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ANDREW WADDEN: St. John's Board of Trade working hard behind the scenes

A view of St. John's from Signal Hill.
A view of St. John's from Signal Hill. - SaltWire Network

The staff of the St. John’s Board of Trade and volunteer board of directors have been working determinedly during this health and economic crisis. The interests of our business community are being heard by all levels of government.

Thank you to those on the front lines. On behalf of the business community thank you to every health care worker for your brave efforts.

Thank you to Dr. Janice Fitzgerald and her team for keeping Newfoundlanders and Labradorians informed. The work you are doing is easing the anxieties of many and the people of this province are grateful.

The business community understands that physicians are concerned that the system may be overwhelmed.

Businesses want to help in any way possible. In many cases that means working safely and responsibly from home. In others, it means building emergency hospital and quarantine shelters or converting from an alcohol distillery to ensure sanitizer delivery.

Thank you to other critical players at the forefront, as well.

Everyone from grocery store workers, to our politicians at all levels. There are so many people who are stepping up, every day.

I would like to address the business community directly. As a business owner alongside two partners, I share in your stress and uncertainty.

Here are some things the Board of Trade has been doing:

No Interest on Property Tax

We asked the City of St. John’s for a deferral of property tax. The city will not charge interest on commercial and residential property taxes or water meter taxes up to and including August 31st of 2020. The board was very pleased to see these measures implemented.

Solutions for Commercial Landlords and Tenants

We called on the province this week to assist in finding a solution that helps commercial landlords and tenants maintain their relationships, with relief being provided to each during a time when needed cash flow has come to a halt for many. We have offered recommendations that would require the province to accelerate collaboration as between landlords, tenants, and banks.

Wage Subsidy

Organizations across the country called upon the federal government to increase the wage subsidy. The announcement of an increase to 75 per cent will help many members to endure and keep people employed. This was an effort not only by the St. John’s Board of Trade but by various chambers of commerce and business associations who reached out to elected officials. It was a topic that federal minister Seamus O’Regan and I spoke about on a recent call. The wait of six weeks before funds become available is less than ideal, but imperfect measures are still useful measures.

Working together

We have been on daily calls with the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce and Canadian Chamber of Commerce to utilize our full network of resources to get businesses the answers they need. The board has also convened a local task force. It is made up of representatives from the private sector, Government of Canada, provincial government, City of St. John’s, and Labour, to share information and discuss innovative ideas to support small and medium sized enterprises.

Board staff have reached out to nearly every member by phone or email to see how they are doing. If you are a member and our staff couldn’t connect with you, please contact the board. We want your views as to how the board can best help. The board recognizes that we are in this together and it will be together while safely apart that we emerge victorious.

We will do so battered, but ready to keep moving forward.

Next Steps

The board is presently working on its next set of policy recommendations. As part of creating those recommendations, on April 7 we are hosting a virtual town hall with businesses that have been forced to close. We know, for example, that our hospitality sector is being hit particularly hard and this calls for unique solutions. We hope representatives from that sector will share with us their opinions.

Business needs concrete support from all levels of government to ensure our economy can come roaring back from this crisis. We will continue to advocate to government, and work to ensure business gets support, using every resource at our disposal.

As I said in my video message to our membership almost two weeks ago, let us all focus less on what is unprecedented, and more on what there is precedent for.

Maybe we’ve not seen anything like this in our lives, but business here has seen immense loss in the past. A depression, wars, a great fire, and we always make it out the other side.

Yes, this is different. But if we keep one foot in front of the other with clean hands and clear heads, together we will get there.

The St. John’s Board of Trade means business.

So do I.

Andrew Wadden is the 2020 Chair of the St. John’s Board of Trade, and a partner with Wadden Peddigrew Hogan Law.

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