November unfolds in the midst a number of policy and advocacy issues, alongside celebrating our newest Business Excellence Awards winners for 2018. At this point in the year, it’s a sprint to the finish on New Year’s Eve, so let’s get started.

Our “Business Excellence Awards” Gala played to a packed house of over 350 at the Delta Grand on October 24.  We had the distinct pleasure of honouring eleven outstanding businesses, plus our “2018 Business Person of the Year”, Dale Wentworth of Wentworth Music.  All the winners can be seen on the Chamber’s YouTube channel, plus videos showing the Winners and Semi-Finalists at work.  It was another remarkable year, our 31st annual awards, with more Nominees than ever (323), a ton of Semi-Finalists (109), 33 Finalists, and our eventual 11 winners. Huge thanks to our independent judging panel who traveled to all the businesses, interviewing staff and reading reams of applications. All a very worthwhile venture; and thanks to BDC and Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy as our Presenting Sponsors.  Can’t wait until 2019!

I can’t remember a busier election/government policy cycle than this fall.  With municipal elections earlier on the calendar, we spent copious amounts of time sending questions to mayoral and councillor candidates, hosting responses on our website, live-hosting a lunchtime mayoral debate (240 avid listeners, lots of media), and meeting and greeting what seemed to be a non-stop cavalcade of candidates, supporters, volunteers and incumbents at Chamber events.

On top of the municipal exercise in local democracy, of course, we began trying to unravel the Proportional Representation issue for our members.  No experts ourselves, we called on the two sides in the provincial debate: the “No BC Proportional Representation” represented by Bill Tieleman, and the “Vote PR BC” campaign, headed by Maria Dobrinskaya.  Both traveled to Kelowna to make their cases, again in front of a luncheon crowd which posed a series of increasingly lively questions as the event unfolded. 

The Chamber is officially neutral on the “Yes/No” question.  What we’re not neutral on is the process being employed by the government.  We tabled a resolution at the BC Chamber AGM in May calling on the province to stop the current “process” and instead call together a Citizens’ Assembly which is non-partisan. November 30 will tell us the outcome of this third voting-style referendum in a few short years. Primarily, the Chamber is extremely concerned about the lack of information on what is being proposed and what the likely outcome of each option would be.

The Speculation Tax roared back to life in October, as well: first as tabled legislation October 16, then less than 48 hours later, it sported three Green-led amendments, which would allow the combined votes of the NDP and Greens to allow it to pass.  Our Chamber, having tabled a resolution at the May BC Chamber AGM opposing the tax, and seeing that opposition repeated in September resolutions at the UBCM, were disheartened to see the government paying zero attention to municipalities’ request for delay, economic studies, and opt-in or opt-out clauses for targeted municipalities.

Our economy is already taking a hit here in Kelowna, and it will only worsen once the legislation kicks in. And if Proportional Representation is adopted, we’re concerned that we’ll have an even steeper uphill climb in our efforts to get the government to listen to our local issues, and act responsibly to ensure we can continue to grow and prosper as one of Canada’s fastest growing municipalities.  Our ‘Scrap the Speculation Tax’ coalition is once again active on the issue.

Speaking of views from elected officials – and I’ve spoken of little else in this column – we’ll hear the info straight from the MLAs themselves at our last Chamber luncheon of 2018 on December 5.  Our three elected area MLAs will give the latest news after the House rises for the holiday November 29: Ben Stewart, Kelowna West; Steve Thomson, Kelowna-Mission; and Norm Letnick, Kelowna-Lake Country. All three previously held Cabinet positions in Victoria; currently, Stewart is Official Opposition Co-Critic for Citizens’ Services and Trade.  Thomson is Official Opposition Co-Critic for Citizens’ Services and Trade, and, sits on the Select Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs.  Letnick is the Official Opposition Health Critic.

By the time our MLA luncheon opens we will know the results of the Prop Rep referendum; our new Mayor and Council in Kelowna, nearly the same as previously led by Mayor Colin Basran will have been sworn in (their first meeting is November 5 in a local theatre); other provincial legislation will have been passed, and more tabled; and we’ll all be getting ready for the January 1 implementation date of new policies, new taxes, and new requirements across the board for local businesses, including the highly unpopular Employee Health Tax.

And, a big welcome to our newest members since our last column:  NLA Immigration Services; Fred Welsh Ltd.; Old Pros for; Dr. Darren Hatchard Optometric Corp.; G.W. Industries 1984; FocalPoint Financial Group Inc.; Hub International; Vacation At Big White MountainWelcome all!

Carmen Sparg is President of Kelowna Chamber of Commerce