June 23rd, 2018

Business Beat: Investing in effective advocacy

By Medicine Hat News on June 14, 2017.

As a Chamber of Commerce, we often say that we’re the “voice of business,” which is a simple definition for our overarching role.

While we don’t have the resources or mandate to advocate for all issues within our community, we do focus on those that have a direct correlation to our vision, mission, membership and economic prosperity.

At our grassroots nature, we exist to ensure that business interests are duly defended and represented, as it’s difficult for most businesses to have a voice and to be heard amongst the masses. We take on a role that most others simply don’t have the time, knowledge, resources or energy to do. Most businesses are busy doing what they do best — running their business — so they don’t have time to focus on or represent their business concerns when issues arise. Most businesses also can’t afford to have a staff person who monitors government, regulations, policies, fees and other impacts. That’s where we come in. As this agent, we provide this resource to our members. We monitor activities that impact business, we meet regularly with government representatives, we correspond and write policy papers with recommendations for government, we actively pursue constructive dialogue at all levels of government related to the issues of concern within our local community and we inform our businesses on changes that have an impact on them. As a result, we also act as a resource to government, as government calls on us to consult and work with them to make sure the business perspective is represented at the table on various topics and issues.

That’s why when I hear, “What can we do about it, we’re just Medicine Hat?”, my reply is always “Actually we can do a lot about it.”

From a chamber perspective, it’s because it’s not just our voice asking for change, it’s not just one business or organization or a small corner of the province. It’s the collective voices of the businesses we represent. Locally that’s nearly 800 businesses and organizations strong and growing. We then add our provincial network to the mix and this gives us the strength of more than 24,000 businesses and 126 Chambers of Commerce across the province. We then take that one step further and add our federal network into the mix, which then adds another 200,000-plus business voices to our choir.

As the economy continues to ebb and flow, governments often look to increase taxes or fees and balance budgets (or incur deficits). They sometimes unknowingly cripple our businesses with regulations and spur unintended consequences, and political and regulatory uncertainty sometimes prevents business from investing, expanding or hiring new employees. That’s where a chamber’s voice and a network of voices becomes more important. We make those issues known, we respectfully express why and how various issues impact business and we recommend solutions for change that work for both government and the business community.

The Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce recently returned from the Alberta Chambers of Commerce conference and policy session at the end of May, where we also worked with our local MLA and speaker of the house Robert Wanner to meet with the energy minister, transportation minister and deputy minister of labour. This is significant for our community because at these policy conferences and meetings with government, our chamber can bring forward policy priorities relating to provincial and federal regulations that are important to our community and to our businesses and have a dialogue to work towards impactful solutions, as well as to identify opportunities.

By bringing our grassroots policies forward to organizations like the Alberta Chambers of Commerce and Canadian Chamber of Commerce, we can also gain the strength and voice of these organizations.

Advocacy is a critical role that we play for our members, one that we don’t charge for like other lobbyists, but one that membership dues fund through our organization. How can we do this so effectively? It’s because we are an organization that operates like any other business — we don’t receive government funding for our operations, but we are a not-for-profit and our services are provided as a direct result of businesses that invest in us through memberships, that attend our events and invest in the services we provide. We also represent a broad range of businesses, so we’re not specific to any one industry. All of this provides us a level, balanced, well-represented voice, one that is not stymied by concerns of funding impacts or driven by agendas, but driven by the voices behind our organization and the members we represent.

Businesses make up the fabric of our community, our province and our country. They are the ones that stimulate and strengthen our economy, keep people employed, pay the highest percentage of property tax revenue, contribute to overall government revenues through other taxes and fees and they contribute and invest in our communities through business developments and charitable giving. We have been witness to some challenging times within our business community, so we know there is no greater time for us to stand up, support our business community and be the “voice of business” in order to make our collective voice heard. There is no greater reward than standing up for what you believe in and making sure our community will continue to prosper. We can only do this by building relationships, continuing our conversations and effectively advocating on behalf of those we represent.

Lisa Kowalchuk is the executive director of the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce. For more information on this column or the Chamber, contact 403-527-5214.

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