Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, committee members, and other members of Parliament.
My name is Val Litwin. I am the CEO of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce. We have been the voice of business in Whistler for the last 50 years and we represent over half of our business community, which has 700 members.
I am grateful and Whistler is grateful for the opportunity to present before you here today. Thank you.
I have been tasked by the mayor and council of Whistler to speak on behalf of the resort municipality. I have also received permission to speak on behalf of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce. The Honourable Shirley Bond is aware I'm here too, and the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour is supportive of my message.
Whistler businesses have a decades-long history of being proactive, innovative, and I might even add—as my colleague from the Canadian Labour Federation just mentioned—aggressive when it comes to hiring Canadians.
Despite the flashy exterior, Whistler's business community is 93% small business. Many of these are run by solo owner-operators. Even the smallest Whistler coffee shop knows that it must recruit across Canada, in Edmonton, Montreal, and Toronto, from coast to coast to attract staff.
Whistler's biggest employer, Whistler Blackcomb travels to nine markets across Canada annually, from the interior of B.C. to St. John's, Newfoundland to meet Canadians face to face and to sell the experience of working and living in our resort town.
There are many initiatives, both old and new that have helped Whistler attract and retain Canadians that I want to highlight very quickly.
The Whistler Housing Authority was founded in 1997 on the assumption that our resort cannot succeed or be successful unless we have a stable resident workforce that has access to affordable housing. As of today, we house 80% of our workforce in resort, versus 40% in benchmark communities like Aspen and Vail, which we consider to be our chief competitors.
More recently, we have built programs in partnership with the University of Victoria's Gustavson School of Business to create specialized customer service training programs for first nations youth, so that the nations can better incorporate themselves into the Whistler workforce and community. We do work as a community very closely with the Squamish and Lil'wat nations.
Our educational partnership with the Gustavson School of Business has also allowed us to train 11,000 workers in the last two years, making university-level education available and affordable to our small businesses, and it can be leveraged as a benefit by them when hiring.
We are very familiar with the millennial market data, and we know that Canadians want to be invested in. We now advertise that all Canadians coming to our resort can receive a university education. To my knowledge, this is a Canadian first when it comes to a town that trains its employees.
In the last 18 months—and this is captured on the public record—our chamber has advocated to our business community to raise wages. This is very unusual for a chamber to do, but we see the bigger picture, and or members have responded. A recent survey showed that 78% of our members have instituted a wage increase in the last six months, and 71% of them have confirmed that the wage increase was between 6% and 25%.
Pulling back to the big picture, our resort of 10,500 people drives 25% of the tourism export dollar in B.C. and generates $1.4 million a day in tax revenue for the three levels of government. That's over half a billion dollars in tax revenue each year. Despite our efforts on wage increases, Canadian recruitment, and innovative housing practices, we have concerns that our inability to find Canadians is damaging our ability to maximize business opportunities.
Whistler currently sits at 1.8% unemployment. We are in the middle of a labour shortage that was identified by go2HR's labour market study in 2012. The report states that we will have a labour shortage of 14,000 full-time equivalents in hospitality and tourism by 2020. Sadly, we are on track to meet that target.
When we can't find enough Canadians to fill positions in the resort, we turn to other mechanisms like the temporary foreign worker program. I want to be very clear that while we view this program as vital, TFWs represent a very limited percentage of our workforce, just under 1% in 2014 according to Statistics Canada. A majority in recent years have been highly skilled snow-sport instructors. The seasonal nature of the ski industry, much like in agriculture, makes it difficult to obtain and keep talent.
Along with Canadians, temporary foreign workers are a valued and vital piece of our labour force. Without them we would not be able to deliver the exceptional customer experience our guests are used to in Whistler, nor would we have the international field that has made Whistler so special for decades. Therefore, Whistler would like to respectfully submit three recommendations. Let me emphasize that we are fully supportive of a program that focuses on integrity and compliance. We want a credible program with proper protections in place for vulnerable workers.
Our recommendations would be the following. First, right now the labour market statistics for the Vancouver mainland southwest catchment show an unemployment rate of 6%, but Whistler's unemployment is almost non-existent at 1.8%.
In spite of all our efforts to recruit, train, and retain Canadians, we have jobs to fill and no one to fill them. For micro labour markets like ours, it would be helpful for our sub-6% unemployment rate to be recognized so that we can qualify for specific urgently needed workers.
Second, the labour market impact assessment fee is high, we believe. At $1,000 per possible job applicant, for only one year of employment, with no guarantee that the position will be filled, $1,000 is prohibitive. The fee should be reduced, especially for small business, and/or the period for which the assessment is valid could be extended from one to two or three years. This would streamline the process and enable small business to remain competitive and viable.
Finally, Whistler would like to respectfully suggest that consideration be given to creating a stream for seasonal workers, like the agricultural program, accessible to all sectors, on the same criteria, where there is seasonal work with proven and persistent labour shortages. The Canada West Ski Areas Association data shows there are simply not enough qualified Canadians in the snow-sport instructor category to serve all the operating resorts in our country.
I hope I've made clear our case around how temporary foreign workers form a small but vital part of the Whistler workforce. I appreciate your listening today and your consideration on this pressing matter. Tourism is a growing and green industry in Canada, and Whistler would like to remain a driver of that economic growth in both British Columbia and Canada.