Career Spotlight: Alex Harper’s legacy at the Chamber

What does the name Alex Harper mean to you? This former president of the Montreal Board of Trade—who will be publishing his memoires in a few weeks—dedicated himself to the Montréal community and was involved in several key projects in our city’s history. Let’s take a look back at his remarkable career.

The merger of two major organizations for Montréal’s business community

Alex Harper played a central role in the merger of the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain and the Montreal Board of Trade, of which he was President at the time the two entities were brought together. He had an intimate knowledge of the organization: in its service for some thirty years, he started out as a committee secretary and department manager; in 1977, he became its Assistant General Manager; in 1982, he was appointed General Manager; and in 1991, he became the President, and then the Executive Vice President.

“I arrived at the Board of Trade in 1963 in a context in which the General Director at the time, Harry Gould, wanted to increase the use of French within the organization,” explains Mr. Harper.

“The task fell to me,” he continues, “and it was carried out through the hiring of bilingual staff, conferences held in the two languages, and the publication of documents in both English and French. In 1964, I issued our document Operating a Business in Montreal, printing 10,000 copies in French for the first time in the organization’s history. Ten years later, it was time for our newsletter to become bilingual.”

The question of merging these two organizations was an ongoing one. “But it was never the right time, and the requirements on both sides of the aisle were too great,” explains Mr. Harper. “Having been witness to these unsuccessful attempts, I wrote up a list of the four or five essential conditions for a merger. Luigi Liberatore, who was then the Chairman of the board of directors at the Board of Trade, brought the idea of the merger back to the fore in 1992. He initiated discussions with his counterpart at the Chambre, Jean Guibault. A document serving as a basis for the merger was prepared: it focused, firstly, on respecting the traditions and programs of each organization and, secondly, on the importance of offering good services to the Montréal business community—in both languages."

The document was accepted by the executive committees of both organizations and their members. The two entities were merged in 1992, keeping their two names: “Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal” in English, and “Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain” in French.

The Info-Crime Program

The Info-Crime program was another major file that benefited from Alex Harper’s involvement.

In 1986, Alex Harper was the Board of Trade’s principal delegate at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce’s annual convention in Toronto. During a meal, his tablemates from across the country spoke enthusiastically about the Crime Stoppers program, which encouraged ordinary citizens to share any information they might have about unsolved crimes. “I understood that the effectiveness of such a program was dependent on the total support of the chief of police, given the efforts his force would have to make,” says Mr. Harper.

Seeing a benefit for the Montréal community in this initiative, Mr. Harper hastened to propose the idea to the Board of Trade’s executive committee upon his return from the conference. The committee accepted his suggestion. Mr. Harper then got in touch with the Director of the Service de police de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal (SPCUM)1, Roland Bourget, who had coincidentally just learned about Crime Stoppers at a convention of North American police officers in Texas. Mr. Bourget, who was seeking to bring citizens and police closer together, shared Mr. Harper’s view that such a program could contribute to improving the quality of life in Montréal, as its goal was to combat acts of intimidation and violence.

This led the Board of Trade and the police to work together over four months to develop the project, which came to be in 1987, bearing the bilingual name Info-Crime.

“Info-Crime is built on confidentiality and anonymity,” explains Mr. Harper. “Calls are not recorded. People give information to police officers, who are trained to recognize whether or not further investigation is warranted. People contributing information are each given a code allowing them to collect a reward if their tip leads to an arrest.”

Info-Crime is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year. However, despite community support to raise awareness of the program, there is still progress to be made, according to Mr. Harper. “Citizens don’t believe they have information that can help the police. Yet, often, even the smallest detail can make a difference,” explains the former President of the Board of Trade.

For his commitment to Info-Crime, Mr. Harper was inducted into the SPVM Intelligence Division’s Hall of Fame in October 2016.

Open to others

Mr. Harper remains humble with regard to his achievements. He sees himself as a man who doesn't talk much but one who knows how to listen—a key quality when one works for a chamber of commerce, in his opinion.

Alex Harper is a true Montrealer, a man whose guiding principle has always been to act for the good of his community.

(1) Former name of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM)

Coming soon: the publication of Alex Harper’s memoires, late January – early February.

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