Several months after taking over as head of the citywide organization representing business interests in the capital, Ian Faris has decided to tackle an issue that has come up frequently among Ottawa’s many chambers of commerce over the years: collaboration.
Ian Faris is the CEO of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. Faris, who became the CEO of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce in April, believes the city’s business community can be more effective if it speaks with one voice on regional issues.
To do that, though, he’d like to see his organization work together with the groups that represent the capital’s various regions, streets and language groups – the Nepean Chamber of Commerce, say, or the organization that represents merchants on Preston Street.
“This is something that the chambers haven’t done a great job (on) post-city amalgamation,” said Mr. Faris, referring to the period after 2000 when the various municipalities in the Ottawa region came together to form the current City of Ottawa.
More co-operation between the various organizations would be particularly effective when raising business concerns to different levels of government, he said.
He cited the example of the Sparks Street Mall Authority’s efforts to revitalize the pedestrian shopping area. This might be a local issue, but an improved street would help increase tourism to the region, and that should interest everyone in the business community, he said.
“We’re trying to increase the level of consultation, the level of co-operation, and hopefully it’ll actually lead to that common front,” he said. “I won’t say there’s a common front now.”
However, just how far the regional chambers are willing to go with that collaboration – a seemingly perennial issue – is still an unknown.
While many chambers would also like to see more co-operation, they are wary of some of the changes the Ottawa chamber would eventually like to implement.
Mr. Faris said that, while any immediate collaboration between the various business organizations would have to be informal, he’d like to eventually have a more formal group set up to address common concerns on a permanent basis.
Going further, he said he’d support having just one chamber of commerce in the city to go along with regional offices that represent other parts of the city.
Jamie Kwong, executive director of the Orleans Chamber of Commerce, said she is all for coming together on common issues. But she isn’t willing to budge in her belief that only a separate chamber can appropriately represent Orleans businesses.
“We have needs out in Ottawa’s east end that are different than Kanata’s needs, right?” she said. “And so to have one giant chamber address these particular needs in these different regions is unrealistic.”
Others wouldn’t be on board with a formal collaboration between the groups. Kanata Chamber of Commerce executive director Rosemary Leu, said her organization looked at umbrella bodies in the past, but hasn’t been able to get all the necessary people on board.
Still, she’s not entirely happy with how the situation is working right now.
She cited one recent example from Ottawa City Hall – council’s decision to allow a casino to be built only if it was located at the Rideau Carleton Raceway in the city’s southeast end – as something on which she’d like to see more informal collaboration in the future.
She said she couldn’t understand why there were only a few business groups, including hers, that chose to speak up on the subject.