Here to help Halifax grow

Here to help Halifax grow

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Contributors:

Sara Ericsson

Numbers add up for Gavin MacDonald. The lawyer and newly named Chair of the Halifax Chamber of Commerce knows a thing or two about budgets, banking, finance and how to proceed should things go wrong. MacDonald understands both sides of the process and can see where an issue lies and what should be done to fix it. He also knows that the answer to a problem is not always spearheading a new initiative or getting rid of an existing one, but identifying successes that have worked and championing those before racing after others.

He chaired his first committee at the Chamber in 2007, and over the last decade has remained involved in the organization as a Committee Chair and later Board Member before being named the Chamber’s Vice-Chair.

Now, he’s taking on his new role as Chair with the mindset of cementing
successes before venturing out into uncharted territory to ensure the Chamber and its community can identify what led to those successes and how they can be replicated in the future.

“We’ve seen great success with economic and population growth, but now we must keep our eye on the ball. We need to maintain focus on the things we’ve done over the last few years that led to this success … instead of assuming this will still continue to happen. As a business community leader, I can help encourage that focus,” he says.

Early involvement

MacDonald first joined the Chamber as a volunteer on the Provincial Affairs Committee and later served as its Chair from 2007 to 2010. After taking a few years to focus on family, MacDonald found himself encouraged to apply to the Chamber’s Board of Directors ahead of 2015. He applied to the board and became a Board Director in 2016. He soon began serving as Board Director on the Audit and Risk Committee and was also named Board Director of the Human Resource and Governance Committee, where he served until being named Vice-Chair of the board in 2019.

Outside of the Chamber, MacDonald works as a Partner at the Cox & Palmer law firm and has worked in several of the firm’s practices, including business and finance, corporate and commercial, mergers and acquisitions and restructuring and insolvency — further evidence that his strength really does lie in numbers.

MacDonald says this experience has given him an extremely strong working knowledge of good corporate governance and how to effectively run a board, as well as knowledge of the corporate finance side and an awareness of the financial side of public spending, which means he is well-positioned to advocate on behalf of the Chamber in this area.

“I want to support our advocacy there. We’ve had some success and have seen the province announce tax changes based in part on what the Chamber has been advocating for during the last few years. We know it works and that they’re listening to us, so I think there is even more we can do here,” says MacDonald.

All about advocacy

MacDonald will begin his term as Chair following the Chamber’s AGM on April 23, 2020 and says he aims to build on successful initiatives and their successes rather than implement a flurry of new ideas during his tenure.

“I see my role as a supporter and advocate for the good things we’ve started over the last couple years,” he says.

MacDonald sees this supporting approach as more important than ever in Halifax, as the city wraps up one of its best years to date that saw impressive economic and population growth as youth retention rose for the first time in years and immigration numbers came in at an all-time high.

“For a lot of our history, we’ve faced challenging economic conditions, but now we’re seeing success. The key is to identify how these successes happened to ensure they keep happening,” he says.

MacDonald will also continue the Chamber’s focus on advocating to government on behalf of Chamber members and Halifax’s business community as a whole, which he says remains a key component of the Chamber and among the top advantages it offers to its members.

“There are other advocacy groups, but what the Chamber has been able to do is a combination of effective advocacy and a collaborative philosophy: it gets more done by working with government, not against it. We’re not the loudest voice, but we’re one of — if not the most — effective voice in terms of advocating for this city,” he says.

Connecting with community

Encouraging good business in Halifax happens naturally at the Chamber, says MacDonald, as it advocates on behalf of its membership.

“We try to be the voice of business in Halifax … I think there’s an understanding that now, whether we’re speaking to the city, the municipality or the province, we are speaking for the [more than] 1,700 businesses that are our members,” he says.

Membership at the Chamber has remained strong in the last few years — something MacDonald says stems from a diverse list of reasons that are different for each business that becomes a member. With there being many ways a membership benefits businesses, MacDonald says it can be multiple reasons they choose to get involved.

“There are tangible savings, access to programs and services and advocacy opportunities that come with being a member. When you pool your voice with 1,700 others, you can have an impact,” he says.

MacDonald says another key of the Chair’s role is ensuring to not only advocate on behalf of businesses, but to ensure all directors on its board feel they are able to make effective contributions. He says this is what ensures the voices that are heard properly represent the board’s diversity of people, experience and expertise.

“There’s no point of having people on your board if they feel the environment is one where they can’t make a contribution. We want them to succeed and, as Chair, it’s my role to ensure that they can,” he says.

Where it’s worked

Ensuring all voices are heard has led to successes past and present, says MacDonald, pointing to one that comes to mind for many when thinking of red tape and business: the change to Sunday shopping rules in Nova Scotia, which he says came after repeated conservations the Chamber had with governments of all levels starting as far back as early 2000. It’s an area he says the city, municipality and province have continued listening to the Chamber on as more and more red tape is lifted to foster better business conditions.

“This change came after a long time spent highlighting redundant regulations and how they hold back businesses. The Chamber led the charge and showed government that changing Sunday shopping hours would result in red tape reduction,” says MacDonald.

“This showed that our advocacy works — that we’re being listened to.”

MacDonald says the Chamber has been an effective voice in Nova Scotia, Premier Stephen McNeil’s announcement in February that the province will cut its corporate tax rate beginning in April by two points, bringing it down to 14 per cent.
The announcement also revealed the small business tax rate was cut by 0.5 of
a point from three to 2.5 per cent.

“This number is more in line with the national average and recognizes we need a tax and regulatory structure that reflects the 21st-century world. I’m not saying we alone caused all of that to happen, but this shows we are part of the dialogue in our community,” he says.

MacDonald says the city and its business development is a far cry from the Halifax he first moved to in 1993. With a record-breaking year under its belt and a focus on both crunching numbers and supporting ventures to grow future successes, MacDonald sees no reason why this year should be any different.

“I remember sleepy old Halifax with no buildings, no development and nothing going on. When I look around now, the amount of growth and opportunity I see is breathtaking. It’s hard to not get excited,” he says.

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