Cybernauts in New Brunswick?

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In his well-documented piece for Maclean’s magazine in March, Martin Patriquin – who japes that he “writes about Quebec and sometimes everything else” – makes a distressingly large number of good points about the tattered condition of New Brunswick society.

Naturally, we in “the picture-perfect province” bristle whenever a major, national magazine sets out to shine a light on our evident flaws – just as enthusiastically, perhaps, as we cheer when said magazine periodically rewards our universities with top-of-class status in Canada. (Yeah, go figure).

But Mr. Patriquin’s analysis is bolstered by several instances of “et tu Brute then fall Caesar”, all of them rather, well, revealing.

As quoted by Maclean’s, for example, Mount Allison President Robert Campbell apparently said: “You’d think small would be simple, but New Brunswick is the classic example of how that really isn’t true. For a little province like this, we just can’t get our act together.”

In fact, I know Dr. Campbell a little bit, and he has never effused anything remotely like that about this province to me. Of course, if accurate, his incendiary revelation doesn’t mean he’s now wrong; perhaps he’s simply discerning about whose lap on which he decides to spill the beans.

The same goes for former provincial, Liberal cabinet minister Kelly Lamrock, who Mr. Patriquin reports said this: “We’ve targeted our policies on just getting re-elected and so we prop up failing industries and we bail out failing companies. Atlantic Yarns went under and lost an $80-million loan. The government I was a part of lent $70 million to (Miramichi-based) Atcon, a failing construction company that went under a year later. The Marriott call centre closed. It turns out they were subsidized to the tune of $20,000 a job and just left when the subsidies ran out. And the list goes on. We have generally been about keeping the majority of people comfortable rather than attracting new people.”

Still, in the midst of this completely understandable ‘self-loathing-palooza-festiva’ comes word that all may not be lost to the furies of chance and negligence in this province. For one thing, we always have the cybersecurity industry – hacking the hackers ­ – on which to fall back. Don’t take my word for it. A guy from Israel was scheduled to say as much at a conference in Fredericton just last week.

Actually, Roni Zehavi, who runs something called CyberSpark, said it first in a pre-event interview with Brunswick News: “The first thing is to have a dedicated entity within the province. In our (Israel’s) case, it was establishing a non-governmental organization like CyberSpark that is in charge of establishing a logistical system and serves the table with the people around it and dedicated to growth.” His bottom-line message: “The government made a decision.”

Back to New Brunswick, where governments make decisions all the time – some of which are wise, even prescient.

The cybersecurity industry, or something like it, is not new to New Brunswick. Government-enabled investments here in the 1990s installed some of the most sophisticated IT infrastructure anywhere in the western world. Clusters of technology excellence soon developed around the province’s major cities. These persist, and with a little intellectual elbow grease they can take a bite out of a global industry that is, according to credible sources, expected to double in size from current values to $170 billion.

As Mr. Zehavi says, “I look at cyber like health care.”

New Brunswick might well look at cyber as a lifeline to long-term economic health, before the next major magazine in this country pronounces us all but brain dead.

 

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