Fall Back Up with Jonathan Torrens

jonathan-torrens_1Jonathan Torrens is probably best known currently for his roles of J-Roc in the popular television series Trailer Park Boys and CBC’s current comedy Mr. D.

His career, however, extends back into his high school years when he hosted the teen-oriented consumer affairs series Street Cents from 1989 until 1996. He then went on to host, co-produce and write for his own teen-oriented talk show, Jonovision, from 1996 until 2001.

He’s appeared and starred in many television series and movies over the years becoming one of Canada’s most well known young actors.

Now in his 40’s, Jonathan has shifted focus, most recently co-writing a book and developing a podcast with his friend and drummer for the band Our Lady Peace Jeremy Taggert.

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Canadianity, a compendium of vignettes of the country is top ten on the Globe and Mail’s Canadian non-fiction bestseller list and the podcast, Taggert and Torrens.

In our conversation we talk about his early year, his decision to leaver Trailer Park Boys as well as his thoughts on reinventing himself and the impact of the Nova Scotia government’s decision surrounding the Nova Scotia Film Tax Credit.

Jonathan is married and has two daughters, Sugar-Daisy and Indigo and lives a few minutes outside Truro, Nova Scotia which is where I sat down with him for a chat…Click here to listen

Fall Back Up with Jim Spatz

Jim Spatz is the Chairman and CEO of Southwest Properties Limited, one of Atlantic Canada’s leading real estate developers.
Southwest owns, operates and develops residential and commercial real estate in Atlantic Canada, extended stay accommodations across Canada, as well as multi-unit residential portfolios in four Florida cities.
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Bishop’s Landing

Recently, Southwest completed The Maple, a residential hi-rise building in downtown Halifax and has a major development under construction at the corner of Sackville and South Park Streets.

Plans are also underway for Seton Ridge a major community project on the Mother House Grounds on former Mount Saint Vincent lands.
Jim has been leading the company for the past 25 years since returning from Montreal following a 15-year medical career.
Jim also has a number of philanthropic interests including the Parker Street Food and Furniture Bank Advisory Board and serves as a Life Director of Neptune Theatre.
He also served on the Board of Governors for Dalhousie University from 2001 – 2015, and served as Board Chair from 2008 – 2014.
In 2007, Jim along with his late father, Simon, were inducted into the Nova Scotia Business Hall of Fame.
Jim and JordiHe’s been named Atlantic Business Magazine’s CEO of the Year for Atlantic Canada and is an active member of the World President’s Organization.
I met to talk with Jim at his office in his downtown Halifax development, Bishop’s Landing.

Fall Back Up with Jared Steeves

It’s not often you run into someone who began their career when they were six years old.

Jared at workBorn and raised in the tiny community of Berry Mills, New Brunswick, Jared Steeves started his training as an antique auctioneer literally at his father’s knee.

Starting his own business, Key Auctions at age 18, Jared has built it into one of Atlantic Canada’s top three auction houses.

During his career, Jared has uncovered some remarkable treasures in Maritime estates including the discovery of a painting by the early 20th-century American wildlife artist Carl Ruingas which sold for over 100,000 dollars.Jared ruingas

But his business tells only part of the story… now age 30, he’s already traveled to 67 counties and now is fully engaged in international humanitarian work on two continents.

I met with Jared in downtown Moncton…

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Government Customer Service…Please

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I had a meeting with a government official recently. For the purposes of this column, it doesn’t really matter who, or what department, or even the issue.

My inspiration for today’s spleen-venting comes from comments that very well might have been uttered by hundreds of government officials at any given moment: “We have informal service standards.”

Indeed, the government might have service standards, but the problem is government customer service is widely perceived as extremely poor. What we need is not informal standards, but agreed-upon, measured and publicly reported service standards reflecting the reality of citizens and business.

Study after study, from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service and even Nova Scotia’s own internal government reviews, have found the vast majority of business owners feel government staff are often unhelpful, unaccountable and do not take ownership of their errors.

Serious deficiencies are consistently reported in response times, inspection issues and even matters of common courtesy. Fewer than half (46 percent) of business owners feel they are getting good value for tax dollars and even fewer (43 percent) feel governments conduct their business in an open and accountable manner.

If this were the practice in the private sector, customers would take their business elsewhere. With government, you’re stuck with the cost and quality imposed by whatever customer service standards, or lack thereof, exist within the public service.

The complexity of compliance combined with poor or non-existent service standards can make for a toxic brew because the conduct of business relies on operational certainty. When timelines are not met, communication is poor and compliance or administrative penalties lie at the end of the line, business owners can become justifiably cranky.

There is some good news, however, in Nova Scotia. The office of regulatory affairs and service effectiveness established by the McNeil government two years ago has recognized the issue and is trying to take corrective steps. Its challenge is the magnitude of the problem. This is not about tweaking systems; this is massive cultural change inside the provincial government.

While regulatory reform and government customer service standards are not the sexiest of topics, they are one of the greatest challenges facing our businesses, as you can draw a direct line between these inefficiencies and the ever-increasing cost of government.

Bill Gates, founder and former CEO of Microsoft said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” For governments in Nova Scotia, there is an ample supply of coaches.

Better government customer service is more important now than it ever has been. With a stagnating population and slow economic growth piling a greater tax load upon us all, creating more effective, efficient and less costly government must be a top priority.

This article originally appeared in the November 17 issue of the Chronicle Herald

Cannabis Consultations: Answering questions with more questions

 

The only thing clear about the legalization of cannabis is – there are more questions than answers. Since the Trudeau Liberals foisted responsibility of delivering the stash, provincial governments have been hunting for a flashlight to see through the policy smoke.

In Nova Scotia, Justice, Finance and Health and Wellness are co-leads on the file, but there are lots of other folks who have a stake in this including Business, Community Services and Education. The conflicting priorities and broad implication of this massive policy piece were clearly on display at the consultation session I attended this week.

From the medical community, there is deep concern about the accelerating proliferation of cannabis use among youth. For good reason. More and more evidence is piling up around the impact more potent forms of cannabis have on adolescents’ brains undergoing rapid and extensive development. Instances of schizophrenia among younger and younger cohorts have been growing significantly in the last 20 years, coincidentally tracking with the increase of both the use and the potency of the product.

The number of youth (22%) and young adults (26%) who used cannabis in 2013 was more than two and a half times that of adults 25 and older. But, let’s put that in context – 60% of Canadian youth between 15 and 19 drink alcohol. There was lots of discussion about how legalization, taxation, and control must put the binders on youth access to cannabis, but if our experience with alcohol is any indication, we should keep those expectations in check. I will admit however, that train has left the station.

It’s now up to the provinces to figure how to implement this policy pronouncement from on high and the public consultation has begun. MQO Research in doing a handful of facilitated roundtables and there’s an opportunity for online input at http://novascotia.ca/cannabis.

The questions posed in the online survey and at our roundtable session deal with the following; Age restrictions, where folks can or should be able to smoke it, how we deal with impaired drivers and what the delivery model should look like (who should sell it and how).

On the question of age, the medical community says the age for legal use should be around 25. While those arguments are science-based and clearly well-intentioned, I’ll refer back to the usage rates of alcohol with an existing restriction of 18 or 19. Once cannabis is a legal product, the likelihood that usage among youth will decrease, is a pipedream. In my opinion, and this is my opinion, societal acceptance of cannabis as a legal product will not discourage access and use among youth any more than it has discouraged access to alcohol or porn. Setting the legal age at 25 would be seen as laughable given current usage statistics. Restricting or reducing usage will depend exclusively on vigorous education campaigns and severe restrictions on marketing to kids and product oversight.

On the topic of where folks can smoke it, there is some consensus the province should stick with its smoke-free places legislation, but other questions emerge. There are those who feel users of medical cannabis should be able to smoke it at home. If that’s the case, how do differentiate between medical and recreational cannabis use and how do you balance the rights of those who own or coexist in apartment complexes and don’t want their properties to smell like a Negril nightclub. You get the sense there will be lots of work for lawyers in days ahead.

As for the impaired driving question, apparently, there is no answer. Strangely, the question posed was about the severity of penalties for driving while under the influence of cannabis. Police still don’t have a chemically based way of estimating what the drug is doing in the brain. A blood test exists that can detect some cannabis components, but there is no widely accepted, standardized amount in the breath or blood that gives police or courts or anyone else a good sense of who is impaired. So in light of no available tests reliable enough to determine the level of impairment among cannabis users, why are we talking about penalties? I’m sure Crown lawyers are really looking forward to this busy work. There is consensus, however, that getting drunk, getting high and then driving is a very poor idea indeed.

The fourth subject area dealt with how cannabis should it be sold in Nova Scotia? CFIB members in the province are evenly split on this issue. When asked in 2016; should government agencies (e.g. liquor commissions) be exclusively responsible for the retail sale of marijuana? 41% said YES, 41% said NO and 14% were UNSURE.

There are arguments for a public sector monopoly, except none of them are particularly compelling and not surprisingly, all center on command and control. A public sector monopoly, such as the model in Ontario and the recently announced direction in New Brunswick, seems simply to be the path of least resistance for politicians and bureaucrats. Why they believe the public sector delivery model of anything is the gold standard remains perplexing.

There are other questions with a public sector monopoly which need answers. Will public sector salaries/benefits and bricks and mortar costs add to the final cost to the consumer? Add this to the federal and provincial tax, are we leaving the door open for the underground economy to undercut and continue to thrive. What are the implications of being regulator and retailer? The decision has been already made not to co-locate sales with alcohol, so why would we build another bricks and mortar version of the NSLC or LNB? When New Brunswick rolled out their public sector monopoly this week, one staggering question was not even addressed…the cost.

The government should carefully examine the option of private sector retailers rather than simply defaulting to building another bureaucracy. Politicians also need to answer this larger question; should selling recreational cannabis be a core government service and can we afford spending precious tax dollars on building the required infrastructure to do so? Are there better options for generating external private sector investment with appropriate government oversight? My guess is there would be an entrepreneur or two willing to pony up some dough for the opportunity to sell legal pot. Just sayin’.

Then there’s the issue of online sales. This system, by most reports, has been working just fine for medicinal cannabis, however, there is resistance emerging as some folks feel children will now gain access to credit cards and somehow game the system. Note to skeptics, children are already buying weed. Having them input online credit information, wait for days or weeks and sign for packages at the door from bonded delivery agents will not make the process easier for them. (“Hey Mom, did that FedEx package for me arrive?”)

There were also puzzling omissions in the consultation. For example, there is little guidance for employers or employees on implications around occupational health and safety issues or work restrictions. Additionally, there has been no indication of how the provincial governments are creating any alignment of regulation either in the region or nationally. Does this mean we will end up with another massive patchwork of regulatory regimes?

As you can see, legalizing cannabis is creating many more questions than answers, and we haven’t even started with the edibles. Gummy bear anyone?

This is the 15 Dollar Minimum Wage Argument?

Here is the latest argument being made to promote the 15 dollar minimum wage.

Employers should simply pay their employees more. This will help solve our economic problems. With a 15 dollar minimum wage there will more money being spent. People on lower incomes will be spending all this money because they can’t afford to save it. Consequently, people will sell more goods and services and we will all prosper.

In a recent Global News piece, Christine Saulnier from the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives said, “If we are putting money into the pocket of those who are the lowest waged workers in our economy, they actually have this pent-up demand, they actually need to spend it. They’re not going to save it and take it out of the economy, they’re going to spend it.”

If this is the only issue, why don’t we raise the minimum wage to $100 per hour? That way, everyone will have enough money for all their needs, small businesses will be rolling in cash from the jump in domestic demand, people will have lots to put in their retirement plans, the real estate market will boom, imagine how quickly our teenagers could save for university…what possibly could be the downside?

Well, the reason this isn’t happening is because businesses operate by creating value through effort. If the cost of creating a product or service is higher than what it can sell for, the business will operate at a loss and it won’t last long. Those employees are subsequently thrown out of work. This is especially true for small businesses.

Advocates suggest however those small businesses should be given a pass and only the Walmart’s and Loblaws of the world forced to pay a 15 dollar minimum wage. This idea was actually in the provincial NDP’s last election platform. The sentiment is a nice one, mom and pop shops aren’t forced to pay unaffordable wages but the problem here is, how will this torque the labour market?

How will the small locally owned gas station or convenience store find workers when Sobey’s owned Needs or Superstore Gas Bar pays 3 dollars more per hour? Or will those larger companies simply automate and eliminate these jobs altogether?

The minimum wage debate is complex and it is an economic balancing act. Understanding the value of labour against demand and impact on costs seems to be totally lost in this discussion.

Another argument being floated is workers will migrate out of Nova Scotia because other provinces have higher minimum wages. Our young people didn’t leave in droves for another 3 dollars per hour, they left because the average income in Fort McMurray was $100,000 dollars.

Sixty percent of minimum wage earners are students, living at home and not a primary income earner in a household. If we want to do something to improve the lives of low-income earners, let’s create a stronger economy with good-paying jobs and help those folks improve their skills so they can participate fully. Forcing businesses to contract or shutter due to arbitrary labour cost increases accomplishes none of that.

Promise Kept. Seriously?

It’s been a big week for small business in Canada. Small Business Week and Small Business Saturday roll around once a year, but it’s rare to have the occasion festooned with quite so much high-level attention.

Kicking off the week was some great news for small firms delivered in perhaps one of the most awkward political pronouncements in the history of Canadian politics. The setting was Stouffville, Ontario and it was all-thumbs on deck as the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister showed up in town with Challenger jet and black Suburban fleet in tow to occupy the Pastaggio Italian Eatery.

Complete with the red “Support for Small Business” sign and its matching banner on the back wall, the Prime Minister stepped to the podium, sleeves rolled up, hair slight tussled, to say that his government would be re-instating the small business tax rate reduction they had campaigned on in 2015 and yet jettisoned in the last two budgets. Curiously, he also relegated the Finance Minister to the back of the house, offering up that he would be fielding any questions for Mr. Morneau. It was just…well…weird.

Under normal circumstance, kicking off Small Business Week with this kind of announcement would be politically run of the mill. Given the last three months of hellfire raining down on both the PM and Finance Minister from CFIB and others, however, made the exercise seem completely disingenuous.

According to the PM’s talking points, we are encouraged to believe this was the plan all along. The government simply needed to have a little look at the tax system before implementing such this three-year-old campaign promise. Now, after having done so, they will honour their campaign pledge. Promise kept.

Uh huh.

Small business owners were about one more Economic Club of Canada speech away from storming the Bastille with pitchforks and torches. The Finance Minister and the Prime Minister have been under withering fire on this issue from every conceivable direction including within their own caucus. If they expect Canadians to believe this was their intention all along, they must think we are very naïve indeed.

Even though this is, unquestionably. damage control of the highest order, there is none-the-less a silver lining in the tax rate reduction as it will result in savings for some small business owners.

Part two of this peculiar week-long tragi-comedy was staged Wednesday with the Finance Minister traveling to Hampton, New Brunswick to announce changes to the proposed changes in passive income application. One might acknowledge this could be good news in that the government is beginning to recognize the important roles passive income plays, and yes it could, if administered properly, allow many small firms to continue to use passive income to ride out challenging times, save for investments or set aside money for a leave or retirement.

On the other hand, these changes have the potential to discourage growth. The $50,000 annual threshold will help the small firms that remain small, but it may be too low for small firms saving to grow and create more opportunities. Think of it as a million dollars under investment with a 5% return. Canada needs medium-sized businesses and the size of the threshold may not be enough to help businesses looking to grow, so it is likely business will be looking to raise that threshold. As the Finance Minister and the Prime Minister should know, 50k just won’t go as far as it used to.

On Thursday, Mr. Morneau did a full climb down on the issue of conversion of income into capital gains. Business owners asked the government to step away from the vehicle and they not only stepped away, they lay down on the ground and put their hands behind their head. Those rules would have made it more costly for small business owners — including farmers and fishers — to sell or transfer their business to their children and the political fallout was potentially far too damaging.

Friday’s pronouncement on angel investment was underwhelming at best, and thus spake Morneau to end the government’s response to Small Business Week. With the political backdrop of Mr. Morneau’s personal financial affairs under scrutiny, one might argue this was the worst week the Trudeau Liberals have seen in their short two years in power. There must be some folks in the Liberal backrooms feeling a bit sheepish about trotting out class warfare, even in the dog days of summer.

Fall Back Up with Gerry Pond

Gerry Pond is the Chairman and Co-Founder of Mariner Partners Inc. and the Co-Founder of East Valley Ventures. He was CEO of NBTel and president of its successor, Aliant Telecom before he moved into the tech startup field.

Gerry is perhaps best known for his successes in the tech world with two New Brunswick startups Q1 Labs and Radian6. Collectively, they sold for a billion dollars in 2011.

Following these successes, he co-created the industry group Propel ICT, which runs the Launch36 tech startup accelerator, and established the University of New Brunswick’s Pond-Deshpande Centre in 2011 with the help of “Desh” Deshpande, an American billionaire tech entrepreneur.

He has also co-founded a number of other successful ICT start-ups in Atlantic Canada, including iMagicTV, Brovada Technologies, Shift Energy and Cirrus9. He is a Director of Upside Foundation, the New Brunswick Business Council, and the National Angel Capital Organization.
Gerry Pond has received many honours, including the 2003 Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Award in Atlantic Canada in 2003 and 2005, an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of New Brunswick, an Honorary Doctor of Commerce from Saint Mary’s University, and he was inducted into the New Brunswick Business Hall of Fame in October 2007.

He has been recognized with the 2017 EY Atlantic Lifetime Achievement Award, the prestigious Wolf Blass Lifetime Achievement Award and he was awarded the first-ever Business Development Bank of Canada Entrepreneurship Champion.

Most recently, Gerry was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada. I met with Gerry at my office in downtown Halifax…

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Fall Back Up with Jeremy White

Jeremy White and his wife Melanie were looking for a summer retreat in Cape Breton after honeymooning in 2008. What they found were a new way of life and a successful small business.

Big Spruce Brewing sprung from a passion for craft beer and a serendipitous real estate buy in Nyanza.

Jeremy’s background was in international engineering and while living in Nicaragua, they stumbled upon an opportunity to relocate to Nova Scotia.

He had been a home brewer for years, and have wanted to scale his production up to a commercial level for a long time.

With favourable condition for growing hops and an industry that has been taking off in the region, they opened up Nova Scotia’s first certified organic on-farm brewery. Big Spruce quickly established itself as a local favourite.

Jeremy has made his views known broadly about the public policy challenges facing the craft beer industry publishing this open letter to the people of Nova Scotia.

In our wide-ranging conversation, we talk about the challenges of starting the brewery, his ongoing frustration with regulatory issues and his views on the future of craft brewing and the Atlantic Canadian economy.

I spoke with him in the brewery in the beautiful setting overlooking the Bras d’Or Lakes.

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Fall Back Up with Denis Ryan

ssob-advisory-denis-ryanDenis Joseph Patrick Ryan. Irish musician turned successful businessman.

He is one of Canada’s leading performers, helping establish the modern form of traditional Celtic music throughout North America, England, and Australia.

Denis was born in Newport, County Tipperary, Ireland, immigrating to Toronto in 1969.

Eventually moving to St. John’s, Newfoundland, he founded what became one of Canada’s most well known traditional bands, Ryan’s Fancy. In 1983 the group was disbanded and he turned his attention to the stock market and other business interests.Ryan moved to Halifax where he and his family have resided for more than 35 years.

Ryan cause a bit of a stir in 2009 when he was featured in a spoof man on the street YouTube interview with comedian/musician  Tony Quinn, who called hryan-wankers.jpgimself “Jason Calibri of the Financial Times. Not one to soft pedal his opinions, Ryan’s video went viral and in 2011 he followed up with another pointed commentary on Wall Street and the banking industry. (Click on photo to launch video)

I sat down with Denis in his home near the Public Gardens in downtown Halifax. In our conversation, we cover topics as wide ranging as his time with Ryan’s Fancy, his involvement with craft brewing in the 1980’s and Nova Scotia Crystal.

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