As the voice of business in Langley, the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce is often heard well beyond municipal boundaries, chamber president Jack Nicholson says.
Recently, a push by the Langley and Abbotsford chambers to have customs agents end a practice that allows many cross-border shoppers to escape taxes was taken up by both the B.C. and Canadian Chambers, and became a national issue.
“It’s not just the Langley Chamber saying this is an issue, it’s all the chambers coming together,” Nicholson said.
A resolution adopted by both the B.C. and Canadian chambers said communities at border crossings are losing money because day-trippers who should pay taxes often get waved through without paying.
That’s thanks to a border agency policy that aims to reduce costs and save time by waiving charges when the value of purchases is below a certain, undisclosed, threshold.
It amounts to a “consistent pattern of non-collection of taxes and duties” that creates a further incentive for residents to choose cross border shopping and puts Canadian retailers at an unfair disadvantage and results in a significant economic loss to border communities, the resolution said.
“You can’t load up $600 of groceries and not expect to pay taxes, in my opinion,” Nicholson said.
To fix the problem, the resolution calls on Ottawa to take step to improve border collection, and suggests a self-reporting model where shoppers must declare and pay taxes and border personnel perform random checks.
“It’s not just to bash the government, but to work with them on solutions,” Nicholson said.
By working with other chambers, Langley concerns get more clout when they are supported by the provincial and national bodes, Nicholson said.
“That’s why I love being part of the chamber,” Nicholson said.
“If you’re passionate about an issue for the community, there are so many opportunities to get involved.”
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Nicholson encouraged people considering membership to view the chamber as more than a business networking opportunity.
“If there’s something you see missing from your community, get involved,” Nicholson said.
Last year, the Greater Langley Chamber authored or supported 11 successful policies adopted at the B.C. Chamber annual general meeting in Kamloops.
Issues advocated by the 1,000-plus member Langley chamber included a warming about a $15 minimum wage in B.C.
“I agree that we want to be fair to our employees,” Nicholson said, “but there are a lot of small businesses [that] just can’t afford to pay a 16-year-old student $15 an hour for an entry-level job.”
Greater Langley and other members of the B.C. Chamber’s province-wide membership passed a policy calling for minimum wage increases to be linked to the consumer price index to bring stability and predictability to the increases and protect B.C. businesses from the fallout of sudden, unexpected hikes.
As well, the Langley chamber has supported a Burnaby Board of trade resolution that suggests the provincial government should rethink a new employer health tax, suggesting measures such as raising the minimum payroll threshold to prevent undue negative impacts on small organizations.
As it stands it will be a “significant hit,” Nicholson said.
“I’m not sure they [the government] thought through their policies.”
Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce has also called on the federal government to make clean technology, including renewable energy production and the manufacture of renewable energy producing products like solar panels and wind turbines, a “high priority” in an effort to grow a diversified economy.
It has also called for internet voting by the 2022 municipal election, saying allowing online ballots would reduce potential barriers and improve engagement, and the province should set up an independent technical committee to evaluate online voting systems to ensure Elections BC criteria are met, including accessibility, ballot anonymity, and voter authentication and authorization.
This year, Nicholson said, the chamber plans to tackle new isues such as the lack of industrial land in Langley and other Metro Vancouver communities as well as the impact of the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade deals on local business.