By Frank Bucholtz/Special to Langley Advance Times
Numerous businesses across Langley need employees, as these signs outside several North Langley businesses show.
Labour and employment issues are top of mind for the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce, because they are very important to its members.
Among its work on that front was a recent webinar on seeking out new immigrants as employees.
The chamber’s also continued its lobbying efforts on the topic of transportation, locally.
Widening of Highway #1 and improvements to the major transportation artery have been a top advocacy issue for Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce for years, even surfacing as a policy proposal at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting.
Widening of the freeway to six lanes between 216 and 264 Streets is underway, as a sign announcing a 15-month closure of the Glover Road overpass shows. The overpass needs to be replaced to allow the highway to be widened.
Advocacy for members is a key activity of Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.
A 2022 survey showed that advocacy on behalf of businesses with government “was selected by our members as the most valuable and important thing we do as a chamber,” said president Ken Dennis.
“For a small investment in membership, Langley businesses can know they have someone in their corner, fighting for them, and helping speak out for their interests with all levels of government,” he added.
This advocacy work takes many forms, but it is safe to say it happens every day. Dennis noted.
“Decisions are being made every day by all levels of government, and they are hearing input from every other special interest group you can imagine – so we work to make sure they are also hearing from the business community, and understanding what business owners and entrepreneurs need to thrive here in Langley,” noted the president.
“It doesn’t take long for taxes, rules, or regulations to pile up that can make it difficult for a business to succeed, so advocacy, policy development, and government engagement is a round-the-clock priority for us.”
One of the ways this advocacy work is undertaken is through the Langley chamber’s membership in the B.C. and Canadian Chambers of Commerce.
At each annual meeting of the two chambers, members from across B.C. (BCCC) and across Canada (CCC) spend a considerable amount of time discussing policy proposals.
Most of these deal with government programs or policies. The policy proposals that pass after passionate debate among delegates are then presented to governments as official positions of the respective provincial and national chambers, and are frequently referred to by governments as they seek new ways of operating.
Many issues arise from grassroots concerns at the local level, which turn into policy proposals to come forward at the annual meetings of the larger chamber bodies, Dennis explained.
A lot of the challenges businesses face are provincial or national in scope, such as labour shortages, changes to employment law, taxation, and transportation. All of these are key items for every business, from the smallest to the largest.
“Sometimes we work on our own to advance an issue or push for a solution, but sometimes there is strength in numbers – and we work with our provincial and national chambers to put the weight of the full chamber network behind a Langley issue. Each year, we collaborate with other chambers from across B.C. and Canada to develop a number of recommendations to government that then we all work together to push forward.”
He provided some examples.
“Sometimes it is big things, long-term things, like the widening of Highway #1, or the expansion of skills training and workforce development by the province. Those are issues that are fundamental to business success – transportation and labour – which the Langley chamber and the B.C. chamber have been pushing for years, and now we’re finally seeing action on the ground,” Dennis said.
“Sometimes it is specific things, like the wage subsidy we saw during the pandemic. Getting the government to provide a 75-per-cent wage subsidy to help underpin local businesses was a direct result of the pressure chambers and business groups put on government when they weren’t acting strongly enough,” he elaborated.
“And sometimes you don’t get everything you want, but you’re still able to limit the impact of a government action. Take the new five days of paid sick leave, for example. Without the advocacy work of chambers of commerce, I am convinced businesses would have been mandated to provide 10 days. You don’t always get everything you want when you are advocating to government, but it is still vital that the voice of business is heard and impacts the decisions being made.”
Speaking up for business is key
Advocacy is undertaken in many ways.
Board members and CEO Cory Redekop frequently meet with government ministers and representatives.
A chamber government policy committee meets regularly, and one of its roles is to take concerns raised by individual members forward – looking into those concerns, gathering more information and then preparing to take it further, if necessary.
Dennis spoke to some of the top advocacy concerns at present.
“Right now we’re really focused on the rising costs of doing business through fees and taxes that get piled on by all levels of government,” he said.
“Payroll taxes went up in January to fund the EI program, and we’ve been pushing hard for the federal government to fund that program more directly and not through higher employer premiums.”
RELATED: Langley chamber lauds drop in unemployment in B.C.
The (provincial) Employer Health Tax can cost businesses thousands of dollars every year, Dennis said, noting it “punishes them for creating jobs and raising wages. We’ve been working for months now advocating for the Minister of Finance to increase exemptions, something that would save a small Langley business with even just 10 employees a few thousand dollars a year.”
Just recently, the BC Green Party called for more businesses to be exempt from paying the EHT, a change in position the Langley chamber applauded.
“And over the coming months, we’re going to be engaging closely with the Township and the City governments to ensure property taxes for businesses don’t start climbing unreasonably. Businesses already account for more than their share of the tax burden, despite using fewer municipal services, and many businesses won’t be able to afford to pay more,” said Dennis, who operates a series of technology, financial, and business companies.
Some of the specific topics being discussed at the chamber committee table also include public transit access to Gloucester Industrial Park, crime challenges caused by repeat offenders, electoral boundary changes that impact how Langley is represented in Ottawa and Victoria, and the pressures and benefits of development.
Advocacy work is not just to benefit businesses either.
“We don’t think you can divorce the health of the business community from the health of the wider community,” said Dennis.
“Try to have a thriving and successful community without the jobs businesses create, or the services they provide, or the tax revenue they contribute. Business success is community success. And that’s why we also advocate for issues that are of broader community concern. Chambers of commerce have been leaders in advocating for better access to childcare, investments in education, and more supports for mental health and addictions – because we know a strong, healthy, and inclusive community is also good for business.”
READ MORE: Langley chamber urging action to address business crime
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