Kootenay-Columbia MP, MLA highlight need to support local as COVID-19 restrictions continue

Businesses face challenges as they navigate potential soft re-opening, minimum wage increase

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File photo: The Revelstoke Visitor Centre is closed to the public, but Tourism Revelstoke is still providing information for any travellers still in the city. Photo: From SeeRevelstoke.com

A virtual round table hosted by the Revelstoke Business Information Centre on Friday morning provided updates on the work provincial and federal representatives are doing to help advocate for local businesses as the COVID-19 crisis continues.

Kootenay-Columbia Member of Parliament Rob Morrison said his priority is looking at where individuals and business owners have fallen through the cracks, in particular situations where they have attempted to get help from the federal government but have not had success.

“We’re trying to hold the government accountable in this tough time,” said Morrison.

Morrison said he is asking people to support local businesses and highlighted the importance this will have once soft openings begin.

“It’s going to be really difficult. I’ve talked to businesses who are unsure if they can even re-open. It’s really important to support local,” he said.

Doug Clovechok, Columbia River–Revelstoke MLA, also highlighted the need for community members to support local businesses, saying there has been unprecedented and significant job loss caused by the COVID-19 situation. Clovechok said the provincial government has allocated $2.2 billion for business recover and rebuild, but to date only about $700 million of that has been distributed.

“Businesses haven’t realized any of those dollars yet and that is a concern,” he said.

During a question and answer portion of the virtual meeting, some concern arose around how small businesses would be able to manage with the upcoming minimum wage increase, which rises to $14.60 per hour. Revelstoke city councillor and local business owner Nicole Cherlet referenced the need to figure out a way to reconcile low wage front line jobs with the current cost of living in Revelstoke.

“A lot of our frontline work does not get paid enough. As we’re going into a new normal these frontline jobs are the ones that are at the most risk for their own health,” she said.

Clovechok said he has received a number of calls regarding the minimum wage increase.

“Obviously we want to make sure our workers are taken care of, but hearing from small businesses it’s going to be very difficult for businesses that are unshuttering to absorb that increase in wages,” he said.

Morrison said he also also received calls from businesses who are challenged in getting employees to return because the $2,000 federal subsidy is more than they make receiving minimum wage.

“How do you pay the dollars that people are going to need to work in Revelstoke because of the cost of living there?” asked Morrison.

Locally, stakeholders continue to work on planning for potential soft openings and the possibility of welcoming domestic travelers this summer. Tourism Revelstoke marketing manager Meghan Tabor said they are beginning to see glimpses of recovery as the organization moves closer into a re-ignition phase that would see soft opening of businesses and a focus on encouraging locals to explore and  be ambassadors for their community.

Director of Community Economic Development Ingrid Bron said she has been working with partners in the Business Information Centre to try and get a sense of the impacts COVID-19 is having on the local economy. She is currently trying to put together a task force that would assess the major impacts caused by the COVID-19 crisis.

At the Revelstoke Chamber, executive director Stacey Brensrud says it has been all hands on deck with the visitor services team pivoting to focus on what re-opening might look like when the time comes. Brensrud said the Chamber is encouraging the business community to look at the current directives from the province and use that information when planning for the possibility of soft-reopening.