Tag Archives: New Brunswick government

New Brunswick’s Picadilly’s circus

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It came, it saw, it conquered; and now it leaves with practically no notice, but with some apologies.

Mark Fracchia told a packed news conference in Fredericton last week that he was utterly bereft: “This is just a very sad day for all of us. Most of all to the people who have given us so many years of loyal service, for the community of Sussex, for the province generally and certainly for all of us at PotashCorp.”

Mr. Fracchia, the honcho of the Saskatchewan resource company’s New Brunswick operations, was subdued as he announced the indefinite suspension of the conglomerate’s Sussex-based Picadilly facility built scant years ago at a cost of $2 billion.

Of course, the bottom line spins a slightly different tale: Through this move, the international conglomerate saves $50 million this year and as much as $135 million the following in capital spending, according to a CBC report.

Meanwhile, 430 people in rural New Brunswick lose the salaries they once used to pay for food, rent, mortgages, and their kids’ education.

Care to wager who, in this particular situation, is more devastated?

To be sure, PotashCorp. is promising to relocate at least 100 of these disenfranchised workers out west to work in its Elysian Fields. (Gee, folks, just what we need in a province that exports its talent as readily as it does its lobster). And, Mr. Fracchia, does appear genuine when he declares, “We had high hopes for Picadilly and my heart goes out to all the people who have worked so very hard for so long.”

Still, the rotten-egg-stench surrounding this full-scale route is as malodourous as it is familiar in this neck of the southern tundra.

To begin with, why weren’t people who worked for the company and live in the surrounding communities informed of its intentions? Local political representatives said that they were, in effect, gob-smacked by last week’s announcement.

But were provincial government officials also astonished by the pull-out of such an important employer at a time when they were assiduously pursuing their elected bosses’ agenda to build 5,000 new jobs in the province?

How likely is it that none of this reached the highest levels of political attention at cabinet well before the Christmas break?

Then, there are the stated reasons for the move, some of which simply don’t pass any sort of smell test. According to the CBC, Mr. Fracchia insisted “the New Brunswick (Picadilly) mine was the most expensive of its operations because of the geology in the province.” He also said “the decision had more to do with global market forces and (that) there was little the provincial government could have done to help the corporation.”

If this quote is accurate, then the obvious question is: Which is it?

Is the problem related to the “geology” of the province? In that case, why did a supremely successfully exploration and development company, with worldwide operations and the best scientific and engineering advice available to it at the drop of an email, throw two billion bucks into what, it must have known, years ago, would eventually become a losing proposition?

Or is the problem a function of “global market forces” – that is, low commodity prices, which are afflicting almost all resource-extraction industries? Again, though, companies of PotashCorp’s size, reach and sophistication know when to, in effect, hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Was the unavailability of shale gas in New Brunswick a factor?

Gosh, does the sun rise in the east?

Or does it merely set with no notice, but merely apologies?

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The name game

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In principle, I do not object to the notion of selling the naming rights to public infrastructure in New Brunswick.

But Tory Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch makes a fair point when he says the scheme, proposed by the Gallant government to raise badly needed cash, risks ignoring citizens who simply don’t possess the wherewithal to ensure that their names live on in splendid glory, affixed to the side of a bridge in the middle of Hicksville, Nowhere County.

“There’s a lot of people that have contributed significantly to the province of New Brunswick,” he told the Telegraph-Journal last week, “yet they maybe aren’t of great means or haven’t been able to donate hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to a capital campaign.”

Hear, hear!

Why, I, myself, have spent an inordinate amount of time pitching and boosting a mixed-used, multi-purpose downtown events center for Moncton. Let’s call that my contribution to the moral and spiritual health of the locality and dub the facility appropriately: “The Brucesplex”.

Of course, there’s also the contiguous system of pot-hole-riddled roads that my wife and I have travelled faithfully from Moncton to the Confederation Bridge, across the Abegweit Passage of the Northumberland Strait, and into Charlottetown, to visit our grand-kids and their parents. Henceforth, let us know these byways and highways collectively as “The Bruceway”.

Still, paupers like myself (even, unlike myself, genuinely influential ones) do nothing for the provincial budget by having their names gratuitously slapped on the odd park bench. As Victor Boudreau, the provincial minister responsible for the government’s strategic program review, told reporters last week, “If we can generate a million or two that doesn’t have to come out of the pockets of New Brunswickers to help us address the fiscal challenge we’re facing in the province, then maybe it’s a option worth considering.”

Clearly, then, this particular name game is reserved for the playgrounds of the rich and influential, where participants don’t mind forking over sizeable sums in return for designated immortality etched into the edifices of the province’s public works. This, naturally, raises other concerns among the hoi polloi; chief among them is the danger of branding New Brunswick according to the increasingly narrow constraints of those in possession of real money.

Last month, Barrie Examiner ran a piece touching on a similar issue in its neck of the woods. “Councillors heard the pitch about a plan to sell naming rights of city facilities and sponsorship of programs, events and other community initiatives,” reporter Bob Bruton wrote. “It could generate a net income of almost $850,000 during its first five years, after staff, marketing and servicing costs are paid. ‘Barrie is like a lot of municipalities. They are looking for new and innovative ways to find revenue,’ said Bernie Colterman, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, who’s been in the business for 20 years. ‘The timing is right for sponsorship. You have to look at this as a positive thing.’”

On the other hand, Councillor Bonnie Ainsworth worried that the community’s Eastview Arena, for example, might suffer from an inappropriate proximity to filthy lucre. “We don’t want someone to look up and have it named Jimmy’s Tow Truck Arena,” she said.

All of this, however, could be moot. As Marvin Ryder, a marketing professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, recently told The National Post, the name game may not be as remunerative as government officials hope.

“The only place where this has worked well is in sports facilities,” he said.

Indeed, in New Brunswick, a highway or a bridge by any other name would still be as harrowing.

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Taking our economic bull by the horns

 

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It is a fitting chapter in a saga that is becoming as familiar to New Brunswickers as olympian economic woes are to Greeks.

Promising technology upstart makes headlines with its innovation and ingenuity; sells itself to an international company for a pretty penny; vows, nevertheless, to remain a vigorous, job-generating player on the provincial landscape; has the rug pulled out from under its head-office-manacled feet; lays off a hefty chunk of its workforce; waits for something else to happen.

It’s the waiting for something else that is the recurring theme in New Brunswick’s beleaguered commercial sector. And Radian6 of Fredericton is just the most recent, unhappy example.

Last week, the tech firm’s parent company, Salesforce.com of San Francisco, announced it was trimming about 200 jobs worldwide, roughly 67 of them in this province. The move came after the global social media monitoring operation purchased ExactTarget, an email marketing outfit, for $2.5 billion. The move, it said, was necessary, though it didn’t bother to explain why or how.

In a statement, Salesforce declared, “Combining ExactTarget with our existing Marketing Cloud provides synergy, and we will be reducing our total headcount . . .to reflect this opportunity. . .We care deeply about our employees and we’re providing resources to position them for success in the next step of their careers – whether that’s a new position within Salesforce.com or a new opportunity elsewhere.”

That’s mighty decent of them, only it’s not entirely clear where the surplus “headcount” will actually land in a province where the track record of job losses is now more entrenched than in any other part of Canada.

The many layers of poignancy in all of this are hard to miss.

Salesforce.com’s 2011 purchase of Radian6 – whose homegrown technology enhanced the American firm’s competitive position in the marketplace – for $326 million was heralded by all, but a few who wondered about the efficacy of offshore ownership, as a coup, positive proof that New Brunswick companies can succeed internationally.

Only last year, the provincial government offered Salesforce.com a payroll rebate totaling $3.8 million to help Radian6 create 300 jobs in Saint John and Fredericton by 2018. According to news reports, it has already dispensed about $500,000 of the fund, though Premier David Alward is at pains to explain why this is nothing to fret about.

Talking to reporters last week, he said, “There are significant accountability mechanisms or processes in place between the department and the company and I have full confidence that those will be followed and that the company will live up to their responsibilities under the agreement.”

Translation: Even though Salesforce is cutting its staff in New Brunswick today, it is still obliged to boost the total number of jobs by 300 over the next five years.

Still, that’s a remarkably optimistic posture for any government to assume regarding any foreign-owned entity operating within its backyard. Global economic trade  winds (or headwinds, as the case may be) routinely shred “agreements” to play nice with the locals. Ribbon cuttings, alas, are far less frequent than the cutting of losses.

In fact, none of this was even remotely preventable. We should expect such blips in jobs – up or down – as log as business flows more-or-less freely across national borders. Where New Brunswick’s private and public sectors must train their attention is on the urgent need to inject greater diversity, better capacity, more durable self-sufficiency, into the provincial economy.

We must start generating new opportunities that will load our cities and smaller communities with options. For every Radian6 that rises to prominence, there should be sixty others percolating with promise. Our provincial innovation agenda should have less to do with payroll support for existing (and exiting) enterprises and more to do with animating early-stage growth among commercially viable startups – export assistance, plant development, skills development, technology adoption.

For all the talk of pipelines and shale gas – opportunities (or challenges) over which we have little control – we must stop waiting for things to happen to us.

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