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New economic development agency promises federal focus on Victoria

PacifiCan replacing Western Economic Diversification Canada in B.C. with nine offices
A new federal focus on Greater Victoria’s economic development is expected in the coming years after the Government of Canada announced a new B.C.-focused agency Aug. 5, with one of its regional offices in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)

Greater Victoria economic organizations are hopeful the region will receive more federal attention after the Government of Canada announced a new economic development agency for B.C., with an office in Victoria.

The Aug. 5 announcement, first mentioned in the April throne speech, details the federal government’s decision to replace Western Economic Diversification Canada with PacifiCan – focusing on B.C. – and PrairiesCan – focusing on Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The new agencies will continue the government’s mandate of supporting regional economies while recognizing the differing needs throughout Western Canada.

“To decouple B.C. from the rest of the Prairie region is super important because our economies are very different,” Dallas Gislason, director of economic development with the South Island Prosperity Partnership, told Black Press Media.

PacifiCan will have its headquarters in Surrey and regional offices in eight other communities, including Victoria and Campbell River.

This is important because of the unique economic opportunities and challenges an Island faces, said Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams.

“We don’t have food security here,” he said, pointing at agriculture as one sector the chamber would like to see focused on by the new agency, to increase regional job opportunities and resilience.

READ ALSO: Food security a growing challenge in Sooke

Another, Williams said, is increasing the workforce and reopening the doors to immigration. “We need them. We need those skills and we want them here.”

Williams and Gislason agreed on the need for a major focus on Indigenous economic reconciliation. The Partnership is in the midst of developing an Indigenous prosperity centre, which Gislason said will soon be ready for funding. He also pointed to the partnership’s Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies, announced in February, as a project that will welcome funding.

The two also noted regional challenges they hope the new agency addresses. Affordability is top of their lists.

“We’re actually at a huge risk of having younger people and families move away,” Gislason said. “That’s going to be hugely detrimental to our economy.”

READ ALSO: High demand, low inventory driving Greater Victoria real estate prices up

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps was also buoyed by the announcement.

“While our businesses have been hard hit by the pandemic, Victoria is a dynamic driver of the economy in Pacific Canada, and our city and region are primed for recovery,” she said in a release. “It’s clear the federal government is in full agreement by choosing Victoria as a site for a PacifiCan office.”

PacifiCan is backed by a promise of $553 million over five years and $111 million ongoing. The way this will likely break down, Gislason said, is into federally-chosen projects that organizations like South Island Prosperity Partnership can then apply for funding from.

The Victoria office ensures the partnership, chamber and others will have open door access to build relationships and make the agency aware of what the region requires to prosper. All the offices are expected to launch over a period of months, according to the federal government.

“We’re really, really excited,” Gislason said.

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