I mentioned last week there was a lot on the go; of course, it's the same for all of us this time of year and I appreciate your indulgence with my story but looking back over the past few days, each held culminating moments of what the Chamber is here to do – help your business prosper by connecting, representing and sharing.
We are, by historical reputation, the Voice of Business. Over the past (almost) two years, Rosi and I have contemplated what that meant and wondered whether we were validating that statement or should be doing more... I feel a bit like Scrooge in the Christmas Carol – but my ghosts are Connect, Represent & Share – the words we use now to describe our work.
The story this week is how we “Represent” and how and why our relationships with government and the community are so important.
The Belleville Chamber was instituted back in 1864 under the Board of Trade Act (we are one of the oldest in Canada) to represent the needs of business to government and assist with building trade not just locally but internationally. (I have a great later from 100 years ago – posted from Chicago – asking the Belleville Board of Trade to assist with the promotion of goods from US suppliers to the mutual benefit of each).
Moving on quickly to the present...
I did not give enough time last week to congratulate the members of our new City Council on their inauguration. It was a packed house as His Worship Mitch Panciuk wanted to demonstrate City Hall and Council Chambers are “open” - he made sure you could watch from anywhere if you weren't able to be there in person and I saw many organizations, friends and families of all councilors represented in the audience.
The relationship between the City and the Chamber is complex. As an advocate for business, the Chamber sometimes needs to be a voice in opposition of motions and bylaws. I don't believe these situations are created to thwart business but sometimes the impact of application isn't considered by our elected officials. It is the Chamber's obligation to speak up on behalf of our members. At the same time, we stand beside the City as part of the voice for our community when provincial and federal legislation threatens our ability to move forward and prosper. Mayor Panciuk has made it clear he expects both – hold the City accountable where it needs to be but stand beside and advocate forward when we can offer strength.
The Chamber is also contracted to organize the signature events in our community, such as Waterfront and as a result, I often appear in front of Council to share our plans. The people around the horseshoe are now familiar to me and through various roles in the community, I consider many of them friendly acquaintances (if not friends). That will not mean we won't disagree from time to time but as I write this now, I'm reminded once again that advocacy for the big things doesn't happen with a single letter, a petition, a Facebook post or the rants with your peers. It begins with relationships. A relationship where the side you're on is focused and representative at the same time it is respectful and prepared to compromise.
So just what does that look like provincially?
Last Friday, the Chamber was invited to introduce MPP Todd Smith for his announcement of Bill 66, Restoring Ontario's Competitiveness Act. On Thursday, the release outlined 30 issues this Act would address to reduce “red tape” and I had an opportunity to be at an Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) event in Toronto that night. The room was filled with a combination of business leaders from across the province and Chiefs of Staff to Ministers at Queen's Park. The event had been planned for some time – the announcement that day was a coincidence but it was the perfect gathering to celebrate the hard work the OCC staff have been doing for many, many years. In July, the OCC wrote letters to every Minister – prefaced by the Making Ontario Open for Business mandate - outlining the various issues relevant to that ministry, including the red tape/regulatory burdens placed on business. In October, the repeal of Bill 148 was considered a victory – not because business would pay people less but because it looked like the government was finally looking at the evidence based reports the OCC had prepared for the Wynne administration to review. On Thursday, we won again. We did not appeal for the reduction of regulation that protects people or the environment, but as the Insurance Bureau of Canada representative that night explained, there are rules that protect and there are regulations that prevent change.
During that introduction on Friday, I raised the 90 page document that contained the multiple letters to those Ministers and explained Bill 66 is not an arbitrary collection of regulations that will put communities at risk but directly connected to the OCC's research identifiying red tape that is redundant, duplicated or outdated across many ministries. On one hand, it puts some of the onus back onto municipalities, particularly with development but on the other, there are clear savings for both organizations and taxpayers. The best example was that of “chemical labeling” and the regulation that was going to require the removal and disposal of chemicals that did not have current labels rather than allowing the “relabeling” to current standards. (The chemical itself has not changed). The impending cost to the university sector alone for that disposal and replenishment was estimated at $60 million. As publicly funded institutions, the impact of that cost would have pulled itself out of your and my pocket somewhere along the line.
Truthfully, if we were to compare the wins to home-runs right now, it doesn't completely feel like we're swinging the bat – other than to say, we've chosen the team and trained as though every game could be the winning one. That is advocacy – you put together an argument based on needs to support a cause, and you use relationships you build over time to deliver it... and when you win, you have the right to celebrate. It's not a permanent win and it doesn't come without a loss – but that is where the other team has the right to train and swing as well... at the end of the season, we hope no one has lost every game and regardless of who holds the trophy, it starts again the next year.
On that note, your membership with the Belleville Chamber supports both the Ontario and Canadian Chambers' and their work at the provincial and federal level. Provincially, they have been in training for many years without much of a chance at bat – I believe it has paid off these past months.
I hope you'll join us next Monday for our holiday mingle – hosted again by Shorelines Casino – 5-7 pm or stop into the Cabin next week anytime before noon on Friday, December 21 – we always have coffee, tea or hot chocolate on hand – and I've been doing a bit of baking...