Rick Emberley was in full rhetorical flight last Thursday when he proclaimed that “the science attached to branding has migrated into destinations.” The Halifax pollster was addressing marketing types, business execs and government officials lunching in a windowless auditorium at the World Trade and Convention Centre. The well-dressed crowd had gathered to celebrate the new $6 million “brand” designed to entice investors, tourists and university students to Nova Scotia. The brand is built around the slogan “Come to life” and a logo consisting of three blue-grey swooshes. There’s also a government website and a song in which Bruce Guthro urges people to come to “where wild meets serene, where everything is centred round the balance of your dreams.”
Premier MacDonald told the lunch crowd that the new brand provides a “single voice for all of Nova Scotia,” adding, “Nova Scotia has an impressive story to tell.” Then, he presided over a ceremony in which 25 new members signed the “Come to life charter” bringing total membership in the branding campaign to 49. The members include companies, big and small, such as Michelin and Alexander Keith’s, business groups such as the provincial Forest Products Association and the Greater Halifax Partnership, as well as public bodies such as Halifax Regional Municipality. Dalhousie University’s “brand manager” also signed up, joining Acadia and Saint Mary’s in the “Come to life” club.
As they viewed the signing ceremony, the lunchers could peruse a “Come to life” kit containing glossy photos and promotional prose aimed at prospective visitors. A colourful brochure announced, “Nova Scotia is built for business” and Nova Scotia “will leave its mark on your soul.” Another handout boasted, “We’re among the most likely people in the world to live to be 100,” a claim that contradicts a 2002 GPI Atlantic study showing that Nova Scotia had the country’s highest rate of deaths from cancer and respiratory disease, and the second highest death rate from heart disease and strokes. (I guess branding is about putting your best foot forward, not imparting unpleasant truths.)
Yet, for all the happy talk last Thursday, there was also an undercurrent of unease. Several speakers referred to the exodus of younger workers to Alberta. A government report available at the check-in table predicted Nova Scotia’s population will likely decline by four percent within 20 years. The report forecast a serious labour shortage. In a post-lunch speech, an official from the Department of Education pointed to other persistent problems. Stuart Gourley said Nova Scotia has the second-lowest wage rates in Canada and the second-lowest rate of labour productivity, not because Nova Scotians won’t work hard, but because their employers aren’t spending enough on new equipment. Gourley added that Nova Scotia has the worst record in Canada for investing in workplace training. He noted that while job gains in the high-tech sector should offset industrial losses such as the recent closures at Trenton Works, Maple Leaf Foods and the Moirs chocolate plant, the new jobs will require higher levels of education and literacy. At the moment, he said, more than 240,000 Nova Scotians have literacy scores below what is needed to work in the so-called “knowledge economy.”
Gourley told me later he’s confident these problems will be solved. But if so, it will obviously take more than a slick “Come to life” brand campaign with its swooshes, glossy brochures and song lyrics about the wild meeting the serene. Rodney MacDonald should rethink his government’s narrow brand campaign and reach out to the broader business sector, working people including teachers, real academics (not just university brand managers) as well as immigrants and immigration experts, to figure out how to raise wage rates, improve productivity, enhance education, reduce tuition fees and make Nova Scotia a damned-sight better and healthier place to live and work. In other words Rodney, it’s time for you and your Tory colleagues to come to life.
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