Confidence and optimism were the biggest take-aways from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce’s latest member survey.
Public opinion researcher Bruce Anderson of Abacus Data, presented the Collective Perspective Survey Report Tuesday during the chamber’s dinner with B.C.’s Deputy Ministers at the Delta Grand Okanagan in Kelowna.
“The numbers are telling us that a change in government did not give way to a collective gasp about the prospects of these businesses going forward,” said Anderson, reflecting on the results of the 877 interviews completed.
“Whether that is the same view people will have next year remains to be seen, but there is a resilience we seem to have and the idea that our business community is not that fragile.”
When asked how business is today, 94 per cent of respondents answered positively. Findings showed 17 per cent said their business was in “very good shape,” 44 per cent said in “good shape” and 33 per cent said in “acceptable shape.”
The outlook for the next three to five years was also favourable with 95 per cent answering positively and just one per cent responding that the prospects for their business are very poor.
“This is not an angry business community. This is a community that is saying, with the combination of things that are going well, macro economically, and the taxes I pay and the regulations in place, I am able to have a successful business now and I think the outlook is pretty good going forward,” said Anderson.
Respondents were also asked about biggest impacts to the health and prospects of their business with the top five answers coming in as the local economy, the B.C. economy, the Canadian economy, the cost of labour and provincial taxes.
Businesses also reported the local, provincial and national economies are helping and 25 per cent of members said that Canada’s current image is also helping build business.
“The idea that Canada is well viewed throughout the world is something people are paying attention to in a way they didn’t before,” said Anderson.
“It is not just the notion that we have some sort of weird celebrity now. It is that there is a sense we have more things going for us, and more things that are stable, in the way we exist as a country.”
Not everything is rosy in B.C., however. The affordability of housing was the top concern among members, as were federal taxes, provincial taxes, access to labour and cost of labour.
When given the statement “The cost of housing in parts of B.C. has become a real problem for the province,” 60 per cent said they strongly agreed, while an additional 30 per cent said they agreed.
A reported 91 per cent said they believed that housing affordability will cause issues with attracting young people to live and work in B.C.
“This is a really critical issue for B.C. businesses, they see it as something that has the potential to change the macro economic forecast for B.C.”
When asked about the possibility of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) ending, 38 per cent believed it would have a negative impact on their business while 60 per cent felt neutral on the matter and two per cent felt it would have a positive impact.
If NAFTA does end, respondents generally agreed (80 per cent) that Canada should seek out a standalone free trade agreement with the U.S.
Feelings on trade with China seemed to have improved year over year. In this 2017 survey, 68 percent of respondents stated free trade with China is good for B.C., versus 58 per cent of respondents in 2016.
“It wasn’t that many years ago that when you talked free trade with China people would say ‘wait, wait we just got over being scared about free trade with Mexico, how are we possibly going to survive free trade with China?’ But, today, the average B.C. business says lets go for it,” added Anderson.
When asked about the Kinder Morgan pipeline, 51 per cent supported the project, 28 per cent were neutral and 21 per cent opposed it.
When divided into regions the pipeline had far more support in B.C.’s north (68 per cent) and B.C.’s Thompson/Okanagan (63 per cent).
The least support for the pipeline project was found on Vancouver Island with 40 per cent in favour and 37 per cent against.
“The broad confidence and optimism is the most interesting piece, I think,” said Anderson. “It is about who we are as a country and about how capable we are at building strong businesses.”
The province-wide survey was sent out to local chambers via email between Oct. 25 and Nov. 24.
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