Ottawa’s chambers of commerce to vote on amalgamation

Ian Faris
Ottawa Chamber of Commerce CEO Ian Faris, seen at the 2018 Orléans Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards gala in March. (Photo by Shawn Peters)

Ottawa’s three chambers of commerce are again considering plans to formally amalgamate, though an upcoming vote may leave one of the regional bodies out of the mix.

The proposal would see the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, the West Ottawa Board of Trade and the Orléans Chamber of Commerce merge into a single entity. A memorandum of understanding, proposed by a joint task force representing all three chambers, has been unanimously rejected by the Orléans chamber board of directors.

Among the Orléans board’s concerns is its relative representation on a proposed transitional board of directors, which would see the east-end business organization receive three seats, West Ottawa receive six and the Ottawa chamber receive nine, roughly proportional to each organization’s membership size.

On Thursday morning, members of the Orléans chamber will vote on whether to support its board’s opposition to the proposed merger and place a one-year moratorium on any such amalgamation discussions with the other chambers.

In a letter to Orléans chamber members, the organization’s board of directors expressed concerns that such low representation on the resultant board would diminish the organization’s voice on issues such as staffing at the Orléans chamber office and the number of events held within the region. The board also seeks to safeguard the Orléans chamber’s own finances and ensure these funds are expressly committed to the benefit of the area’s businesses.

It’s unclear what would happen next should the Orléans members break from their board’s opposition and vote no on the question. Orléans chamber chair Sean Crossan declined to comment ahead of the vote.

Bilateral union

With or without Orléans on board, however, the Ottawa chamber and West Ottawa Board of Trade appear to be moving forward on plans to merge.

"We’ll welcome (the Orléans Chamber of Commerce) with open arms, but we’re not going to be waiting.”

“We’re proceeding on a bilateral basis and if Orléans is interested we’ll welcome them with open arms, but we’re not going to be waiting,” says Ottawa Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Ian Faris.

The two business organizations are “enthusiastic” about working together, Faris says, and will soon proceed with membership consultations.

Though the concept of merging the disparate chambers is not new – it’s been a frequent topic of discussion since the City of Ottawa was amalgamated in 2001 and resulted in the 110 members of the Eastern Ottawa Chamber of Commerce joining the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce in 2009 – Faris says the latest round of talks has come after the three organizations have found success working together over the past year.

The chambers have joined forces on networking events, presentations on the city’s budget and speaking events with Ottawa’s local members of parliament.

Faris says the combined weight of the chambers would raise the Ottawa business community’s voice.

“Collectively, we think we can strengthen the voice of business, but also we want to make an impact on prosperity and create more economic development in Ottawa,” he says.