Municipal Check-In: City leaders discuss their priorities and goals

Mayors and city leaders hold the power to influence impactful change faster than their provincial, federal and international counterparts. Five municipalities weigh in on the issues that matter most to businesses.

Aerial view of Greater Victoria, BC.

We asked each Mayor the same three questions: what are your priorities for supporting businesses, name one recent or future policy that will be a game-changer for business, and what’s your biggest challenge or opportunity?

These are their answers, provided in the same order of questions as above.

Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria

Lisa Helps, Mayor of the City of Victoria
Lisa Helps, Mayor of the City of Victoria

A key priority is to support businesses coming out of the pandemic and help them to thrive into the future. To achieve this, our Business Hub at City Hall and our business ambassador act as a concierge service, helping business owners to navigate City processes. Victoria 3.0, the City’s 20-year economic action plan, builds on the work of the Business Hub and includes priority actions like the development of a retail strategy and the creation of a clean and safe committee for downtown.

The number one concern that I hear from the business community is the challenge of attracting and retaining employees. Reason — the cost of housing. Victoria is proposing to make three big housing moves to address housing affordability and supply. We’ve rezoned to allow for and encourage housing projects by non-profits and co-ops to provide homes for low-income workers; Council is considering a plan to pre-zone land along transportation corridors; and to rezone the whole city to allow houseplexes and townhomes on lands currently zoned for single family.

At the City, we are short-staffed in key positions that are integral to our ability to process new housing projects to help address the housing crisis. Last year was a record with over $700-million in building permit values. Business is booming, and we’re working to keep applications and permits moving ahead.

Rob Martin, Mayor of Colwood

Rob Martin, Mayor of the City of Colwood.
Rob Martin, Mayor of the City of Colwood.

We want to make it easy for business owners to succeed in Colwood with streamlined business licensing, relaxed sign requirements for best visibility and flexibility for customer-focused enhancements like patio seating. We’re working to improve the public realm in Colwood’s town centre areas to encourage people to linger and spend time at local businesses. We are taking advantages of initiatives like the recent announcement of $3.6-million in federal and provincial funding for a Galloping Goose bridge that will draw more people to Colwood businesses and amenities.

We’re currently working on a new Business Retention, Expansion and Attraction program to draw new complementary services and employers to the city. A recent survey found that 92 per cent report being satisfied with Colwood and revealed top priorities including availability of health and medical services, skilled labour, housing and commercial space.

Colwood residents have access to many nearby commercial and ‘big box style’ opportunities while enjoying the lifestyle of a slower-paced seaside community. Colwood is adding much-needed housing in areas of the community that are identified for growth, and striving to provide a range of housing choices for people at varying income levels and at every age and stage of life.

Fred Haynes, Mayor of Saanich

Fred Haynes, Mayor of the District of Saanich.
Fred Haynes, Mayor of the District of Saanich.

In the immediate term, we are continuing the use of extended patios by our hospitality businesses — restaurants and bars. We have also been working internally to expedite permitting for renovations and occupancy. We are liaising with local business groups, such as the Cadboro Bay Village and Royal Oak Business Improvement Associations, to better understand and support businesses.

To expand our economic base and diversity, the District of Saanich has recently recruited Mitchell Edgar as our economic development manager. He will help to enhance the business climate (with a base of 4,700 businesses), retain and expand businesses and attract new investment. I’m also in conversations with Camosun about the feasibility of developing a film studio at the Interurban Campus; with UVic about setting up a medical device innovation hub at Saanich Plaza; and exploring ideas for a food processing and technology hub.

One of our biggest challenges is the cost and availability of diverse rental and market housing. The focus of growth is in green corridors, villages and centres across Saanich, including in the Uptown Douglas area. With 55 per cent of our lands outside the urban containment boundary, there are excellent economic options for improved agriculture, food security and eco-sensitive use of our forests, green spaces, trail systems and beaches.

Stew Young, Mayor of Langford

Stew Young, Mayor of the City of Langford.
Stew Young, Mayor of the City of Langford.

Keeping our taxes low and encouraging investment in Langford from businesses from around the region: opening up a second store or from further afield, like Plexus who moved out from Brampton, Ontario, and built a $40-million building.

Over the last 30 years we’ve increased our business from about three per cent of our total tax base to over 30 per cent — that’s a 1,000 per cent increase in our businesses in Langford.

We’re transitioning our city into a more modern downtown core now, which will have high rises up to 20—30 storeys with businesses on the bottom floors. It’s a great opportunity for somebody to start a new business in downtown Langford because we’ll have the density. We’ll have the infrastructure: We already have the sewer, the water and all the improvements that we are doing with our roads network.

You can’t make that transition unless you have investment from businesses.

We’re working with companies from across Canada who are coming in to build high rise condos. We’ll have some housing in between that $300,000 to $500,000 range, as part of the attainable housing program that we initiated.

People that have lived in Langford for two years can receive down payments (up to $17,000) to help them buy a condo or townhouse. We’re really working hard on that, trying to figure out a way to solve the attainable housing crisis.

Barb Desjardins, Mayor of Esquimalt

Barb Desjardins, Mayor of the Township of Esquimalt
Barb Desjardins, Mayor of the Township of Esquimalt.

Priorities for supporting businesses include increasing online services to expedite payments and processes. We want to enable them to streamline their work with us as much as possible. We’ve recently launched MyEsquimalt — an online hub that allows just that. We are also focused on increasing commercial and retail space to allow businesses options for setting up in Esquimalt. We are trying to create synergies between new developments.

Within our taxation policy, we have committed to working toward a business ratio of 2.5, which would reduce municipal taxes for businesses. We’re also looking at potential changes to our revitalization tax policy for beautification of buildings and frontage retrofit.

We have significant interest in Esquimalt by the development community. New homes help increase our population and with that, the need for commercial, retail and other services. Our light industrial lands support a range of businesses from breweries to auto shops, and with that is a range of options for new economic activity. We’re welcoming an economic development officer — a new position for the township — later this year. This additional resource will help further connect the existing Esquimalt businesses community as well as bring in external markets to promote businesses moving to or expanding in Esquimalt.