By AmbrÖse Bierce. A number of Abbotsford business people have approached me over the last year asking me why the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association (ADBA) seem to hold so much sway on matters which are none of their business.
A few of those people were wondering why a community would allow a bunch of self-interested small businesses, which require legislative protection just to stay alive, would be allowed to say anything at all about matters of healthcare, addictions, social policy or any other of a number of political issues over which the ADBA seems to have a great deal of impact in Abbotsford.
Others have asked, if I have any influence with my editor at all, if I could have him stop referring to the Chamber of Commerce as though it were a monolithic body whose pronouncements actually represent them as members. Some have openly and very publicly disassociated themselves from the Chamber and the ADBA. Many more are questioning their vocal, some might argue maniacal, opposition to the millions of dollars the BC government wants to spend to help reduce, and at that – only by a fraction – the homeless crisis the community faces.
Why they all want to know, does council seem to listen so intently to what a small number of, mostly single owner or ‘Mom and Pop’ shop owners have to say about an issue which has defined the name ‘Abbotsford’ around the world for the better part of the last year.
A good question.
At first blush their numbers seem impressive. In a community with some 2,200 businesses the ADBA and the Chamber can claim more than half that number as members.
When you begin to look a little closer, the picture changes somewhat. Last year the Chamber said that over 80 percent of its members were businesses with five or fewer employees. The ADBA is made up primarily of ‘Mom and Pop’ businesses with fewer than five employees (including the owners). When you add the fact that some of the ADBA members are also members of the Chamber of Commerce you get a bit clearer picture of who these folks are.
Let’s strip away another bit of mythology about the membership of the two organizations. It is a common experience (at Abbotsford Today anyway – I’m not aware of any other media which has ever criticized either organization … ever) for writers, columnists and editorialists to be asked not to assume or say that the opinions of either the directors or the staff of either organization speaks for all, or at times, most of the membership.
The ADBA admits its membership is split almost 50/50 over the aid to homeless men proposed by ACS and BC Housing. The Chamber probably can’t claim a much different percentage, if the cross memberships are taken out.
So what we really have here are two organizations with very narrow self interests and no responsibility to anybody but their membership who have an inordinate influence which far outweighs their significance with two or three councillors and the mayor on matters of public policy.
We could call it what it is when business runs Government – Fascism.
Here’s another blunt question put to me last week.
Even if they had the numbers they proclaim, or represented anything other than their own financial interests, is it really wise to have a group of tiny local businesses making social policy, planning decisions, choosing our spending priorities and making our mind up for us on matters of federal and provincial jurisdiction.
Put another way would it be appropriate for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to have a great deal of influence over changes to the Canada Health Act?
Through the business lobby in Ottawa, which includes the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and a number of other influential business groups, even the Harper government would think it a bit strange to have the business lobby deciding matters on the delivery of healthcare.
Ditto for the provincial government.
In Abbotsford, because a litany of councillors who have sat on either the Chamber board or the ADBA board have come back to council thinking they have the views of the business community in their heads, we have endured over a decade of management of public issues by a group of Mom and Pop businesses who have succeeded in bending hundreds of millions of dollars in public spending in whatever direction they have wanted.
As a result we have:
- An empty hockey arena which nobody can use except the out-of-town, out-of-province fabulously wealthy Calgary Flames who rely on the taxpayers of Abbotsford to fund their farm team operations and allow them to spend an inordinate amount of money on grooming their next generation of NHL players. That idea was championed by the Chamber of Commerce.
- Two overpasses over a federal highway which should have been paid for by the federal government but instead depleted our Development Cost Charges (DCC) funds to such a degree that we have no money for water, sewer or roads or the ability to attract business to Abbotsford with anything other tax incentives. Both the ADBA and the Chamber championed those expenditures.
- A decade’s worth of policing which, thanks to John Smith, Bob Bos and Bruce Beck (Council, ADBA, Chamber), has been focused on getting rid of homeless people instead of providing housing, help and treatment. Big Chamber and ADBA support for that bit of public policy.
- Economic development which, other than those who get tax forgiveness or benefit from other taxpayer incentives has given us the highest unemployment rate in Western Canada; a plummeting rate of housing starts, building permits, and new business; minimum-wage jobs and a mounting, festering and overflowing number of homeless people, drug addicts, alcohol dependent men and women, citizens who suffer from HIV, HEP C and a growing number of health problems related to their economic status and life on the streets. Thank you Chamber of Commerce and ADBA.
- A long and growing list of law suits and civil rights complaints, which the City of Abbotsford has chosen to defend themselves against, for the way in which our homeless citizens have been systematically harassed, abused and neglected inflicting more damage on the reputation of our City than any economic development brochure, mayor’s action plan or tax exemption could ever eradicate or fix.
Simply put; the position this community is in today with no financial reserves; infrastructure which is 20 years out of date; the worst unemployment in Western Canada and a business climate which is anemic at best… and social problems which remind many in this community of the third world, is largely the result of too many councillors listening to the small and narrow-minded leadership of the ADBA and the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce.
The business people who are not afraid of social change, modern healthcare or social progress are begging City Council to stop listening to the two organizations which have played such an important part in breaking this city.
Make up your own minds based on what you honestly believe is best for this community.
AmbrÖse Bierce is Today’s writer in residence who occasionally gives voice to the concerns of individual citizens and taxpayers who, for a variety of reasons, are unable or unwilling to take a public stand on issues of relevance to the rest of the community. Reasons may include possible loss of job, injury to their business, or any number of quite legitimate reasons to keep their mouths shut.
While all columns and letters on Today are signed by their authors, we have decided to provide this venue for those with legitimate opinions, based on fact, with something to contribute to the public debate in the city. This is not a place for wild venting or personal attacks. AmbrÖse requires you identify yourself to him and explain why you need to keep your identity secure.
To Write AmbrÖse Simply Email Him At: AmbrÖse@Today.ca