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On Queen Street: Lobbyists remember Devon Jacobs' radiant smile

Former managing principal at Navigator leaves to head credit union association

Published: Wednesday, 08/20/2014 2:50 pm EDT
Last Updated: Friday, 08/22/2014 4:41 pm EDT
Hill Times file photo by Jake Wright
Devon Jacobs: 'He greeted every interaction, no matter how procedurally dry or contentious it was, with a gigantic smile and a very soft touch,' says Chad Rogers

Devon Jacobs is being remembered in Ottawa's lobbying and Parliament Hill community for always carrying a big smile and a steady positive energy that wore off on others.

Following a fight with brain cancer, Jacobs, senior director of government affairs with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association (CWTA), died in mid-August at the age of 49.

Chad Rogers, a founding partner at Crestview Strategy who knew Jacobs through the lobbying and telecommunications communities, said Jacobs was unfailingly positive in any situation.

“He greeted every interaction, no matter how procedurally dry or contentious it was, with a gigantic smile and a very soft touch. Devon was one of the 'camp counselors' of Parliament Hill. He was liked by all, almost always upbeat,” Rogers said.

Jacobs, who was on this year's top 100 lobbyists list by The Hill Times, had been undergoing cancer treatment for nine months. Before joining the CWTA, he worked as senior director of GR at the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and, prior to that, as government relations manager at the Canadian Automobile Association.

Earlier in his career, from 1994 to 2004, Jacobs worked on Parliament Hill as a legislative assistant to former Reform, Alliance and Conservative MP Monte Solberg, gaining valuable knowledge about the workings of Parliament and politics.

“It always amazed me how much knowledge of parliamentary procedure he had at his fingertips,” Jim Patrick, vice-president of government relations at Shaw Communications Inc., and a friend who worked with Jacobs at the CWTA and CAB, told The Hill Times in an interview this week.

“We got him a huge hardcover encyclopedia of Canadian Parliamentary Procedure, and I don’t think he ever had to open it,” Patrick said.

Geoff Smith, director of GR at the Canadian Electricity Association, had known Jacobs since his Hill days. They both worked not far from each other in West Block in the late 1990s—Smith for Liberal MP Stan Dromisky—and said they would often run into each other in the halls or the cafeteria.

“He was someone in the opposition who rose above politics, who was always cheerful, friendly, and a nice guy,” Smith said. “When we both became non-partisan lobbyists, he was someone I could count on to pick up the phone at any time, go for lunch, chat about the Hill.”

Smith also worked with Jacobs, before he took a leave from work, on issues related to cellphone tower siting, energy and infrastructure, and copper theft from electricity facilities, all of which crossed over into both the telecom and electricity sectors.

Rogers said Jacobs kept his struggle with cancer fairly private, and that the news has been devastating to the lobbying community.

“He was a constant. He was someone who always greeted things with the same positive outlook,” Rogers said. “A lot of people got a lot of positive energy off Devon, and in a city where a lot of people are concerned with title and position, he treated everyone with a lot of respect, and like a long lost friend.”

Earlier in his career, Jacobs had also served in the Royal Regiment of Canada and the Governor General’s Foot Guards.

Jake Wright, a friend of Jacobs' and photographer at The Hill Times, said he ran into him frequently at Hill and industry events, where Jacobs was always sociable and someone people approached for good conversation.

“He was a very straight shooter,” Wright said, adding that people appreciated that Jacobs was not a partisan. “People went over to him to have a real chat.”

Wright said he and Patrick visited Jacobs in the hospital less than two weeks ago. Jacobs looked weak, Wright said, and he initially turned down Wright's offer to give him some water.

“It was hard to see him. It took him by surprise and it took us by surprise,” Wright said of the visit. “He didn't want to inconvenience anyone: 'Oh, I'm fine, I don't need water.' 'You sure you don't want some water?' 'OK, sure.' Then he drank two cups of it. He was that kind of guy.”

Visitations will take place at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa on Thursday, Aug. 21, 6-9 p.m. and Friday, Aug. 22 from noon to 1 p.m., followed by a funeral service and reception at 1:30 p.m. on Friday.

“We will miss his infectious laugh, sense of humour, intellect, love of debate, kindness, desire for justice and fairness, easy going nature, and uniquely mischievous smile. You will be forever in our hearts,” said an obituary published by his family on Aug. 19.

Rogers encouraged people to make donations in Jacobs' name. The family is accepting donations in lieu of flowers that can be made to the Elizabeth Bruyère Foundation.

“What you saw was what you got," Patrick told The Hill Times. "He was the kind of guy, when we played hockey, nobody was ever going to mistake him for the MVP, but he worked so hard that, when he’d score a goal, both teams would cheer.”

Credit Union Central hires new CEO

A former managing principal at Toronto-based PR firm Navigator Ltd. has left after six years with the company to take a position as president and CEO of Credit Union Central of Canada.

Martha Durdin took on the new position on June 9 and will be responsible for heading up the association representing credit unions, also known as Canadian Central.

She has had a career in public affairs, communications and government relations spanning more than 25 years, having worked for BMO Financial Group and BMO Capital Markets for seven years each, said a release in May.

Earlier in her career, Durdin worked as a media relations officer in the Prime Minister's Office under prime minister Pierre Trudeau and as a chief of staff to two different Liberal cabinet ministers.

Durdin registered in the federal lobbyists' registry on behalf of the credit unions on June 9 to lobby for a number of statutes including the Bank Act and the Co-operative Credit Associations Act, among others, as well as on a number of programs related to credit unions, finance and small business, according to the registration.

The association has reported several discussions with government officials since Durdin took over as president, including one with Conservative MP and chair of the House finance committee James Rajotte, as well as Conservative MP Ted Falk, on June 9 to talk about taxation and finance. There was also a discussion on July 7 with Jane Rooney, Canada's financial literacy leader at the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, according to the registry.

“These are challenging and exciting times for the Canada’s credit union system,” Daniel Burns, chair of the board for the association, said in a statement. “As credit unions continue to grow and support their communities, Canadian Central continues to examine where it can provide the most value to our members."

The association has launched a letter-writing campaign called My Credit Union Matters, asking members and concerned citizens to send letters to Finance Minister Joe Oliver to urge the government to support the group's proposed Capital Growth Tax Credit in the 2015 budget.

Credit Union Central says the 2013 federal budget effectively raised taxes for credit unions by $42 million, and that credit unions have different challenges than other banking institutions.

"The capital growth tax credit will strengthen the ability of credit unions to support the economic foundations of their communities. Drawing on historical leverage ratios in the credit union and Desjardins systems, we estimate that the proposed tax credit could support $694 million in additional lending and $851 million in additional aggregate assets (i.e., loans plus other forms of financial assets such as government debt) per year,” Credit Union Central says in a brief about the proposal on its website.

Robin MacLachlan, vice-president at Summa Strategies in Ottawa, seems to be in support of the campaign. He wrote on Twitter on Aug. 19: "I just sent a letter to Minister @joeoliver1 & @pmharper to let them know Credit Unions Matter #myCUmatters."

CBC's Weston joins Nanos

Former CBC/Radio-Canada Hill reporter Greg Weston has joined Nanos Research in Ottawa as a principal, The Hill Times reported this week.

Weston left the CBC in June after a 40-year journalism career, and moved quickly over to Nanos.

Weston and Nik Nanos, president and CEO of the polling firm, know each other from Weston's days at Sun Media and the CBC.

“I worked with him pretty closely on a lot of his public opinion research stuff that he was doing for news organizations that I was attached to,” Weston told The Hill Times.

Weston will be the only principal at the firm's Ottawa office and will do consulting work with businesses.

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