Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
In early January, when our staff were getting back to their routines after a break for the holidays, I sent an email to remind them of the need to keep moving forward. The subject line was one word: “Surgite!”
Let me explain to those of you might not be history nerds like me. Surgite — Latin for “push on” or “onward — is said to be the final word spoken by General Isaac Brock before he succumbed to injuries at the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812. “Surgite!” is the motto of Brock University, where I went to school and the reason why I know this.
These are not easy times, and the events of 2020 will be taught in history classes for generations to come. Even as we carry on into a new year, we know there are challenging times ahead. But, onward we must go with optimism and renewed energy drawn from lessons learned and perspective gathered. By now, all of us are experienced at managing COVID. We know what must be done to keep this virus away from our most vulnerable, and protect ourselves and the people around us.
All of us are anxious for the pandemic to end. Uncertainty is the only thing that has been a constant in our lives since the outbreak began a year ago. When we think we know the best course of action, or what will come in the weeks or months ahead, something unforeseen happens. We now have variants of the virus that are causing concern, along with delays to an immunization plan that was a source of so much hope only a few weeks ago. The vaccines will get here, and they will end this pandemic, though not as quickly as any of us want.
Still, we push on and we innovate. We adapt. Some days, I’m truly awestruck by how our local businesses and our community are supporting each other. Ideas that wouldn’t have gotten off the ground in 2019, are proving to be the path forward. We are rethinking how we can use this time to better address climate change, as well as how we can ensure our communities remains vibrant and affordable for everyone.
I am also encouraged by a renewed interest in working with indigenous people to shape a more resilient future. First Nations have lived on these lands for centuries and we can only benefit by listening to their ideas and learning from their knowledge. Life after the pandemic will be a time of renewal, and a chance to make real progress toward reconciliation.
It’s important to keep our eye on better days, even as we struggle with restrictions and numbers that don’t always seem to make sense. Dr. Bonnie Henry has been clear that decisions are based on data, but the data changes every week — if not daily. A lot of us would love this to be more transparent, more concise. We want to know that if we can get numbers to X, then we can remove Y restrictions. But that’s not reality.
We need to continue to trust the science and the experts. I really don’t have time for people who claim conspiracies or choose to risk the lives of others by refusing to wear masks when asked. At the same time, I’m also frustrated by people who are quick to judge others when they don’t know someone’s circumstance. The provincial health officer has emphasized kindness, and that is the best approach right now. Some people have medical reasons for not wearing a mask, or might have a larger household than others. This is less about numbers than doing the right thing.
It's easy to let anger get the better of us. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and let reason and perspective kick in. Find that kindness within yourself
That said, part of our job at The Chamber will be to continue to respectfully question government policies, especially when there’s concern specific rules are bad for business. Our organization has played a key role in the health of our region’s economy for 158 years. We are deeply connected to the business community in a way that government can never be. This is not something I take lightly — when we need to speak up we will make sure our voice is heard.
The last year has not been easy, but all of us have grown in ways we might never have imagined before the pandemic. I’ve been CEO of The Chamber for 10 months, and it has been the ride of a lifetime. I’m thankful for all our members who are taking this ride with us, and for the dedicated Chamber team that has kept the lights on and done whatever it takes to serve our region.
The roller coaster ride isn’t over, but when it ends we’ll all look back at this experience as something we shared together. Until then, take a deep breath and count to 10. Surgite!
This column was originally published in the Times Colonist on Feb. 27, 2021.
Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
As we continue to adapt to new ways of doing business, we are starting to get a much clearer idea of what lies ahead. This is good news for businesses that have been forced to leap into the future sooner than planned. Knowing where we’re going can help an organization ensure it has the capacity and resources to fulfil its potential.
RBC recently published an excellent article titled “Eight ways COVID-19 will transform the economy and disrupt every business.” Written by John Stackhouse, former Globe and Mail editor and current Senior VP at RBC, the piece highlights a few ways we might eventually be better off despite the unprecedented pace of change.
For example, the pandemic has accelerated technological adaptation, forcing us into the future much sooner than any of us expected. The way we work has changed forever, Stackhouse says. Three-quarters of Canadians are hoping to continue working from home in some way after restrictions ease. That’s going to require new ideas for managing employees, and new challenges to ensure the networks we use to communicate are secure.
We’ve also experienced a profound shift in how we shop. The great news is Canadians have overwhelmingly embraced calls to “buy local.” Online shopping, for many years, has been a nebulous threat for brick-and-mortar businesses. But with 78% of Canadians choosing Canadian brands, the pandemic has shown that people are more than willing to support local businesses if doing so is convenient. To add a dimension of engagement to shopping local we have a social media campaign underway titled #ChamberLocalVicBC. Chamber members define how they are local by completing the sentence “We are local because…” This is a means to help followers better understand what local really means.
Travel has also refocused on local experiences, with people staying close to home. There is no question Greater Victoria’s tourism sector is suffering, but Stackhouse’s forecast offers a few reasons for optimism. He’s predicting higher demand for wilderness tourism experiences, as well as high-end destinations within driving distance of major population centres. Time will tell what that means for the South Island, though, the loss of another cruise ship season will hurt. We need all levels of government to make sure our larger hotels and private transportation providers have an opportunity to survive and get back to contributing to our economy.
The pandemic has also caused disruptions to the way we trade, how we learn, how we share and how we heal. To this last point, at The Chamber we’ve noticed an increase in interest in our Teladoc benefit which allows Chamber members 24/7 access to doctors and mental health professionals virtually.
Many of Stackhouse’s points are echoed in another excellent article put out by MNP, about the top risk management trends for 2021. MNP calls the shift to working online a “cyber tsunami” that creates an opportunity for tech services, as companies update their culture and strategy to align with remote working. “Now that team members understand remote options are viable, it’s likely they will expect greater autonomy, flexibility, and trust from employers,” MNP’s article says. “At the same time, employers need to re-evaluate how they create cultural alignment and support employee engagement.”
I should mention that RBC and MNP are Chamber Champions, a new echelon of membership we introduced this year. In addition to the leadership both companies are exhibiting nationally, this demonstrates their local leadership. Champions help provide stability for The Chamber, and offer support and guidance to our organization. It’s one way we’ve adapted to the new reality facing businesses now, and for years to come.