As the most significant and oldest organization representing business interests in Squamish, it is positive to see the Squamish Chamber of Commerce vow to take on more of an advocacy role.
Advocacy is stated as a key focus of its 2019 strategic plan. The aim is to “work with government, Squamish Nation and industry stakeholders to advocate for priority areas and develop the role of the Chamber as the ‘Voice of Business’ in Squamish.”
A refreshed board — with a handful of new members — a newly-minted municipal council, and a new year dawning make this a perfect time for the chamber to flex its muscle a bit more in council chambers — and public, including in the pages of The Chief.
In the recent past, the chamber has been a bit shy of speaking publicly on controversial issues, but there is history behind that, former mayor — and former chamber president — Patricia Heintzman explained to The Chief.
In the 1990s, during the “war in the woods” era, the chamber came out and supported the loggers who were protesting the environmentalists, and in doing so, eventually lost many of its members.
So, it makes sense for the chamber not to be too strident in its positions on controversial issues these days, such as LNG, the pace of development or Garibaldi at Squamish.
But, says Heintzman, “where the Chamber can be much more proactive is in land use, transit, taxation, housing, wage, labour and other policies that affect their membership.”
Agreed. So careful, thoughtful advocacy should be the direction.
Some of this work has started already.
A recent Squamish labour and housing report, a result of a collaboration between the chamber and Tourism Squamish, provides some insight on where the chamber’s advocacy may be directed in 2019.
The document shows that out of its survey of 113 local businesses, 76 per cent said they had faced challenges recruiting or retaining staff in the last 12 months. The number one reason cited for problems in this area was the lack of affordable rental housing. One in two businesses surveyed said it would be likely to recommend employees to an employee-housing program if one existed.
“Our policy team has been diligently working on advocacy positions for 2019. We are also collecting, analyzing and communicating data to illustrate the challenges and opportunities, and to enable evidence-based decision making,” the Chamber’s executive director Louise Walker told The Chief.
If this direction is shared with the public as well, this can only be a positive direction for our growing and increasingly squeezed small businesses and town.