Restaurant industry group happy with vaccine passport rollout so far


Passport generally a success?

Vaccination passports have generally been successful, according to the BC Restaurants and Food Services Association.

President and CEO Ian Tostenson says the first few weeks were not “smooth,” but most of the kinks have been worked out for most B.C. restaurants.

“Just trying to get the flow. The restaurant has the option to check the QR code at the front or at a table. They also had to figure out if they wanted to scan the code or just do a visual check. They had that option as well.”

“We lost a little bit of business because people would show up and had their QR code, but forgot their I.D. Or when a large group showed up and someone didn’t have it with them. Those things are getting better because of the awareness now about what you need to do. People are getting into the groove,” he said.

Tostenson says there has been some struggle with restaurants that didn’t want to do the program, but he says the government’s enforcement has helped to persuade them.

“What we were trying to accomplish here was trying to keep the industry open by using the vaccine care and I think that is going to work. It will also help people that are on the fence and say you know what I am going to get vaccinated so I can do some Christmas events and things.”

On October 8, Renegade Kitchen was ordered to shut down for non-compliance.

“It’s unfortunate, but just follow the protocols. There have been roughly 42 warning letters handed out and the government has had 800 complaints, but a lot of them are getting resolved, it was just a matter of orientation. I am pretty impressed about the way the government is doing this,” Tostenson added.

Wine and Beyond is officially open in Kelowna


One-of-a-kind liquor store


Wine and Beyond is a liquor store like you’ve never seen before and it’s officially open in Kelowna.

The private wine and spirits shop is the largest of its kind in B.C.

“We are 16 plus thousand square feet. We have 3,000 wines, 1,900 odd spirits and about 1,900 beers, coolers and ciders. The focus is on international and local. We are just trying to offer the best selection at the best price possible,” said Larry Moskal, director of marketing of Wine and Beyond.

The store has department experts that lead customers through the experience. “We have chosen international wine, starting with champagne, sparkling wine, France, Italy, Spain Portugal. We are trying to capture every wine-producing country in the world,” said Barb Wild wine manager.

There is also 600 bottles of B.C. wine.

“We have the discovery centre which will be a place where we can teach, share, taste and learn about wine. The key is helping people develop their sensory skills.”

Beer manager Josh Dobson says he is excited to share his passion and education with others.

“I have gone to school for brewing. It has been in my family for almost 30 years. My uncle was a beer master. It is my passion and what I love and so that is really what we try to bring with the rest of the team.”

Wine and Beyond is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. in the Dilworth Shopping Centre.

Forecast: B.C. home prices soar as supply falls


Typical B.C. home price will top $937,000 in 2022 – and $1.2 million in Metro – as housing starts plunge 12.8 per cent
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Multi-family construction continues at the Oakridge Centre in Vancouver. | Chung Chow

Despite election pledges from every major political party to boost new home construction, B.C. housing starts will plunge 12.8 per cent next year, helping to drive average home prices to record highs across the province, according to a recent forecast from the B.C. Real Estate Association (BCREA.)

“With strong demand being supported by low mortgage rates and a rapidly rebounding post-COVID economy, the more significant concern is whether there will be an adequate supply of listings in the market,” said BCREA chief economist Brendon Ogmundson in a third quarter Housing Forecast Update released August 19.

BCREA is forecasting that the lack of supply coupled with high demand will see the average B.C. composite home price increase 16.6 per cent this year to $911,300 and a further 2.9 per cent in 2022 to $937,300.

In Greater Vancouver, the average home price will hit $1.2 million next year, up 2.1 per cent from 2021 and nearly $200,000 higher than two years earlier, the forecast said.

Using Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. forecast data, the BCREA said B.C. housing starts will plunge 12.8 per cent next year, compared to 2021, to 39,000 units. The drop will be led by the multi-family sector, where starts are forecast to fall 16.8 per cent to 28,300 homes.

Many of the multi-family starts, however, will be rental housing or subsidized social housing, not market condominiums or townhomes.

Housing supply has become a key election plank for Canada’s three major political parties as they campaign for the September 20 federal election, but the emphasis is not on encouraging private-sector housing.

Here is how the election housing supply promises stack up among the federal parties.

Liberals: If re-elected, they would invest $4 billion in new money to construct 100,000 “middle class homes” over the next four years. A close look at this proposal, however, shows most of the funding would go toward subsidizing rental housing. The Liberals further pledge to put up $600 million (double the funding announced in spring 2021 under its space conversion plan) to help transform vacant office space into rental housing. Urban B.C., though, has one of the lowest office vacancy rates in the country.  The Liberals would also put $1 billion toward loans and grants for rent-to-own projects.

Conservatives: The Conservatives plan to build one million homes over the next three years and release 15 per cent of government-owned real estate for new builds or conversion into rental properties. The Conservatives promise to mandate higher-density residential development near federally-funded public transit., such as SkyTrain extensions in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. The Conservatives would also  encourage private developers by extending the ability to defer capital gains tax when selling a rental property and re-investing in rental housing.

NDP: The federal NDP propose building 500,000 new “affordable” homes over the next 10 years with an emphasis on subsidized social housing. The NDP’s stated aim to “get big money out of housing” apparently refers to private, not public investing.

B.C. consumer demand is for homes they can purchase, according to the BCREA, and this is where the shortage is most severe.

“Even with sales moderating slightly in the second half of this year, we are forecasting that home sales in 2021 will set a new record of 118,350 units before slowing to 100,150 units in 2022,” the BCREA forecast stated.


Restaurants want security

Restaurant association calls for security-cost help as vaccine passport looms

Restaurants want security

After angry protests over the province’s impending new vaccine passport, the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association is calling on the province to offset costs of added security at bars and restaurants before the program comes into effect on Sept. 13.

Association chief executive Ian Tostenson said Thursday the industry feels it should be compensated for the expected pushback and increased cost.

“We are doing this, and we are doing it for the benefit of B.C. to motivate people to get vaccinated,” he said. “It seems reasonable to free up some resources to help us do that.”

From Sept. 13, British ­Columbians 12 years and older will need to provide proof of at least one dose of vaccine to enter non-essential businesses and events, including sports competitions, nightclubs, restaurants and movies. Beginning Oct. 24, only fully vaccinated people will be permitted entry.

Given the protests this week near hospitals and already high tensions over mask rules in ­restaurants, the industry is ­worried the vaccine passport program will result in tense standoffs at the door.

Tostenson said the association has forwarded to government a wishlist of things they would like to see before restaurants have to start checking vaccine status and identification.

The list includes clear signage in multiple languages, resources to train staff on how to check ID and vaccine status, information on the kinds of vaccine proof and ID staff will see, fines and penalties for restaurants that flout the rules and assurances the technology the province will be using will work in all settings.

Money for added security was not originally on that list, but Tostenson said it became important after an incident in Port Alberni this week when a customer urinated in a fast-food restaurant when told he would not be served if he didn’t obey the rules.

Tostenson said many restaurants, including quick-service establishments, don’t have a greeting station where patrons can be checked and informed of the rules, and may need additional security.

That’s already on the cards in some Victoria restaurants.

Rob Chyzowski, owner of Belleville’s Watering Hole, said he had no choice but to hire security ahead of Sept. 13 after what has been a difficult summer at times for his staff as they enforced mask rules.

“It’s getting nasty out there,” he said. “Our staff are really concerned about their safety. It’s been a tough summer with just masks — that was hard enough, but now they have to deal with vaccination status.”

Chyzowski said it’s not fair to have young hosts on the front line dealing with belligerent customers, so he will have security in the evenings, and he intends to work the door for a while to see what staff have to deal with.

Chyzowski added that it’s already difficult getting people to take host jobs.

“It’s harder than finding cooks right now,” he said. “A lot are tired of dealing with the people — it has been a long summer with a lot of rude customers.”

Petr Prusa, owner of Floyd’s Diner, said he is planning to have discussions about security so wait staff don’t have to deal with people upset about vaccine passports. “We always have lines at the door, so yeah, it’s a concern,” he said.

Tostenson hopes the province will work with the industry to come up with resources to help deal with the issue and help the industry recruit people to work.

“Right now we are trying to attract people to our industry, and when you hear about things like Port Alberni, those young people start to wonder if that is what they want to be doing,” he said. “We need protection around that.”

Tostenson said equipping restaurants with the resources to handle what’s to come is one way for the province to get through the next phase of the pandemic without having to close restaurants again.

No April Fool’s joke – British Columbians paying more tax as of today


New taxes take effect

It was a cruel April Fools’ joke, but British Columbians began paying more tax on several things, Thursday.

Coming into effect on April1 were an increase to the carbon tax, a new soft drink tax, streaming tax – and, to make it all sting just a little bit more, MPs got a pay raise we’ll all paying for as well.

And so did MLAs.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation notes that the B.C. carbon tax has gone up to $45 per tonne, and that can of pop will now cost you more because the provincial sales tax has been added, whereas food and drink products were previously exempt.

The 7% PST has also been added to vaping products and now also applies to streaming services like Netflix, Spotify and others.

“It’s now going to cost you more to get to work, more to heat your home and more to watch your favourite shows,” says Kris Sims, B.C. director for the CTF. “This is not an April Fools’ joke. It’s going to cost everyday people more to live their lives, and the taxman is going to get you even when you’re relaxing at the end of the day with a drink.”

MLAs are getting a 0.8% raise, bringing their base salary up to $111,912 a year. The raise had been paused last year because of the pandemic, but went ahead this year.

The new B.C. carbon tax rate equates to 9.9 cents per litre of gasoline, 12 cents per litre of diesel or 8.8 cents per cubic metre of natural gas. That’s about $12 on a typical pickup fill.

The streaming tax should rake in about $16 million per year.

The soft drink tax is forecast to collect more than $37 million.

In Ottawa, our MPs will receive an average of $3,200 more per year, while ministers will receive $4,700 and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau $6,400. Their raises are calculated against the average annual increase in private-sector union contracts.

This on top of a base salary of $182,600 for MPs, $269,800 for ministers, and $365,200 for the PM.

Franco Terrazzano, the CTF’s Alberta director, called the raises “a slap in the face to the many taxpayers who have taken a pay cut, lost their job or their business.”

Family Literacy Week encouraging people to get active while improving their literacy skills

Read your favourite book

Family Literacy Week has officially started and British Columbians are encouraged to read their favourite book, get outside, play games and connect with their loved ones virtually while improving their literacy skills.

The Ministry of Education and The Ministry of Municipal Affairs has proclaimed Jan. 24 to 31, 2021, as Family Literacy Week. This year’s theme is ‘Lets Be Active! Move, Play, Learn.’

“Children’s literacy skills expand and grow much faster when families read, play and learn together,” says Minister of Education Jennifer Whiteside. “Family Literacy Week is a great opportunity to focus on dynamic ways to support our youngest learners so they can develop the skills they need to succeed in their school years and beyond.”

The 2021 theme is focused on the longterm and wide-ranging benefits of being active. The province has proclaimed Jan. 27 as Family Literacy Day for the last 21 years. 2021 is the fifth year that B.C. has extended the celebration from one day to more than a week.

“Families have learned to adjust to doing things differently under COVID-19, spending more time together and embracing creativity while learning,” says Minister of Municipal Affairs Josie Osborne. “Family Literacy Week is a wonderful time to connect with children, have fun together and read inspiring stories, and these activities help to build a solid foundation in literacy and lifelong learning.”

The government has provided more than $2 million this year to Decoda Literacy Solutions in support of community literacy. The funding is used to support literacy services and initiatives throughout B.C.

The province also contributes $500,000 to Postmedia’s Raise-a-Reader campaign each year.

“Active play is essential for children’s development. It builds strength in so many areas – physical, social, emotional, language and thinking. Children learn by watching, so join in the fun,” says Margaret Sutherland, executive director at Decoda Literacy Solutions.

Decoda Literacy Solutions has provided a full list of Family Literacy Week events happening throughout the province.

Here are the B.C. fees and wages going up and down in 2021

B.C. fees going up, down

Going into the new year, some costs for British Columbians will continue to rise in the form of increased utility rates, while other areas will see a drop in fees charged. Additionally, the minimum wage is going up.

Here are some of the changes coming in 2021:

Minimum wage

As of June 2021, minimum-wage workers in B.C. will receive $15.20 an hour. B.C.’s minimum wage has gone up every June 1 since 2018.

Ferry, transit fares capped

B.C.’s Transportation Ministry announced in December that B.C. Ferries will receive more than $300 million in Safe Restart money, some of which will limit average annual fare increases to 2.3 per cent until March 31, 2024.

That’s in line with the rate caps set by the agency’s regulator before the COVID-19 outbreak. A similar deal was reached to cap B.C. Transit average annual fare increases at 2.3 per cent until March 31, 2024.

ICBC rates going down?

ICBC has applied for a significant reduction in basic insurance rates in conjunction with the planned rollout of its new enhanced care coverage plan in the spring. If approved, it would be the largest decrease in more than 40 years and could save drivers an average of 20 per cent or $400 on their full basic and optional vehicle insurance, the government says.

Electricity rates going up?

BC Hydro has applied to increase its rates by 1.16 per cent on April 1.

The Crown corporation cut its rates by 1.62 per cent in 2020, including a retroactive cut that will result in customers receiving one-time bill credit in the new year. Residential customers will get $4 back on average, while commercial customers’ credits will range from $10 to $600, depending on the size of the business.

FortisBC rates increasing

On Dec. 8, the British Columbia Utilities Commission approved a FortisBC rate increase of 6.59 per cent effective Jan. 1 — pending final adjustments.

Carbon tax increase imminent

In April 2020, a scheduled increase to $45 per tonne of carbon dioxide or equivalent was paused as part of the COVID-19 Action Plan. The B.C. government decided the tax rate would remain at $40 per tonne until April 2021. Come April, it will go up by $5 per tonne. A further increase — to $50 per tonne — is planned for 2022.

– With files from Vancouver Is Awesome and the Victoria Times Colonist

More cases of new variant of COVID-19 can be expected in B.C.: Health Ministry

More variant cases expected

More cases of a new, highly transmissible COVID-19 variant strain are expected in B.C. in the coming weeks, after the first incidence was reported on Vancouver Island over the weekend.

“While everything is being done to prevent spread to other people in the community, we do expect to see more cases of this variant in B.C. in the coming weeks, just as other jurisdictions are seeing,” a Health Ministry spokeswoman said Monday.

It’s for this reason that health officials are asking British Columbians to keep to their household members, avoid all non-essential travel, and use layers of protection including physical distancing and masks. “All British Columbians have to remember the virus spreads quickly but shows up slowly,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix in a joint statement.

A pre-symptomatic person returned to B.C. on flight AC855 from London to Vancouver on Dec. 15 and developed symptoms while in quarantine, Henry and Dix said.

The Health Ministry won’t say how the person travelled to the Island or where specifically they are located.

Flight AC8265 that arrived in Nanaimo from Vancouver later that same day is also on the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s list of COVID-19 exposures.

On Dec. 19, the person on the Dec. 15 London-Vancouver flight tested positive on Vancouver Island for COVID-19.

The person’s test sample was sent to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control on the Lower Mainland for whole genome sequencing and on Dec. 26 it was identified as positive for the U.K. variant.

Whole genome sequencing is complex and take on average five days to complete, the Health Ministry said.

Ongoing reviews may identify additional cases in the coming days, Henry and Dix said.

On Dec. 21, Henry said “to date, we have not seen this variant here in B.C..”

The Health Ministry confirmed Henry “was not aware of a case of the variant in B.C. at the time of her Dec. 21 media availability.”

The variant, which researchers say is more contagious than previous forms of the COVID-19 virus, has caused record numbers of infections in the U.K., accounting for more than 60 per cent of cases in London. It prompted Canada to suspend flights from the U.K. Dec. 20 to Jan. 6, 2021. Other countries have taken similar action.

Alberta has also confirmed a case of the variant.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, in her first news conference since before Christmas, said the infected person recently arrived in Alberta from the U.K. The person did everything they were supposed to upon arrival, staying isolated from others, and there is no evidence their illness has spread, she said.

Health officials in Alberta are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to obtain a list of people who were sitting near the infected person on their flight to Alberta, she said.

The variant has been ­confirmed in three people in Ontario — a couple from ­Durham Region who had been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K. and a person in Ottawa who had recently ­travelled from the U.K.

“B.C. continues to support the Canada-wide travel ban on all flights arriving from the U.K. until Jan. 6, 2021, and urges all British Columbians to continue to avoid all non-essential travel to keep people and communities safe,” Henry and Dix said.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, so does the province’s response, but “greater restrictions are not being considered at this time,” the Health Ministry said.

“What has arisen in the U.K. is a new variant with a number of mutations, as many as 17 mutations, different changes in parts of the virus,” said Henry.

The variant strain can transmit more quickly and easily but does not seem to cause more severe illness, nor interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines, nor affect the ability of testing for the virus, she said.

Neither the province nor Island Health has updated the number of new COVID-19 cases since Dec. 24. An update is scheduled for 3 p.m. today.

Skier escapes slide as weak snow sustains avalanche risk in parts of B.C.

Skier escapes avalanche

Avalanche Canada has lifted a recent warning about the extreme potential for slides on eastern British Columbia mountains, but backcountry users are urged to remain cautious because of weak snowpack layers across the province.

Areas of avalanche concern include the Purcell range in the southeast, Cariboo Mountains in central B.C., and slopes around the Sea-to-Sky region north of Vancouver.

The forecaster reported large, human-triggered avalanches Sunday along sections of the Cariboo Mountains near Valemount, and Monday on Rainbow Mountain, near Whistler.

In the Rainbow Mountain event, Avalanche Canada says in an online post that a skier was completely buried but was successfully rescued by others.

No one was hurt, while avalanche experts say several human-triggered slides around the treeline happened Sunday northwest of Valemount as weak snow layers at lower elevations raise the risk to considerable.

Multiple weak layers at several depths of the snowpack have also raised the slide risk to considerable the alpine and treeline of the Purcell range outside Golden, with conditions unlikely to improve until Friday.

The Avalanche Canada reports come as Environment Canada issued a winter storm watch for the Sea-to-Sky corridor from Squamish to Whistler.

Forecasters are calling for as much as 20 centimetres of heavy, wet snow at elevations above 200 metres between late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning.