Jim Meek and the charge of the light-thinking brigade

Jim Meek has a good editorial in Progress magazine this week.   Edgy and more caustic than usual, Meek makes the point that we have to face up to our challenges and not just gloss them over.  Progress magazine – in name and substance – is a publication that celebrates entrepreneurial success in this region.   I know from the couple of times I wrote for them that they aren’t much into negativism or deep navel gazing.  And that’s fine.  Progress is what it is.  But even in that haven of positive thinking, it is nice to see a guy like Meek – known and respected in this region – making these important points.

His title “charge of the light-thinking brigade” is a powerful one if you have read up on that battle (and the Tennyson poem).   I recently read Orlando Figue’s wonderful but disturbing book on the Crimean War and as a result I took special interest when I saw his column.

As I have said before many times we have two audiences and we need to have the wisdom to separate them.  To the external audience, potential investors, potential entrepreneurs, immigrants, etc. we need to promote our strengths and the opportunities that are here.  To the internal audience, we need to celebrate our successes but at the same time we need to have sober and honest discussions about our challenges – about what holds us back.   In a deeply conservative place like the Maritimes (small c conservative), we don’t like this kind of discussion.  The issue of EI reform is a perfect example.  Instead of having an intelligent conversation about the premise of the reforms – i.e. that EI was holding back business investment in rural areas – most of the response is singularly focused on how the changes will hurt these communities.  That may or may not be true – as I have said we don’t have the research to support either response – but I was disheartened that our only response as a region was demanding a return to the status quo.

We need to figure out how to foster a new generation of high growth potential entrepreneurs.  We have a few examples – Radian6, Ocean Nutrition, etc. but we need more.

We need to attract more anchor export-oriented multinationals.  Increasingly these firms are moving back ‘onshore’ Dell, GE, Apple, many more – we need to promote this region as a great place to build products, services and new technologies.

We need to attract talent –

We need to figure out how to address rural decline in this region.  Natural resources development must be a part of this.  The vision of rural areas as quiet, retirement villages is not sustainable.

Kudos to Progress Magazine – through Meek – for joining the ranks of the curmudgeons.  We need cheerleaders – yes.  But we need cranky folks point out our weak spots as well.

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7 Responses to Jim Meek and the charge of the light-thinking brigade

  1. Chris Baker says:

    David –

    If not for your blog, I would have missed Jim’s recent column in Progress Magazine. Like yourself, Jim is an astute observer of the Maritime scene. I look forward to reading it.

    Yours,

    Chris

  2. mikel says:

    I was going to give this one a pass but then you HAD to go and bring up EI. Why would people ‘argue intelligently’ about a premise? That makes no sense. The only debate on that is whether that IS a premise, and I argue that it was not. Go do some research on it and the statements from government show that it is not. The Minister famously made his ‘no bad jobs’ remark, and government already backtracked on EI changes to part time workers because it was so badly thought out.

    If you look at what they are saying, investment is NEVER mentioned. They DO mention ‘skill shortages’, but maintain changes are ‘to help claimants get informed about local jobs’. Again, you assume there ARE jobs there. EI claimants, even seasonal ones, MUST be ready and willing to work. The devil is in the details about what jobs they must take and how far they should have to travel to get to them.

    There IS a skill shortage, but the skills are mainly high tech, meaning people don’t have the training, and in rural areas there is no training available, and most of the skill shortage is in urban areas, not rural ones. NB has the lowest corporate income tax in the country but I haven’t seen evidence of a single new job investor in the past year in URBAN areas, let alone thinking that these EI changes are going to mean new investment for rural ones. I hate to say it and sound extreme, but if you really think that no new investors have come to Caraquet because of EI, and now they will, actually, I can’t finish that sentence without it sounding extreme. All I can say is ‘wow’.

    But just had to add, in this day of social media, any investors or entrepreneurs that are only looking at the ‘outward’ messaging from any jurisdiction is too stupid to have that money in the first place. It is far better to be up front, because investors are going to find out anyway, and let others know. For example, I MAY have been wrong in saying the government is supporting the shale gas industry, after seeing the article from SWN resources where they say they are packing it in for the summer because the government waited forever to get back to them on their licenses. So NB may have fooled shale gas investors coming in, and maybe investors will go anywhere they sniff shale gas, but its pretty easy for an investor to do a search on the issues about shale gas in the province. There is no point in trying to hide it. With social media its ALL in one big soup-the good and the bad.

  3. Thanks for the link to Progress magazine, which I had not heard of before. Perhaps there is some reason to hope after all.

  4. mikel says:

    The Irving media should not pass by without a mention, maybe even the CBC. But its also depressingly true that there are precious few blogs coming out of New Brunswick, and I think I count….one, on this issue. The CBC is simply horrible in New Brunswick, with the most impressive feature of ‘investigative journalism’ being Robert Jones guessing on gas prices.

    However, Irving has often been chastised for sucking up to the ‘aren’t we wonderful’ camp. I’m mentioning this because yesterday I didn’t know whether to laugh hysterically, choke, or cry, as a page long feature in the Daily Gleaner featured an interview with the city planner who talked about how Fredericton is perfectly positioned for the future because ‘in the future people will work where they want’ and ‘Fredericton is just such a great place’. His wish list were simply that if there were just another bridge over the river and an indoor pool then the city would be perfect.

    Now, I don’t like to criticize ‘from away’ but I grew up in Fredericton and anybody that thinks entrepreneurs who can ‘live anywhere’ are going to pick Fredericton not only for what is there, but especially when there is another indoor pool and another bridge, well, I don’t even know how to respond to such an idea. I’ve seen some crazy comments here, and crazier at Charles Leblanc’s, and even made a few crazy comments myself, but that just blows my mind-yet all this was presented as serious news.

    I do agree that there really needs to be more of a sense of urgency, but I don’t agree that it should be centred around natural gas. A good example is right here in Waterloo which is the technology capital of the country, despite the fact that there is virtually NOTHING of any great material value. It’s a lousy place to live, although traffic isn’t TOO bad, but the mennonite farms cast around a glorious stink all through fall and spring. In fact, the mennonites are the only thing that give the place any kind of interest at all. When the Perimeter Institute got built, a reviewer from Toronto asked why they’d put such a nice building in such an ugly city. A little far fetched, especially considering just how ugly the Perimeter Institute building was (its been completely redone).

    I think the city planners in the province really need to get a more realistic view of what it is that entrepreneurs are really looking for. Even if it were true that workers in the future were going to be picking where they were living, bridges and municipal pools will hardly be on their list (let alone whatever it is he thinks Fredericton has to offer). No offense, Fredericton is pretty enough, and has more recreation than here, but that hardly means Fredericton will be ‘the place to be’ in the future. A little more realism in NB media would certainly be a welcome thing.

  5. Will says:

    mikel is the perfect example of why nothing changes here in NB. Don’t change EI even though NB receives $1 billion a year in claims, and people who fish take EI every year in the winter , even though it’s supposed to be for rare occasions. No, they DESERVE to be paid every year to sit on their ass because there are NO jobs. Um, how about retraining then or god forbid, moving to where there are jobs. The truth is they want to fish and do nothing else to adjust to current realities. Fishermen want a guarantee lobster price per pround and a larger minimum size. I guess they get what THEY want right?

    mikel is also against shale gas. Instead of facing the reality that all people (ie us) use oil and gas every day in our travels, products, transport of food, etc and the revenues and jobs it would produce (think Alberta) he likes to oppose shale gas. Instead of developing it in a responsible way, he prefers to mooch money off other provinces such as Alberta who has a booming oil/gas industry. And many NBers leave the province to find oil/gas jobs. Some are even against wind power so it really is about an attitude adjustment. They can’t even see it and I’ve lived here for 3 years now observing the poverty mentality. Then we have Susan Holt recommending higher taxes as the solution. Sigh.

  6. mikel says:

    Its got NOTHING to do with ‘deserve’. Do all the Irving grandkids deserve billions of dollars because of the family they were born in? Do MLA’s deserve fat pensions because they’ve been elected twice? As Clint Eastwood said, deserve has got nothing to do with it.

    We are talking about public policy here. What do you think happens when that federal money disappears? People either leave even faster than they are now, or more likely they go on welfare. Welfare is PROVINCIAL money, so both of those recommendations of yours serves only to impoverish the province even more. When those companies who rely on seasonal workers can’t find workers, they close down or move elsewhere, which makes them even poorer.

    Actually, I’ve NEVER said I was ‘against shale gas’. I said its crazy to think that its going to solve the province’s problems. If you want to believe that New Brunswick has as much oil in the ground as Alberta and is only poor because people LIKE being poor, well you go right ahead, but don’t expect people who actually think about issues to take you seriously.

    NB’s deficit is manageable in the short term with only a few structural changes. Since WIll has only been around for three years then he doesn’t know that against public opinion Shawn Graham lowered both Corporate INcome tax rates and income taxes on the highest wage earners. Credit rating agencies immediately said this was crazy and lowered the province’s credit rating, and the result is the province paying more interest, and losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

    The province is on track to repeat the same problem. While Higgs talks about ‘getting ideas for raising revenues’, his government is eliminating the property tax to the province that apartment owners pay, and those with second homes pay (in other words, those with money) They also just announced a further property tax decrease for the largest corporations-who say they didn’t even ask for it!

    If Will were around for more than three years then he’d remember the plum deal that Irving got for their LNG terminal, which has property taxes capped at $500,000 a year, when comparible terminals in the US pay at least $8 million a year.

    I’ve seen VERY few people protest wind farms, certainly not like the level who are protesting shale gas. I’ve been talking about it for a lot more than three years, and have said its crazy that NB Power is not developing wind power like it is nuclear.

    But yeah, you just go on griping about how its unemployed people in fishing villages that are the problem and why NB is ‘mooching’. Even though like I said, the one and a half billion that NB gets from the federal government is a pretty good deal for providing the education for Alberta’s workers.

    And on that point at least we agree-TRAIN people for other work. But unfortunately, in order to qualify for EI you have to be ready and willing to work, which disqualifies you from institutional training programs, whereas IF you take those programs and get support from EI, you essentially lose your right to get EI. So to return to that woman in Tracadie, IF she took a training course in, say, computer programming, she’d suddenly find that under the new rules that she HAS to move to Moncton, even if its a low wage job and although she is court ordered to stay where she is for custody reasons and has an elderly mother to support.

    And yeah, its good Susan Holt and other businesses all know that its gotten so one sided in the province that corporations SHOULD be paying more taxes. It’s about time, and given the fact that virtually every public opinion poll in the province has said the same thing for YEARS, its unfortunate that it took so long and isn’t the ‘elected’ government which seems intent on doing the exact opposite of what most people-and even the businesses themselves-want.

    As for ‘reality’, thats a subjective response. If all that matters is jobs then legalize pot, legalize prostitution, legalize drugs. Oil is killing this planet, and some people think about more than just their jobs. Canada’s public transportation is an embarassment. In Switzerland you can take a tram to some of the most rural villages 24 times a day, NONE powered by oil-and I’ll add that this is a country with NO natural resources, and almost no poverty. The same in Hong Kong, the same in Singapore. And that even though Canada’s population essentially lives along one line right across the country. And this isn’t me talking, this all comes from the OECD which ranks Canada almost last in infrastructure development and technology training.

    In Canada we have a ‘boom and bust’ mentality, people are expected to simply pack up and go to the lastest place where a natural resource is being sucked out of the ground. We are now finding out thats not ‘realistic’ at all.

    And again, there’s lots of picking on poor folk on EI in the maritimes, but none at the autoworkers in Ontario who are getting money from the feds, or even that Alberta oil that can get sucked out because the feds make sure natives can’t establish land claims.

    And, may I point out, Alberta is projecting up to a $3 billion deficit, Newfoundland has a deficit, so does Manitoba and Ontario. Saskatchewan doesn’t, although it had a deficit last year, and the Auditor General points out that SK is playing pretty fast and loose with how it balances its books, stating that its very different than any other province.

  7. mikel says:

    And just one more thing, on that notion of ‘training’-today on the CBC they had an interview with the owner of one of the most popular dating sites that says he has evidence that 50% of the female students at his website are looking for somebody to pay for their education. I know three people in their forties who are still paying off their student debt, and will be until they are about fifty. Both of those are partly anecdotal, but gee, somebody remind me why its so hard to get people into training programs?

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