John Wilson of Wilson’s Transportation wants to put a greater focus on affordable housing.

John Wilson of Wilson’s Transportation wants to put a greater focus on affordable housing.

Saanich not the leader in housing it should be, says Chamber secretary

Chamber of Commerce board member John Wilson speaks out

Saanich needs to step up efforts to create affordable housing and manage spending, says John Wilson, head of Saanich-based Wilson’s Transportation.

Wilson is president, chief executive and principal owner of the Wilson’s Group of Companies and offered these insights after being named to the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce board as secretary.

He is one of eight board members (out of 13) with Saanich connections.

“Saanich is the largest and most populated municipality, close to amenities,” said Wilson. “It has a leadership role to play and in my opinion has not done that to date.”

These comments echo earlier critiques from the chamber after the district indefinitely delayed a public hearing for the proposed re-development of Townley Lodge. This move earned Saanich council criticism from the chamber, which accused Saanich’s elected officials of standing in way of creating more affordable housing.

Wilson’s company is the largest motor coach and transportation company on Vancouver Island with 150 vehicles. The company also operates a sightseeing business in Victoria and connects travellers to Victoria International Airport and the BC Ferries terminal in Swartz Bay. It is the agent for Greyhound Canada in Victoria and operates an eight-bay mechanical and body shop facility, serving among other clients, B.C. Transit.

Wilson, who also serves as vice-chair of the chamber’s public policy committee, identified the cost and availability of housing — rental or otherwise — as the most pressing issue facing the chamber and its membership.

“Municipal processes must help us address the problem – not become part of it,” said Katherine Holt, chamber president at the time.

Council defended its decision by citing neighbourhood concerns and the proponent of the project has since met with the community association in a possible attempt to revive the project.

Wilson said he would also like to see all Greater Victoria municipalities including Saanich “do a better job with their spending.”

Saanich does not have a revenue problem, but a “spending problem,” he said, and it will take tough decisions by strong politicians in all areas both now and in the future to solve this and keep taxes in line for all of us to afford. In fairness, he added, it is very hard for most local politicians to make these decisions.

“Most are rather new to politics and have never dealt with budgets of this size in their personal or professional life prior to being elected. They have to weigh these cost savings decisions against their political future (next election) rather than just doing chewing the hard candy and do what is the best for the municipality and its tax payers in the long run.”

Wilson’s comments came after the release of a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB). It shows that Saanich recorded the second-highest growth in operating spending per capita among the 20 largest municipalities of British Columbia in 2013/14 with a growth of 9.1 per cent.

Between 2004 and 2014, Saanich ranked fourth from the bottom among the 20 largest communities in B.C. 25th out of 34 Vancouver Island municipalities and somewhere in the middle for all B.C. municipalities, finishing 80th out of 152, with 152nd being the worst.

“Our report shows that Saanich continues to have a significant operating spending problem,“ says Richard Truscott, CFIB’s vice-president for British Columbia and Alberta. “It’s operating spending in 2014 was 46 per cent higher than its population growth (of about one per cent).”

Council will start debating the budget later this spring.

Wilson also said that he would like to see movement on amalgamation.

“Our local politicians work hard and have the best of intentions in mind when they run to represent us as taxpayers,” he said.  However “massive amounts” of federal and provincial downloading have endowed municipal politicians with more influence on day-to-day affairs.

“…It is my opinion that we must reduce the amount of municipalities and make these positions full time higher paying jobs that require higher qualifications for people to apply or in this case run for the positions.”

Even if amalgamation does not save any money overall, it will provide better leadership by enticing higher qualified business professionals to run for office, he said.

wolfgang.depner@saanichnews.com