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.