Victoria Chamber: Looking Back At 2020 With Hope On The Horizon

December 16, 2020


GREATER VICTORIA – Typically, at this time of year, we’re inundated with lists highlighting the best and worst of the past 12 months. Of course, we know better than to expect anything typical in 2020. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still reflect on the year that was.

Back in January, most of us would have been hard pressed to explain what an epidemiologist does and even fewer had heard of Zoom. Greater Victoria’s economy was red hot as the tech and tourism sectors blossomed. Our jobless rate was among the lowest in the country.

The Chamber was squarely focused on helping employers find and keep workers. When BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay joined dozens of community leaders at a Chamber luncheon on Jan. 28, he took part in a vibrant discussion about what his organization was doing to address workforce housing. No one knew that, within a matter of months, a pandemic would sweep the globe and BC Housing would become the owner of several Victoria hotels in an emergency effort to triage people suddenly left homeless. The closing of shelters due to physical distancing requirements in camps and shelters created chaos downtown and underscored the need for greater investment in mental health services.

As summer began and the reality of COVID-19 sunk in, the economy was mired in deep recession and confusion and uncertainty were paralyzing. It was in this climate that I took over as CEO of one of the most venerable organizations on Vancouver Island. I never second-guessed my decision and it didn’t take long for me to know that, with The Chamber, I was in the right place with the right team.

I’m an eternal optimist (Sagittarius!), and I’m certainly not afraid of hard work. As someone who is truly passionate about the health of our community, I am grateful to be trusted with leading The Chamber during this time.

I’m proud of the advocacy work we did in the early days of the pandemic and over the summer to ensure governments understood that businesses needed support. We called for wage subsidies, temporary layoff status extension, emergency loans and help for commercial tenants. Our sense of urgency was clear, and, to their credit, the federal, provincial and municipal governments responded faster than anyone expected. Some of the programs launched early were immediate successes and continue to be lynchpins for making sure we get through this together.

In the fall, the federal government announced that vital programs, including wage subsides, will continue into 2021. Commercial rent relief was revamped and will be critical for many businesses that have suffered dramatic drops in revenue.

The second wave has hit hard, tightening restrictions across the province. The end of 2020 will test our resolve, but hope is around the corner. Vaccines are beginning to roll out and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Please be kind to yourself and others as we patiently wait for better times to begin.

Thank you for all you do, and season’s greetings on behalf of the board, governors and staff at The Chamber.

Happy Holidays and wishing you peace on Earth.

Bruce Williams is the CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce

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