Donaldson prepares to hand over chamber reins

Mark Brownlee
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A lot changed for the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce during Dave Donaldson’s two-year tenure as chair. The membership grew and the number of networking events the organization helped organize increased.

The Ottawa Chamber of Commerce's Dave Donaldson.

But one of the main differences, according to those involved with the organization, was its relationship with city hall.

“We made a lot of progress there, where we were trying to get away from reacting to what city hall was doing and more influencing city hall and I think Dave was very, very effective in that,” said Erin Kelly, the former executive director who was with the chamber during much of Mr. Donaldson’s time in the position.

Mr. Donaldson’s term as chair will officially come to an end next Tuesday when his successor, writer and broadcaster Mark Sutcliffe, will formally take over at an event at the Chateau Laurier.

(Mr. Sutcliffe is the CEO of Great River Media, which owns OBJ.)

Ms. Kelly said her impression coming into the job was that “historically, the chamber had a very antagonistic relationship with city hall.”

But that changed under Mr. Donaldson’s watch, said Ms. Kelly. She cited his willingness to take a stand on contentious matters of public policy - rather than talking until a consensus was reached within the business community - as one of the main factors

The chamber supported bringing a new casino and building the $2.1-billion light rail project council gave final approval for in December.

“We wanted to make sure that we were a strong voice for business in Ottawa, so that we were doing a good job for advocacy,” said Mr. Donaldson.

The chamber developed a constructive relationship with the mayor and council, he said. He was able to easily get a hold of Mayor Jim Watson or his chief of staff to sit down and discuss matters, such as light rail, about which they needed more information.

There will be no shortage of work to be done at the municipal level in the coming years.

Construction of the light-rail project is set to begin this year. City hall is working with the business community to minimize disruptions during construction and help with residential and commercial developments around transit stations.

Another issue that is going to stay in the headlines is the location of a potential casino. City council voted in October to allow the provincial agency responsible for gaming, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., to accept bids to build a casino in Ottawa.The chamber is in favour of a casino somewhere in the city, but has yet to decide on what its preferred location is.

Mr. Donaldson said there is also work to be done on minimizing the economic impact of ongoing layoffs within one of the region’s largest employers, the federal government.

Ms. Kelly believes the outgoing chair’s efforts put the chamber into a better position to deal with these and other issues.

“You’re always in a better position when you’re coming together as friends,” said Ms. Kelly. “When you think of it, we’re on the same side. City hall and the chamber should be on the same side. Our competition is other cities, not each other.”


What’s next for Dave Donaldson?

Dave Donaldson, who is also the dean of Algonquin College’s School of Business, said he will still be involved with the organization as the past chair once his term comes to an end.

He will continue to work on events the chamber co-organizes with the Ottawa Business Journal, he said.

Mr. Donaldson said he will remain involved with the chamber’s search for a new president and CEO to fill the vacancy left by Ms. Kelly. Board members are currently shortlisting contenders for the position and hope to have a candidate selected by February.

Organizations: Algonquin College, Great River Media, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Ottawa.The chamber School of Business Ottawa Business Journal

Geographic location: Ottawa

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