The Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce has received a mixed reaction to its request that a members of City Council sit on the Chamber’s newly formed Municipal Government Relations Committee.
In early February, the Chamber sent a letter to council indicating the PRDCC board had identified the need to work closely with council. The primary purpose of the committee, the letter stated, is to support business and ensure the Chamber is the “Voice of Business” to the municipality.
Chamber President Maynard Angus followed up on the request during a presentation during Monday evening’s council meeting.
Angus said in May 2010, the Chamber surveyed its members and asked what was the greatest negative impact to business in Prince Rupert.
While the number of responses was low, Angus said, they listed the local economy, municipal bylaws, taxes, skilled workers and vandalism.
“Local economy was the number one, but there’s nothing we can do, we know we can’t control that. The second was municipal bylaws, but that’s minor compared to the next choice, which was taxes.”
In response to the survey, the Chamber created a Municipal Government Relations Committee and invited council to participate.
Angus also told council the Chamber conducted due diligence on the City’s Audited Financial Statements for 1996, 2001 and 2006, comparing them to Stats Canada figures for the labour force during those years.
Referring to a one-page spread sheet prepared by Chamber Board Member Mike Jackson, Angus said the figures are revealing of the growing tax burden on the community and more specifically the local business community.
“This is why we’re here tonight. We are here representing the business community and the retail sector and responding to the issue that was brought to our attention ten months ago.”
The municipal relations committee, he told council, would report back to the Chamber and City Council.
“We recognize the challenges that City Council has, however there is a challenge that the business community has. We, the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, need to know that the City of Prince Rupert is supporting and moving forward with us to identify how we can address some of these issues,” Angus said.
Councillor Gina Garon told Angus she was glad the Chamber was sitting at the table for retail. “I think it’s long overdue and I really like your idea of a municipal relations committee. I’d be interested in sitting on the committee,” she said.
Councillors Anna Ashley, Nelson Kinney and Kathy Bedard also applauded the Chamber for its efforts.
Concerns, however, were raised by Councillors Sheila Gordon-Payne and Joy Thorkelson.
When Gordon-Payne asked if the review of the City’s Financial Statements was done alongside City staff, Jackson said that he did the review on his own.
“I would have preferred if it was done with City staff. When we talk about partnership and working together because our financial statements are public, our staff would have been happy to go through that with you. If our staff had been working with you, I certainly wouldn’t have had them just go to 2006 because that is in fact before the mandate of this council and almost the mandate of the council before that where we have made some changes,” Gordon-Payne said.
Referring to the spreadsheet, Gordon-Payne indicated it still showed the City owning the campground.
“Things have really changed and how this council approaches business has changed. I need to put that out there, that I’m disappointed you didn’t do it with us and if we are going to look at information, we need to look at current information,” she said.
Angus said the financial statements review wasn’t done with the intent to attack council, but to come forward with numbers that are real.
Jackson said he could only go to 2006, because he was relying on Stats Canada numbers.
“I did 2009, but all I could do was speculate what the Stats Canada Labour Force numbers were,” he said, adding that if he stuck in those speculations then it showed an average of $4,000 in taxes per person.
“The numbers not getting better,” Jackson said.
Councillor Thorkelson asked Angus why the Chamber would want to have a committee with council members on it, rather than a committee that comes and address all of council with recommendations.
“I would hate to see a committee of council that would be acting as a promoter of business interests in the face of other interests. I am certainly interested in hearing what the Chamber has to say and the Chamber has input into suggestions around our local economy. I think a chamber committee talking to all of council is a great idea,” Thorkelson said.
Angus said he didn’t want to lose sight that the intent of forming the committee was to begin a working relationship.
“We’re all in this together. I don’t want to point any fingers, but I think it’s important to understand that this is about the community. It’s about the business community and me and you and working together and finding some solutions. All I want to do is form a committee and look at some of the issues without losing sight of what really is important. Why do I want to have a council member on? Because you’re here because the people voted you in. You’re not here because you decided you wanted to be on council. You got your power because of the people, you didn’t get it because of anybody else,” he said.
Councillor Kinney thanked Angus.
“I think it’s time and I’m glad to see the Chamber wants to work with everybody,” he said.
Councillor Ashley echoed Kinney and said she felt working together will make a difference.
“I imagine in this committee structure there would be regular feedback and discussions with both the Chamber board and with all of council,” she said, adding that she welcomed the opportunity.
Later in the meeting, council directed staff to ask for more clarity on the committee so council can make a decision by the next council meeting.
Councillor Bedard said she hoped that council would keep the door open and go to the first meeting.
“We want people to come to us, well maybe this is an opportunity for council to reach out. We go to a variety of meetings of groups that we don’t fund by invitation and I’m not willing to shut this door at this present time. I think we need to stay open to this input,” she said.