Some owners of downtown businesses took their plight relating to the criminal activities that they associated with the homeless camp to a council meeting. (THE NEWS/files)

COLUMN: Bring businesses, public into homelessness discussion

We need business in tax base to help carry the cost of services and lighten load on homeowners.

Who is standing up for business in this town?

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Chamber of Commerce’s voice seems to have gone silent, which is understandable considering the president of the chamber, a former councillor who ran for mayor, has been critical of the current mayor on social media.

And when some owners of downtown businesses tried to take their plight relating to the criminal activities that they associated with the homeless camp to a council meeting, they were made to jump through hoops to get an audience with mayor and council.

And the response from the mayor when they did manage to speak to them was disappointing, as after each testimonial describing very disturbing incidents, she lectured them on jurisdiction, the complexity of the issue and essentially punted the issue to the other levels of government and the RCMP.

I am sure those same businesses are most likely shaking their heads trying to understand the recent agreement negotiated between the city and Pivot Legal Society that will entrench the homeless camp.

I don’t claim to be an economic expert, but I understand Gross Domestic Product and its relevance to the sustainability of the quality of life we want for our society.

Yet with council’s actions related to the homeless camp, I am left wondering if they understand, or care about GDP and business, in general.

For those of you who need a refresher on what GDP stands for and why it is important to the homeless conversation, in short, it is a measurement of the economic health of a given area. For this conversation, I will use British Columbia.

The measurement is derived by using the following formula: GDP = consumption, + investment + government spending + net exports.

The consumption quotient is based on private-consumption expenditures by homeowners and non-profit organizations. The investment quotient is business expenditures by businesses and home purchases by households. The government quotient is expenditures on goods and services by the government. And the net exports quotient is exports minus imports.

Movement up or down in any of these quotients impacts our GDP standing and reflects our economic stability.

Based on federal data from 2014 regarding B.C., small businesses contributed to 33 per cent of the province’s GDP.

The definition of small businesses are those with fewer than 50 employees and self-employed with no paid employees, which is reflective of the majority of businesses in our downtown core. So their economic performance is important to our downtown.

In 2016, a business in Maple Ridge could expect to pay 2.71 times higher tax rate than that of a residential taxpayer, and about 16 per cent of the city’s total tax revenue comes from the business tax category, not including utilities, heavy and light industry.

The 2016 Maple Ridge Financial Report stated that about 39 per cent of business licences in the city are commercial licences, which is your typical storefronts.

That number has held steady, according to the report, for the past five years.

The same report also found that British Columbia’s economic performance was stable in 2016, with real GDP growth estimated at 2.9 pr cent, with B.C. continuing to lead growth in the country.

Even just knowing this amount of information, one can conclude that there is great benefit for our community to have a healthy business population, as the rate of return from businesses per capita is greater than that of households.

Yet the amount of services that they consume from the municipality is significantly less than that of a homeowner.

Plain and simple, we need business in our tax base to help carry the cost of services and lighten the load on homeowners.

With this basic understanding of economics, it behooves me how the elected officials have allowed the conversation on homelessness to become so lopsided.

I expect homeless activists like the Ivan Drury’s of the world to only talk about the rights of the homeless, because that is his self-declared role and he doesn’t have to care about business.

However, council was elected to look out for the interests of all of the citizens of Maple Ridge and businesses are part of that responsibility.

I am not advocating against the homeless in favour of businesses, as I passionately support providing services in the proper locations for those in need. I also believe the majority of Maple Ridge residents are compassionate and agree with this, as the facts conclude the homeless, the addicted and those with mental health issues are in need of more services.

That has never been in dispute.

When I was on council, we were also challenged with the homeless population in the downtown core and the issue took continued efforts that were often viewed as not enough by the businesses and residents, so I understand the frustration council faces. However, this council came out of the gate in 2014 declaring they were going to find the solutions and they soon became singularly focused and have struggled ever since to get traction on other key issues, due to the divide it has caused amongst members.

Further, because businesses and citizens are voicing legitimate concerns of escalating issues, they are being pitted against poverty activists and being wrongly labeled as NIMBYs, which I believe this council has exasperated.

It is time for council to start bringing businesses and the rest of the public into the discussions that they have thus far been left out of. There is still time to gain trust and find solutions together.

After all, although the GDP is a formula to measure economic performance, its components reflect the same parties that need to be included in the discussions relating to the homeless of our community.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor,

constituency assistant and current

citizen of the year.

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