Telecom wars

I don’t know if you have been following it but the idea of letting more foreign investment into Canada’s telecom industry is a major battle right now – probably second in terms of intensity to the move towards a single financial markets regulator.

I haven’t studied the issue enough to have an informed opinion on it but I do have to chuckle when I hear the debate.  On one side, all the warnings about the gutting of the Canadian industry, moving it to just a branch office of a U.S. firm with just the bare bones minimum economic activity.  On the other side, the new investment opening up massive new possibilities for the industry to growth and flourish.

Why I find this funny in a Macabre kind of way is it is the exact same debate that happened when NBTel was merged into Aliant and into a Bell subsidiary.  The pro side was sure the new investment would open up massive new possibilities for the industry to growth and flourish.  New Brunswick would become Bell’s testbed for innovative ideas and new product development.  The con side said it would gut NBTel, turning it back to an old fashioned incumbent offering local services with limited economic activity.  All the high end jobs and economic activity would be slowly migrated to Ontario.

I’m a big fan of attracting investment to New Brunswick and will remain one.  I look at firms like ExxonMobil (over 1000 employed in Moncton) and I am convinced we need more, not less, of these firms.  But many national firms in Canada are very Ontario-centric and I was one of those who believed that Bell would consolidate front office, product development, high end marketing, etc. back to Ontario.  Back in the 1990s a top economic developer in Nova Scotia told me it was easier to attract investment from outside Canada than from Ontario.

I guess legislation to protect industries is impossible but when a national firm buys out a significant economic asset here we should be deliberate and proactive to work with the new owner on a longer term vision for the firm in the region.  It should be a priority of BNB to work directly with Bell, Oracle, Stantec, Genivar, Sungro, and any other national or international firm that buys up a local firm to develop a growth path for their NB operation. Think about Speilo as an excellent example of this.

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