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Nov 26, 2020

A View from The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce

The strict public health orders in effect through December 7 have been met with broad public acceptance in Kelowna. However, these orders are not without controversy, and a robust, informed debate about them serves us all. Unfortunately, there have been troubling incidents where opposition to these orders has been a pretext for hostile and uncivil behaviour directed at small business owners and their employees.

This must stop. Many small business owners are now facing the greatest challenges of their lives. The hardships of the pandemic have struck them harder than most. They persevere under financial, mental, and emotional strains that few of us can fully appreciate. We should be grateful for what they do and be appalled that anyone would use them as unwilling props in breathtakingly selfish protest stunts.

Having spoken with several small businesses, both for profit and not-for-profit, I know there is a diversity of views on the current public health orders. Many owners and employees do not agree with the mask mandate and other restrictions now in place. For good reason, they are demanding more transparency, more data, and more accountability from those who now tell them how they must run their businesses. But these same people also recognize that they are bound to follow these orders, which have force of law, until responsible advocacy brings about different ones.

Now is the time when local businesses need the full support of our community. When it comes to public health matters, we can support our local businesses two key ways.

First, we must follow the letter and spirit of public health orders. Reasonable people can disagree about what public health orders are appropriate for current conditions, but it cannot be disputed that wearing masks and reducing our unmasked interactions will reduce the spread of coronavirus. If the recent trend of sharply rising case numbers is not arrested further restrictions on business and leisure activities are in our future. We need only look to Toronto, the Peel Region, and the United States for what restrictions may yet come.

For many small businesses and the families which depend on them, more restrictive measures or even a full lockdown, especially at the critical Christmas shopping period, will make for a devastating end to an already hard year. Doing your small part to reduce the spread of coronavirus over these next weeks is critical. Setting aside our personal views on masks for the time it takes to order coffee is the least we can do to save the local businesses that animate our community.

The second way we can support local businesses is to continually remind our elected and public health officials that effects on local business must be a vital consideration in their decision-making. By this I do not suggest that their decisions to date have been uninformed, misguided, or poorly considered. My point is that any set of restrictions that falls between the pre-COVID status quo and a shelter-in-place lockdown reflects value judgments, and in a democracy it is our responsibility to impress on our leaders what values matter to us.

Anyone who has experienced Kelowna knows that our small businesses and not-for-profit organizations are essential to the diversity, vitality, and authenticity of our City. They are an indispensable part of what makes Kelowna an attraction to visitors and a treasure to us. Caring about Kelowna means using your voice and the voice of Kelowna business—the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce—to tell your local elected officials, your health minister, your Premier and your Prime Minister that the survival of these businesses deserves to be a primary factor in public health decisions.

As we approach the holidays, our thoughts naturally turn to what we can do for others. This season, we must take personal responsibility for what this pandemic does to our community over the coming months. This means wearing a mask, washing our hands, limiting our interactions, and abiding by the public health orders issued by our democratically elected government. It also means paying close attention to our government’s decision-making and reminding our leaders that local business matters.

Jeffrey Robinson
Kelowna Chamber of Commerce