Monthly Archives: October 2016

Time to plant a tree

IMG_1398For years, this trick-or-treat month was also known – at least, in policy circles – as the four-week period during which to celebrate the achievements of Atlantic Canada’s small businesses and entrepreneurs, an overture that always seemed to me to be one part patronizing and two parts disingenuous.

After all, as any entrepreneur will tell you, this sort of enterprise is a 24-7, year-round proposition. There are no (or few) paid vacations. Supper is, more often than not, consumed cold over a kitchen sink. And don’t even think about a cushy retirement. Who needs a special month to contemplate the textured meaning of the late Steve Jobs’ assessment of the vocation: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Easy for him to say. Still, there’s little doubt that entrepreneurship has played – and continues to play – a disproportionately important role in the regional economy, something the University of New Brunswick must understand to its institutional bones. It just received a large gift of money to support innovative enterprise across the province. Meanwhile, in Fredericton, a non-profit organization recently joined up with a clutch of other like-minded groups to, among other things, spread the gospel of small business.

A few years back, a federal government monograph attempted, mostly successfully, to explain the character and dimension of this dynamic sector on the East Coast. “As we go about our daily routines, small businesses, defined as those that employ fewer than 100 people, are all around us,” it winsomely declared. “We see them in malls, operating out of homes and along the main streets of every town. But of what importance are these small businesses to our lives in Atlantic Canada?”

Answering its own question, the document continued: “Of the approximately 88,000 businesses in Atlantic Canada, 95 per cent are considered small businesses. . . The average annual entry rate of new businesses in Atlantic Canada from 1990-2000 was 18.2 per cent. When one considers that the business entry rate for Canada averaged 14.5 per cent during this period, Atlantic Canada asserts itself as being a very entrepreneurial region. . . In 2000, the self-employed represented 13.4 per cent of total employment in the region or 137,300 people, an increase of almost 20,000 individuals compared to a decade earlier. Self-employment has increased almost 17 per cent, whereas overall employment has increased only 9 per cent.”

What’s more, “The 2001 Census indicates that more than half the self-employed have at least some form of post-secondary education, with 19 per cent possessing a bachelor’s degree or higher. Interestingly, the highest rates of self-employment growth are occurring for those that have a university degree. This trend towards better-educated entrepreneurs is even more pronounced among females, a promising circumstance in light of the growth among female entrepreneurs generally.”

Still, there’s a downside and it remains as stubbornly challenging today as it did 15 years ago. “As the knowledge-based economy continues to grow in importance, so does the need for ongoing training and development of managers and employees to remain competitive,” the government report observed.

All of which suggests the surest path to a more enlightened and entrepreneurial society. That’s the trick, of course. But the treat is clearly worth the effort.

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We are all connected


It should surprise exactly no one that not one Canadian municipality makes the World Economic Forum’s list of most successful cities – not Toronto, not Montreal, not Vancouver, and certainly not any of New Brunswick’s three major urban areas.

We are, after all, in this province mere cartographic postscripts comporting ourselves in much the same way we always have: with one toe tentatively dipped in the future and one foot firmly planted in the past. I sometimes think we like it that way. In fact, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it.

Armies of retirees, fresh from their career conquests in other more economically vigorous parts of the world, have chosen communities like Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John to settle into their sanguine senescence. Here, crime rates are low, house prices are stunningly reasonable, and the natural environment is, by every comparison, downright pristine.

But, ultimately, no region can survive its own sleepy traditions and predilections by insulating itself from the rest of the world. What is virtuous about a place can eventually become disadvantageous. Whether we like it or not, we are all connected on this planet.

Over the years, the urgent conversation among those here who recognize this simple fact of life in the 21st Century has concerned the character of progress. How far can we go without compromising that which makes this part of the world unique and efficacious? We’ve not settled on a definitive answer, but we have found some enlivening clues.

The World Economic Forum offers some insight. “Forces of globalization, urbanization and technological advancement are transforming the definition of a ‘successful’ city and reshaping the global urban hierarchy in the process,” it recently posted on its website. “Success can no longer be measured simply by considering a city’s size and historical attributes. Today it is more likely to revolve around innovation, ‘liveability’ and the ability to transform and adapt.”

On this score, it elaborates, “Many of the top 20 cities in the 2016 City Momentum Index – including London, San Francisco and Sydney – are home to vibrant mixed-used districts which create and amplify opportunities to conceive and commercialize new ideas. This reinforces the idea that city momentum involves much more than GDP growth. It also requires building an innovation-oriented economy through technology. It means creating cutting-edge new businesses. And it involves attracting talent and nurturing a diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Are we, in New Brunswick, doing enough of this? If the size of a place no longer matters as a determinant of economic and social health, where are the large and small innovations that really do make a difference? The New Brunswick Innovation Foundation insists they’re out there. “With over $70 million invested, plus $380 million more leveraged from other sources, NBIF has helped to create over 90 companies and fund 400 applied research projects since its inception in 2003, with a current portfolio of 42 companies,” its website declares. “All of NBIF’s investment returns go back into the Foundation to be re-invested in other new startup companies and research initiatives.”

Fair enough, but we need more of this. The fact that I can count the number of business incubators in this province that regularly garner mainstream media attention on one hand suggests that we haven’t truly leveraged the global innovation agenda to our full advantage.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, Silicon Valley was a craggy patch of earth on California’s west coast. Shall we, in New Brunswick continue to consign ourselves to a similar condition, or shall we make our success stories convincingly and finally resonate?

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Trumped on trade

Following the first presidential debate between The Trumpster and The Hillanator, Saturday Night Live staged a bit in which the comic playing Mrs. Clinton suddenly broke down and wept tears of joy.”

“Tell me, what’s going on,” the fake moderator asked.

“Oh,” said fake Hillary as fake Donald paused briefly in his bloviating, blustering and cartoonish posturing, “I just wish we could have the election tonight, right after this debate Do you think that’s possible? Could we?”

Millions of Americans can be forgiven for seriously wanting to be rid of this goon show unfolding before them with nauseating relentlessness. But those who think Canadians, and New Brunswickers in particular, have no skin in the game south of the border (apart from the sort of awful fascination that sometimes overcomes one when passing a car wreck on the highway) should think again.

Until it became clear, only recently, that Mr. Trump was unlikely to recover from the serious case of foot-in-mouth disease he’s managed to contract, some odds makers had the man neck and neck with the former first lady. A few were even predicting a win for The Donald. Now, New Brunswickers, who actually understand something about how our economy works, are breathing easier.

Mr. Trump’s opinions about immigrants (he doesn’t like them), Muslims (he doesn’t trust them) and women (he likes them just fine as long as they submit to his masculine irresistibility) are well known. Less so are his views on international trade involving the United States.

On that, the Republican presidential candidate had this to say in a major speech in Detroit last August: “Trade has big benefits, and I am in favour of trade. But I want great trade deals for our country that create more jobs and higher wages for American workers. Isolation is not an option, only great and well-crafted trade deals are.”

Regarding NAFTA, Mr. Trump declared, “A total renegotiation is what I want. . .If we don’t get a better deal, we will walk away. . .Americanism, not globalism, will be our new credo.”

Give the man credit for his talking points, but dismantling NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and installing an even more American-friendly trade framework would be a disaster up here in the Great White North.

Since the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement launched in1989, the volume of import-export activity in good and services between the two countries more than tripled. According to Trade and Investment Canada’s web page, “Thanks to this agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trading relationship between our two countries is so strong that we exchanged approximately $2.4 billion in goods and services every day in 2015. Canada is the U.S.’s largest customer, purchasing US$338 billion in goods and services in 2015. Canada buys more from the United States than does any other nation – including all 28 countries of the European Union. Canada and the United States are the world’s largest trading partners.”

Where does New Brunswick stand in that mix? In 2012, the United States was this province’s most significant export destination, with the value of inbound/outbound goods and services estimated at nearly 13 billion. The U.S. accounted for 86.3 per cent of the value of this province’s exports in that year, compared to 88 per cent in 2007.

Perhaps it is already occurring to certain Americans that what happens in their country’s political system has ramifying effects virtually everywhere else. A Trump win could ruin New Brunswick’s economy. That his chances grow increasingly unlikely is cause for shedding the odd tear of joy.


Cap and fade

It was never going to be a winsome decision, but the federal government’s determination to impose some form of carbon pricing on the provinces is proving to be the first great test of the proposition that when it comes to both the environment and economy, one can have one’s cake and eat it too.

As Nova Scotia’s, Newfoundland and Labrador’s and Saskatchewan’s environment ministers stormed out of a meeting convened last week to explain the Trudeau government’s determination to unilaterally impose a framework that would exact a $10-per-tonne price on carbon beginning in 2018 – a levy that would increase by $10 per tonne each year until hitting $50 per tonne in 2022 – New Brunswick’s man on the ground shrugged sanguinely and, in effect, declared, “Hey, no big deal”.

Repeating his government’s oft-sung melody on the subject, Environment Minister Serge Rousselle trilled, “Any price on carbon brought forward by our government will be revenue neutral. And we learned from the Trudeau government that all the money received from this province will be sent back.”

That money could, by some estimates, amount to as much as $800 million a year, depending on the mechanisms the Province uses to fulfill its climate-change obligations to Ottawa. But, says Premier Brian Gallant, not to worry. “If we in New Brunswick are to get any type of monies from a price on carbon, we would reinvest that money right away. It would very be investments that would spur economic growth and a green economy. . .We agree with a lot of what is happening with the Trudeau government. They have focused on growth and they’re focused on making sure our economy is sustainable and that we transition to a low-carbon economy, which we agree with as well.”

Still, the devil is in the details. The degree to which a carbon tax – or, alternatively, a cap and trade system – properly addresses the larger problem of greenhouse gas emissions depends entirely on the technological savvy of any given province. Put another way: Are we, in New Brunswick, ramped up to pour the money clawed back from polluting industries into cleaner ones? Or will taxpayers simply be left holding bag of good government intentions – again?

On paper and in theory, the World Bank says there’s plenty of evidence that carbon pricing works. “A price on carbon helps shift the burden for the damage back to those who are responsible for it, and who can reduce it,” it notes on one of its many web pages. “Instead of dictating who should reduce emissions where and how, a carbon price gives an economic signal and polluters decide for themselves. In this way, the overall environmental goal is achieved. The carbon price also stimulates clean technology and market innovation, fuelling new, low-carbon drivers of economic growth.”

Moreover, it observes, “Some 40 countries and more than 20 cities, states and provinces already use carbon pricing mechanisms, with more planning to implement them in the future. Together the carbon pricing schemes now in place cover about half their emissions, which translates to about 13 per cent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.”

What this observation fails to clarify, however, is that where carbon-pricing plans appear to achieve the desired results, they do so as a result of many years of coordinated implementation schemes engineered by both governmental and private-sector players. In New Brunswick and, indeed, the rest of Canada, we do not enjoy the luxury of time.

We may, one day, have our cake and eat it too. But, for now, the taste will be bittersweet.

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Oh, we lucky few

Certainly, we in New Brunswick face some tough problems, some hoary challenges. Even a casual review the public accounts will tell you that. So will the unemployment rate, systemic poverty in certain parts of the province and persistent illiteracy and innumeracy.

But, in our quieter moments, even the most disenfranchised or cynical among us must admit, all things considered, we have it pretty good. After all, consider the alternatives.

The other day, CNN reported: “Donald Trump – struggling to move past a week of one controversy after another – is making clear that he’s willing to go it alone in the final weeks of the campaign. As the Republican nominee tries to recover from one of his toughest stretches, few prominent GOP leaders – other than those who advise him or are on his payroll – seem willing to launch a full-throated rescue effort. So Trump sought to do the heavy lifting himself, delivering a feisty speech that attempted to reframe the campaign and extract him from the quagmire of the past week, which included a disappointing debate performance, a roiling controversy over whether he paid taxes, and ill-advised attacks on a Latina beauty queen – a feud he couldn’t seem to let go.”

Yet, the man is polling at 41 per cent public approval. His rival, Hillary Clinton, is barely squeaking ahead at 45 per cent exactly one month before the U.S. federal election. Oh, brother!

Still, our American cousins might take some solace from the fact that their institutions of justice, law and morality have not entirely crumbled. Can we say the same about Syria, from which refugees arrive in Canada every day? Can we say the same about Zimbabwe? Ask Mark McKinnon. He’ll give you an earful.

He and his wife owned a farm in that southeast African country until last month when government operatives summarily expropriated his land, animals and chattels. Forced to flee the land his family had worked for generations, he and his spouse, children an relatives are now ensconced in Canada.

“We had to get out,” he told The Zimbabwean the other day. “I was going to just send the family out and fight it myself but they’re following me and would have locked me up. . .I was in hiding. . . The Canadians have been amazing. I’ve never been here before but we’re going to build a new life until we can come home. We’re on one side of Canada staying with an aunt, and my parents are on the other side staying with my sister.”

According to the story, posted online, “Mark is one of the latest victims of Zimbabwe’s state of lawlessness. The well-ordered farm that his grandfather carved out of virgin bush when he arrived from Canada and bought the land in the late 1960s, is already descending into chaos. . . It was a familiar scenario. Government ‘lists’ the farm and issues an ‘offer letter’ to a few connected people. They simply chase the owner off – with the help of the police – under the guise of the ‘Land Reform’ programme. . .If the land falls within the peri-urban area around towns, they change the land usage status, subdivide and sell off hundreds of small plots to make themselves millions.”

We walk down the streets of Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John and never fear that bombs will fall on our heads. We stroll through the back-40s of our farms in rural New Brunswick and never worry about government thugs evicting us from our lawful livelihoods.

We have, in short, much to be thankful for – we lucky few

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