The Surrey Board of Trade, representing the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was proud to be the Master of Ceremonies at the December 4 launch event in Toronto for the following workforce development leadership initiative:

The Government of Canada celebrates the launch of the Canadian Business Disability Network to help advance the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce.



·       Anita Huberman, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Surrey Board of Trade, one of the co-chairs of the Disability Inclusion Business Council indicated that about a year ago, Minister Qualtrough, former Minister of Employment, Workforce Development, and Disability Inclusion, convened ten business leaders into a ministerial advisory council, to lead a call to action to businesses and employers across the country on disability inclusion. The other co-chair is Paul Clark, Executive Vice President and Head of Private Wealth Management & Financial Planning.

·       In Toronto on December 4, a major milestone of this work was celebrated with the launch of a new organization, the Canadian Business Disability Network.

·       This type of national business network, focused on supporting workplace inclusivity for people with disabilities, has seen success in many other countries, and the launch of this Network will put Canada on the radar and drive real change. This will be a made-in-Canada network inspired by international examples such as Disability:IN. It was also inspired by the BC Presidents Group. The new Canadian Business Disability Network fills a gap by putting in place a pan-Canadian network.

·       Just a few short months ago, a dedicated Ministerial role was created to focus on topics of diversity and inclusion – the Honourable Kamal Khera, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion, and Persons with Disabilities currently serves this role.

·       The Board of Directors of the Canadian Business Disability Network are:

Gaurav Upadhya serves as Chair of the Board. He is an experienced Board Director with significant experience in financial analysis and risk management. He is currently a Board Director and Audit Committee Chair of American Express (AMEX) Bank of Canada. He is also the Chair of the Advisory Committee for Ascend Canada, which supports Pan-Asian leadership, and is a member of the Advisory Board of Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Gaurav immigrated to Canada at age 12. However, his early life experience of contracting polio as a young child, as well as the challenges of studying and living independently with physical disabilities, helped shape the person he is today as he leads with empathy, and is a resilient problem solver, and has a strong desire to support others in society.

As the Chair of the Board, Gaurav will be working with nine other Board members which provide a depth and diversity that will contribute to its success.

·       Paula Allen is the Global Leader of Research and Insights and a Senior Vice President at TELUS Health. She has over 20 years of leadership experience in disability support and accommodation, product development, organizational health, workplace inclusion and mental health.

·       Jamie Burton is the President and CEO of INNoVA Corp. and strives to implement transformative solutions to shape a future of work which meets labour market demand. Jamie has delivered strategic results as Vice President, Dolphin Digital Technologies, and Chief Business Development Officer at Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW). Jamie is a recipient of the BMO Celebrating Women – Innovation & Global Growth Award, Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Lt. Governor’s Community Volunteer Award, & Rogers Women of the Year-Entrepreneur.

·       Karl Blackburn is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Conseil du patronat du Québec. The Conseil du patronat du Québec represents the interests of over 70,000 employers of all sizes and business areas from both the private and para-public sectors. Working initially as an entrepreneur, a politician, and manager, Karl occupies a central position in Quebec’s business ecosystem.

·       James Delorme is the CEO of Indigelink Digital Inc. and is the former Chief of the Klahoose First Nation. His background as an Indigenous entrepreneur matched with leadership experience creates unique opportunities for organizations, government and public interests.

·       Farah Huq has over 15 years of experience in public policy, economics, and thought leadership. Farah is passionate about creating and communicating evidence-based insights that inform and influence decision-makers in government and business. She has a strong academic background, with an MBA from Kellogg-Schulich and an MSc in Economics from Oxford University.

·       Haley Flaro has been making her mark in communities throughout New Brunswick as Ability New Brunswick’s Executive Director since 2006. She has more than 25 years of management and administration experience in non-profit and community-based sectors. Haley is a community builder, a published author, as well as a dedicated advocate for persons living with a mobility disability, youth, seniors, and persons living in poverty.

·       Michelle J. Rafat is an accomplished diversity, equity, and inclusion executive with 25 years of experience in human resources. Over the course of her esteemed career, she has advanced within senior leadership roles at global Fortune 500 companies and championed the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. In her current role as AVP & Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Canada at Manulife, Michelle leads the development and implementation of a comprehensive DEI strategy.

·       Stephen Shea is a former Partner and Canadian Executive Member and Talent Leader at EY Canada. Stephen has a long history of non-profit board membership including disability organizations. With EY he was a member of the firm’s Executive Committee and was a member of the firm’s Inclusiveness Steering Committee and frequently a speaker on topics related to diversity, inclusion, and human-equity.

·       Doug Tennant is the Chief Executive Officer of UNITI, a partnership of three not-for-profit organizations that build healthy and inclusive communities through advocacy, services, and housing. He is a strong believer that creativity develops spaces where people of different abilities can thrive together. An expert in governance, he provides annual training to provincial boards and has served as the Board Chair of both the Surrey Board of Trade and the BC CEO Network.

·       This suite of individuals has stepped forward to lead the beginnings of this organization. Together, they come from different parts of Canada spanning from the British Columbia in the west to New Brunswick in the east. They bring with them a range of lived experience, professional backgrounds in business and on boards of directors, and a deep understanding of the issues related to workplace inclusivity.

·       The Founding Members of the Canadian Business Disability Network are Manulife, EY Canada and TELUS Health. They have generously invested in the Network to get it off the ground. IBM Canada has committed to provide in-kind support, such as technology investments and services to the Network during the start-up phase.

·       The Network needs the support of Canada’s business community to make it a success. With the financial support of Founding Members, the Network will be able to get up and running in the first year or so. If your organization is interested in becoming a Founding Member, please reach out to and she will connect you with the Chair.

The Surrey Board of Trade thanks the Disability Inclusion Business Council, who have volunteered their time and worked tirelessly over the past year to put their heads together on what this Network will look like, and to galvanize support to get this workforce initiative off the ground. This includes:

o   Co-Chair Paul Clark, Executive Vice President, TD Bank Group

o   Co-Chair Anita Huberman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Surrey Board of Trade

o   Karl Blackburn, President and Chief Executive Officer, Conseil du patronat du Québec

o   Diane Brisebois, President and Chief Executive Officer, Retail Council of Canada

o   Andy Canham, President, SAP Canada

o   Naveed Irshad, President and Chief Executive Officer, Manulife Canada

o   Stephen Liptrap, Former President and Chief Executive Officer, LifeWorks

o   Dave McCann, President, IBM Canada

o   Jad Shimaly, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, EY Canada

o   Tamara Vrooman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Vancouver Airport Authority

A special thank you to Pina D’Intino and Susan Scott-Parker who have been expert advisors to the Council, for their amazing insight and guidance throughout this process.