Ten years ago, any snowbrush you bought at Canadian Tire had been picked out by my husband. That was his job at corporate headquarters. Choosing which snowbrushes and car wash items ended up on shelves across the country. It was a job and a company that generated such loyalty that he still walks the aisles this time of year, facing products and promoting the brand in which he believes.
It was also ten years ago that we decided to leave Toronto and return to the East Coast. The question to be decided: where in the Maritimes would we find the best opportunity for ourselves and our eventual family? As a proud Cape Bretoner, I tried to make the case for my island, but his home province of New Brunswick won – in large part because of a delegation of provincial, municipal, and business leaders who travelled to Toronto for a recruitment event.
I was reminded of this event and its consequences reading about Frank McKenna’s recent summit in Toronto. The former premier gathered nearly 200 New Brunswickers together; a few were mayors, business executives, and educational representatives currently working in this province, but most were Ontario-based industry leaders and influencers who grew up in New Brunswick. McKenna implored them to use their current status to help the province in which they once lived. “The helping hand we’ve always been looking for is right at the end of our own arm,” he said.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s a point I’ve returned to often in this column. When we raise children who are proud of this province, who understand its history and its potential, we are creating the groundwork for a generation of leaders who can bring people and prosperity to this province, even if they choose to live elsewhere. Now is the time to draw on those connections, to find the New Brunswickers who have moved to other parts of the country and the world, and not only remind them of their love for this land but also inform them of the advances since they’ve left.
McKenna did just that with his guest speaker at the event, Stephen Wetmore, the current president and CEO of Canadian Tire. Wetmore grew up in Campbellton. His company’s head of retail, Allan MacDonald, and marketing leader, Susan O’Brien, are also New Brunswickers. There is a lot love for this little province in the boardrooms of that company – but until this event, Wetmore says he was unaware of some business opportunities, such as the growing cybersecurity expertise. He also told the crowd he’s looking to New Brunswick as a perfect ‘test and learn’ site for the company, an exciting opportunity to have residents here get a first look at potential new products for stores across the country.
This is a clear example of how tugging on the heart strings of those who hold New Brunswick close can result in economic growth for our province. We need to have the groundwork in place to be competitive on a global market; we need to create opportunities for investment and encourage local businesses that are pushing the limits of their potential. Then we need to leverage the connection that others feel for this place. New Brunswickers are doing incredible things across this country and around the world; let’s remind them of the good they could also do here at home by thinking of us in a new light. People remain connected to places that are meaningful to them. Just like my husband remains loyal to Canadian Tire, so too can New Brunswickers remain loyal to our province, no matter where they live or work at the moment.