A few years back, before the pandemic rewired so much of our daily routines and outlooks, the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce began the process of renewing our website. We brought in a project manager who was familiar with the region — its quirky governance and the diversity of communities that make up Greater Victoria. We also hired a tremendously bright university student who knew what was needed under the hood to make sure the site looked and worked like we wanted.
The site’s layout started with a focus on membership, members and events. Fair enough. Every organization is dependent on revenue and The Chamber does not receive a penny from government. But as the site was built out, it was our advocacy efforts that truly shone. They are embedded in everything a chamber does. Yes, we offer great deals on insurance and powerful connections that are so much more than transactional relationships. We are also deeply connected to our communities, giving us authenticity when we speak as the Voice of Business.
Advocacy is why the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1863, the first chamber in what would become Western Canada and it’s why chambers across the Island work so hard to help their communities. Look at almost any initiative, policy or investment that benefits local economies and you won’t have to dig too deep to find a connection to the local chamber.
However, as we saw with our website redesign, the work done behind the scenes is not always obvious. We can’t confuse political theatre with effective advocacy. Making noise for noise’s sake is great for headlines and viral news but it’s rarely the most effective way to bring about positive change or attract investment.
The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce has a sterling reputation for advocacy. We work on behalf of business to nurture relationships with all levels of government as well as representatives of all industries and all communities. When policy makers need help understanding what business needs, they turn to us. And when an individual business needs answers, we help them get through to the people who have those answers.
It’s why Belleville Terminal is finally on track for modernization, why our marine borders were opened in time to salvage the 2021 tourism season, why child care is now understood to be an investment that helps employers and why thousands of businesses were able to find a way through the darkest of days of the pandemic. If the advocacy efforts of chambers weren’t evident before, they were front and center during a time of great uncertainty. To build a better future you have to roll up your sleeves, not just pointing out issues, but getting to work providing options and connecting government and business to build strong communities.
It’s what the Island Chamber Policy Alliance continues to do, even if it doesn’t get a lot of fanfare. We work together to identify common challenges and then work even harder to solve them. Housing supply, supply chain solutions, safe communities and systemic labour shortages are big, complex issues that will take time to solve. You can bet that local chambers are in the thick, finding ways to move the needle bit-by-bit. One day, new concerns will be on our minds and we’ll forget about the work done to solve yesterday’s problems.
Over the decades, chamber members have pushed for investment or policies that led to many of the icons and landmarks we continue to enjoy across the region: The Empress, shipbuilding facilities, ferry service to the mainland and to Washington State, the airport, the first parking garage in the city, E&N rail and the University of Victoria are a few of our accomplishments. The Chamber also initiated or helped with establishing the South Island Film Commission, South Island Prosperity Partnership, VIATEC and Destination Greater Victoria.
Similar stories can be heard in every community with a chamber — if you’re willing to listen.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce