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Gay business summit kicks off on the Hill

High-profile MPs turn out

NDP leader Jack Layton and CCCQ president Hans Janiak. Credit: Noreen Fagan photo

Representatives from the LGBT Chambers of Commerce for Ontario (OGLCC), Quebec (CCCQ) and Canada (CGLCC) all met on Parliament Hill on Friday to kick off what they term the Summit of Two Shores, bringing gay business groups together to meet and network.

The opening reception happened on Parliament Hill in the venerable ballroom in 200 West Block and saw a few high-profile MPs turn out to meet these business associates.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the gay community is a diverse community and a community that is very entrepreneurial, and very successful in terms of career and in terms of contribution to the broader Canadian society,” says gay Liberal MP Scott Brison, who got his start in business renting refrigerators to fellow students while in university.

The MP hosting the event was gay Toronto Liberal Rob Oliphant, whose first degree was commerce and who was an accountant before he left the profession for the ministry, and later politics.

“The event is to bring people together, and it’s good — it’s fun,” says Oliphant.

“[These events] are important for bringing the community together, for sharing experience, to build networks, to also know that they have a presence now, an economic presence in Canada, and to also engage with Parliamentarians is very important,” says Liberal MP Mario Silva. “This is hopefully an event that will continue for many years to come because there is a lot that can be learned from shared experience.”

Economic clout is building for these queer Chambers of Commerce. The CCCQ is the seventh largest business group in Quebec and already has links with the provincial legislature, but wanted to reach out to Ottawa as well.

“It’s a way of establishing our presence and letting them know about, saying that we’re a group and we matter,” says CCCQ president Hans Janiak. He also thinks that it helps that they’re not simply a lobby group for rights.

“It’s really about them knowing about us, and us getting to know them.”

The event wasn’t only attended by gay and lesbian MPs. Also present were Speaker Peter Milliken, NDP leader Jack Layton, Charlottetown Liberal MP Shawn Murphy (who was keen to discuss the tourism industry with attendees) and Ottawa Centre Liberal candidate Scott Bradley.

For Layton, it was about celebrating the community’s successes.

“I was the alderman for the
Gay Village at Church and Wellesley, and promoting the district, coming out as a group of gay businesses, was a really important part of the work we all did together,” Layton says. “Promoting the concept of community enterprise and helping it to build was very important. The fact that there’s now a well-functioning national network, there’s energy and enthusiasm, there’s optimism and growth — I think it’s fantastic.”