Smithers Chamber concerned about impact of vaccine passports on businesses

Board decides not to publish survey results, but says they informed its response to on the issue

The Smithers Chamber of Commerce was not consulted on the province’s new vaccine passport system and has concerns about its implementation. (File photo)

The Smithers Chamber of Commerce was not consulted on the province’s new vaccine passport system and has concerns about its implementation. (File photo)

The Smithers District Chamber of Commerce recently conducted a survey of its membership regarding the impact of the provincial government’s decision to implement vaccine “passports” for entry into non-essential businesses.

The Chamber’s board of directors decided not to make the results of the survey public without providing a reason for the decision.

While the Chamber ultimately came out in support of the passport system, it said it was not consulted and was not satisfied with the program as defined by the government. A letter to the membership identified six improvements it wanted to see.

Other chambers of commerce, such as Tumbler Ridge, Chetwynd and Dawson Creek came out fully in opposition to the system.

The letter the Smithers Chamber provided to its membership, signed by the entire board of directors, is presented here in its entirety.

The priority for the Smithers District Chamber of Commerce will always be the well-being of our member businesses. Our endeavour is always to enable and promote the overall success of our business community. During this protracted pandemic, the chamber has worked tirelessly to support economic development and recovery. We have maintained up-to-date communications, helped businesses navigate government programs, provided current information regarding business closures and openings, initiated surveys, brought our network together through online meetings, awards, candidates forums and special events, and continued to represent community businesses on a variety of boards and committees.

In our role, we strive to communicate the facts, educate, support and advocate. In all such activities, advocacy remains at the heart of our office’s mandate.

Last week, the BC Chamber and other organizations representing businesses across the province called on the provincial government to introduce a Proof of Vaccination program. Supporters believe this advocacy will help return certainty and predictability to the provincial business environment and keep businesses open. We understand that a government decision to implement vaccine passports may be an alternative to the complete shutdown of businesses deemed non-essential. Along with decision-makers in government, we share the understanding that this pandemic is like no other.

We appreciate the need for thoughtful, proactive and informed action designed to sustain our economic viability. As a northern chamber, we expect to see ourselves having a role to play in provincial problem-solving and solution-finding. Unfortunately, we did not enjoy the benefit of consultation in the lead-up to this call of action for a mandatory vaccine passport. The August 23 government announcement came as a surprise to our Chamber and has since proven very challenging for our network to navigate. Without the advantage of earlier communication and consultation, this Public Health Order leaves us with many unanswered details and questions, all of which influence both workplaces and the general public.

In an attempt to better inform an understanding of the overall impact, our Chamber office has surveyed our Chamber network (members and business community), reached out in person directly visiting roughly half of our membership to discuss concerns, and collected letters of feedback expressing a range of perspectives.

Our survey was distributed to approximately 300 Chamber businesses and we received hundreds of valuable responses from Chamber members and the public. While there was variable support and opposition to some of the survey questions, what emerged most significantly was an overall level of concern and safety for our business community regarding the implementation and the enforcement of the vaccine passport.

We are concerned that the enforcement of the vaccine passport program will directly impact businesses with what we anticipate to be expensive and time-consuming challenges during a period of intensifying labor shortages. Additionally, we are concerned that business owners, managers and staff will be vulnerable in the face of difficult and divisive conversations that may occur in many workplaces, as community members interact with businesses.

As a board that prides itself on the development and maintenance of an encouraging and progressive business culture, where business and customer relations are consistently positive, we are calling on the government of British Columbia to:

Immediately implement objective consultation with the Chamber network to ensure the vaccine program prioritizes the safety of business owners, employees and workers responsible for the enforcement;

Improve communication processes to ensure the business sector has advance notice of significant Public Health Order changes;

Improve communication with impacted businesses, such as restaurants and fitness facilities, so they can better understand what is being asked of them;

Support financially the establishment of an electronic Passport Scan System, to be installed in workplaces to create a safety barrier between a front-line worker and a customer. A systemic requirement dictated by the scanner and not the business will reduce potential touchpoints and mitigate enforcement challenges for business owners;

Recognize the costs for business owners associated with implementing the public health order and authorize compensation supports; and

Clarify that the proof of vaccine program is a one-time temporary mandate and will not, without full consultation, be extended beyond the January 2022 deadline.

As your voice of business, the Smithers and District Chamber hears and appreciates your concerns. We are working within the B.C. Chamber network and will press the government on the key points you have helped to identify.

We will continue to provide you with timely communications with the information you need to navigate the latest health order. We are staying apprised of the situation and will be organizing scheduled sector group discussions to hear your input and support you with the right resources when you need them.

The Smithers District Chamber of Commerce deeply cares about our business community and we invite you to continue the dialogue by reaching out to our office or board of directors.