Board of Directors

Brian Smeenk
I’m a partner at Fasken Martineau in the Firm’s Labour, Employment & Human Rights Group. My law practice focuses on management-side labour and employment law. I represent both private and public sector employers, working with both unionized and non-union employee groups.  This involves me in court cases, hearings before boards and tribunals, as well as union negotiations. In 2015, I was named a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers.

I’m an avid cyclist, having done the Ride for Heart and Ride to Conquer Cancer several times.  Most of my vacations are cycling vacations in Canada and abroad.

I am one of the founders of the Merit Award Bursary Program and have been an active board member since it began in 1996. I am very pleased to see how it has grown and to get such positive feedback from so many students.

Alaina Aston
My current role is Vice President, Data Management & Governance in Personal and Commercial Banking at RBC. My career has spanned 22 years of management experience primarily in the Global Banking sector with a variety of roles held in London, New York, and Toronto. I hold a BA, Honours, in Economics from Carleton University and a Masters Certificate in Risk Management and Business Performance from Schulich School of Business. Outside of work, I have won gold medals at the National Rowing Championships of Great Britain and representing England and at University I captained the Varsity swim team; I love sports and supporting my two growing teenagers in their own love of sport in Toronto.

Recently, I joined the Board of the MERIT Award after spending time on the 2017 Selection committee; ‘Inspiring youth to pursue higher education and contribute to the community’ speaks directly to my charitable value grid – supporting Education to Employment charities. For a decade I was a member of an Executive Treasurer for the Canadian Women’s Club based in London, UK and for the past 5 years I have been an active member and former Chair of the Investment Committee for United Way Women Gaining Ground, now Women United; dedicated to supporting women’s philanthropy in the GTA.

Debra Sandomirsky
My most recent corporate leadership role was the Chief Information Officer for Purolator, responsible for all information technology. Prior to Purolator, I spent 24 years at Accenture, holding leadership consulting roles. I am an avid leader of diversity, recognizing the importance of establishing a culture supporting a diverse workforce. I have an MBA from Queens University and a BSc from the University of Saskatchewan. I live in Toronto and have two girls ages 19 and 21.

In 2017, I volunteered to help with selecting Merit Bursary winners. I was amazed by the stories that I read! I’m excited to be a part of the Merit Bursary Board to make a difference in the lives of Toronto students.

Inge van den Berg
I am currently the Vice President of Strategic Insights at Cadillac Fairview Corporation Limited, responsible for research and analysis, asset strategy plans and special projects. Before CF, I worked for Loblaw Companies Limited for eight years in a variety of leadership positions across corporate strategy, merchandising, corporate affairs and investor relations. Prior to Loblaw, I spent 13 years with global management consulting firms A.T. Kearney and Accenture, as well as Canadian Tire. I have an HBA and MBA from Ivey Business School at Western University and live in Toronto.

I volunteered to help select Merit Bursary winners in 2015 and the students’ stories personally resonated with me, so I sought out to get more involved. I remember the challenges of being a new immigrant to Canada and the remarkable difference receiving a university entrance scholarship of $1000 made to me. I want to help students continue their education goals and am honoured to be part of the board, helping with strategy and communications.

Jeff Harvie
As head of growth for Four Eye’s Financial, I am a seasoned global executive with expertise in strategy and business commercialization.  I am passionate about helping businesses grow and I have the unique ability to connect the dots and translate strategy into action.  I’ve led and consulted for some of Canada’s top fintech and financial services firms. As head of global sales and marketing for Recognia, a leading Canadian fintech, I led the strategic global growth in Europe, Asia, Australia and United States accelerating growth resulting in a successful divestiture to Trading Central (Paris, France).  Prior to entering technology world, I had an 18 year career at TD Bank and was part of the executive team at TD Wealth leading sales and strategic growth of TD Institutional Services.

I hold a graduate degree from Rotman School of Management and spent 4 years in Wolfville N.S. while completing my undergrad in business at Acadia University.

I’m passionate about making opportunities for youth.  As board member for Merit Bursary Award Program I am responsible for strategic fundraising initiatives.

Nelson Fryer
I was employed in the broader public sector in Human Resources for many years before retiring from St. Michael’s Hospital as Director of H.R. and Employee Relations in the summer of 2011. Subsequent to that, I’ve done some consulting at both the Rouge Valley Health System and the new site of Humber River Hospital with a focus on labour relations problems.

My education has all been in the GTA – starting in the old City of York at the (then) Vaughan Road Collegiate followed by York University, then post-grad H.R. courses at Seneca and Humber Colleges and finally leadership training at the Niagara Institute.

I began volunteering on the selection process with Merit in the spring of 2012. It is a most rewarding experience – recognizing the challenges and determination of so many students and providing the help through the foundation bursaries toward them continuing their education.

Pamela Cheng
I am currently a Director within the Personal & Commercial Banking Data Management Office at RBC; primarily leading an initiative to implement new roles, processes, and technology to improve the way we manage and govern client data.  I have had the opportunity to work across different industries and companies including Accenture, the Canadian Depository for Securities, and the Department of National Defence over the last 12 years. I am a graduate from York University’s Schulich School of Business and a Chartered Professional accountant (CPA, CMA).

I continuously look for ways to contribute to the community including, being a project management volunteer for a new women’s giving circle, organizing RBC events for United Way’s Women United, and spending time with kids in Parkdale as part of the West Neighborhood House after school sports programs.  I have recently joined both Merit’s selection committee and board and look forward to making a lasting impact to the youth in our community.

Peggy Hornell
I have more than 25 years in senior leadership positions in the not-for-profit sector, currently with Children’s Aid Foundation in the role of Chief Operating Officer.

Previously, I held the position of Executive Director for the President’s Choice Children’s Charity & Senior Director, Community Investment at Loblaw Companies Limited. Past work experience includes Community Funding Unit at the City of Toronto, Toronto Zoo Foundation, and Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.

I’m a Certified Fundraising Executive and am active in the nonprofit sector – most recently as a Board member of Merit Award Bursary Program, puppy raiser for National Service Dogs and a member of Toronto Chapter Association of Corporate Grantmakers and the Toronto Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Penny Stevens
I have spent my business life in advertising, planning and buying media, my family life raising four children, together with my husband and the help of dogs and cats and assorted caregivers, my leisure life painting pictures full of colour, and my community life supporting causes for kids.

I have more than thirty years in senior leadership positions in media communications. Most recently I was President of Media Experts, IPG Inc. for 15 years until the beginning of 2018. During those years I held industry board leadership positions on the Canadian Media Directors Council (CMDC), Institute of Communications Agencies (ICA), and Vividata: A Canadian multi-media audience measurement resource.

My involvement with the Merit Awards has been through the door of the 2018 application review which opened my eyes to the power of reward beyond dollars.  I was humbled by the integrity of the winners, the stories of the applicants and the resolve of the organization to shine a light on “the record” of the individual.  And now I am fortunate to sit on the board to help continue the powerful work of the Awards.

Ron Watts
I spent 14 years in advertising and 16 years in education. I’m married with three children and four grandchildren. I’m originally from Montreal.

Sabina Ghose
I have been a proud volunteer for Merit since 2015 when I volunteered as part of the selection committee, where I found the experience to be incredibly inspiring. Wanting to contribute more to Merit’s unique mission, I also joined the Board in 2015 as Treasurer.

I am a graduate of the University of Western Ontario and a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA). I currently work at Deloitte in their Risk Advisory practice focused on IT audit and risk management.

Tim Robertson, Creative & Communications

Tim Robertson
I work with clients in North America and Europe to develop content marketing and branding campaigns. I spend my free time with my family at our century-old cottage on Stoney Lake in the Kawarthas. I have been involved as a Volunteer Advisor for business development for CESO on both national and international projects.

I started with the Merit Award over 10 years ago to help with branding and technology initiatives.

Wendy Reed
Hailing from Vancouver, I studied Commerce and Business Administration and then Law at the University of British Columbia.  After qualifying for the Bar, I packed up for England to do a Master’s of Law Degree at the London School of Economics and work at a London law firm.

Returning to Canada, I settled in Toronto to practise law for the next almost-30 years and founded the Marketing and Advertising Law practice group at Heenan Blaikie LLP.   With a wonderful array of clients, I was included for many years in the Lexpert®/American Lawyer Guide to the Leading 500 Lawyers in Canada and attained Martindale-Hubbell’s AV Preeminent® designation in my field.

In 2014 I left law, sold almost everything I owned and set out to travel the world from Southeast Asia and India to South America and Africa.  I’m now focusing on creative and heart-centred pursuits – philanthropy, photography, mentoring younger professionals and mothering my two lovely daughters.

Among other social causes, I’m passionate about opening educational opportunities, with no child left behind.  Serving on Merit’s Selection Committee for the past four years has been incredibly eye-opening and inspiring. I am also a member of Plan International Canada’s Equality Collective, focusing strongly on education and gender equality issues in the developing world.

When I’m not being quite so maternal, I train in kick-boxing and am working towards my second-degree black belt in karate.  (Slowly.  And carefully.)