Our Issues: An introduction
By Mike Wood
By Mike Wood
Things have changed since March 2020. The emotions we all have felt; the stress and weight of COVID-19 on all in the rental business were unprecedented. For most of us in this industry, it was impossible to pivot.
We must look forward with optimism and positivity. It was precisely optimism and positivity that saved me and my mental health. Allow me to explain and introduce myself.
On March 13, 2020, I called an Ottawa city councillor and asked him if the city was planning on shutting down. Was the province? What about the entire country? Perhaps your event rental company was like mine. We would batten down the hatches in January, February and March. Come April, business would start to return and be back to 18 hour days.
Speaking with said city councillor about what the future held for the spring, without missing a beat he said, “Start calling your MPs and MPPs right now.”
Who was I to do this? I had no history or experience in government relations or public affairs. I owned an event rental company that specialized in staging, sound, lighting, tents, tables, chairs and more. Why would they even listen to me? Why would they take my call? I owned one small business in Ottawa.
Nevertheless, I used the same character traits that helped me build my business from nothing into a multi-million-dollar operation: drive, work ethic and, most importantly, kindness and empathy. Leadership has shifted from command and control to influence, inclusion and empathy.
That night, I called the office of the Honourable Catherine McKenna, Minister of Infrastructure (a local Ottawa MP), and reached a young man to whom I explained my problem. The “problem” was one not only my business faced but virtually every business across Canada faced: a lockdown. He said he would be back in touch in about an hour. To my surprise and elation, he did precisely that and said the minister would be pleased to meet with me.
The meeting went well, and I felt that I was heard. I reached out to Minister Mona Fortier, and her team also said she would be willing to meet with me. MP Pierre Poilievre called me after I left a message at his office, and he and I were now in communication.
I realized that if I had the opportunity to meet with these elected officials, it would be irresponsible not to include everyone who wanted to participate. From that moment, I created the Virtual Roundtable and invited small business owners in Ottawa and across Canada to join me in the discussion. The only stipulations I put on people that wanted to join was that they had to be what I call the three Ps: professional, productive and polite.
I soon discovered that the more people I had sign up for these discussions with municipal, provincial and federal government officials, the more eager they were to hear from us. In the end, I met with more than 50 elected officials. Furthermore, I conducted these discussions in a non-partisan fashion and met with people from every political party across Canada.
I was subsequently called as a witness before the Federal Finance Committee (twice) as well as the Provincial Finance Committee (twice). I was even fortunate to bring 19 other businesses from the Ottawa area to the provincial Finance Committee, so it could hear their voices when they needed it the most.
I tell you this story as an introduction to who I am. I am honoured that Canadian Rental Service has asked me to contribute a regular opinion piece to their publication.
During the toughest times in our lives and business, kindness matters. Working hard and standing up for yourself matters. Regardless of how small you feel, you can still invoke change by being authentic and compassionate.
Over the past 20 months, I asked myself whether I should continue doing this or leave it all behind. Little did I know that these moments were preparing me for something amazing that just hadn’t happened yet. For that, I will be forever grateful that I got involved and helped as many as I could.
Mike Wood was a partner in Ottawa Special Events from 2009 to 2021. Today, he is a small business advocate taking the concerns of the rental industry to federal and provincial governments.