Monthly Archives: November 2015

Putting the pedal to the metal


It is no small source of amusement to Terry Malley that the ambulance-making operation he manages from a 90,000-square-foot, almost-new, facility, employing 65 people, on the outskirts of Dieppe, New Brunswick, might never have launched but for a wink and a prayer. It was 1984, and for five years he and his father had been running a small company, customizing vans and building parts for campers and recreational vehicles. Then, one day, opportunity walked through the door.

“A local ambulance service wasn’t happy with the vehicle it had, and it wanted to know if we would build one,” he says from the cozy antechamber of his spacious office, overlooking the cavernous showroom where his latest products are proudly on display. “So we said, ‘why not?’”

The problem was they didn’t have the first clue about how to proceed. “After the customer left, we said, ‘My God, we’d better get down to the hospital and see what an ambulance looks like’,” he laughs. “We got out the measuring tape and just started asking questions. That’s basically how it all started. It was a defining moment for us.”

One, it’s fair to say, of many over the past 36 years. Today, Malley Industries is one of New Brunswick’s most durable small businesses, earning healthy revenues (as a private company, it prefers not to divulge much detail on its finances) sufficient for plying its trade, and selling its products across North America, South America and Europe, in a sector for which the province is not especially well known.

“Technically, we are a second stage manufacturer,” Terry says. The industry also refers to operations like his as “bodybuilders”, as they craft and customize chassis and interiors for use as ambulances, motor homes and buses, to name a few. This CEO buys vans for repurposing from five major original equipment manufacturers: Ford, General Motors, Fiat/Chrysler, Nissan, and Mercedes. “We do about 1,500 vehicles a year,” he says.

Indeed, the evidence of Malley Industries’ happy productivity is everywhere along the thrumming assembly floor where skilled electrical technicians work alongside metal and wood fabrication workers, their radios blaring amid the cacophony of industrial machinery making its own peculiar form of music. “We actually train people on the job,” Terry says. “Back in the day, the industry used to refer to these tradesmen and women as ‘coachmen’. It’s a pretty tight-knit tradition.”

In fact, a palpable sense of family infuses the place, and not by accident. Terry’s wife, Kathy, is the company’s vice president; his son, Myles, runs the plastics division; and his daughter, Kayla, is the resident graphic designer, responsible for producing the plethora of product brochures and other promotional materials company representatives use at the countless trade shows they attend, and press opportunities they invite, every year.

All of which, perhaps, has helped the company retain its sea legs during the sea changes that have rocked most manufacturing industries, especially those in the automotive sector, since the economic downturn of 2008.

In that year and the two that followed, General Motors filed for bankruptcy, as did Chrysler. In his joint address to Congress early in 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama promised to invest $15-billion in automotive technologies. He acknowledged that “years of bad decision-making” had

“pushed automakers to the brink.” He added that he was committed to re-imagining and retooling the auto industry, declaring, “millions of jobs depend on it.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephan Harper evinced many of the same sentiments in the waning years of the last decade. He authorized billions of dollars in government bailouts to keep the industry afloat in this country. As one report by the Financial Post, out of Toronto, a year ago, declared, “In total, the Canadian and Ontario governments spent US$ 13.7-billion to bail out GM and Chrysler. Chrysler’s portion of that was entirely in loans, while GM’s was a combination of loans, preferred shares and equity.”

The report continued: “According to an analysis by Mark Milke, of the free-market minded Fraser Institute, Canadian and Ontario taxpayers lost about US$ 2.3-billion on the deal, based on the current value of GM shares, a portion of which are still held by both governments.”

Certainly, walking away from this sector was not in the cards for Malley Industries, but neither was sinking under the weight of other people’s greed and stupidity. It could even be argued that this company’s close, familial culture had actually enabled it not only to adjust, but to anticipate, the often dramatic changes in the marketplace it was facing, with one foot planted in the past and the other firmly pointing toward a future of its own making.

In fact, Malley Industries’ work on itself over the past 12 months has been something close to a leap of faith. It has begun to concentrate on niche, customized clients, as it has tried to anticipate market demands. This differs, significantly, from its long, standard operating procedure: Open the door, sign the contract, and get the job done.

Says Terry: “For the first time, we are making products that potential customers seek out before we have even approached them. This is a game-changer for us.”

In the beginning, of course, the game was just a wee bit simpler.

Terry likes to say that it took him 20 years to become an overnight success. He describes his father as a serial entrepreneur and best friend until the older man’s death some years ago. As the younger Malley once explained, “As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be in business. My father was a dreamer and I have very much carried that gene forward intact. His and my dream was to grow our humble, family business to be a major force in the vehicle modification and up-fitting industry.”

A key strategic imperative – which remains in force today – was a strict attention to quality. “We always believed,” Terry has said, “that if a product had our name on it, it had to be the very best we could build.”

Another guiding principal was developing a sensible work ethic: “Over the years, I have seen many promising businesses come and go. Many of these quickly reached a plateau and (the ones that) ultimately fell were those run by an entrepreneur who had difficulty letting go.”

Equally important has been knowing how to motivate employees: “We are slow to hire and quick to release those who are not a fit for our corporate culture. We make it very clear that no one has ever been fired from our company for making a mistake. However, in our culture, we expect that, ‘if you mess up you fess up and you dress up’. In other words, if you make a mistake, bring it to our attention and we will work together to make it right. We make no secret of our expectations and employees seem to respond to that in a positive way.”    

Malley Industries’ track record would seem to bear out the efficacy of these management approaches. Over the years, the company has broadened its product lines – and reputation for quality – as a manufacturer of specialty vehicles, including ambulances, and those for people with disabilities, police cars, prisoner transports, and utility trucks for a wide variety of clients, such as Aliant and NB Power.

As business blossomed, Terry and Kathy oversaw the requisite expansion of their operations. In 2010, they opened their state-of-the-art facility, deliberately situating it close to major roadways, air and rail links. “Actually,” Terry says, “I had had my eye on this Ferdinand Street location for years. We’ve been based elsewhere in the area, but I just knew that this location would be perfect. It was always very strategic. This is the busiest intersection in Atlantic Canada.”

Still, even as they settled into their renovated digs, and despite their approaches to building a sustainable business in a notoriously tough industry in a decidedly challenging part of the world, fate and fortune had a tendency, as it always does, to intervene in the most unwelcome and inconvenient ways; indeed, the Malleys could soon see the writing on their industry’s wall.   

Though they didn’t suffer much loss of business or opportunity during the 2008 downturn, the delayed reaction began to hammer them in late 2010. Toward the end of the rebuild of their industrial digs, they experienced that worst of entrepreneurial travails: bottleneck. As Kathy explains, “Despite having customer orders, we were unable to fulfill them as projected. In some cases, vans (for customization) arrived six or more months after scheduled delivery dates. The sluggish economy and delays in the original equipment manufacturers’ ability to supply us with vans had an enormous negative impact on our company.”

For one thing, the Malleys had to lay off staff. For another, it endured what Kathy calls a “retraction” in its actual business over a three-year period – all while the company assumed the enormous financial risk of maintaining a massive, new facility. It was a circumstance, she says, that “will be remembered by our management team as the darkest period in our history.”

Yet, with challenge came change, and the Malleys were not about to take these marketplace assaults lying down. They marshaled their forces, rallied their tight-knit family and staff and began to generate innovative and workable solutions to their problems.

As a result, over the past year, the company has engineered a course correction, shifting its focus from being custom manufacturer of a broad range of products to becoming a lean, mean purveyor of four distinct product and service lines: ambulances, wheelchair accessible conversions, thermoformed plastics for vehicle interiors, and specialized, commercial vehicles.

Of these, perhaps, the Malleys are most enthusiastic about their new line of ambulances, using a RAM ProMaster van. The company is the only one in North America to deploy this chassis and interior design, which, it insists, offer emergency medical personnel more room and better safety features.

Certainly, someone’s buying what the Malleys are now selling.   

To date, the New Brunswick government has adopted the vehicle for its future needs – the first jurisdiction in North America to do so. Moreover, the Malleys have secured ambulance sales distributors in Massachusetts and New York. They have hosted in-depth training for a well-established Ontario-based company for sales and service in that province. They have hired an experienced ambulance service operator, as a consultant, in the U.S. Based in Florida, he will be responsible for distributor development in that country.

Malley Industries is also the only Canadian manufacturer of what it calls “a lowered floor Ford Transit Connect conversion for wheelchair accessibility”. This provides the nimble company with a nice entry into a promising, new market. As the company’s strategic plan notes, “Many cities are tabling new legislation requiring taxi services to substantially increase the number of wheelchair accessible vehicles in service.”

Then, there’s the initiative to goose the company’s specialized commercial vehicle product line. This simply means that what the Malleys have been learning over the years – and especially in the past 12 months – about new vehicle design, sales and marketing will be applied to their customization process. They are embarking, in effect, on a sate-of-the-art refit of their manufacturing procedures to accommodate high-end orders from anywhere in the world.

Finally, the product line this enterprising family believes will cradle some of the best, long-term revenue streams is plastic interiors for all the vehicles they produce. “Our mould manufacturing process enables us to enter the market with new products that are significantly more cost-effective and faster than a number of the plastics manufacturing companies that were providing mass-produced, lower-quality van-liner packages,” Terry says.

Common to all of these moves is a sense of timing and strategic vigor. Rather than take orders as they come through the door, the Malleys are identifying holes in the marketplace – either existing or anticipated – and moving swiftly to fill them before the next player on the custom-vehicle block does.

To their relief, with such sweeping changes underway, both Terry and Kathy believe they have turned an important corner. They have come through the manufacturing recession, weathered the downturn in the automotive sector, and begun to hire skilled workers again. Although they are loath to talk about their financials, they are now projecting strong growth in their new, higher-margin product categories and are breathing, let’s just say, more easily these days.

And if the lessons were hard-won, they won’t soon be forgotten.          

“We can’t afford to stand still,” Terry says. “In fact, that’s never been part of our corporate culture, anyway. That wouldn’t be like us in anyway.”

If it were, the chances of Malley Industries surviving its infant few years, let alone its most recent ones, would have been slim to none.

As it is, it’s hard to imagine Terry Malley telling that very first ambulance customer, “Thanks, but no thanks. . .we haven’t got a clue about how to proceed.”

Then, as now, it’s full steam ahead for Malley Industries. Opportunity, once again, is walking through the door.

Note: This piece originally appeared in the November issue of Atlantic Business Magazine

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Has spring sprung early?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

It has begun; that time of the year when Stockholm syndrome grips a goodly number Canadian citizens. The signs are evident and everywhere.

Faces change from warm and friendly to feverish and intensely cheerful. Backs bow, arms curl into chests, legs shift from side to side, heads bob up and down and to and fro. And then, as sure as Jack Frost is a minor demon with a major purchase on the souls of northern climes, the speaking in all-but-frozen tongues commences.

“Isn’t it great to see winter back once again? Why, I’m invigorated. I just can’t wait to pull out the old snow shoes, stay up till three o’clock in the morning shoveling ice from the intake valves of my natural gas furnace. I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this. . .Am I right, brother? No, really, am I right, am I right, am I right? Heeeeeee haaaaaaaw!”

To be clear, Stockholm syndrome is that condition which one source defines thusly: “It’s a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.”

It’s odd, perhaps, but to my knowledge, there’s no such thing as “San Jose syndrome” or “Florida Keys syndrome” or, heaven forbid, “Tahiti syndrome”. I guess the captives in those toasty, sunny locales are too busy sipping pina coladas to worry overmuch about the indignities they suffer at the warm hands of their captors’ beach-side massage therapists.

Poor saps. They know not what they’re missing in the “Arctic Riviera”: windburn, frostbite, couch-potatoitis, scrabble-mindlessness, cribbage-rot, and three-penny poker parlour games.

Up here in the Great White North, we know how to throw down a kitchen party when the mercury dips below the freezing point of iridium.

Now, naturally, the weather auguries declare that this winter will be one of the mildest and wettest on record in Southeastern New Brunswick. That simply means we take our card games outside as we rake the leaves of autumn in January. Oh what fun can we imagine in that eventuality?

We shall build great columns of maple keys, where once spirals of ice might have stood.

We shall garnish our hats with dead flowers from the garden, where once frozen carrots might have graced the noses of our snowmen in the sub-zero.

Under these conditions (say around March 14), the Stockholm syndrome will veer observably sideways.

“Isn’t it great to see spring back once again and so early this year? Why, I’m invigorated. I just can’t wait to pull out the old roots, stay up till three o’clock in the morning shoveling dirt into the new planting beds. I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than this. . .Am I right, brother? No, really, am I right, am I right, am I right? Heeeeeee haaaaaaaw!”

Over the past ten years, New Brunswick has endured federal faces that were both warm and friendly, both feverish and intensely cheerful. In the process, it has suffered the fools of office it elected to Ottawa.

Now, there are new gardeners in town, just in time for winter’s blanket of moody musing and discontent to fall. Now, though, there are new promises to keep, new vistas to explore.

Yes, it is great to see that political spring has sprung in Canada again after such a long political ice age of bleak despair for many.

Still, let’s remember in this new, ostensibly enlightened era that we, the people, are the captors of our own democracy; not the captives.

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Following the yellow-brick road


Brian Gallant represents the best qualities a provincial premier as this time in Canada requires – and, also, the worst.

The good news is that New Brunswick’s head honcho is young, energetic, smart, genuinely interested in the welfare of the people he represents and, most importantly, unafraid of pollsters, opposition critics, and various members of the voting public who might shake his hand and spit bitterly on the sidewalk as he moves on to press somebody else’s flesh.

The bad news is that New Brunswick’s head honcho is young, energetic, smart, genuinely interested in the welfare of the people he represents and unafraid of pollsters, opposition critics, and various members of the voting public who might shake his hand and. . .well, you get the point.

Of course, few told Mr. Gallant how to respond to the prevarications and predations of public life as he was growing up in southeastern New Brunswick. (He is the scion of working men and women who sometimes found quotidian existence so difficult, so monetarily unrewarding, that they moved more times than the pre-teen Mr. Gallant had put in years on Planet Earth).

Still, no one had to tell the future premier anything; he figured it out all by himself. The solution, he reckoned through high school, university and law school, was to cut down every extreme and find a safe landing pad in the middle of the road, where traffic passes easily both to the right and the left. As long as you don’t step off the yellow line, you won’t get run over; you will survive.

These qualities of mind and character have served him extraordinarily well as the premiers and territorial leaders of Canada prepare gathered with the feds in Ottawa on Monday to articulate a national position on climate-change policy. This pow-wow on, inarguably, the most global of all global issues, will demonstrate how, for the first time in seven years, regional leaders and national ones come to meet each other’s minds, all at once over coffee and rubber chicken, over. . .well, anything. . .but especially global warming. And Mr. Gallant had an important role to play in the proceedings. Clearly, this 33-year-old premier was animated.

“It’s important for all of us to work together – we’re going to send a strong message to the international community,” he said earlier this week, at the denouement of his appearance in the federal court of public opinion.

That message, we might hope, is about cutting carbon emissions, reducing greenhouse gases, building a self-sufficient energy future, and generally saving the planet from corporatist rapacity.

But, no; for Mr. Gallant, there remains a middle road in all of this. Here, in this place (where we once used to be; and some of us still are), it is entirely possible to imagine a pipeline full of Alberta bitumen sluicing into New Brunswick for refining and processing, even while we reject the clean-energy potentialities of wind, tidal and situated solar.

A pipeline, apparently, will keep our kids at home, educate them and make them remarkable citizens.

A wind turbine, on the other hand, will simply give them headaches and justify their complaints about how tough life is, living in Mum and Dad’s basement, watching Game of Thrones on Netflix.

Playing both sides against the middle is a tough calling. What Mr. Gallant must finally realize is that he, like any decent man or woman in a position of real power, must chart the lonely, hardscrabble course away from the yellow line, and into the brutal, responsible lanes of real leadership.


Let’s not race to the bottom


How fare the whipping posts of the East Coast’s civil services? Just fine, thank you very much, if you happen to believe Finn Poschmann, the relatively new president and CEO of the venerable Atlantic Provinces Economic Council.

In his latest email missive he declares that the widening income gap between private sector workers and public ones is becoming economically structural. Specifically, he says, “One way to look at it is to compare wage growth across the board versus government health services and general provincial government services. Let’s go back 15 years and look at a two Nova Scotia neighbours. One is a mid-level manager in the private sector and the other works for the provincial government. Both make $60,000 including benefits.

“Over the past 15 years, using an average all-industry sector hourly compensation measure that includes employer-paid benefits, the manager would have seen his paycheck grow by 3.2 per cent annually. For the government worker, the annual salary bump would have been 4.5 per cent per year.

“Taken over 15 years, the hypothetical $60,000 goes to $97,000 for our manager – but his neighbour, the government worker, is now earning $116,000.  There are perfectly good reasons for differences in pay levels: age, experience, occupation, level of education. These factors go a long way toward explaining the public sector wage premium. Yet the growing wage gap covers the cost of a nice new car payment, permanently, and it only gets bigger.”

He adds: “The numbers are about the same for Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick (not so for Newfoundland and Labrador, where the private sector has done better). Someone has to pay for the difference, and that is a tough job when the population level is stagnant, and so is income growth.”

He concludes: “Holding the line on public sector compensation is one thing. . .Provinces will need to keep a very keen eye on spending – and on public sector headcounts.”

On the face of it, the argument makes sense. After all, why should one class of employees do better than another just because it’s lucky enough to occupy a sector that’s been largely protected from the depredations of market capitalism lo these many years?

The answer is, of course, buried in the question, itself.

Have public sector unions abused their power at the expense of public services? Indubitably, they have. Have various bargaining units thrown their own members under the bus in order to secure a more perfect negotiating position for their narrow objectives? Naturally; that’s only human gamesmanship at play.

The larger issue, though, is whether a good job in one sector of the economy is seamlessly comparable to one in another. If, for example, the private sector fails to produce income growth, does it follow that the public sector should track that descent in kind?

After all, we presume that we – all of us in all sectors of the economy – pay taxes to secure the best, smartest, most innovative people to public service. (Whether or not that particular strategy has been working out for us lately is arguable). What we need to realize is that demonizing one segment of working society is an utterly fruitless distraction from the broader purpose of building productivity, sustainable employment and, yes, happiness in our communities and homes – in our private enterprises.

Who cares whether civil servants in this region are better equipped to weather the storms of market capitalism than are the rest of us?

Let us all race to the top, and leave the whipping posts behind.

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How the jewel of the Gulf became a foodie’s paradise


It was a flash of public relations brilliance, and a recipe for success among Prince Edward Island’s culinary contingent.

Take two of North America’s most-watched morning talk-show hosts, cook them slowly under a camera on low heat in front of Charlottetown Harbour, season them with local, gastronomic treats and watch the bread of international marketing rise naturally.

So it was in mid-July, 2010, when Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa planted their less-than-ample derrieres on chairs situated on a raised dais to sample everything from mussel hotdogs and oyster ice cream, to ham and clam sandwiches. Later, according to one report, “Kelly and family dined on lobster and she loved the homemade P.E.I. biscuits.”

As for the show’s spread, nearly 2.9 million viewers from Vancouver to New Orleans watched the hosts stuff their faces and, between bites, issue such reviews as, “magnificent”, unbelievable”, “superb” – all from the land of Anne of Green Gables.

“Yup,” says Jan Holmes, “We meant to do it that way. That was on purpose.”

Holmes, to be clear, is the Director of Food Tourism and Applied Research for the P.E.I. Culinary Alliance, an organization that only recently reinvented itself as the Food Island Partnership as a group that, according to its website, is “established to work closely with industry and government partners to support the growth of the P.E.I. food sector and position P.E.I. as Canada’s Food Island. The organization works in the following key areas to achieve its mandate: Supporting food company and product development; enabling applied research to support value chain integration; and leveraging and building the reputation of the Prince Edward Island food brand.”

All this is, of course, the bureaucratic bafflegab expected when a provincial government joins with a federal organization (in this case, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency) and private-industry operators.

Still, the bottom line is that Prince Edward Island, with all of 140,000 residents, is on an indisputable roll when it comes to food tourism. And it has been for years.

Says Holmes: “The Culinary Alliance, as a public-private consortium was formally founded in 2009, but long before that, various tourism interests on the Island were concentrating on the province’s food as a means to build tourism traffic. Overall, we’ve been quite successful.”

In fact, that’s an understatement. Flaring off from the Regis and Kelly weeklong event, tourism numbers on P.E.I. have spiked every year since 2011. The most recent statistics from the provincial government indicate that visitor traffic to the Island in the summer of 2015 was 37 per cent higher than the previous year. That followed tourism hikes in the high double-digits in 2014, 2013 and 2012.

What these results have to do with Island food, exactly, is an open question. Although P.E.I.’s government doesn’t publish visitor stats based on general draws from beaches, restaurants or heritage sites, it has credited food tourism with providing the biggest, reliable boost to the provincial economy during the hardest times of the last recession.

Indeed, at least one celebrity chef from Toronto believes that Prince Edward Island’s deliberate effort to remake itself as a foodie paradise is working, economically, for the province. “P.E.I. is like this fairy tale island,” says Toronto-based Mark McEwan. “The people there are easy and very relaxed. They are very passionate about the food business, the restaurant scene and the whole culture around food.”

McEwan knows something about this. He owns and operates a suite of restaurants and catering businesses in The Big Smoke. “It’s a combination of factors,” he says about P.E.I. “I think the (provincial) government looked at everything and they had a very good reaction to the food scene. I believe they focussed on it. Also, you now have a lot of expats living in P.E.I. – people from other cities, people who have brought a little bit of (their own tastes) down here. Then add to this the local charm, plus the national conversation about food. It comes at you from different angles. But, it all works. That’s what’s great on the Island. That’s a great focus.”

Naturally, Jan Holmes agrees. The biggest food-tourism event of the year on P.E.I. is Fall Flavours – a month-long extravaganza between early September and early October, involving chefs like McEwan, Michael Smith, Lynn Crawford, Susur Lee, Chuck Hughes, Anna Olson, and Vikram Vij – which typically generates more than $600,000 in direct tourism revenue, and more like $1.4 million in multiplier and indirect boons, for the province. “Yes,” she says, “this has been our biggest annual effort,” at least since Regis and Kelly left the Island playground some years ago.

Still, since the New York cameras and photogs departed, there’s been more to attract food tourists to P.E.I. There have been beef and pork festivals, lobster and shellfish celebrations, vegan and vegetarian extravaganzas – all carefully orchestrated and staged to delight and astonish visitors who assume that this part of Canada merely hauls fish for a living.

Thanks to an assiduous public relations campaign, perhaps, others now know better. Or, at least, so said a media report in 2012: “Who doesn’t love spuds and fresh lobster? Prince Edward Island’s food has been crowned the second best in the world by restaurant surveyor Zagat,” reported the Toronto Sun. Said Greg Donald, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board at that time, “we are thrilled that Prince Edward Island joins the ranks of other amazing culinary capitals. Having Zagat appreciate our island’s local fare is a huge honour.”

Jan Holmes laughs when she hears, again, about the “shocking” genius of food producers on the jewel of the Gulf. After all, they’ve always been here, and they always will.

The trick has only been to get the world to stop making assumptions about a small island in the middle of nowhere, to pay attention, and to bring itself to accept the plausible chance that a ham and clam sandwich, in the hands of a brilliant chef, might actually whet one’s appetite.

Naturally, just before the morning talk show begins.

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Our four solitudes must come together


When the rest of Canada reflects on its eastern shores (as it actually does, if only from time to time), it conjures the Atlantic Provinces as a tightly knit region of folksy, friendly people wise in the ways of the sea, perpetually determined to give the shirts off our backs, fiercely independent to a fault yet broadly willing to throw down a kitchen party.

The truth is more complicated and, frankly, disappointing.

This small collection of principalities – hosting all of 2.5 million souls at last count – remains one of the most economically divided, socially backward and culturally anxious of any in a nation that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and up to the Arctic Circle.

Although we are the putative birthplace of Confederation, we consistently maintain the worst track record in the country for interprovincial free trade. In fact we make it virtually impossible, in this region, for university students to transfer their credits from one institution to another; for skilled tradesmen and women to find meaningful work if they choose to leave the jurisdiction in which they received their accreditations; for doctors, lawyers and veterinarians to move between provinces without first obtaining professional papers proving that the practices of law and medicine are, somehow, locally relevant and compliant.

Sometimes, we litigate those who challenge the status quo, even if they had no intention of doing so.

Consider the shameful case against one Gerard Comeau who – not realizing he was on the wrong end of the judicial system – was caught crossing the border from Quebec into New Brunswick with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor in 2012. According to an antiquated Prohibition-era law, that’s still a criminal offense, punishable by fines and jail time.

This summer, Mr. Comeau was on trial for violating the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act, which states that individuals are permitted to bring one bottle of wine or liquor or 12 pints of beer into the province at any given time.

According to a CBC analysis of the historical context underlying the case, “The Canadian law regarding the shipping of alcohol was meant to thwart bootleggers, and led to a gradual devolution of federal responsibility to the provinces in matters relating to liquor. Each province established an agency that oversees the distribution, sale and consumption of wine, beer and spirits.”

According to more than one legal expert, the regulation is both anachronistic and absurd. Declared Mark Hicken, a Vancouver attorney who specializes in interpreting Canada’s quirky interprovincial trade regulations: “A lawyer down in California once said to me, ‘You can’t understand any North American liquor laws unless you trace them back to Prohibition.’ You look at any regulatory structure in North America and if it was examined in a global perspective, you’d look at it in stunned disbelief, like ‘What is going on here?’ It really does go back to the Prohibition mentality of control.”

This mentality of control extends far beyond regulated substances in Atlantic Canada. It has to do with energy agreements, food, real estate and river rights. In fact, it has to do with how we live and work each and every day in a region where ancient, restrictive provincial laws concerning commerce and labour mobility no longer apply but are still rigorously and ludicrously enforced.

Unless we break these structures down to the ground, we will always be, in this region of Canada, our own worst enemies.

We will never be able to be winners in our own backyards. We will never be able to sell to one another, to support our friends and neighbours with jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities, to become the fiercely independent, yet the friendly, folksy and integrated Atlantic Canadian community, we have managed to persuade the rest of the country that we are today.

Our four provincial solitudes must finally come together in common cause. We need each other’s passions, energies and ideas, if only to tightly knit the best of our reputations with the truth of them.

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One great heart, united


It’s a truism that bears repeating: We all came from somewhere else. Canadians remember this to their credit as they prepare to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees this year and early next.

Of these, New Brunswick is on tap to resettle about 1,500 in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton. In fact, all regions of this country are old hands at this form of humanitarian aid.

According to one federal government web site, “Our compassion and fairness are a source of great pride for Canadians. These values are at the core of our domestic refugee protection system and our Resettlement Assistance Program. Both programs have long been praised by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).”

The system works this way: “Refugees selected for resettlement to Canada have often fled their homes because of unimaginable hardships and have, in many cases, been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. When they arrive in Canada, they basically pick up the pieces of their lives and start over again.

“As a member of the international community, Canada helps find solutions to prolonged and emerging refugee situations and helps emerging democracies try to solve many of the problems that create refugee populations. To do this, Canada works closely with the UNHCR.”

Crucially, “Under our legislation, all resettlement cases must be carefully screened to ensure that there are no issues related to security, criminality or health. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) works with its security partners such as the Canada Border Services Agency to complete this work as quickly as possible.”

Meanwhile, “Private sponsors across the country also help resettle refugees to Canada. Some are organized to do so on an ongoing basis and have signed sponsorship agreements with the Government of Canada to help support refugees from abroad when they resettle in Canada. These organizations are known as Sponsorship Agreement Holders. They can sponsor refugees themselves or work with others in the community to sponsor refugees. Other sponsors, known as Groups of Five and Community Sponsors, are persons/groups in the community who are not involved on an ongoing basis but have come together to sponsor refugee(s).”

All of which is to say that despite the appearance of cultural homogeneity along the East Coast, the Maritimes remains one of the most diverse and hospitable places in one of the most welcoming nations in the world for people in trouble. Well, most of the time.

“Even before the attacks in Paris last week, some Canadians were already chattering about security risks and the threat of insurgents sneaking through,” notes Robert J. Talbot, a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of New Brunswick, in a recent piece for iPolitics. “Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, in particular, made political hay out of the crisis.”

But, Mr. Talbot adds, “the British refugees of two hundred years ago wanted the same thing that the Syrian refugees seek today: to settle down to quiet, peaceful and productive lives, for themselves and for their families. . .The year 1783 is far removed from the here and now, but the fact remains that many of us and our ancestors – my own Loyalist ancestors included – came here as refugees. French Huguenots fleeing religious fundamentalism, Iroquoian First Nations fleeing American expansionism, British Loyalists fleeing radical republicanism, Irish Catholics fleeing famine, German Mennonites (perhaps some of Brad Wall’s ancestors) fleeing Russian nationalism, Europeans fleeing fascism, Vietnamese fleeing communism, Kosovars fleeing ethnic cleansing, and now, Syrians fleeing suicidal nihilism.”

At the centre of this nation is a great heart that understands implicitly that these truisms do, indeed, bear repeating.

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