What is advocacy, anyway?

What is advocacy, anyway?

Not too long ago I wrote a blog about what a Chamber of Commerce is and what it is not. Some of the questions that I got after the blog was published were about advocacy. What is advocacy? How does the Chamber do advocacy work? What difference does advocacy work make? These are all good questions.

One of the mandates of the Chamber is to represent the views of our members – to lobby all levels of government on behalf of our members. This is advocacy. If our members think that legislation needs to change to help them run their businesses better, the Chamber will carry that view to government.   When we take that opinion to government, we are representing the views of thousands of businesses. That’s what gives our voice power.

Local Chambers of Commerce (like Burlington and Hamilton) speak with the collective voice of their members and, therefore, the collective voice of the business community. That voice is amplified when we speak at the provincial and federal levels. For issues that are provincial in nature we speak through the Ontario Chamber which represents 160 Chambers and 60,000 companies across the province. This means the Ontario Chamber has a very powerful voice with the provincial government. The provincial government listens. The same thing happens at the federal level with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce (CCC) which speaks on behalf of 450 local chambers and 200,000 businesses across the country.

I recently attended the CCC convention in Charlottetown. At this convention the Burlington Chamber presented its climate change policy. The policy was debated and voted on by the 310 delegates at the conference. It was adopted by the CCC and now the CCC will lobby for implementation of this policy by the Canadian government. That’s how advocacy works at Chambers of Commerce. Policies are written by Chamber members at the local level and delivered to governments at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. These policies change the way government works; governments change legislation based on these Chamber policies.

Recent examples include; creation of a CRA liaison officer (a Burlington Chamber policy), elimination of the capital tax, reduction of corporate income tax, reduction of corporate minimum tax, reduction of the doctor shortage (another Burlington Chamber policy) – the list goes on and on.

So, local Chambers represent the views (i.e. advocate) on behalf of their members. We work to change legislation to create a more business-friendly environment. Advocacy work is complicated and takes time, but it does make a difference.

We don’t just have input, we have impact.

Separation of Chamber and City Hall

Separation of Chamber and City Hall

I’ve been working at the Burlington Chamber of Commerce for about 15 years now and I’ve noticed a fairly common misperception about what a Chamber of Commerce actually is.
Often when I’m out at an event, someone will ask me what I do for a living.  When I tell them, I work at the Chamber of Commerce, it’s not uncommon for them to respond with a remark about city hall; they think the Chamber is a department of the city and that the Chamber is paid for with city taxes. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Burlington Chamber of Commerce is NOT a department of city hall, nor does it get any funding from city hall. The Chamber is a fully independent, non-profit business association. All of the Chamber’s funds come from membership dues and other activities (like many of the events that we host). Simply stated, your tax dollars do not fund the Chamber of Commerce.

As a matter of fact, Chamber by-laws do not permit any elected officials to sit on our Board of Directors (Board members must step down if they decide to run for office).  This eliminates any conflicts of interest that could arise when the Chamber Board discusses policies that will be delivered to various levels of government. While the Chamber is not a part of city hall, we do work with city hall on behalf of our members. Our job is to act as an advocate for our members and represent our members’ views and needs to government; that is the extent of our relationship with city hall (and all levels of government). The role of the Burlington Chamber is to make Burlington a better place to live and work.

The separation between the city and the Chamber of Commerce is clear. They are two distinct organizations, each with its own mandate.
The Chamber of Commerce is a completely separate entity from the city and exists solely to support the needs of its members.