Chambers of commerce need to shift their focus and concentrate more on services that will help their members grow and thrive, Jon Garson told a crowd in Parksville on Thursday night.
Garson, the new president and CEO of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, was the guest speaker at the Parksville chamber’s monthly dinner meeting last week at The Beach Club. He said the B.C. chamber and local chambers of commerce have done a good job with wider, more provincial issues like the success they have had urging the province to cut red tape and keep taxes low in comparison to other jurisdictions in Canada and North America.
The B.C. Chamber of Commerce count 125 chambers representing 32,000 businesses as its members.
“That easily makes us the broadest-based voice of business in the province,” said Garson. He said reductions in red tape at the provincial level and a tax regime that’s one of the most competitive in the world “would not have happened” without pressure on the provincial government from chambers of commerce.
He also said other, on-the-ground issues like succession, training and export opportunities are coming more to the forefront for members.
“Businesses are asking some harder questions these days,” said Garson. “If you want to grow your business, the chamber should be the place you go for help. We need to develop a range of new services to help business grow and create new jobs.”
Before coming to Canada, Garson worked in various government ministries in the United Kingdom. He had been working on the policy side of the B.C. chamber for 10 years before becoming president earlier this year and while he spoke about the need for chambers to do more detailed work for its members, he did seem most fired up when speaking about broader, province-wide policy concerns.
He spoke of a “crisis of affordability” in B.C. and a shift in the message he believes the province is sending to the world when it — or First Nations — denies resource-based developments.
“We are still hewers of wood and drawers of water,” said Garson. “But we are developing a culture of ‘no’ in B.C. which is fundamentally undermining our attractiveness to investment.”
He pointed to the provincial sales tax as an impediment for investment, a cost that he said matters to big companies looking to come here. Garson also said he’s confident the B.C. chamber will be heard by the new federal Liberal government.
“This is a government we know we can work with,” he said.