Local and provincial politicians were on-screen Friday to discuss the next steps in economic recovery in the Vernon area.
The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce hosted the first of a series of town halls Feb. 19. Taking part in the Zoom conference was Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu, B.C’s Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, setting up a conversation centred on local economic renewal during the pandemic.
Among the topics covered were the looming deadline for the Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant program, the real estate speculation tax, government spending on agriculture, how B.C. will pay for recovery programs and a new cultural centre in Greater Vernon.
“It is appropriate that our first major town hall of 2021 occurred during Chamber of Commerce Week in B.C. as chambers play a significant role in promoting vibrant economies and resilient communities. In the case of our chamber, we have been the leading voice of business and Greater Vernon since 1897,” said Greater Vernon Chamber General Manager Dan Proulx.
A question was raised concerning non-food vendors being barred from farmer’s markets as a precaution during the pandemic. Sandhu said while she understands the frustration among vendors and markets alike, the decision is out of the hands of B.C. politicians and in the hands of public health officials.
Sandhu added she has spoken directly to Dr. Bonnie Henry on the matter and was reassured that “they are constantly looking into this, listening to different organizations and reassessing the situation.”
In the meantime, she encouraged non-food vendors to take advantage of the Launch Online government grant, a new program to help small- and medium-sized businesses shift to e-commerce with up to $7,500 in support. Launch Online can be applied for at launchonline.ca.
On COVID-19’s impact on tourism, Kahlon said officials are working to make the support program for small and medium-sized businesses more accessible to tourism operators.
“That program has seen about 60 per cent of applications coming from just the tourism sector,” he said.
Kahlon said he’s been asked whether it makes sense to continue to spend “millions” to support people and businesses when “98.7 per cent of the jobs have come back in the province,” but said that number can be deceiving as a majority of those jobs are being supported by pandemic relief funds.
“We know that over 70 per cent of all businesses in B.C. are relying on some sort of government support to maintain their operations,” he said.
Three more town halls are on deck to be hosted by the Greater Vernon Chamber. On March 3, North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Mel Arnold will get together with Pat Kelly, Conservative shadow minister for small business and Western economic diversification.
On March 31, the chamber will welcome Sam Samaddar, airport director for the Kelowna International Airport, and on April 7 Liberal labour critic Greg Kyllo will have a discussion with jobs, economic recovery and innovation critic Todd Stone.
All questions submitted by chamber members for Friday’s town hall will be forwarded to Kahlon, Popham and Sandhu for a response.
For more information or to register for upcoming town halls, Chamber members can visit this link.