By Steve Hubrecht
[email protected]

The introduction of mandatory proof of vaccination cards or ‘vaccine passports,’ which allow vaccinated individuals to access a range of nonessential services and events, has created headaches for many valley businesses, especially the restaurant industry.

In response to the rollout of the vaccine cards, which began last week on Monday, Sept. 13, the Columbia Valley Chamber of Commerce (CVCC) has sent an open letter to B.C. Premier John Horgan, outlining local business concerns.

The letter, sent the same day the vaccine cards came into effect, outlines that the local chamber has run polls, held stakeholder roundtables and chamber board meetings, and fielded plenty of calls from business and community members on the vaccine card issue. “These calls have primarily expressed desperation, anger, bitterness, hopelessness, confusion, and overall uncertainty as to what the future holds,” said the chamber. “What we are seeing, hearing, and feeling, is a community divided. The rhetoric and conflict fuelled debates have sunk lower than we have ever seen.”

The vaccine card program means local restaurants and cafes, as well as other small and medium-sized businesses, are bound to bear the brunt of some of this division, outlined the chamber, noting that “the food service industry, in particular, is one that has already been decimated by labor shortages, rising wages, increased cost of goods, and an unpredictable operating climate” and they “are feeling completely drained while trying to navigate constantly evolving mandates that they never thought they would have to be dealing with in order to remain open.”

The chamber asked the province for financial support to hire additional staff to meet the requirements of the vaccine card program, to train employees in conflict management, to adjust their service models (by increasing their take-out supplies, for instance), and for technology to implement the vaccine card program.

Additionally, the chamber requested the province set up information sessions to answer questions and concerns from local businesses as well as from ordinary citizens, and for help communicating the requirement of the B.C. vaccine card program to out-of-province visitors, noting this is a particular concern in a border town in which tourism is one of the major industries.

“Last year, we were united with supporting sectors and frontline workers with celebratory parades, now we see boycotting and protesting. In short, we must find a way back to unity,” said the chamber in the letter.

 “We felt that this was the collective view of the business community and we wanted to represent that,” chamber executive director Pete Bourke told the Pioneer. “There’s definitely confusion and frustration out there, about the vaccine card rollout in terms of enforcement and how business owners that are already short staffed are going to manage that. Many business owners are dealing with quite a lot right now, and this just adds extra weight on their shoulders.”

Bourke pointed out that many restaurants, for instance, are short staffed to the point of not being able to have a host, greeter or other front door person (leaving the task of checking vaccine cards to fall to other staff, who are mostly already full-tilt busy with other tasks).

“The onus is coming on businesses at a time when staffing issues are considerable, and it really is a challenge,” said Bourke, adding that so far, he hasn’t heard of any local business having to deal with belligerent anti-vaccine card protestors. “From what I’ve heard, things have been fairly quiet in that regard. No disruptions at the front door,” he said.

Bourke added that he’s glad to hear that Alberta may soon be introducing a similar vaccine card program, which will help quite a bit, since then most Alberta visitors to the valley will know what to expect and what kind of rules they’ll need to follow.

“We just ask that people, be they visitors or locals, try to be as patient as possible when they go into local businesses. Please be aware that the vaccine card is not the business’s rule, it’s a provincial rule, and the business is just doing what they have to in order to keep their doors open,” concluded Bourke.