optimism is based on the fact that business leaders believe that they and their team members can do what they need to do in order to grow and support their businesses. The bad news is that confidence in the BC economy has declined in 49 per cent  of businesses since 2017. The greatest reason for this is that “the cost of doing business has worsened.” The areas of greatest concern are the cost of housing, the cost of & access to labour, provincial & federal taxes, and provincial regulations. As in many communities this resonates in the WestShore, where people are moving into housing as fast as it can be built, and business owners regularly tell me about the challenges they face in both attracting and retaining staff. The speculation tax is also adversely impacting business in the WestShore and beyond, as is the rolling out of the EHT. We will only truly see the impact of these taxation policies as time moves on.

There are a number of areas in which business owners see opportunity. These include Canada’s positive image in the wider world, and BC as a destination for tourists. There is a thriving tourism industry up and down Vancouver Island, with island Chambers of Commerce taking a proactive role in supporting the resident killer whale populations while also supporting the livelihoods of island communities.

Other areas of opportunity include the appeal of BC to foreign investment, although this is side by side with concern that the provincial and federal requirements for approval of major projects will turn some investors away. 57 per cent  of respondents support the Kinder Morgan pipeline project and 22 per cent  are opposed, while 21 per cent  describe their response as neutral.

The overall assessment of the Collective Perspective Survey Report is that it reflects a “positive mood but with more stress in 2018.” You can learn more by going to bcchamber.org

Julie Lawlor is the Executive Director at the WestShore Chamber of Commerce.

You can reach her at jlawlor@westshore.bc.ca