Chair's Message for August 2013
August 13, 2013
Charting our course
Setting a new standard for public policy and business advocacy in B.C.
By Elio Luongo
In last month’s issue of Sounding Board, I identified a number of priorities for my year as Chair of The Vancouver Board of Trade.
One of those priorities was the need for our organization to re-engage with industries that have traditionally driven B.C.’s economy – including the mining sector, forestry sector, energy sector, and the port, which connects our province to the global marketplace.
I’m proud to report that progress has already been made on this front. This summer, our team has been working behind the scenes to forge new relationships with some of the leading companies in the industries mentioned above. Once we have cemented those crucial connections, I believe we will be in a strong position to move forward on another priority of mine – that is, to resume our position as a policy advisor and trusted advocate for the job and wealth creators of this province.
As many of you know, The Vancouver Board of Trade has a rich history of speaking on behalf of businesses across B.C. – particularly those in the Metro Vancouver region. That legacy began back in 1887, when a group of merchants, lumbermen, bankers and manufacturers formed a board of trade to help rebuild Vancouver, which was devastated by “The Great Fire” one year earlier.
It’s important to remember that in the late 19th century, Vancouver was not a world-class city. In actual fact, it was a tiny community of less than 5,000 people, with no land registry office, no courthouse, and no mail delivery or post office. At the time, Vancouver was dwarfed by the much larger communities of New Westminster and Victoria. Through its advocacy, The Vancouver Board of Trade changed all of that.
In its early days, the Board of Trade lobbied governments for services, schools, roads, bridges and infrastructure. It fought – sometimes tooth and nail – for the betterment of this city, and in doing so, it created a foundation for the place that you and I now call home. I can only imagine how proud those pioneers would be if they could see Vancouver today.
In the years since its founding, The Vancouver Board of Trade has led the charge on countless policy initiatives. Some of the major achievements we still tout to this day, including the creation of our local airport authority (YVR), the introduction of expedited border lanes for business (the NEXUS system), and the decision to build a rapid transit line to the airport (the Canada Line).
Other achievements are less talked about, but are equally as important to the development of our city. For example, did you know it was The Vancouver Board of Trade that first persuaded the federal government to dredge the First Narrows for shipping back in 1914? Or that the Board of Trade made a grant to the University of British Columbia in 1926 to establish a faculty of commerce?
This list of this organization’s accomplishments and community contributions goes on and on. However, in recent years, we have admittedly lost some of our footing in the policy arena. As your Chair, I can assure you that won’t be the case for much longer. Yes, we are exceptionally proud of our past achievements, but we refuse to rest on our laurels any longer.
This fall, The Vancouver Board of Trade will undergo a major facelift, which will fundamentally change our policy committee structure. We plan to scale back the number of our committees, and to hone a laser-beam focus on the issues that matter to our thousands of members. There will be new committees formed, in areas where we don’t currently have a voice. And there will be task forces created, with very specific mandates and objectives (more on this to come in future issues of Sounding Board).
Last week, we began meeting with the chairs and vice-chairs of our policy committees, to solicit their feedback on how we can best serve you – our members. It has been an exciting process, with many excellent ideas emerging on how we can strengthen our committee structure and, in turn, our collective voice.
I believe our organization is different than nearly any other business organization in Canada. We have a unique blend of top-down management (a board of directors with 36 of B.C.’s top executives) combined with a grassroots approach to policy (thousands of small business members, who collectively employ one-third of B.C.’s workforce).
The diversity of our membership, combined with our 126-year legacy, puts us in a position to be a leader in the policy arena. When we have something to say, governments will listen, because they know that we mean business – both literally and figuratively.
However, we recognize the need for our organization to evolve, change, and adapt its approach to public policy. Rest assured that we are determined to do so, and we invite you – our members – to join us as we continue down this path in the coming months.
Elio Luongo is 2013-2014 Chair of The Vancouver Board of Trade. He is also Canadian Managing Partner, Tax, for KPMG.