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NEWS AND VIEWS: Insights from the BC Chamber 2023 AGM and Conference

Tom Thomson writes about the conference and its focus on decriminalization
Karen Bennett (Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce president) is seen here with Terrace chamber president Joshua Papke (centre) and Nelson chamber executive director Tom Thomson at the BC Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting held May 31 to June 2 in Whistler. Photo: Submitted

Over 170 delegates attended the BC Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting in Whistler. Attendees heard from an inspiring lineup of keynote speakers and panelists that encouraged and motivated our network to continue Focusing Forward…Together.

There were a wide range of policies, 64 in all, that resonated with the business community and attracted a positive vote. It’s vital that these important advocacy issues get researched, written, adopted and then taken to government for action. There is no stronger voice with government in B.C. than the BC Chamber of Commerce.

As we continue to navigate uncertain times, and with the need to address some of our greatest challenges with increased urgency, this year we focused on the importance of working together to find solutions and drive meaningful change. None of us, whether governments, Indigenous peoples, businesses, not-for-profits, or academia can do it alone.

The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce initiates and leads discussion on current issues from public safety to business recycling and strengthening community health care. We are your business voice at the table when policy is made at the municipal, provincial and federal levels.

A policy was adopted and wholeheartedly support by our Chamber looking for the provincial government to provide some assurance that decriminalization of certain illicit drugs be modified to provide peace of mind for communities.

Municipalities across B.C. share common issues impacting businesses’ ability to operate in a safe environment for their staff, their physical assets, and their customers. Loss of a sense of safety, break-ins, harassment of customers, and the increased cost of doing business in unsafe environments have seen businesses close. When the decriminalization of possessing illicit drugs in B.C. was legislated the issue ignited an ongoing firestorm of controversy in municipalities across the province.

As policymakers in municipalities across all of B.C. are considering restricting public substance use, provincial authorities are supporting widening the establishment of designated areas where individuals can use drugs safely and without fear of legal repercussions.

These areas, commonly referred to as safe consumption sites, have been shown to reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use, such as toxic drug deaths, and could help mitigate the impact of public substance use on communities.

Due to growing frustrations and public safety concerns, a ban on public use is an avenue municipalities are actively pursuing at present. That message was loud and clear when community leaders met deputy premier Mike Farnworth at the Nelson Chamber recently and reinforced at the BC Chamber AGM.

B.C. has to date been sorely lacking in that ongoing support and separation of individuals into recovery facilities where substance use is allowed or banned, or to provide enough regional treatment beds.

Ultimately, any policy restricting public substance use should be developed in consultation with communities, including individuals who use drugs, to ensure it is fair, effective, and respectful of the rights and dignity of all members of society and not simply a one-sided approach.

The goal should be to balance the needs of individuals who use drugs with the needs of the broader community, including businesses and residents, to create safe and healthy communities for all.

Your Chamber also received unanimous support for the business recycling policy that we developed. This received widespread support from all Kootenay Chamber and was easily adopted at the AGM. Small business and retailers need to be on the same level playing field as households when it comes to cardboard, paper and plastic packing materials.

Currently businesses are not permitted to dispose of commercial recycling in the same manner as households. The ICI contract with Recycling BC excludes business. That means private hauling, which is extremely costly in rural areas, or having recycling going right into the landfill.

The policy recommends that the provincial government work with producer industries, small business and communities across B.C. to develop a way to increase recycling of ICI materials while maintaining the economic well-being of all business sectors.

The policy handbook will be posted at in the coming weeks.

Tom Thomson is executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.