It’s being billed as the most comprehensive study ever conducted on the region.
An analysis of Greater Vancouver that looked at various economic and social statistics such as affordability, commuting time, air quality, and proportion of millennials, to name a few.
Conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, the region was compared against 20 other similar cities around the world.
The result? Greater Vancouver ranks ninth overall.
And the report is clear – housing affordability is costing everyone.
The good news
Despite the tepid ranking, we get high marks for beautiful surroundings, clean air, livability, and the multiculturalism brought to the region by its many foreign born residents.
Further to that, the economy here is doing better than anywhere else in the country and with its proximity to Asia and the U.S., Vancouver is perfectly situated to take advantage.
- High number of tourist visits, thanks in part to cruise ships,
- People flowing through the region to get to Whistler,
- Film and TV productions.
Now for the bad news
- Affordability & Income: No surprise our region’s ranking was pulled down by poor housing affordability and household incomes that aren’t where they need to be.
- Transportation: Another usual suspect is inadequate investment in transit and roads, causing congestion and long commute times to work.
- Lack of young adults: The report also found the region lacks in younger people aged 25-34, perhaps because they’re challenged by housing prices.
- Education: Vancouver also falls short compared to other cities when it comes to the number of people within the region with at minimum, a bachelors degree.
B.C.’s population woes
An alarming aspect of the Conference Board of Canada report finds B.C.’s aging population could pose a big challenge to its economic growth.
The Conference Board of Canada found that BC historical rate of population growth will significantly decelerate to become the slowest in any province West of Quebec over the next two decades.
The numbers are shocking, with the report saying seniors over the age of 65 will go from 28% of BC’s population in 2015 to virtually half the entire population by 2035.
Birth rates are predicted to continue to decline with fewer young women having fewer babies in the province.
BC already has the lowest fertility rate in the country, significantly below the rate needed for a population to replace itself.
The report also found the number of deaths in B.C. will climb faster than babies are born.
Even with immigration there will be fewer people in B.C., meaning slower economic growth, limited government revenues, and big pressures on already soaring health care budgets.
On the business side the region is hurt by low levels of goods and services production, businesses face very high marginal tax rates, and land scarcity is a challenge for the expansion of our booming port.
As well, the report notes the PST is also preventing Greater Vancouver’s competitiveness with other regions that have a harmonized tax.
On the issue of foreign investment, the analysis determines it’s at least partly responsible for soaring real estate prices, although it notes data is hard to come by.
When it comes to industry growth, the high-tech (information and communications technology) sector is expanding at a rapid rate with employment rising by 30,000 from 1990 to 2014.
Going from good to being great
“We have got a reasonably strong stance in terms of competitive taxes but we have got a glaring exposure when it comes to taxes on business investment where we are very poorly ranked.”
The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade says while the region is doing well, this report shows there are some big challenges that need to be addressed.
President and CEO Iain Black says businesses in Greater Vancouver face a serious disadvantage with the marginal tax rates they pay.
“If you compare it to something like Halifax or Montreal, it is literally half of what ours is with Calgary and Toronto – only slightly higher than Halifax or Montreal. We are fully 10% – almost 12% more expensive for a business to make large capital investments than any other province in Canada. It undermines our otherwise strong business tax regime.”
Five years to get it right
Black says this is the most comprehensive report on this region ever done and the data is clear.
“The conversations we have been having here for the last 18 months to 24 months are now backed up by raw data, and empirical data, that says we have a problem with housing affordability.”
Black says we have four to five years to address issues like housing affordability, a lack of young people, low household incomes, and an inability to attract talented workers into the region.
“There is no single simple solution for most of these challenges and it is potentially hazardous to attempt to solve just one of them frankly. So I think we need to see our levels of government approach these challenges with a suite of strategies that will have the highest probability of success.”
Municipalities need to work together
He says it’s time for Metro Vancouver to truly act as a region – not a group of different municipalities.
“We really really have to start thinking as a region. The days of parochialism are over. We have to work with Metro Vancouver to lower the barriers that they control when it comes to our economy, and that would include things like housing and home ownership issues.”
On the positive side Black says the report also shows the Port of Vancouver and the Vancouver International Airport play key roles in the region’s economy.
“Half of the air traffic or half of the air cargo if you will that is leaving our country from Western Canada goes through YVR. So that really put a fine point on the reliance on the gateway.”
Black says this report will begin a conversation that will hopefully change this region from one doing well to one that can be great.
“It marks the beginning of a ten year journey to transform this region into a truly international space. We have so many things going for us.”
He says the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade will update this study over the years to come to continually check the region’s progress against other jurisdictions.
The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade has identified the following priorities:
Gateway Resources: As Canada’s the gateway to Asia, the region must continue to invest in transportation infrastructure that is efficient and environmentally responsible, as well as protect industrial land.
Housing Affordability and Public Transit: The GVBOT concludes that improved public transit infrastructure could have the effect of opening up areas for more affordable housing, which is key to keeping people in the region.
Human Capital: Build up a well-educated and diverse workforce with increased focus on “education, immigration, social infrastructure and the participation of women and indigenous peoples in the economy.”
Regional Coordination: Improved coordination between municipalities.