First a letter, then an interview. It was “just one of those weeks,” says Scott Wheatley.
Wheatley, the executive director of the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce, first learned Anita Huberman, the president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT)—another Chamber based out of North Surrey, and one of three in the city—asked the City of Surrey, in a letter, to review City grants annually awarded to a trio of other organizations that represent local businesses.
Then in a subsequent interview with the Cloverdale Reporter regarding that letter, Huberman called for the closure of the other two chambers in the city—Cloverdale and the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber (SSWRC).
In that original letter, Huberman asked, “Why are these associations receiving automatic grants with no accountability and limited impact to the communities in which they serve? The City of Surrey continues to give them grants because that is what they have done for decades. I strongly urge Council to review this.”
In her interview with the Reporter, Huberman said she’d like to see the Cloverdale and South Surrey Chambers disbanded and brought under the umbrella of SBOT.
“We were appalled, at first,” Wheatley remarked about the letter and Huberman’s subsequent interview with the Reporter. “We have a right to exist. We have a right to apply to the city for a grant, just like any other group.”
He said the Chambers, which are not for profits, do “great work” in their communities and they will continue to do that, despite any calls for their disbandment by SBOT.
“Nothing that the Surrey Board of Trade says will prevent us from representing our communities in Clayton, Cloverdale, and Campbell Heights.”
Wheatley said he’s happy to work with Huberman and SBOT on issues of mutual interest, and he’s sure the SSWRC would agree, but all need to be equal partners.
“We need to have trust and respect,” he said. “In my opinion, until we feel we can trust what they say—and they respect who we are—there cannot be a relationship moving forward.”
Wheatley explained that Cloverdale has worked with the South Surrey Chamber in the past on issues of mutual interest and he’d “love it” if all three boards could do the same at some point in the future.
Currently, Cloverdale and SSWRC are working together on a few areas of mutual interest.
“We are talking about a few policy items,” Wheatley noted. “We have common interests when it comes to improving transit in our areas. And we attend each other’s events when interest intersects.”
One recent joint venture was an all candidates meeting for the Surrey South provincial by-election. The Surrey South riding stretches into both Chambers’ legal boundaries.
Wheatley said despite Huberman’s call that both the Cloverdale and SSWR Chambers be disbanded, all is not lost. He said there is a road map to move forward with SBOT.
“The first step is going to have to be a moderated meeting in neutral territory,” he said. “Then we need to lay everything out on the table and see if there’s any common ground that we can find that will allow us to work together.”
He noted there is common ground as there are issues facing the city that impact all three Chambers and he said there is always a need to speak with a common voice on behalf of Surrey, but that entails an equality of all.
“We could co-present things that affect the city as a whole, such as the mayor’s state of the city address,” Wheatley said. “We can work together on policy issues that need to be taken forward to the B.C. Chamber. I’ve never been asked once by the Surrey Board of Trade to participate in any policy decisions or to consult on the creation of any policy.”
He said the Surrey Board of Trade needs to be proactive in reaching out to the other Chambers to involve them in the decision-making process for city-wide issues.
Wheatley is unsure why Huberman called for both the Cloverdale and South Surrey Chambers to be disbanded and brought under the umbrella of SBOT.
“Surrey is a vast and unique community and the east of Surrey is isolated by a large swath of farmland,” explained Wheatley. “Taking the 10,000 foot view, without knowing the city borders, Clayton, Cloverdale and Campbell Heights would appear to be their own independent community.”
He said the east part of Surrey is more likely to look towards Langley, or to South Surrey than they are towards Fleetwood, Newton or Whalley.
“Surrey’s infrastructure and transportation system is designed to move people east to west and from our city towards New Westminster, Burnaby, and ultimately Vancouver,” Wheatley added. “With the Surrey Skytrain extension, central Surrey shoppers will have an easier time going to Langley or Vancouver to shop than they are within parts of their own city.
“Geography and hyper-local issues make Surrey unique in Canada, and it makes the need for multiple voices even more critical.”
Wheatley said the South Surrey Chamber and the Cloverdale Chamber are drafting a joint response to Huberman’s letter to the city, which they expect to release within a few days.
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