All in all, the rollout of BC's new proof of vaccination requirements has been smooth for most businesses in Greater Victoria. Unfortunately, there have also been reports of rare but disturbing incidents of misplaced anger at businesses and their staff.
"The province has ordered businesses to comply with this order, so anyone who has concerns about the rules should not be bullying people who are trying to make a living. It's not their rule," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "We've been working with our community partners on posters and other materials that we hope will remind everyone that we need to continue to be kind and patient while these requirements are in place."
The Chamber also supports ongoing advocacy efforts underway to ensure the burden of enforcing the vaccine card is not placed solely on the shoulders of business.
"It has been a tough 18 months for restaurants and retailers, and they've worked extremely hard to keep their businesses operating. We can't risk that by making it even harder on them by adding new challenges," Williams said. "Getting your proof of vaccine is a simple process and only takes a few seconds to check. This will be a temporary measure, and it allows businesses to stay open and let's all of us get back to the things we enjoy."
The Chamber has been a vocal advocate for immunization as the best way forward. The data from today's update by BC's Ministry of Health shows that, after factoring for age, people not vaccinated are 37.9 times more likely to be hospitalized than those fully vaccinated.
Starting Sept. 13, anyone over the age of 12 will need to show they've had at least one dose (rising to two doses on Oct. 24) to enter what the province is calling "higher risk social and recreational settings and events."
These include dine-in restaurants, gyms, indoor ticketed events, pubs, bars, casinos and movie theatres. As well, indoor wedding receptions, conferences and events with 50 or more people will require proof of vaccination. No proof will be required for "grab-and-go" fast food or take-out.
On Monday, the province also soft-launched a website that can be used to access a QR code indicating vaccination status. However, the app that businesses will need to scan QR codes won't be available until Sept. 13.
The Chamber called on government to ensure the vaccine card did not increase the burden on business. There remain concerns about the cost of screening customers, and The Chamber wants to hear from members who encounter any challenges with the program.
A transition period will run until Sept. 26, during which the cards received from vaccine clinics will suffice as proof.
"All of us want to avoid further restrictions on business, and the data shows COVID is much less of a risk when people are fully vaccinated," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "We all want to put the pandemic behind us, and immunization continues to be our way forward."
According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, the current surge in cases is primarily occurring in people who are unvaccinated. One of the goals of requiring proof of vaccination is to prompt those who are not vaccinated to get their shots.
On Monday morning, Chamber CEO Bruce Williams brought concerns raised by our members and Chamber Champions to BC's Select Standing Committee on Fiance and Government Services.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce was asked to present to the committee along with the Burnaby Board of Trade, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and Surrey Board of Trade. These organizations are leading advocates for business in BC and help government set priorities ahead of next year's BC budget. Among the many issues raised were finding and keeping workers, fair taxation and fiscal prudence.
"We thank the province for including the voice of Greater Victoria businesses and we look forward to continuing to working closely on programs and policies that will be key to growing our region's private sector," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams said.
You can listen to Bruce's comments to the committee, starting after the 9:28 mark.
With immunization rates in Greater Victoria among the highest in BC, it's not surprising there has been little outcry for vaccine mandates for local businesses. The Chamber's staff are 100% fully vaccinated and many of our members tell us they have had the same voluntary commitment from their employees.
Chamber CEO Bruce Williams told the Times Colonist that businesses play a leadership role in their communities and that includes finding ways to ensure the safety of staff and customers.
“I think it’s fair to say that most businesses put the health and safety of their employees as a paramount concern,” he said. “Everybody’s concerned about the economic side, but, realistically, if everybody’s healthy and in a good place so that they can continue to work and things function (that's how we move forward).”
Vaccine mandates are in place for federal workers, and there have been calls to make immunization mandatory for employees of the University of Victoria. And, last week, BC announced all health-care workers in care homes will need to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said she believes businesses are within their rights to impose vaccine mandates.
“These are business decisions that they need to make in conjunction with their own labour lawyer advisers,” she said. “But I do think it is a perfectly valid thing.”
The Chamber supports BC's immunization efforts and we believe the evidence shows COVID-19 vaccinations offer our best chance to put the pandemic behind us.
However, mandating vaccination for BC employers requires taking care to ensure human rights are respected. Unlike the US, where the Department of Justice has opined that employers can require employees be vaccinated, BC's Human Rights Commission has issued general advice for treating people differently based on their vaccination status.
Essentially, the commission says workplaces must balance the need to be safe with avoiding discrimination against people who have adequate alternative means for preventing COVID-19 transmission.
The lack of clarity means the issue will be front and centre with HR departments for the foreseeable future.
It's time to get the Citizens' Assembly process back on track. In 2018, voters in the District of Saanich and the City of Victoria gave a mandate to their respective councils to explore the pros and cons of merging the two municipalities. The good faith discussions were interrupted by the global pandemic, but they're far from forgotten. In fact, recent news about policing challenges shows how vital a Citizens' Assembly might be for the future of our region.
The Chamber has long advocated for Better Regional Services. We don't know what a Citizens' Assembly will find, but it is the right approach to get answers to questions about governance — and merging services such as policing — in Greater Victoria's largest municipalities.
As the province moves closer to Step 4 of the BC Restart Plan on Sept. 7, it's time for the Citizens' Assembly process to get back on track.
To all of our #ChamberChangemakers, thank you. You are part of the effort that allows British Columbia to take the next step.
Starting July 1, we can begin to experience the end of the pandemic. The provincial state of emergency is over, and many of the restrictions that have defined life for the past months are no longer in place.
"Immunization is the key to stopping the spread of COVID and variants," Chamber CEO Bruce Williams says. "However, we still need to exercise patience and kindness with each other. Some of us will take time before feeling truly safe, and we need to respect that. If a business requires you to wear a mask, it's easy to do so and show support for each other."
The Chamber also encourages everyone to make sure they book their second vaccination appointment. We can't risk the work done so far by not getting fully immunized as soon as possible.
Check out this week's Chamber Chat for more on what businesses need to know about requiring masks, and how to ensure the safety of your employees and customers.
The loosening of restrictions has been met with a collective sigh of relief for many businesses. However, some ambiguous wording in BC's Restart Plan could be problematic. Businesses are expressing concern about what will happen if masks are no longer mandatory after July 1. The plan states that once we get to Step 3, masks will only be a recommendation in public indoor settings.
Employers don't want their staff to be faced with enforcing an order that isn't clear. In the past, this has led to stressful confrontations between employees and members of the public who refuse to abide by the orders.
The Retail Council of Canada's guidance says awareness and training are key. Before we get to Step 3, The Chamber is working with other business organizations to get clarity for businesses.
If you have questions or concerns about BC's Restart Plan, let us know by emailing email@example.com.
A fundamental priority for good business is having safe communities. Feeling safe at home and at work is vital to achieving our potential as individuals and as a community.
The Chamber applauds the efforts of the Vancouver Island Construction Association, which continues to make progress on its Tailgate Toolkit harm reduction initiative. This innovative program helps people working in the construction industry access harm reduction services.
The overdose crisis in British Columbia has killed 680 people in the first four months of 2021. In April alone, at least 176 lives were lost to toxic drugs. That's 43% more than in April 2020. This is a crisis that affects all corners of society and all sectors of our economy.
To learn more about how the overdose crisis has had an impact on people in the construction industry, read VICA's stakeholder engagement report.
We hope that we can learn the names and better understand the stories of the 215 children found buried in unmarked graves at the former Kamloops residential school.
This has been devastating news for First Nations. It is difficult for Canadians to learn about our shameful past and the burden all of us must bear today. The days ahead will be painful if we are to address this wound and begin to let it heal.
The Chamber encourages all of our members to learn more about the residential school system, and to listen with purpose to the stories of our Indigenous friends and neighbours.
We must also do more to ensure Indigenous businesses are included in all of our communities. Please consider connecting with a local Indigenous business that is doing great things in Greater Victoria.
The Chamber is working with our national chamber network to improve our connections and conversations with Indigenous businesses across Canada. It's time to do better.