A core role of the East Hants & Districts Chamber of Commerce (EHCC) is advocacy. Advocacy has many stages and can take on many forms. EHCC has a wide range of businesses each of whom has a unique set of challenges and concerns. It is our role to take those concerns to elected officials and decision makers and try to influence changes that will reduce the challenges that our members face.
There are many steps to advocacy and most of the time it is a slow process. The pace of government action can be frustrating for an entrepreneur who has a problem they want solved today. Sometimes finding the right level of government or government department can be confusing. It is an area where relationships matter and respect for the different roles and responsibilities of participants in the advocacy process is important.
EHCC has worked hard to build relationships and to participate actively in all opportunities to influence decision making. We have approached each level of government differently and our level of interaction is based on the impact we can have on our members.
Municipal government has the most direct impact on our members on a daily basis. We have an ex-officio position of municipal liaison on our board. We have partnered with the Municipality of East Hants over the last few years on multiple projects and initiatives. EHCC has co-hosted events as part of the development of the Economic Development Plan. We continue to meet regularly with staff to work on implementation of that plan.
We have also worked with the municipality on implementing a Business Watch program, update of Plan East Hants, discussions on infrastructure needs, Rural Broadband solutions and regular communication on concerns of the business community. Staff has been good to work with and have recognized that businesses want to make sure that tax dollars are spent wisely on initiatives that make sense. It is the give and take of these discussions that makes the collaborative relationship work. Warden Jim Smith has been accommodating in scheduling meetings and has taken concerns back to the appropriate staff person or committee. We have spoken with many councilors regarding issues. This is a relationship we will continue to build on.
Most of the time we are partners with the municipality, but there are times that we have different viewpoints. The review on municipal boundaries and the number of electoral districts was one such case. The chamber advocated for fewer Councilors and made presentations to council and the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) supporting our position. In the end the NSUARB delivered a decision that was reasonable but mirrored neither side. That is the democratic process at work. We again have ruffled feathers with our advocacy on a sign bylaw. Some of our members push us to be more confrontational and to publicly call out elected officials they disagree with. In our experience we accomplish more working collaboratively behind the scenes to find solutions that work for government and benefit members.
Provincially we meet with our local MLA every four to six weeks to discuss provincial issues. It has been a good relationship built on mutual respect and a genuine desire to make our community better. Minister Miller has extended an open door policy to the chamber and has supported us in getting answers on issues that affect our members. We are currently working on an event that will bring multiple government departments together in one location so that business can get info on a variety of programs.
EHCC is an active participant in the Atlantic Chamber of Commerce. This allows us to join with other chambers to have a stronger voice at the Provincial and Federal levels. We have been working on issues such as tax reform, red tape reduction, carbon pricing, immigration and employment issues. One issue that EHCC has pushed to a higher level has been Rural Broadband. Two years ago it was not on the agenda but has now been identified as a top issue. We have been able to present at the provincial level and recently to the Atlantic Caucuses for the Federal Parties. The power of working together was illustrated in Premier McNeil’s recent State of the Province Address when he singled out the work Nova Scotia Chambers of Commerce have been doing. We also made budget presentations as a group and made a submission to the union and government sides on the impact to business of the teacher’s dispute.
At the federal level we do most of our advocacy as part of the larger group to have the most impact. Minister Brison has been supportive of EHCC and a meeting is being planned for the near future. We will be discussing immigration, Rural Broadband initiatives and funding, infrastructure and concerns about the debt/deficit. If you have a concern or question please send it to us.
2017 will likely bring a Provincial election. EHCC will be hosting a candidate debate and doing a questionnaire to candidates. There will be a call for questions and topics prior to that event. The previous events we have hosted have been well attended and provided insight into the choices available. The option of a questionnaire which we did during the Municipal election is being added. We had a lot of positive feedback from members and the general public.
I hope this gives you some insight into the advocacy efforts of the chamber. Connect with us via email, social media or our newsletter to keep up to date on opportunities to participate.