Prior to the COVID-19 public health emergency we relied on, and to some extent took for granted, the incredible businesses that support our community in so many ways.
I have been publishing a series of blog posts called “Championing Local Business”, highlighting my visits to local businesses as an MLA, and what I have learned about the entrepreneurs, the innovators and change-makers in our community. This series features only a few, there are hundreds more. I raise my hands in gratitude to the investment and risk that business owners make on behalf of our community.
What would our villages, towns and cities be like without the local shopkeeper, manufacturer or attraction? Our communities would lose their vibrancy, we would not have coffeeshops to gather in to tell our stories and sing our songs. Many people in our communities would lose the jobs they rely on to provide for themselves and their families.
At the new economic reality resulting from public health orders to physical distance emerges, I hear the desperate calls from my friends in the business community. I have seen the videos and heard their urgent calls for support.
All aspects of our society have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our normally dynamic village centres are now quiet. Owners of non-essential businesses have been ordered to shutter. Right now they are being asked to shoulder a burden that many are unlikely to be able to shoulder.
It is shocking and devastating. I have spoken with many who simply do not know what to do or where to turn.
With no revenue flowing in, how can a business owner possibly make payroll, even if it is only 25% of their normal monthly cost? How can they be expected to pay 25% from nothing? What about what they owe their landlord, suppliers and utilities providers on top of that? Deferring tax and utility bills is simply deferring the inevitable at this point. It might be just an exercise in kicking the can down road.
Business owners are telling us that the relief programs are not enough, they don’t provide the support in the way they need to be supported. Local government officials are reminding us that individuals and businesses cannot afford the property taxes their community operations rely on to deliver and maintain services. So, the challenges are compounding. There is a fundamental breakdown in the systems we rely on not breaking.
We need to move quickly and be flexible and adaptable to ensure that local businesses have options other than closing their doors permanently. If we don’t, we will find that many of them will not open their doors again – and the jobs, goods and services they provided the community will be gone as well.
In the past few days I have received desperate letters from community and business leaders in the Southern Gulf Islands, across the CRD and from the City of Vancouver. The crisis is impacting communities big and small.
We are likely going to be isolating in our homes for some time yet, but when this is over let’s resolve to invest in those small business owners who have invested in us. Let’s commit to our community by shopping local.
While the global supply chain plays a critical role in ensuring goods are able to reach our homes and businesses, prioritizing a strong local economy first and foremost is how we create more resilient communities.
Our ancestors knew the importance of strong local supply chains and strong local economies. That started with a good supply of water and food but extended to the tinker, the tailor, the baker and yes, the candlestick maker.
Today I raise my hands in gratitude to all of my friends in the small business community. I hear you. I see you. I thank you.
The programs to assist small businesses announced by the federal and provincial governments to date are not enough. Both governments have an opportunity to act on the urgent requests for financial support programs for businesses that are struggling with a lack of cash flow and who are critically threatened by this public health crisis. I will continue to advocate for stronger programs to support small businesses during this unprecedented time we are all in.