The New Phone Book is Here!

For people of my vintage, Steve Martin turned comedy on its ear. I was reminded this week of one of Martin’s best film moments from The Jerk when the new phone book arrives.

Earlier this week the new Halifax Index was released from the Halifax Partnership. Yay. For most, it might seem a little dry, but for people in the public policy world, it’s darn near exciting. Even for those not wonky enough to be enraptured with economic and demographic data, it tells a compelling story.

While there’s much to be pleased about living here in Nova Scotia (especially during warm, sunny weeks like this one past), there are also some sobering numbers provided in this year’s Index. The document is basically a diagnosis of our social and economic health. HP’s Chief Economist, Ian Munro does his best to avoid painting too gloomy a picture, but when you dig into the numbers, neither real growth nor public perceptions are anything to pop champagne corks about. Essentially, he says, we’ve got some good news and we’ve got some…well, work to do.

MQO2On the good news front, the population is increasing and apparently business optimism is up in spite of the fact underlying decision making around investment and innovation would suggest otherwise. The number of jobs inched up and the commercial property tax base has grown, City Hall’s fiscal picture shows very modest spending increases and the municipal debt is being slowly, but steadily chipped away.

There are, however, many challenges. While the population is growing, a considerable portion of that is the result of rural Nova Scotia shrinking and an increase in international students. While this growth is a good sign, longer term trends are not yet established and historically our retention rates are dreadful. It should be noted there is some cause for optimism with the establishment of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project, which sets aggressive goals for attracting and retaining new Canadian to the region, but it has only just started and we need to be careful not to prematurely declare victory and set unrealistic forecasts based on very short term results.

MQO’s City Matters survey, released as part of the Halifax Index, did not paint a very pretty picture either. The survey asked people to rate Halifax as a desirable place to live. While it was characterized as mostly flat-lining, the numbers were either unchanged or showed declining opinions on a variety of metrics including; being a good place to raise a family, indoor and outdoor recreation, housing affordability, arts and culture, ease of getting around, and other quality of life indicators.

Construction activity and other major projects including Irving’s ship building and the re-decking of the Macdonald Bridge bumped to GDP growth to 2.2 percent which may explain the sense of optimism, but Halifax continues to dwell in the bottom tier of benchmark Canadian cities, and GDP only hit 0.3 percent per capita.

There’s a great deal more useful analysis in the Index and Ian Munro and his team at the Partnership deserve credit for providing a very useful document to spur discussion around the challenges facing economic growth and social satisfaction measures. While the partnership also sets targets for improvement, it’s up to the business community to put forward clear policy recommendations to assist decision makers.

The Halifax Index 2017 is a very useful tool as it serves as a warning that we cannot be complacent about advancing ideas around economic growth. We have a huge job ahead of us to make Nova Scotia a more business-friendly, competitive environment. Our tax and regulatory burden remain foundation problems and with the demographic trends outlined by this index and many other studies, policymakers need to get serious about establishing long-term forecasting mechanisms to get a clearer picture of the heap of trouble awaiting us 20 years down the road. While I was excited to see its release, given the results in the Halifax Index, I think I may have been a little happier getting the phone book.

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Fall Back Up with Holly Carr and Allan Bateman

Today on Fall Back Up, I’m delighted to welcome Nova Scotia artists Allan Bateman and Holly Carr

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Holly Carr is nationally renowned for her colourful and whimsical silk painting and public installations.  She not only exhibits her work throughout Canada and designed for theatre, more recently

Holly has branched out into performance art, painting in real time with musicians and performers. This includes performances with world-renowned violinist Min Lee in Singapore, The National Art Center Orchestra in Ottawa, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra as well as her own production with Symphony Nova Scotia. She gives her time and art generously for fundraisers.

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Her life partner is Alan Bateman who is establishing himself as one of Canada’s finest realists.

Allan comes from a rich art background. His father is an internationally known wildlife artist Robert Bateman and his mother, Suzanne Lewis is a superb watercolourist.

Alan is a two-time recipient of The Elizabeth Greenshields Award. He has exhibited extensively throughout Canada, including shows in Toronto, Halifax, Hamilton, Edmonton and Victoria and several locations throughout the USA. Recently he finished a commissioned portrait of the outgoing president of the University of King’s College, Dr. George Cooper.

Both Holly and Allan received formal training at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the mid-1980’s. I sat down with them in the dining room of their farmhouse just outside Canning Nova Scotia where they live, paint and manage their own gallery. Our conversation covered a broad range of topics from being artists as a business, to the controversial idea of un-schooling children and the role of art in education…

Fall Back Up – Halifax Police Chief Jean Michel Blais

I’m delighted this week to speak with Jean-Michel Blais, Chief of Halifax Regional Police. Chief Blais spent 25 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

During that time, he completed his first mission with the United Nations in Haiti as a civilian police officer and following his return, worked predominantly on organized motorcycle gangs and Colombian drug Cartels.

He worked as an adjudicator in Ottawa and in 2008, was assigned to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti as the Deputy Police Commissioner in charge of over 1,700 international police officers.

In January 2010, following the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti, he was dispatched to locate, recover and repatriate the bodies of Sergeant Mark Gallagher and Chief Superintendent Doug Coates.

Chief BlaisFor a year prior to his appointment as Chief of Halifax Regional Police, he was the officer in charge of Halifax District RCMP.

Chief Blais has two degrees, one in political science and economics from McGill University and the other in law from Université Laval.

He’s an avid reader and has also published several works on international and national police-related topics.

He has been decorated with medals by both the UN and the Government of Canada. We spoke when he dropped by my Halifax office.

Below the Soundcloud file, I’ve also included links for you related to a fairly extensive bibliography, provided by the chief, of some of his go-to leadership books. There are books, articles, Youtube videos and a few Ted talks to check out.

While you’re here, I’d also be grateful if you would my follow my podcast and commentary site. It’s free, there are no strings and you’ll only be alerted when something is posted.

I’d also be very interested in your feedback if there’s somebody you think our readers would like to hear interviewed. Just leave a comment on my site and I’ll get back to you.

Have a great weekend…

JM Blais’ Bibliography

On leadership:
Be, Know, Do by Frances Hesselbein & General Eric K. Shinseki
The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness by Stephen Covey
The 50th Law by Robert Greene

On values:
Integrity: The Courage to meet the Demands of Reality by Dr. Henry Cloud
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
As a Man Thinketh by James Allen

On interpersonal relationships and understanding people:
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene
Mastery by Robert Greene
Driven: How Human Nature Shapes our Choices by Paul R. Lawrence et Nitin Nohria

On thinking skill development:
The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Ingenuity Gap by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

On effective people management:
The Progress Principle by Teresa Amabile & Steven Kramer
Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton
The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz

Why Small Business is Concerned About the 15 Dollar Minimum Wage

Atlantic Canadian small business owners should start bracing themselves for the 15 dollar minimum wage campaign. The governments in Alberta and Ontario have both bought into the idea, and now British Columbia’s new ‘GreeNDP’ coalition is putting it on the table. It’s being driven principally by Canada’s largest labour unions and a coalition of the federal and provincial NDP and social activists.

Let’s be clear, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is responsible for advancing the interests of our members, small- and medium-sized, independent businesses. Firms ranging in size from your mom and pop shop to companies with up to 500 employees. CFIB has led awareness on this 15 dollar minimum wage issue because these are the businesses who will suffer, shrink or die with such a sudden spike in labour costs.

Because of their size, the Loblaws, Walmart and Shoppers Drug Marts of the world will be much better positioned to absorb this shock, but make no mistake, they will also be shedding staff, cutting hours and eliminating opportunities for young, entry-level workers, who make up the vast majority of those who are earning a minimum wage.

Most CFIB members already pay well above minimum wage for employees as most small businesses understand the importance of valuing and retaining staff. CFIB certainly has no argument with improving pay and benefits for employees when appropriate and our members support these efforts.

Our argument is with a government mandated spike in the wage floor which will put the sustainability of small business in peril. Remember, this is not just about entry level workers, a 32 per cent increase in the wage floor will put enormous pressure on employers to increase the wages of all staff.

Armine Yalnizyan, a principal advocate for the 15 dollar minimum wage and an author of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ (CCPA) Inequality Project, clearly stated this week, “Yes there will be a reduction in some hours, some jobs, some businesses. No argument there. And most vulnerable workers (teenagers and newcomers) will bite the bullet first, particularly when there’s a downturn in demand.”

Her comments are remarkable unto themselves, but I would also ask, what is the acceptable casualty rate? How many hours should be cut and how many young workers should lose their first jobs? How many businesses are they prepared to sacrifice to hit this arbitrary target?

And where will this new money for wages come from? Will it come from increased profitability? That seems unlikely in light of increased labour costs. Will it come from stronger employment? That’s not happening as, it seems everyone agrees, these higher wages will inevitably lead to reduced hours and/or job losses. Will minimum wage workers suddenly become 32 per cent more productive? Unlikely.

Finally, our region’s economy is far more fragile than Alberta, Ontario or BC. If there are politicians musing about this here, we would ask they understand the repercussions of this kind of wage spike before we even think about such a move in Atlantic Canada. We’ll have the opportunity to watch how this experiment plays out in those other province’s economies first. Fortunate for us, not so much for them.

This originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald, June 9, 2017

Fall Back Up

In 1997 Brian Titus was in the navy working as a diver in Halifax…but he had a passion for making beer. At the time, the craft brew market hadn’t washed up on the east coast and he saw an opportunity.

Over the last 20 years, Garrison, along with Halifax’s other well established brand Propeller, settled as two of Nova Scotia’s best known craft beer operations.

However, in the last few years, the craft brewing industry has exploded around the world and other new Nova Scotia brands and brewery operations seemingly come on stream every month.

BRIAN-HS-2For Brian Titus, it’s been a pretty amazing ride and Garrison continues to grow, trying to compete with new entries into the market and a shifting landscape.

I dropped into Garrison Breweries at their headquarters located in a part of Halifax’s original immigration annex on the waterfront, next door to the Seaport Market. Brian and I grabbed a Spruce beer and settled in for a conversation as a couple of folks nearby worked on a collaborative brew…

What the parties are saying about small business in the Nova Scotia election

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As an advocate for small business, job one is getting issues in front of politicians. Prior to this election, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) presented each of the parties in the Nova Scotia election a small business “platform’ outlining key areas our 5,200 members in Nova Scotia have identified as priorities.

We sent out a survey to the leaders and they responded. While it wouldn’t be appropriate for CFIB to endorse any of the party’s positions during a campaign, it seems clear each of them understand the importance small- and medium-size business plays in the economy. It’s also clear their approaches differ, sometimes dramatically.

The areas we focused on in the creation of the platform were tax relief, regulatory reform (or “red tape” reduction), spending restraint and support for SME innovation activities to increase productivity and competitiveness.

You can find our platform here, the survey for the leaders here and the responses we received on these issues from the parties, by clicking on their logos.

Atlantica  Green Party of NS nslplogo NDP  Progressive_Conservative_Party_of_Nova_Scotia_2016

If you operate a business in Nova Scotia and are still considering your vote in this final weekend, it might be worthwhile to have a quick look at these documents. You can glean from them the importance each of the parties place on the issues we presented.

CFIB establishes its advocacy agenda based on responses to the many surveys we do of our membership to ensure we are focusing on the priorities that are important to small business. It’s our hope that any government elected on Tuesday, will do the same.

The future of our region depends on the prosperity of our small- and medium-sized businesses. We are not only the engine that drives the economy but are also the first to be impacted by bad government policy. I would encourage you to take few moments and have a look at where each of these parties intends to focus should they be given the opportunity to govern.

Fall Back Up

This week on Fall Back Up, perhaps one of the most important, yet least talked about issues facing entrepreneurs, their own mental health.

I first met Michael DeVenney after he reached out to me to discuss an initiative he is working on called The Mindset Project.

The work is about the intersection of entrepreneurship and mental health and he thought it would be of interest for the CFIB.

Michael is an entrepreneur himself as well as a strategy consultant and investor for other entrepreneurs.

Michael DeVenneyAfter struggling for years with anxiety and depression, Michael founded The Mindset Project to study the impact their work has on the well being of entrepreneurs

A lifelong learner, Michael holds his ICD.D and CFA and recently completed a degree in Applied Positive Psychology.

He holds degree in business, strategy, and leadership from Acadia University, Michigan State, Villanova and Notre Dame universities.

He’s completed the largest study ever done connecting entrepreneurship and mental health. The results are incredible.

In the study, more than 72% of entrepreneurs questioned if they were getting what they wanted from their company with more than 68% experiencing some form of mental health challenge.

Respondents also indicated that more than 74% faced deterioration of their social life and relationships while 40% found their physical and mental health had suffered after starting their business.

He is working now to publish the findings and develop actionable solutions.

Demographics and the Depredation of Deficit Politics

Last year, Richard Saillant, the former director of the Donald J. Savoie Institute at the Université de Moncton published A Tale of Two Countries, How the Great Demographic Imbalance is Pulling Canada Apart. His argument centers on how provincial governments must change the way they are doing business or the burden of our demography will eventually prove unbearable.

His is but one of what is becoming a cavalcade of documentation outlining the oncoming demographic and financial crisis to which our provincial politicians seem oblivious. The idea of the Nova Scotia government spending its way to future prosperity borders on immoral.

The mysterious “debt to GDP ratio of 36.6%” getting floated as some reasonable economic milestone, conveniently ignores the Sword of Damocles current day politicians are hanging over the heads of millennials who are being forced to pick up the tab twenty or thirty years hence.

Yes, there are several $175,000 per year, publicly funded economics professors with defined benefit pensions who seem quite happy to promulgate this idea however, the small business operators who are already picking up the tab through higher taxation, constricted growth projections and puny margins aren’t quite as enthused.

Given a robust economic growth rate over the next 30 years, perhaps we could swallow the theory of absorbing more debt, but there is nothing indicating that is even remotely in the cards in most sectors. RBC pegs the economy expanding by meagre 0.8% in 2017, and this with massive infusions from construction including the Nova Centre and the Maritime Link.

It is mind-boggling to think there are politicians still willing to say, if only the government spends more money, things will be better. It is even more amazing there are people who still believe it. What is that saying about repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results?

What magical productivity unicorn are we collectively expecting will appear to provide the kind of economy that will sustain several billion more dollars in debt? Pile on top of this the vastly higher costs of a bubble of aging baby boomers siphoning off hundreds of millions more in pension and healthcare liabilities as they live into their 80s, 90’s and 100’s.

Optimism is one thing, delusion is quite another.

If anything, we should be saving right now, not looking for new ways to spend every dime that comes in and borrow more. There is a fiscal and demographic bill coming due and unless government dramatically changes the way it does business, the burden on all those fresh young faces graduating high school will, in the years ahead, become simply unbearable and they will leave. If they’re not already gone.

Meanwhile, federal and provincial politicians are skipping around the province espousing the virtues of borrowing cheap money. “It’s almost free!” they say. Except it isn’t. It has to be paid back, and when interest rates rise, as they inevitably will, there will be people down the road staring at debt servicing charges asking themselves, what were we thinking? Even at current bargain basement interest rates, we have spent over 4.5 billion in debt servicing charges alone in the last 5 years. That would build a lot of hospitals and highways or if you’d rather, green infrastructure and bike paths.

There are fewer than a million people in this province now. Despite some very long overdue attention to immigration and population retention, Statistics Canada projections over the next 20 years, which take into account real things like birth rate, mortality rate and net interprovincial migration, show a rapidly aging and shrinking population which will completely reshape our labour supply.

So where in this election are we actually discussing how a smaller, older population will bear not only the additional costs of this higher debt burden but also support the healthcare and retirement needs of, in military parlance, five or six full armies of seniors? Many of these 300,000 or so seniors, incidentally, will not have the resources to pay for these necessary services. This too will put additional pressure on the tax base.

Our current tax load is already the highest in the country, how do we expect to attract and retain people to this region when we are constantly looking for ways to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage through taxation? And make no mistake, today’s deficits are tomorrow’s taxes.

The size of a government’s tax base is dependent on the size of its business sector. If we want to prepare for a better future, we need to provide a tax environment which will encourage businesses to set up and operate in Nova Scotia, not continually look for ways to drive them and our already shrinking labour force elsewhere.

There are those who may like the sound of a 15 dollar minimum wage, free tuition, free groceries, free drugs and free everything else, but I would ask them to stop and think for a moment about who’s spending the money, why they are spending it, when the bill gets paid and who gets to pay it?

Fall Back Up

This week, I have two more episodes of Fall Back Up for your weekend listening pleasure.

 

Bill CarrIn the first I talk with actor, commentator, motivational speaker, restorative justice specialist and now president of the Professional Speakers Federation, Bill Carr. I’ve known Bill for many years and we cover lots of territory in our conversation, from growing up in rural Nova Scotia and his athletic and theatrical career at Acadia, to restorative justice practice and how to give a better speech.

 

LisaAlso this week, entrepreneur, designer and philanthropist Lisa Drader-Murphy. After building a successful career in the textile business in Calgary, Lisa decided, along with her partner, to move their family to a renovated 18th century sea captain’s estate in Falmouth, Nova Scotia. I met her there to talk about why she decided to move to Nova Scotia and what it takes to build a successful business with no debt, on retained earnings and find ways to give back.

 

You can either click on the images above to go to my PodBean site or play the podcast directly from the Soundcloud players below. I’m still testing each of these platforms and if you have any comments on which work best for you I’m all ears…so to speak.

Again, if you have any suggestion of people you think might be good to interview for this podcast, just let me know on the contact me page up top…

Winter is Coming

Game of Thrones

Nova Scotia’s electoral Game of Thrones is in full swing and while it may lack the dramatic flair of the HBO series, it has one thing in common, winter is coming. Unfortunately, the parties are either unaware of it or are seemingly oblivious to a stark reality.

All of the parties have launched their offensives by flinging open the doors to the treasury, each with new and creative ways to spend our tax dollars with the greatest political efficiency.

The number one priority for CFIB’s 5,200 members in Nova Scotia, consistently, is a reduction of the overall tax burden and the clearest path to this is through alignment of public sector wages and benefits to private sector norms and an overall reduction of the size of the public service. In other words, reduce the cost and the size of government.

For those who argue we have already been dealing with austerity budgets, here’s the reality. Since 2007 Nova Scotia government spending has risen from $7.3 billion to $10.5 billion, an increase of 43 per cent. Additionally, we’ve seen a whopping 22.5 per cent increase in our debt from $12.4 to $15.2 billion over the same time period. All this with an increase of only 16 per cent in the CPI (inflation) and our population flat-lining at 1.5 percent. This is not restraint and certainly not “austerity” by anyone’s definition.

Spending restraint is becoming more important than ever before. Perhaps because the weather is warming our politicians are floating sunny prognostications but there is an inevitable, relentless sociological cold front headed our way. Stretching our Game of Thrones metaphor, let’s call it “The Wall”.

According to Statistics Canada, that “wall” can be found in baseline population predictions. In 20 years, those over 65 years of age will make up fully 30 per cent of our population. A great majority of those will be out of the workforce and needing higher levels of healthcare. Keep in mind, in 2013, that same cohort made up only 17 per cent of Nova Scotia’s population.

By 2038, the forecasts indicate our median age will be nearly 50 and our overall population is expected to decline to under 934,000.

So who will carry additional tax load? If you’re a voter in your 20’s and 30’s, have a look in the mirror.

While efforts are being made to increase immigration, and claims are being made about having the largest population “ever”, the fact remains, unless we make some fundamental and dramatic changes to the way our government spends, we will be faced with some very, very difficult decisions indeed.

Absent in all of the spending promises in this election is a discussion of any long-term fiscal planning to deal with this issue. By long term, we don’t mean 4 years out, we mean 25 years out. Intergenerational forecasts which will set sustainable spending patterns.

Where are the real plans to deal with the inevitable decline in revenues from a shrinking and aging workforce? While some creative gains are being made through immigration, they are incidental and the problem is not getting people to Nova Scotia, it’s keeping them here. More than half of those who arrive leave within five years.

It’s not much wonder as we’ve been struggling with economic growth and carry the some of the highest tax burdens in the country. Our public service is nearly 5 points larger than the national average and their salaries and benefits are completely out of whack with private sector norms. Is anybody connecting the dots?

Meanwhile, the front pages are littered with political spending sprees.

Small business owners want politicians to have the courage to not just stop the bleeding, but begin to fix the problem through an actual reduction in the size of government, lowering the costs of doing business and a putting laser-like focus on better regulation and more efficient service delivery.

If not, we are sentencing our next generation to a cold, bleak future, on the other side of the wall.

This originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald, May 13, 2017

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