Building A Better New Brunswick: An Interview With Bill Whalen

The following is an excerpt from Saturday's edition of the Times & Transcript. It is the sixth installment in the Times & Transcript series Building a Better New Brunswick:

"Today’s question-and-answer is with Bill Whalen, owner of HAWK, a communications company in Moncton.

His communications career began in 1979, and since that time he has held positions with the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, Blue Cross, the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce, among others.

Deeply involved in the community, he has served as vice chair of the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships, chairman of the Greater Moncton Airport Authority, chairman the United Way of Greater Moncton and Southeast New Brunswick campaign, director of the Friends of the Moncton Hospital Foundation and member of the national government relations committee of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He also played a role in the creation of the New Brunswick Business Hall of Fame.

Whalen was recognized with the Order of Moncton in 2013.

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Q: How would you build a better New Brunswick?

A: As a lifelong resident I believe New Brunswick is a wonderful place in which to live and raise a family. Because of my passion for this place I call home I know we must have an open and honest discussion about the fiscal cliff on which we find ourselves and how we fix it.

The primary problem is that we are living well beyond our means by spending a lot more than we bring in. Every resident of New Brunswick should read Richard Saillaint’s book, Over the Cliff, to get a dose of reality on how dire our economic situation really is.

It is fashionable and easy to blame government for all things wrong and certainly governments at all levels can take their share of blame for many of our problems.

But I also think each and every one of us who call New Brunswick home must take a long, hard look in the mirror and realize a portion of the responsibility is ours as well. We are the people who force governments to overspend because we refuse to give up anything. And we often cast our ballots based on whoever is offering us the most.

So to start the process of building a better model for New Brunswick we have to be more realistic about what a province of 755,000 people can afford, and how we grow our economy so we can afford it in the future.

•••

Q: What is the very first step that must be taken?

A: We have two major issues; first, we have a structural deficit that we need to continue to work to fix; and second, we have to generate more revenue. In my opinion you can’t pick one of these, you must work aggressively on both.

Health is our largest spending department in the province. But I believe we can spend less in health and yet have a better quality of health care delivery. We have 22 hospitals in New Brunswick for a population of 755,000. That is simply unsustainable.

As New Brunswickers we need to allow the proper decision makers to rebuild our health delivery system for the benefit of everybody. Let’s take the politics out of healthcare by giving the Horizon and Vitalité board of directors the power and authority to direct health care spending strategically with no political interference. Wouldn’t that be a game changer?

We have wonderful examples of how we have been innovative in the delivery of health care in this province. Two that resonate with me are the transformation of the former hospital in Riverside-Albert to the highly successful Albert County Health & Wellness Centre, which has won great accolades across Canada. The second is the New Brunswick Heart Centre located in Saint John. Here we have an example of New Brunswick’s cardiac care being equal to any in Canada because the decision was made to put our key resources into one centre rather than spreading it around the province.

We have similar challenges in education, with too many schools trying to serve too few students. Our population is aging and we have fewer students, which should mean fewer but better and more innovative schools that can give our kids an edge. But again politics enters the decision making and we keep schools open as a trade-off for votes. Let’s take the politics out of education.

And given that health and education are our two largest departments in terms of spending, we need to get a dose of reality in coming up with new solutions.

Just as important to improving outcomes and reducing costs is the need to find ways to generate more money in New Brunswick. We need to foster more innovation, more new business, and increase existing business, all of which will result in more jobs.

More jobs equates to more opportunities for New Brunswickers to stay at home and work, so they can pay tax in our province.

Sadly, I have noticed a climate of negativity and suspicion emerging from some people in our province that seems to be based on a premise that if you are in business or if you are successful, you must be doing something that harms people.

As long as we think this way we are standing in the way of our own success.

We need more entrepreneurs and more leaders who believe we can do anything here in New Brunswick. People like Dr. Rodney Ouellette who has built the amazing Atlantic Cancer Research Institute from an idea; people like the late Ian Fowler who built Moncton into the events and entertainment capital of the region; people like Jon Manship who took a passion and built Spielo into a manufacturing showpiece right here in Moncton.

These are just three of many great individuals who inspire me every day to work hard and build something that we all can be proud of.

We have abundant natural resources. In fact much of our history is derived from the development of these natural resources. The very name implies they are resources on which to anchor our economy. It worked in our past. Why not our future?

The question is how can we responsibly use our resources to generate jobs? British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador have figured out how to do it. Why can’t we?

Why should these provinces effectively manage their natural resources for prosperity and help generate wealth in this country to support us, if we are not prepared or able to develop our own abundant resources?

In addition to resources, we need to find ways to create more manufacturing jobs, more jobs in transportation, more high-tech jobs and more entrepreneurs at all levels. This is happening but we need to grow a culture that welcomes and supports this entrepreneurial spirit.

•••

Q: What resources would be needed to reach this goal, and where would these resources come from?

A: The resources are all here in New Brunswick. The natural resources are abundant; the ability is certainly within our citizens; and we have formidable private and public sector leadership.

What we need is for New Brunswickers to look in the mirror and say we want to be among the best. If we want to be leaders in this country, we must work together to do it.

The easiest thing in the world is to criticize someone else. The harder part is rolling up your sleeves to help fix the problem.

New Brunswick can take a page from Saskatchewan and become a leader. When I began my work career 35 years ago we were often compared to Saskatchewan; similar populations; predominantly rural; strong resource base; similar GDP.

Today Saskatchewan is a shining example of the “can do” attitude that successful communities and provinces can and do have.

From my perspective, we are the only obstacles to our success.

I’m betting that proud New Brunswickers won’t let that happen.

I hope I am right."


Posted on August 30, 2014 .