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News and Views: It’s time to get back to work and get back to normal

Tom Thomson on pandemic business recovery and the labour market in Nelson
Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson says the group has many questions about how a vaccine passport will work. Photo: Tyler Harper

by Tom Thomson

Many parts of the province might be enjoying full capacity in its restaurants, theatres and sporting events, but the Kootenay, the rest of Interior and Northern Health regions are still restricted. It seems clear that low vaccination rates in Nelson and area — around 79 per cent with the first dose — have excluded Nelson along with the West and East Kootenay and the Okanagan and Northern B.C. in a return to full capacity (with the proper protocols).

It is extremely frustrating for businesses that have been struggling over the past 19 months. When the province lifted restrictions and gave the green light in the most populated area in the Lower Mainland, our region was singled out with a red light and continued restrictions.

So many businesses in Nelson and area have been struggling to return to profitability and without the restrictions being lifted, there is no clear end in sight.

The restrictions are having a negative impact on Kootenay businesses. In the last BC Chamber of Commerce pulse check for the Kootenay region it was discovered that 21 per cent of businesses reported that they were in poor shape.

So, we have to get more vaccinations in order to get back to at least the opportunity for profitability. That is step one. Step two is making sure there is staff available for these businesses when they can increase capacity.

Even with B.C.’s Vaccine Card in place and economic restart plans well underway, businesses still need a hand with the pandemic’s on-going challenges — lifting restrictions and finding staff.

The Chamber, its board and our Business Recovery Team are working to connect your business with government programs and grants that can help you out of these challenging times.

With the expiration of programs like the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), the nation-wide labour shortage is still of considerable concern. Many analysts feel that the elimination of this CERB benefit will force more individuals back into looking for work. But the labour shortage is being impacted by a plethora of issues. There are the additional challenges in finding affordable housing and the slow opening up our borders to vital immigrant workers and ongoing requirements pertaining to vaccine cards and masks.

In fact, the immigration from countries like Australia, New Zealand and England is going to be crucial for many mountain resorts. Operations like Whistler, Fernie, Big White and others hire up to 35 per cent of their workforce with those folks coming to Canada on a two year work-vacation permit.

The Chamber network has met with BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon twice in the past month to advocate for the hard-hit business sectors like food and beverage, ski resort staff and service industry workers, while the Canadian Chamber works closely with the federal government on easing the immigration rules to get those looking for work permits processed and into the communities where they are desperately needed, including Nelson and area.

On the labour front, there’s still help out there. Our partners at the Kootenay Career Development Society support all aspects of recruitment and retention of employees.

Business recovery advisor Darren Davidson and our Chamber recovery team can answer questions regarding new federal initiatives including the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, the Hardest Hit Business Recovery Program and the Canada Recovery Hiring Program. Darren has been knocking on doors and advising businesses from Ainsworth, Balfour, Nelson, Ymir and Salmo corridor.

As the voice of business, the Chamber is working hard with all levels of government — and specifically with Interior Health — for the lifting of on-going COVID restrictions including indoor event capacity limits. What is the vaccination rate needed to lift restrictions? We’re not sure, but 79 per cent single dose is not going to get it done.

We still need more uptake in our region. The provincial average is 86 per cent double vaccinated. Some municipalities are over 95 per cent double vaxxed.

Get vaccinated if you can. Let’s get back to work and get our community back to normal! It’s time to get back to events, concerts, gala dinners, full capacity Capitol Theatre and Civic theatre programming, small businesses at full capacity and flourishing.

Stay safe. And support local.

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