Incredible shrinking region? Meet my incredible rising hope.

Part 3 - Mark Fraser

Necessary context for those new to this whole thing:

Earlier this year, published a 5-part series in response to the Globe and Mail Article: Canada’s Incredible Shrinking Region . Need a refresher? (This is the part where you click on the link without me telling you to CLICK HERE because telling someone to CLICK HERE is old fashioned.) 

Since we published the first round of dispatches, a lot has changed including our national leadership, international strife, war, terrorism and the general terribleness of Donald Trump. Seemed like a good time for some hope.

Okay, that's enough background, now it's time for Mark to talk.

My name is Mark Fraser and I am currently on the leadership team at a technology and digital marketing outfit called T4G.  I live in Nova Scotia, having returned to my birthplace 10 years after starting my career in Toronto, and I feel lucky to live in this special place.  But I don’t mean special in the unnecessarily sentimental manner.  I mean special as a synonym that wraps up unique, open, challenging, inspiring and home in one tidy package. 

I left Nova Scotia the way that many Nova Scotian’s do – just for a few months.  And within that few months, things changed for me in Toronto, and I discovered new passions, interest, opportunity and friendships (including one that would turn into my marriage).  And so, like many NS expats that intend to leave the province just for a short while, I ended up staying away for years.

We had plans to grow the family, which would necessitate a move out of the 800 sq. foot condo at King & Shaw, into a new family home.  And being someone that grew up having grass always in close proximity, I wanted a home that had a front yard AND a back yard with grass in both (was that too much to ask?).  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the cash for that, and the idea of hours on a GO Train every day was not of interest.

So we decided to move “home,” and fortunately for me, I was working for an inspired company that was interested in having great people delivering the best solutions for our customers (geography was much further down the list in terms of important attributes). 

So the image that makes me happy and hopeful about the region? Here it is:

Curious choice?  Perhaps.  This is a picture of my 11-year old daughter Paige competing in an Under 12 Giant Slalom race at Ski Martock outside Windsor, NS.  Yes, this could be a proud papa photo…..but it is also metaphor for our region:  Size does not matter.

Many people scoff at the idea of skiing in Nova Scotia.  And quite frankly, if you are a high performance recreational skier…..then yes, there are more interesting places to ski.  But as it turns out, if you are learning how to RACE on skis, you don’t need much of a hill.  And despite its relatively small size, it is perfectly acceptable for learning how to train and then race in the Alpine Skiing domain.  All 600 vertical feet of it.

Just ask Dara Howell.  Ok, so she is not from Nova Scotia.  She is from Huntsville, Ontario.  But her home hill?  Happy Valley.  Vertical drop at Happy Valley?  347 feet.  Martock is almost twice as big!  And how did she fare as a competitive skier?  Gold at the Sochi Olympics.  Not bad for a skier from a tiny hill.

Just because we are small does not mean we have to be small minded.  Attitude, drive and determination can take you all the way to the Olympics….and win.  And I am hopeful that our region will prevail, just as Paige will get the opportunities she deserves.

Now onto your questions….

The national political landscape has shifted since the original article and’s response. Have you noticed any change in the attitudes of people in the Maritimes since the federal election or any changes on a business front?

Canada has been consumed by an almost euphoric sense of positivity as a result of the most recent federal election.  So yes – I think that this has translated into some attitude shifts in a positive direction for people in our region.  I have seen this represented in a couple of ways.

Firstly, many are just plain happy for change.  We have work to do to, and much of that starts with enthusiasm and positivity.  Personally, I have seen more of it.  This is a good start.

Secondly, I believe that there are underpinnings of our future success that can be found in policy changes (current or pending) that the federal Liberal government will deliver.  For instance, for our region to grow, one of the things that needs to increase is immigration.  The previous “economic immigration” policies of the Conservative government were indeed low risk, but they were severely limiting with how quickly immigrants could be attracted.  The Nova Scotia Office of Immigration has made several superb program improvements over the last few years that have made a difference, but ultimately it is Federal policy that drives provincial programming.  Changes on this side will go a long way.

Right now, sometimes it seems like we think of ourselves as separate from other parts of Canada. Do you agree? (Why or why not) and if you agree, how can the Maritimes be part of a larger national and global narrative?

I agree, and I think that this perspective is one that is culturally based more than anything.  But I also believe that we can keep our unique cultural narrative alive while also being driven and assertive when growing our economy in context of the rest of Canada and the world economy.

We have an international reputation for things that are uniquely maritime (think Anne Murray), but we also have an international reputation for things that are global (think seafood, or even global security).  We need to frame our exports against the world market, not our cultural identity, to assert our position as a serious national and global player.  Remember – it doesn’t take much of a ski hill to learn how to be a world class competitor.

Sometimes Maritimers have been known to use phrases like “come from away”. How can the entire region be more welcoming and supportive of newcomers, new businesses and new ways of doing things?

That will take practice.  My wife Mylene was a CFA for many years, and it is a frustrating experience to hear that the world can be so easily divided into two key geographies:  “Here” and “Away.” 

We have international immigration requirements, but we also have national migration needs – and an attitude shift that sees individuals previously labelled as CFAs instead being welcomed heartily is required. 

We have years (decades, in fact) of data that supports the idea that doing the same old thing does not lead to economic prosperity.  So we need to change – all the way from how we manage our civil service to tax burden to (yes), how we welcome newcomers.  “Come From Away” needs to be retired like the penny.

What are some of the ways you / your family / your business are trying to support growth and change in the region?

  • These are some of the things that we do at work:
  • We hire new grads and immigrants at T4G
  • We tell stories of the amazing things that T4G does for companies outside of the region
  • We hit the road (air actually) a LOT so that we can further develop export markets
  •  We make it easy for employees to work at T4G

And at home, we:

  • We buy, drink and brag about our amazing wine industry.  We love these guys.
  •  We eat ethic food frequently
  •  Encourage our kids to ask questions and be a part of their community
  • We visit other places so that we can compare our region to others’ in the real world
  • Ski as hard as we can on 600 vertical feet

There are a lot of regional, national and international stories currently that could make us despair. What makes you hopeful about what’s to come in 2016?

Between the OneNS Coalition, EngageNS, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, the Halifax Partnership, City Hall and Mayor Savage and the Provincial Government and Premier McNeil, I have NEVER heard so many people talk about positive change at the same time in my entire life.  There is a groundswell of interest, conversation, action and attitude that I think sets us up well for change.  Combining this with the Federal Government enthusiasm adds to that energy.

But we need to have people to keep us honest, too.  If we all get in a room and declare that we are going to make change, who exactly remains to work on it in real life?  Our conscience needs to be large and present, and without it we can be easily deluded into thinking we are making exceptional progress when were are really just watching new paint dry.

There has been a lot of talk about taking more advantage of our region’s strengths to provide a mechanism for growth.  Yes, the opportunities for ocean-related products, technology, services and research remain huge – and yes, we can do more there to lay an even stronger foundation for the development of a global reputation as THE oceans leader.

But what about our weaknesses?  It is well reported (Ivany and others) that we have a demographic problem that is directly making our economic problem worse:  we have an aging population that will become less productive and more costly in the near future. 

So let’s continue to take advantage of our strengths (ocean), but let’s also figure out how to convert what is believed to be weaknesses into new strengths.  Yes, we have an aging population.  Why can’t we use that population to figure out who to manage that best – and turn Nova Scotia into THE pace to age well!  Healthy active seniors that are a part of our economy on the plus side (as opposed to just clients of our healthdisease-care system) may be just a good idea or three away.  Attitude isn’t just about taking Come From Away out of the vernacular….it is also believing that such transformational ideas like this are possible.

I’m hopeful.  And I commit to working hard to prove that my feelings are not hollow.

Want more of these deep thoughts?

Part 1 - The Incredible Shrinking Region Awakens

Part 2 - Love, Business and the Incredible Shrinking Region