COMMITTEE CORNER:The Board of Trade calls for strong leadership as the city emerges from the global COVID crisis.
“PROGRESS OVER PERFECTION.”
BY JENNIFER CAMPBELL
AS OTTAWA EMERGES from the global pandemic, the Board of Trade will be collaborating and focusing on a city-wide economic development plan. It will also make a point of outlining its priorities for the provincial and municipal elections this spring and autumn.
The Ottawa Board of Trade was formed as a result of several chambers of commerce across the city consolidating in 2018. The collective history of the predecessor chambers is 165 years of business advocacy and community building. Still, just two years into its new mandate as one voice, set with an express goal of strengthening business in Ottawa, the organization was challenged by a pandemic that decimated economies worldwide.
“In many respects, our advocacy work was accelerated because we were in a real-world situation and we had to build new muscle in terms of agenda-setting and advocacy,” says Sueling Ching, CEO of the Board of Trade. “Even though we’re about to mark 165 years of operating in Ottawa, we’re really operating like a start-up because we’ve made a paradigm shift in our role as an advocate and economic partner. As we contemplate what this next stage, we need to reimagine what Ottawa could be and ensure we leverage the lessons we’ve learned over these last two years — what to focus on and how to get things done.”
Ching says that as a community, Ottawa has demonstrated it is highly resilient.
“We’ve demonstrated the ability to collaborate at a very deep level and to do things quickly,” Ching says. “We were forced to prioritize progress over perfection.”
Now, she wants to determine how to move that forward and leverage the opportunities before us, utilizing the business community strengths. The pandemic, she says, forced members of the business community to move from just-in-time to just-in-case business planning. And our governments must do the same.
For the board, it means focusing on enhancing relationships and developing a community-wide economic agenda that incorporates the agendas of our key stakeholders and prioritizes optimizing the resources of our community.
“We need to set ourselves us up for radical collaboration, which is the competitive advantage that we have,” she says.
With respect to the provincial and municipal elections, the Board of Trade priority will be in encouraging Ottawans to elect “true leaders.”
“We are calling on leaders to work across parties and within the lines of government to tackle the big issues,” she says. “The challenges we’re facing can’t be solved in a four-year cycle. We need to work in a consultative, transparent way that includes evidence-based decision-making. The role of government is to create a competitive business environment in which the private sector will drive growth and community prosperity.”
Ching notes that during COVID, the government was continually locking down business and rolling out programs. What may have been necessary for public health also created a confidence issue that needs to be addressed, particularly with the hardest hit sectors.
“We need to change the narrative,” she says. “Get back to business, build forward better and set our sights on being the best capital city in the world.