“The Community Charter provides the statutory framework for all municipalities in BC except the City of Vancouver…and sets out municipalities’ core areas of authority…”1 Within this framework, grants or financial support to business is expressly forbidden.2 This provision hampers municipalities who wish to support their business community during times of crisis.
In 2020, COVID-19 spread around the globe, creating a catastrophe that is unprecedented in living memory. In addition to the health crisis, COVID-19 created an economic crisis. Many businesses closed or reduced their operations. Jobs were lost. All levels of government scrambled to make relief available as quickly as possible.
The Province of British Columbia transferred funds to municipal governments by the end of 2020 on the basis that municipalities would experience a shortfall in their revenues. Some municipalities, recognising the ongoing hardship experienced by their business community (which make up a significant portion of their tax base), expressed an interest in working with their local chambers of commerce in administering a grant program for businesses. This could not take place because of the restrictions of the Community Charter.3
This is not the first crisis businesses in BC have experienced4 and it will not be the last. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored a fact that chambers and boards of trades have always known – thriving businesses mean thriving communities. Municipalities which take steps to support the recovery of their business community as quickly as possible after any crisis accelerate the future well-being of their communities. The Community Charter should support this practice, not act as an impediment.
THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government:
- Create a framework for direct funds/support from municipalities to businesses in times of crisis, and that municipalities partner with a chamber of commerce, board of trade or other appropriate non-profit organisation in their area to create a transparent, accountable, and equitable disbursement of funds.
- Create a specific task force which includes representation from UBCM and the BC Chamber of Commerce to examine response options to provide local government with more tools, authority and funding streams to help businesses during a state of emergency.
2 Community Charter [SBC 2003] Chapter 26 Part 3 — Additional Powers and Limits on Powers, Division 2 — Restrictions on Providing Assistance, General prohibition against assistance to business and exceptions:
“25 (1)Unless expressly authorized under this or another Act, a council must not provide a grant, benefit, advantage or other form of assistance to a business.”
3 The last legislative change to this section of the Charter came into force on January 1, 2016.
4 Between 2003-2020, some of the communities who were impacted by fires include Burns Lake, Cranbrook, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George, and Quesnel. (Source: CBC Smoked in: A look back at BC’s haziest wildfire seasons over the past 20 years by Rhianna Schmunk.) Flooding has also had a significant impact on some BC communities, such as Grand Forks in May 2018.