Sonia Furstenau column: Support for businesses key during COVID-19

One way to do this is to shop locally.

Cowichan Valley businesses have suffered these past weeks. Coming into the spring is usually an exciting time for our farmers, restaurant owners, realtors, and so many other goods and services providers in our community. We have all done a tremendous job flattening the curve by reducing our activities to only those deemed essential, but it has come at a cost, especially to our local entrepreneurs.

In response to the growing concerns from Cowichan business owners, the Cowichan Leadership Group, together with the four Cowichan Valley chambers of commerce, penned a letter to the editor supporting several Victoria organizations’ request for rent relief for commercial properties. Rent relief is one way to alleviate the costs incurred through loss of business activity.

As stated in our letter, shop owners in the villages across the Cowichan Valley have worked hard and sacrificed much for their own enterprises while also supporting others to create a local commercial environment that is productive and welcoming. Closing their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the hardest decisions some of these entrepreneurs had to make, and we know the long-term economic impacts could mean that some of those doors won’t reopen.

The provincial and federal governments are starting to hear the message from business owners. Last week they began announcing programs to help the small-business community. Small Business BC will now provide a central location for owners to get information and advice. New measures will reduce property taxes by 25 per cent and include an extension to give businesses and property owners more time to pay. In addition, the province is providing local government with increased borrowing tools and is relaxing rules around balanced budgets to offset the impacts of dramatic decreases in property tax revenue, their primary source of income. We are told this is just the beginning of programs that will support business owners.

These programs will help in the short term, yet the burden of debt will remain for so many business owners, and this has an immediate impact on their employees’ livelihoods and the community organizations to whom they contribute their time and money. Small and medium businesses account for 44 per cent of employment across B.C., with more than a million people employed or self-employed in this sector. As we emerge out of this crisis, it will be crucial that the businesses that make our communities unique and our economy resilient remain viable.

As a community, we need to be conscious in our consumption as we move forward during this pandemic and after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. Julio Vincent Gambuto recently wrote in the online magazine Medium that we might feel compelled to “feel normal again” by filling our homes with consumer products. He says instead we should, “take a deep breath and think deeply about what we want to put back into our lives.” We can make conscious decisions about where and from whom we buy our products and services. One way to do this is to shop locally.

In the Times Colonist last week, Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO of the South Island Prosperity Partnership, asked the public to rally around local businesses. She wrote, “While we will eventually get through this, we must remember that if we don’t help keep small and medium businesses afloat in the coming months, many of us won’t have jobs to return to in the aftermath.”

We have demonstrated that we can work together in reducing the impacts of COVID-19. We must work together with the same resolve to revive our local economy in a healthy and sustainable way.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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