Struggling B.C. businesses call for reinstatement of the right to vote in municipal elections

·3 min read
A woman walks in front of multiple sale signs hung in the window of a store in B.C. Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman says businesses are struggling to remain open and would like the opportunity to have a say on municipal issues like tax rates. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A woman walks in front of multiple sale signs hung in the window of a store in B.C. Surrey Board of Trade CEO Anita Huberman says businesses are struggling to remain open and would like the opportunity to have a say on municipal issues like tax rates. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Organizations advocating for businesses in Metro Vancouver are asking that their right to vote in municipal elections be reinstated as they struggle with the pandemic, rising taxes and inflation-driven costs.

Antia Huberman, the president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, says they have been asking the province to reinstate the business or corporate vote, removed in 1993, that gave businesses a direct say in local government elections.

Vancouver, which has its own charter, has never allowed it.

In a 2010 report, the B.C. government and the Union of B.C. Municipalities concluded the corporate vote was undemocratic and that the right to vote should be an individual right, not one extended to legal entities like corporations.

But Huberman says business owners need to have a voice, especially on issues like tax rates, service provisions and zoning regulations.

"It definitely needs to be revisited because how much longer can businesses survive in the face of property tax burden and regulation?" she told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition, on Wednesday.

She said businesses are borderless as many business owners don't live in the same city where they work.

"They may live in Vancouver, and they will co-locate or locate their business in Surrey. They are still giving back to the economy of our city," Huberman said. "For example, they are creating jobs and giving back to not-for-profit organizations."

Huberman said property taxes have been increasing every year, and with the impact on revenue from COVID-19, businesses are feeling it.

"Our manufacturers, in the last property tax cycle, faced an increase of almost 150 per cent. It's not suitable for businesses."

Municipal expenses increasing

According to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT), more than 60 per cent of businesses in Greater Vancouver say licensing, permitting and taxation are some of their biggest concerns, in addition to inflation and rising costs.

"In the last five years, we're seeing taxation go up over 20 per cent in the City of Vancouver," said Bridgitte Anderson, the CEO and president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

Anderson said a survey in May showed that more than two-thirds of businesses in the area are having serious issues dealing with municipalities.

She said in addition to permitting and licensing and other red tape, housing, crime and public safety are also significant concerns, especially in downtown Vancouver.

Anderson said although businesses would really benefit from a corporate vote, it doesn't seem likely.

"Even if that were to happen, the legislature would have to make that change, and the legislature doesn't even come back into session until a week before the municipal election."

She said municipalities and all levels of government need to review what policies would best support businesses and make it easier for them to continue operating.

"I think this is a serious message our members are saying to the city and to municipal governments ... things are not getting better."

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs said in an email that the government is not contemplating reinstating the corporate vote at this time but will continue to work with local governments, the Union of B.C. Municipalities and local chambers of commerce and business groups to address their concerns.

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