Published On: Thursday, 10 January 2019

Kelowna Chamber - It's All About Policy

One of the highlights of November 2018 was connecting at the Legislature with our three local MLAs – Ben Stewart, Steve Thomson and Norm Letnick. Our Chamber President Carmen Sparg and I met with the MLAs to discuss various provincial issues and then met with Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Hon. Selina Robinson.

We joined representatives from the BC Chamber and had a constructive discussion around affordable housing across the province and in Kelowna in particular. We suggested that some effort by the government next year to bring community leaders and industry to the table to discuss ways to bring the cost of housing down would be a valuable exercise.

We are standing by to assist in bringing those local stakeholders together so we can find areas of collaboration rather than continuing to focus on those policy areas where we differ. The meeting with the Minister also allowed us to touch briefly on some of the taxation issues that have been top of mind here for many of our members and residents.

November was truly all about policy here at the Chamber. On November 7th, we hosted an early morning policy development session for 60 members and non-members to find out what issues are percolating in their businesses that our Chamber might help address through policy development in 2019. We tried a different format this year: ‘speed dating’ ten issue-oriented tables from transportation to tax, housing to blockchain. Attendees self-selected three topic tables and moved around every half hour.

Now the hard work begins: sifting through the initiatives and recommendations suggested and determining which will evolve into 2019 policy resolutions. We will be ready to go with that list January 1st. We were joined by Chamber colleagues and members from Penticton, West Kelowna and Vernon. We appreciated their setting their alarms extra early for us!

We also attended a BC Chamber area meeting on November 14th in Vernon. Officials from the BC Chamber pulled together chambers from Kelowna to the Shuswap to hear about issues of note for 2019: cannabis and transportation were at the fore.

We’ll be working with our Chamber colleagues to ensure the voices of business in the Okanagan Shuswap are heard at the 2019 BC Chamber Policy convention in May on these and other issues.

Speaking of hearing voices, the BC Chamber closed its annual “Collective Perspective” survey of province-wide member issues at the end of November, with its November 27 annual Vancouver dinner – featuring one of Canada’s most respected pollsters, Bruce Anderson. We were privileged to host the BC Chamber dinner with Bruce last year in Kelowna. The BC Chamber explored trends in the BC economy, unpacking where both start-ups and established businesses are feeling bullish – and where they see cause for concern.

Alongside a group of BC’s Deputy Ministers, the Chamber dinner also took a look toward the future, gathering insight from businesses on their longer-term vision for the economy.

November was also the time of year for Kelowna’s annual Chamber “Member Satisfaction Survey”. Sounds a bit dry, but it’s really important to all of us here at the Chamber to find out what our members think about their year just past with us; what worked, what didn’t. What information was really helpful? What events made them want more? What speakers inspired them? And what ideas do they have for us that will help us deliver a more meaningful membership. We have that survey out there now and will be examining results early in the new year, which will help us tweak our membership packages, and the way we communicate. Stay tuned!

As our calendar year winds down, lots of new taxes, most of which the Chamber has pushed back on, are set to take effect in the new year. The BC health care payroll tax (EHT) has employers calculating their new costs and continuing to fight against the double dipping of paying both MSP for employees while the employee also pays partial MSP into general revenue. Municipalities are hard hit, not receiving any exemption: means municipal property taxes will rise everywhere in the province. Property taxes are slated to jump 2.5 to 3 per cent on the EHT alone. Business leases: some are predicting that 90 per cent of these will go up.

Non-profits are slightly better off, being exempt on annual payrolls up to $1.5 million. In addition to having to swallow the ‘double taxation’ pill, business owners also are choking on the extension of the payroll tax to seasonal farm workers and others whose employers don’t currently pay MSP premiums. In Langley, one farmer is facing a $100,000 increase in payroll costs for 2019. In Saanich North, an electrical contractor with a $20 million payroll and 280 employees is looking at a 10-fold increase in costs. This information came to us via the Green Party.

Here I am talking about taxes again. We haven’t fully planned out what we’re planning in 2019 regarding the Speculation Tax. We’re looking at writing a new policy that will mitigate its effects in some way, perhaps through taking a fresh look at property transfer taxes. Stay tuned: the battle to scrap the tax isn’t over.

Timely, no doubt, that our Chamber is hosting our three local MLAs for our December Signature Series luncheon December 5. They’ll have all the up-to-date information from the Ledge, and after our joint “Merry Mixer” with the Greater Westside Board of Trade December 6th, we put our Events calendar to bed, wait for Santa, and re-boot in 2019.

A good segue to welcoming our newest Chamber members: Amend Developments; Assante Capital Management; Event Max Merchandising & Promotions Ltd.; Loewenhardt Investments Inc.; Stuart Broughton; AltaVie Health; Ebus; Erhard’s Orthopedics Ltd.; KLO Veterinary Hospital; Manshield Alta Construction; Total E-Clips Inc.; Trak Capital Ltd.; Fox Architecture; CIBC upgrade to Platinum. Welcome all!

Dan Rogers is Executive Director, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce