By Brian Dunn

A new organization to promote trade and investment between Great Britain and Quebec, the British-Quebec Business Coalition (Coalition d’Affaires Québec Grande-Bretagne) (BQBC), hopes to build on the initial success of the defunct British Canadian Chamber of Trade and Commerce, by appealing to a wider audience.

“There was a thriving chamber of commerce here for 30 years until about three years ago, but it died because the membership dried up due to a lack of interest,” explained John Lawson, Executive Director of the new organization who also runs Tri: M-V, a pharmaceutical marketing firm. “It had a bit of a colonial supper club feel to it and focused mainly on one-way trade coming from Great Britain and lost its focus of building business. It was also heavily weighted toward the shipping industry. While the shipping community plays an important role in Montreal’s economy, we felt we needed to expand our appeal to include other major industries here, such as aerospace, computer gaming software, pharmaceutical and biotech, to name a few. But the Port is still what Montreal is all about and why we feel the city needs the BQBC.”

And unlike the old Chamber of Commerce (there is still a chapter in Toronto) which relied largely on volunteers for its success, BQBC has the support of major sponsors, including the British and Quebec governments, British bank HSBC and law firm Fasken Martineau. BQBC needs at least two more major sponsors to meet its budget this year, but it can survive on what is has in the bank, said Mr. Lawson.

“Patrick Holdich, the British Consul General in Montreal, was the one who approached me to start up something similar to the old Chamber of Commerce,” he said.

The U.K. is among the largest foreign investors in Quebec with over 128 Quebec-based subsidiaries, including Rio Tinto Alcan, Rolls-Royce and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. In the U.K., Quebec companies include Bombardier, CAE, CGI and SNC-Lavalin. Last year, the U.K. ranked fifth among Quebec’s merchandise export markets, with exports totalling $1.2 billion, while it imported $4.6 billion from the U.K. during the same year.

Since the inaugural meeting on September 24 at Sir Winston Churchill Pub where 50 people showed up, BQBC’s membership has presently risen to over 100 from over 40 different companies. The objective is to attract at least 300 members. To do that, BQBC has three different membership categories, Individual, SME (small and medium enterprises) and Corporate. “We kept individual membership costs low at $85 including tax, while SMEs with up to 25 employees pay $250 plus tax for up to four members, and Corporate members pay $1,000 plus tax.” Corporate members include Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership, ACL and Hapag-Lloyd.

Another feather in BQBC’s cap is the appointment as Chairman of former federal Trade Minister and Solicitor General Francis Fox, who is a partner at Fasken Martineau.

To help foster interest in BQBC, several business and social activities have taken place or are planned, including the annual Christmas lunch on December 14 at the Marriott Château Champlain, always a shipping industry favourite, according to Mr. Lawson who anticipates 250 attendees.

One of the most recent activities was a tour of the facilities of Montreal Gateway Terminals Partnership, organized by CEO Kevin Doherty who was instrumental in getting BQBC off the ground. It was described by Mr. Lawson as a “must-attend” experience for anyone actively importing or exporting, particularly involving containers and utilising road and rail links.

In January, there will be a debate between BQBC and a group of women from the biotech sector questioning the viability of the sector in Quebec which has shrunk substantially in recent years. There will also be a trade mission in January from the U.K. examining the local medical industry, which BQBC is coordinating.

“When I did a straw poll of the former members, they were all keen to resurrect the organization but they wanted a number of changes,” noted Mr. Lawson. “These would just not have happened under the BCCTC and so it was necessary to build a completely new not-for-profit organization. The mix of companies is now very different and this will probably benefit the shipping industry. After all, you have to have goods to ship.”