Guest Editorial – Peterborough Chamber 2021 Board Chair Joe Grant, LLF Lawyers
If you are like me, all those internet memes we consumed over the last six months trashing 2020
convinced you on some level that flipping the calendar January 1 was going to herald in a great change and that all the frustration, isolation, and uncertainty that we ascribed to last year would somehow disappear – or that at least the troll’s foot would ease off the gas a little.
While there is certainly cause for optimism, it is apparent a couple of weeks into 2021 that a new calendar has done little to alter our state of frustration, isolation, and uncertainty. I would argue that our level of uncertainty is at an all-time high.
As members of the public, we are all unsure about:
The virus itself – How fast it will spread and if it will mutate again;
Rollout times and long-term efficacy of the various vaccines;
The long and short-term impact of lockdowns on the economy; and
When our children will return to school.
Arguably, nowhere is uncertainty more prevalent than in the business community. In addition to the uncertainty felt by the public, the business community faces additional layers of
Uncertainty surrounding government support for business; uncertainty about whether your
sector is going to be supported, to what extent and for how long;
Uncertainty surrounding employees – Whether or not laid-off employees will still be available
after restrictions affecting the business have been lifted; and Rapid changes to our regulatory environment – In Ontario a colour-coded tiered system of progressively stricter measures based on trends in Covid numbers was instituted. Many businesses adjusted and expended a lot of money based on our region’s colour, only to be put in a lockdown with little warning – a lockdown with an uncertain end.
Uncertainty is compounded by the fact that our faith in our ability to predict the path of the virus and its effects has been tested. Some prognostications in March had the pandemic petering out after a brief lockdown, but also had the stock market tanking, house values falling by 20% around this time and our economy falling into a deep and wide recession.
Despite all the uncertainty and challenges, we are seeing a lot of examples of
resiliency from business owners. Owners are
adapting quickly by adopting new business models,
tweaking service delivery, or even starting new ventures.
I spoke with a local bar owner on one of the last days before the latest lockdown and I asked him for his thoughts about the impending restrictions. His response was a shrug while he exclaimed, “Hey, it’s a new business every month”: from a bar with glass partitions to operating exclusively as an outdoor patio to a takeout restaurant and beer delivery service. This is the type of drive that needs to be supported.
My vision for 2021 is not sexy – but these are not sexy times. I want our members’
businesses to be as resilient as possible and I want the Chamber to be there to support them as much as possible.
Resilience and overcoming uncertainty in this environment begin with good information. In an era with easy access to so much
misinformation and partial truths, and with the
constantly, it is imperative that our members have
access to accurate and timely information so they can make important decisions about their businesses.
The COVID-19 Business Portal on the Chamber’s website is an excellent resource. It
contains information about compliance that is factual and easy to understand. We need to ensure this is maintained and additional information and resources are added as the events and
trends of this year dictate. We also need to absorb the feedback of our
membership to ensure any gaps are addressed.
The programs that we
provide may also be altered as this year plays out. The topics we explore, for example, may need to be tailored to issues and
challenges that we are not aware of yet, but will be important to helping our members to be as resilient as possible.
I would like to commend Stu and the Chamber staff for doing such a great job of leading by example. We have been able to put the government wage subsidy program to its intended and proper use; we have pivoted to online meetings; and we have tweaked our Business Excellence Awards to a virtual platform in spectacular fashion. Our business model has not fundamentally changed, but we have shifted where we have needed to shift and from my vantage point have done so very smoothly.
On the other side of this, whether that is somehow April, or sometime past my term as Chair, I want our Chamber to be viewed as an organization that helped our membership and our
community be as resilient as possible. Whether that is simply surviving, altering business plans or taking advantage of new opportunities that these unprecedented times may present.
MP Maryam Monsef released an op-ed earlier this week titled “Looking forward to 2021”.
It’s a thoughtful piece, touching on a number of topics of importance to the business community, so I thought I would share both the op-ed, and my own personal reactions (in italics)
In difficult times we look to one another, to our friends, neighbours, and community, to pull each other up and ensure that everything is going to be okay. We needed each other more than ever in 2020, and this community responded with the kind of resiliency and compassion that makes me so proud to call Peterborough-Kawartha home.
Indeed, I think we can all be proud of our community, from the thorough response of Peterborough Public Health, to the way we (generally) followed their advice. From the way local businesses adjusted to the lockdown, to the way the community rallied support for those local businesses. And while we are back in lockdown, the fundamentals are in place for most businesses to survive.
As we work towards rebuilding, we know that some things cannot go back to business as usual. The pandemic has given us the unique opportunity to fix the vulnerabilities in our societies that have been exposed.
Seniors living in long-term care homes have been immensely affected during this pandemic, and we will work to ensure that something like this never happens again. We'll work with the provinces and territories to set new, national standards for long-term care, so seniors get the best care possible.
Let’s hope the lessons we didn’t learn from the SARS outbreak are being relearned and will stick this time…
While our robust health care system has managed the pandemic well, it has made the need for things like access to a primary care physician, mental health services, virtual healthcare services, and universal pharmacare more obvious. We look forward to working with the provinces and territories to achieve these goals and strengthen our healthcare system.
The multi-jurisdictional mess we call a health care system, will unfortunately take a lot of work to fix. However, perhaps the table has been set.
Working from home has been a possibility for many sectors of the economy, thanks to a world-class internet infrastructure. Unfortunately, some rural Canadians haven't been able to fully participate in this evolution in the same way. That's why we're accelerating timelines and ambitions of the Universal Broadband Fund, so every Canadian, no matter where they live, can have access to reliable high-speed internet services.
Kudos to all levels of Government for continuing to treat this important piece of business infrastructure as a priority. Organizations like the Eastern Ontario Regional Network have led the way. And while broadband is specifically mentioned, it’s important to realize that the pandemic has changed everything. While we all long for a return to “Normal”, I think we’ll find that it won’t be there, not really. Several business fundamentals have changed. From how we reach our customers through marketing, to how we reach them through product and service delivery. It doesn’t matter if you are stamping out widgets, putting on a rock concert, serving up a burger, selling boats, raising money, you name it, it won’t be the same.
The future is green. Long-term competitiveness will be achieved through clean growth while fighting climate change. The time is now to transition away from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy, increased energy efficiency, and reliable public transportation options.
Emphasis on transition…
Despite the challenges put in front of us in 2020, we continue to move forward with our vision for Peterborough-Kawartha. Today, more affordable housing is being built, major infrastructure projects like the Causeway and EORN Cell Gap Project are progressing, Peterborough is getting an upgraded bus fleet and a new composting centre, Curve Lake is closer to clean water than it has been in 50 years, and we now have two federally-funded teams of frontline workers on the streets fighting the opioid crisis 24/7.
While this list is obviously federal, it serves to illustrate the relationship between all levels of Government, the service delivery agencies, the business community, and various stakeholders. Politics aside, the Pandemic has forced partnerships and cooperation that simply didn’t exist before. It will take vision and strategy to maintain some of these new relationships.
There is much more work to do, but know that as we move forward, we move forward together - as fellow Canadians, neighbours, and as a community. Wishing you and yours all the best in 2021 and beyond.
“All the best” is a good choice of words. Community leaders, and not just our elected leaders, were thrown into the deep end, nearly a year ago. I can say from personal experience, and having shared multiple conversations with my counterparts from the business community, multiple community agencies, and first nations, municipal, provincial and federal elected leaders, that everyone did their best, and will continue to do so.