When an issue impacts the Langley business community, the community speaks out, and advocacy remains a big part of the work of the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.
In an ordinary year, members of chambers of commerce from across B.C. and Canada will gather in large conventions to hash out issues of importance, and to speak with a united voice to Victoria or Ottawa.
In 2020, COVID-19 put a stop to in-person gatherings, but it didn’t prevent businesspeople in Langley from making their voices heard on issues they care about, said Frank Bucholtz, a director with the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce.
Online gatherings took the place of the big B.C. and Canadian Chamber of Commerce events this year, and because anyone could participate over a computer, more local members than ever could take part.
The resolutions that are debated at regional, provincial, and national gatherings are put to politicians not long after, but they can come from a single local chamber of commerce, put forward by a single member.
“It’s really a grassroots approach to things,” Bucholtz noted.
This year Langley co-sponsored resolutions on guidelines for zoning new rental housing in B.C. and for enabling the growth of the cannabis industry.
Although there are certainly issues of taxes and regulation, local businesses have long lobbied about infrastructure.
One of B.C.’s resolution this year concerned continuing the Gateway roads project.
The project, which included the widening of Highway 1 through Langley and the establishment of new rail overpasses and electronic traffic signs in Langley and its neighbours, has been one of concern to local business for years.
Cutting down on traffic gridlock by continuing to widen the highway to the east, through Abbotsford and eventually Chilliwack, has long been a priority for the chamber, which relies on shipping goods back east, to ports, or across the border.
It’s at the Aldergrove border crossing that you can see the fruits of long-time local advocacy work.
An expanded border crossing at 264th Street – south of the highway interchange and the Gloucester Industrial Park – was a priority of a string of chamber presidents and its past executive director, Lynn Whitehouse. With help from the late Langley MP Mark Warawa, it finally became a reality, and truck traffic could move south from Langley, instead of having to head to Sumas in Abbotsford or Pacific Highway Truck Crossing in Surrey.
“That, I think, was a significant victory for Langley,” Bucholtz said, “and the chamber played a big role in that.”
It also highlights the other side of political advocacy. While the big national organizations bring their weight to Ottawa or Victoria, the local chamber lobbies individual MPs and MLAs in Langley on issues.
Of course, one of the big concerns for the chamber has continues to be what is happening to local businesses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“We have a big concern about tourism and other related industries,” said Bucholtz, pointing to the fact that LEC and Cascades Casino have been largely closed for almost a year, the inability to host large weddings, and the inability to fully open wineries and restaurants – there are a significant number of local businesses seeing much lower revenue.
The pressure from local chambers has prompted the Canadian chamber to push Ottawa for 30 changes to policies all related to COVID-19, including some changes that would make it easier for employees to work at home.
Through 2021, advocacy will continue to be a big part of the Langley chamber’s work, regardless of what the business climate looks like.