Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce
The end of summer has brought renewed concern over COVID numbers and new challenges for organizations.
When the provincial government announced on Aug. 23 it was bringing in a proof of vaccination requirement, there were strong reactions across the province. And businesses reached out to their local chambers of commerce to do our jobs as powerful vehicles for advocacy and bringing people together.
For employers, the shared concern was frontline staff. who already struggle with backlash to current rules. With so many organizations struggling to bring back enough workers to meet the demands of a recovering economy, there is little capacity or desire to have staff enforce new restrictions.
In our region, where the population has one of the highest rates of immunization in BC, the attitude was we can do this — but we need to know training and help will be there if needed. At the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, staff went to work engaging with our members and decision makers in government. I reached out to other community leaders and chambers of commerce across the province. The response was illuminating and, I believe, helps us better understand the different approaches required in urban and rural communities.
We don’t need divisive discourse that takes away from efforts to protect ourselves and each other from the current and future waves of COVID-19. The protests outside hospitals that, rightfully, attracted so much negative attention don’t reflect the attitudes of business.
As chambers, it’s in our nature to believe in people. We talk about building good business as the way to create a great community for all. We want business with good values to prosper so they can offer the products and services and provide the jobs and the tax base necessary for a community to be great. This is the same whether we live in cities with diverse populations or small towns where everyone knows your name.
During my outreach to other chambers, this was clear and helps explain why chambers might initially seem to have conflicting opinions about requiring proof of vaccination. However, all chambers represent the interests of their members and are working for the return of a healthy and inclusive economy. For example, one rural chamber said they needed better solutions for members who face a Sophie’s Choice between protecting their livelihood and turning away a client that is integral to their business. Both have value but the choice can be difficult especially when differing points of view are in play. The difficulty of course is when that client is a neighbour and a friend or relative who has different politics about the medical advice they should be following. In that situation, the priority needs to be ensuring COVID is not being transmitted. Period.
Businesses in Greater Victoria won’t typically face that dilemma. We’ve had great success already following the advice of BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. With 83% fully immunized in Greater Victoria (as of Aug. 31), 78% on the West Shore and 87% on the Peninsula, we’re well protected by vaccine coverage. The proof is on our relatively low case counts and hospitalizations.
But COVID is unpredictable, and vaccines are not magic. The longer the virus sticks around the more likely it is for even fully vaccinated people to be part of the chain of transmission. And with fall expected to bring a typical upturn in respiratory illnesses, we need to stay focussed on the best outcome more than ever. We can do this. We have the experience and knowledge that we can do what it takes for a temporary period to stop the spread. Vaccines work, and masks are a helpful layer of protection. But respect for each other and the safety of our community is what will get us to the finish line.
This column was originally published in the September issue of Business Examiner