The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust is hoping their most recent Vital Signs report will spark vital conversations about the sustainability of West Coast life.
The report, which can be viewed online at www.clayoquotbiosphere.org, offers a bastion of regional data, including populations, average incomes and housing.
The CBT has produced the report every two years since 2012 and the Trust’s research director Dr. Laura Loucks told the Westerly that, with its fourth edition, trends are beginning to take shape.
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“The reason why we produce it every two years is to track the pulse of how we’re doing on the pathway of sustainability,” Loucks said. “We are starting to track trends and we are starting to see significant signs of where we’re doing well as a region in terms of sustainability and where our vulnerabilities are…We’re seeing trends that really point to some vulnerability in declining incomes and increasing costs.”
At, $20.11 an hour, the West Coast has the third highest living wage in B.C., behind only Victoria and Vancouver, according to the report. A study done in 2018 showed that food costs were 12 per cent higher on the West Coast than in Port Alberni.
“We’re seeing an increase in the percentage households are spending on their housing budget, that’s exceeding the 30 per cent benchmark,” Loucks said. “Anything over 30 per cent that you’re spending on your housing costs is not considered to be affordable. Those are stressors that we know all households are trying to manage.”
The report also suggests that unemployment is on the rise and Loucks said the numbers show a need to diversify the West Coast’s economy.
“We’re seeing a trend of unemployment in communities that don’t have access to the tourism market and we’re seeing more and more of our economic sector dominated by tourism,” Loucks said. “The hospitality sectors are responsible for over one-third of all of our labour force and yet, communities that are located more remotely don’t have access to those employment positions. That contributes to unemployment and that contributes to inequity in the region.”
She added that the region’s tourism economy continues to grow.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve seen that growth rise significantly and that’s something we have to really pay attention to because we know that it’s showing up in other stressors,” she said. “I think we need to emphasize that and I think we need to push back a little bit on our uses of the [Municipal Regional District Tax] funding.”
The MRDT is a tax collected by accommodation providers in both Tofino and Ucluelet. A policy change made in 2018 made the funds collected through the tax eligible to be spent on affordable housing initiatives if a majority of the community’s accommodation providers approve.
“We can apply to use some of those funds for affordable housing, I think that is incredibly positive,” Loucks said. “I hope this report is evidence to support that kind of application and to say, ‘Yeah, we need to subsidize some of the costs of living here because the tourism sector is actually creating stressors that are exceeding our capacity as taxpayers to support.’”
She added that she hopes to see local leaders absorb the information and enact positive change.
“The point of this document is to say, where do we really need to address some vulnerabilities and take caution and where do we need to celebrate and what do we need to do more of and how do we prioritize budgets,” she said. “I think it addresses many questions that, hopefully, we’re all interested in knowing: what can we do better to make our quality of life improve?”
She said the data offered in the report offers a solid starting point for important conversations.
“We know we’re living in a complex time, some of these challenges we have as a region are very complicated but we can have important conversations with local governments and we can bring local knowledge holders to that conversation and we can find solutions that match the complexity of the problem and that’s what we’re hoping will happen,” she said. “That large topic of affordability runs across so many different themes. It’s not just affordable housing, it runs across transportation, it runs across food costs, it runs across healthcare costs; all those pieces.”
She added putting the report together was a rigorous task involving the collection of data from local, regional and national sources.
“We hope that it resonates with people and their experience,” she said. “We hope people want to have those conversations because it’s not our intention to hold the ‘doomsday hour glass.’ Our intention is to say, ‘Look, it’s complicated, but that means we have our work to do to find the solutions that match the complexity’ and we all have something to contribute to that conversation.”