Why Nova Scotia Business Fears Government – Part 1

Businessman with Taped Mouth

Business in Nova Scotia is afraid. Yes, afraid to speak up on important issues of public policy in our province.

Why? Because there is legitimate concern their business might be shut out of what has evolved into our alternate economy. The economy of government expenditure. For some business, speaking out against it could be crippling.

It is a perverse, parochial and counterproductive outcome of our regional reliance on government.

Our economy has become so dependent on the decisions made by provincial bureaucrats and politicians that they now wield power over the private sector that is well beyond their wheelhouse of responsibility.

Companies that have been critical of government policy find themselves blacklisted, hobbled or punished.

What is the result? An important voice driving the direction of this province is effectively gagged.

I’m not talking about shriveling wall flowers here, these are successful business people who simply won’t speak out about stupid municipal and provincial decisions. Instead they talk in hushed tones at cocktail parties and plan workarounds.

For example, why is the development community not more vocal about the way the municipality has handled growth. Because there is a legitimate belief if they were to speak up, the result could be devastating for their bottom line. This wouldn’t happen through public process, these decisions affecting private business are be made deeper in government…by people we don’t vote for.

Joe Metledge, a socially conscious, responsible developer literally tip-toed through the St. Patrick’s-Alexandra fiasco like he was walking on egg shells. He was well within his rights to call out HRM and bitch slap them publicly. Instead, he sucked it up, took a deep breath and started to devise a strategy to make up for the cost of HRM’s ineptitude.

There are organizations built to offer a collective voice for private sector interests. Where are they?

When was the last time you heard a Chamber of Commerce lambaste the provincial government? Even when the NDP was imposing its ill-conceived first contract arbitration, the response was muted at best. And that effort might be the most memorable organized opposition by business to any government action in a very long time.

Cheer leading is great, but sometimes you just have to stand up and call bullshit.

Business people, with occasional inspiring exceptions, don’t want to rock the boat. They’re afraid of being locked out of opportunities stemming from the flow of public cash.

It’s wrong and it’s dangerous.

Entrepreneurs should be able to speak freely, publicly and loudly about the direction of this province…without fear of retribution.

At one time, business could contribute significantly to political parties through donations. This provided some leverage in the development of policy. The decision to do away with large donations by corporations and unions was the right one. We can all agree it’s wrong to allow influence of government to be bought.

On the other hand, the voice of the private sector mustn’t be gagged. What we are left with is an ethos in this province that the only things worthy of support emanate from the public sector.

The saviour of this province is not our government. It is our entrepreneurs, the start-ups, the small businesses looking to innovate and create wealth. They are the people, who will drive this province into prosperity…let’s hear them speak loudly and clearly without having to fear the wrath of some bitter bureaucrat or vengeful politician.

If you have a story, let me know.

Weekend addition

I’m normally not going to blog on the weekend but my hour-and-a-half drive with my son Angus today led me to post this.

Angus is in grade 8 and he is studying WWII in social studies. We spent the drive talking about the Canadian contribution to the war effort.

His late grandfather, Jack Morgan fought in the Battle of the Atlantic as a signal officer in the RCN and was an officer on a Bangor Class Minesweeper clearing mines ahead of the assault on Omaha Beach. His great-uncle, George Slipp, dropped with the Canadian Airborne on D-Day.

Our conversation came as the result of his viewing of the film, WWII in Colour, a remarkable collection of colourized footage. It’s not new, but is certainly worth exploring as it’s available on YouTube.

As anyone with children knows, YouTube is quickly becoming the default source of information and entertainment for kids born after 1995. His teacher’s use of this resource in class is a great example using the Internet to give valuable access to important teaching tools.

While on Maritime Morning, I spent a considerable amount of time talking about education in Nova Scotia and at times was critical of the efficacy of the curriculum. I have always believed our teachers in Nova Scotia need better tools online to prepare our kids.

Kudos to his Social Studies teacher at for recognizing this excellent resource which allows kids to explore important material at home.

When we got home we spent the better part of an hour watching the episode on the war in the Pacific and talking about its impact. It’s great quality time and beats the hell out of looking at Vines.

If you would like to check out The Second World War in Colour video below .

If you’d like to read more thoughtful exploration of education in Nova Scotia and beyond, please visit the blog of Paul Bennett at Schoolhouse Consulting.

The Canada…post Canada Post…post

What would Canada be like, post Canada Post? That fateful day when letter mail was delivered by someone other than Crown Corporation employees. Apocalyptic? zombie postman Hmm, no.

I admit, for some perverse reason, I like my Canada Post home delivery. I rifle through the the usual assortment of poorly designed, ineffective direct mail pieces, pizza flyers, credit card offerings, the odd subscription request from magazines I don’t want, bills and sometimes, rarely, a postcard or letter.

Receiving anything I actually want in the mail (a cheque) happens only once or twice a year. In truth, for the most part, anything I get in the mail is usually an annoyance or worse, something from a lawyer or CRA.

Canada Post announced yesterday they will now charge more for their “service” by jacking stamps up to a dollar…and whacking urban home delivery, something suburban and rural dwellers here in the Maritimes have come to accept. Nothing says “service” like forcing seniors out in -30 degree weather to collect hand-delivered recycling.

Mercifully, no longer is the Canadian public being extorted by our beloved mail service at Christmas time. Those old enough to remember a world without texting, will also fondly remember masses of posties milling around burn barrels every second November demanding wages and working condition normally reserved for tenured professors. This while grandmothers from Tofino to Bonavista fretted and fumed over packages and cards held in public sector purgatory. Not to speak of the UI cheques.

We haven’t seen much of that of late. Presumably because if Canada Post went on strike today, the impact would be mitigated. Bills would get paid online, UPS, FedEx, Purolator, Altimax, et al would pick up Grannie’s presents and direct deposit would handle the pay cheques and EI payments. It would be an irritant to business but there are effective alternatives and work-arounds available.

On the other hand, we might have to live without a “holiday” letter from an MPs defending the legislative requirements demanded of Canada Post to deliver it. Damn.

Interestingly, Canada Post CEO Deepak Chopra, ($450,000 to $500,000 per annum), also sits on the Conference Board of Canada, the think-tank credited for hatching the idea of pressing delete on urban delivery. Canada Post insists this notion came from inside the Corporation and they take complete ownership of the dollar stamp idea. Neither, however, seems to address sustainability or the bigger picture.

From yesterday’s announcement we can draw that Canada Post’s answers to diminishing customers and revenue are  a) a reduction in service and b) an increase in price. Interesting theory.

Perhaps instead of trying to figure out ways to create a lousier business that fewer people use, it might finally be time to accept the current model of the Royal Mail monopoly is as anachronistic as its 150 year-old predecessor…and the federal government needs to rewrite the law and open up letter carriage to full competition. The National Post‘s Andrew Coyne effectively makes the case.

The Chair of the Board of Canada Post, Marc Courtois, built a career in the field of financing, mergers and corporate acquisitions…maybe it’s time he could put that impressive CV to work. Crack open this stale institution, break it up and allow in the fresh air of market forces.

One of the possible positive outcomes? Santa’s Elves could concentrate on what they’re best at and letters to the North Pole won’t be returned for a misspelled address.

It should be noted, Santa is on Twitter.

What do you think?

By the way, I’d be interested to know if in the future, you’d like to hear an audio version of my blog with relevant interviews and such…let me know in the contact box below your thoughts on a podcast. Would you listen to it?

Don’t worry, I won’t do anything with your email address other than use it to reply to you.

Related articles

Hello?

Hey, welcome to my new blog. For the last couple of years I’ve been able to vent my spleen on issues on my radio program Maritime Morning. That all came to an end in November when Rogers traded me in for the NHL.

Today, while tooling around Halifax listening to Jian Ghomeshi, I heard a discussion that finally forced my hand to start blogging. It is one of those talk show topics that screams righteous indignation.

Allowing cell phone calls on flights. Possibly the worst idea…ever.

In what could become another great debate between common sense and personal entitlement, airlines will wrestle with the idea of allowing passengers to use their phones in the air. With any luck, the sensible airlines will follow the lead of Delta. Delta are explicit out of the gate. It’s not happening on their flights. Chalk one up for the Skyteam.

Delta are by no means luddites. They already offer in flight WiFi but they are drawing the line at people yammering about what’s for dinner or closing a business deal 18 inches from your ear.

People talking on their phones on buses, in restaurants or on street corners is one thing, people yacking on passenger aircraft are something else again. Once you are seated, it is the closest thing to bondage allowed in public.

It’s bad enough when you win the lottery and be seated next to the 315 pound sausage salesman or the pioneer mother and her colicky newborn, but air-rage would hit new thresholds if your seatmate was allowed to haul out the iPhone and spend 45 minutes jibbering his or her one sided conversation.

Flight attendants would have to be issued zap straps and handcuffs…if not tazers.

The US regulatory body, The Federal Communications Commission might be ready to permit cellphone calls in flight. In some circumstances this might be a good idea. For example, if a group of terrorist take control of the plane and threaten to crash it into an office building, passengers might be excused for dialing 911. Otherwise, if it’s really that important to let someone know when your plane is landing (information that is readily available online from most airports), send a text message.

The airlines experimented with phones on planes. Remember those clunky handsets that rarely worked, fitted into the seat backs? They were okay because it cost about 19 dollars a minute and most people’s conversations were limited to “Guess where I am?”. Those worked so well they lasted long enough for airlines to figure out how to install video screens.

If the FCC allows this, Transport Canada will most assuredly be in the sights of these service providers.

But, perhaps there’s not that much to be concerned about. In a free-market system the first airline to adopt a restriction on cellphone use policy will quickly grab market share away from the airlines who do allow inflight cell phone use.

It’s the right call to make.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.