Wicked Ideas

Hey Maritimers! Are we coming or going?!?

The year 2017 could be a big one in the Maritimes.

It’s Canada’s 150th anniversary – and it’s also the year the Echo generation’s average age reaches 28. That’s how old most of us are when we start thinking about where we want to settle down.

Which begs the question: In the Maritimes will 2017 be marked with celebrations – or will it be a wake?

Lisa Hrabluk

Writer. Social Thinker. Founder, Wicked Ideas. Find me hanging out where culture, people and ideas collide. wickedideas.ca


  • The issues with Canada’s east coast both frightens me and gives me hope. The current trajectory is what scares me; but believing we can and MUST change things is what keeps me going. With a bit of creativity I do believe we can work together to chart a new course. I can’t wait to hear from others, inside and outside of our region and am thrilled to be part of building Wicked Ideas as that virtual “water cooler” we can gather around and talk. Cheers!
    Christine C

  • I know personally it feels like we are going. In the last 2-3 years I have had 50+ friends leave the city for “Bigger Things”. I don’t blame them, not one bit. There are limited opportunities here and honestly I have no idea what the solution is. It’s scary.

    People say it’s jobs that keeps people here and I don’t disagree but we are gainfully employed and question on a regular basis if it’s time we get out as well.

  • I’ve often been overheard to say that I will never leave New Brunswick. Easy to say, I suppose, because I can AFFORD to stay. But there is something truly beautiful about this place. I’m glad to see this forum, if only because I have seen to much of this discussion led by politicians. In addition, many of the institutions that fostered a sense of strong community have been “regionalized”, which does nothing to foster continued buy-in and ownership. We can do better. To answer your question, I’m not going, I’m staying. Now what?

  • Great discussion. I believe that it is good employment that keeps people here. Before anything else people need to be able to cover the necessities of life.

    It’s more then just about employment for yourself though; your spouse, family and friends need good, stable employment. If you have a god job but everyone around you is unemployed or barely making ends meat, that’s going to impact your quality of life. Also if your friends & family leave to find employment elsewhere, that will make you question your decision to stay, especially when you hear their stories if greater prosperity and opportunity.

  • It’s a damn shame that there aren’t more real career opportunities in the Maritimes because it’s a beautiful place. I’m proud to be from there but I doubt I’ll ever go back.

    Some of the best universities in the country are in the Maritimes. Yet there are very few innovative companies based in the Maritimes that entice graduates to stay in the area after they’re finished. I agree with Russell’s comment on the post that there’s a whole lot more missing than just jobs. To me, it feels like there’s just not enough potential, not enough innovation, and simply not enough inspiration for me to want to live there.

  • Except for a Neil Diamond concert. You definitely left town for that. : )

    I’m intrigued by your comment about the regionalization of local institutions. It is a tricky thing, isn’t it? As governments try to reduce costs, the natural inclination is to reduce the number of public institutions but it doesn’t always serve the public’s interest.

    I spent the summer working with T4G, a cool local digital technology firm, on their web content. The company started out designing IT solutions for large retailers and so they have a strong company culture of putting customers first.

    That’s not often the primary motivation of government planning, which is what all those regional institutions are supposed to do.

    I’ll leave off with this link, to one of my favourite sites online, Brain Pickings, and a post about the book ‘Future Perfect’ by journalist Steven Johnson that I read while I was developing Wicked Ideas. I recognize myself in here, maybe you will too:


  • Whoops – sorry gang! I was referring to Nathalie when I mentioned Neil Diamond. Of course we could all do with a little dance around our offices to Sweet Caroline every now and then.

  • My husband and I discuss the possibility of leaving NB, the province where we both were born and raised, on a weekly basis. Our chief concern right now is the lack of employment opportunities for my husband who is a construction electrician. This situation is exasperated by the fact that I will be completing my PhD in early 2014 and employment prospects for me are terrible as well. I also am concerned about the lack of advancement opportunities in my field in NB. I struggle with how this can be made “better”

  • “Wicked” conversation Lisa! 😉

    Gotta say I agree with all the Pros and Cons in the comments here so far.

    And yes, we have had some great news in our neck of the woods recently with the pipeline etc.

    However, it just seems like history repeating itself over and over here with the continuing of industrial hope. Yes, it is great and it helps, but is it sustainable? I don’t know and I don’t know the answer. I wish I did, but what I think could be a step in the right direction is finding ways to create more entrepreneurs from all the smart people that go to school here.

    It is no secret, the start-up cost for a business in the Maritimes is next to nothing compared to the rest of the world. We just need to help people get over the fear and realize that you can do it!

    If we can get more people creating businesses here that sell to people here and globally, then wouldn’t that change our culture and vibrancy and hopefully increase our population?

    I know that’s what we are trying to do and hopefully we can get to a point where we can invest back into our community to make it even better.

  • I was wondering when the pipeline would rear its head in this conversation. The pipeline is going to be an economic boon for our region but in of itself is not the answer. The spin offs that come from it and extra capacity will really determine the long term success of the project. In any event is good news for NB.

    Personally I am more excited about the entrepreneurial spirit I see growing. Given the necessity of the employment situation, a lot of people are seeking to open their own business. Over time, if this trend continues, the economy will see great benefits from it.

    Just look at the impact Radian6 has had on the ICT industry in our region. There are dozens of ideas and companies spinning out of that startup.

  • This is an interesting and timely conversation for me. I have recently relocated from my hometown of Halifax to Calgary. The move was necessitated by lack of opportunity in my industry (marketing/advertising). I have 16-years of experience in the profession and the past several years have been painful in terms of securing full-time work. In my industry specifically, there has been a ton of downsizing and lay-offs. I moved for access to better employment for myself, as well, as for my young children. As much as it pains me to leave, it’s not just about the work and bigger money. My wife and I are interested in discovering the western part of our beautiful country, and exposing our kids to it.

    Leaving the Maritimes is challenging and scary, and stretches our comfort zone to the max. However, I think exposing yourself to new places, people, work, community etc. is only going to benefit us in the end.

    Will my wife and I return to the Maritimes someday? You betcha. Will my 6, 8 and 10 year children at some point? Time will tell.

  • Love the new site and the piece on the Echo Generation was really neat. So I thought I would forward this piece that I saw today.


    I thought it was a funny (AND FAIR) criticism of my generation but it also shows the point that we are gaining so much more than money by leaving the Maritimes. I am quite convinced that it’s not just cash that we are after, it’s the cool factor and other intangibles.

    We watched 50% of our parents get divorced so we treasure time off spent with families.

    Instead of cubicles bigger cities offer open collaborative work environments. You’re promoted and appreciated based on results rather than time served.
    Being educated means that you have a duty to share what you’ve learned.
    My point is that other places are offering a chance to grow faster and more opportunities to learn than many places in the Maritimes.

    Sure Gen Y is in a hurry and we are to be faulted for that, but if other places want to let us run then we will keep going there.

    Keep up the awesome work and congratulations!

  • Cool. That’s part of it, isn’t it? The Maritimes doesn’t feel cool when compared to other places. Patrick’s funny link (and I encourage you all to take the time to read it for its humour-in-the-familiar tone) and Russell’s comment about a lack of vibrancy and culture seems to point to it.

    But if it isn’t cool, why do so many Maritimers feel such a tug home? Scott wants to return, Vickie’s proud of where she’s from but not sure she’ll be back. As a transplant from Ontario, this part of the Maritime psyche has always fascinated me. I love going home to Mississauga (I was at TIFF this past weekend – awesome!), I miss being close to my folks and my sister and think about moving back but I don’t have this pull to the place like Maritimers do to the East Coast. It is Atlantic salmon-like in its devotion to the river from whence you were born.

    I have my theories on the roots of this contradiction, but I’m curious what some of you think.

  • I’m currently stuck in Upper Canada – forced to move by Army. To be fair, I knew it was a possibility when I started, and I managed to stay east for quite a while. Current contract is up in a couple years, and I need to figure out how much money I’m willing to give up to go back. It’s a lot, but I need to put a number on it, because it will be tough to figure out whether I’ll be going back to do something I want to , or whether I’ll just end up having to leave again. (I need to decide 2 years before I would be able to start a job – a little tough to do).

    It basically looks like I’ll be making half or less to move back to NB. Housing is about 2/3 the price. It’s tough to add it up, but after dealing with people here for a year, I don’t want my kids to be from here – I want to come back. If I can only give up a third of what I’m making now, then I’m there.

  • I love this province for the intangibles: its natural beauty, affordable cost of living, and a sense of comraderie I’ve seldom experienced elsewhere. Sadly, there are so few opportunities to make a life here.

    I live in Fredericton and when the EI Guidelines were revised, the federal government distributed flyers advertising a site where you can sign up to receive daily updates about careers in your area. Every day I see 4-8 new postings and they consist of the following: call centres, fast food and restaurant employment, and retail. These jobs tend to be low-paying and offer little in the way of benefits or opportunities for advancement. And although this is not everyone’s chosen path, many people want to know they will make enough money and have enough job security (who isn’t working contract work these days) to possibly buy a house or have children.

    The problem as I see it is that there are few opportunities for university-educated people here. Where could you possibly go? Provincial government? Hiring freeze. Municipal government? Hiring freeze. UNB? Hiring freeze. I’d love to see more companies like Radian6 develop but look what happened there: owned locally and thrived, sold to a company in California and two rounds of layoffs within a year.

    Sadly, those people who do find full-time work find themselves faced with a situation summed up by an e-card I saw recently: Congratulations! A job is the new raise. They find themselves making less than their equivalents in other provinces or countries, often stuck at a salary rate not commensurate with their skills or experience, facing wage freezes so they are not receiving raises or seeing opportunities for advancement. It kills me because I know so many talented, dedicated, intelligent people who desparately want to be here but just can’t swing it.

    I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the lack of jobs here is solely a New Brunswick phenomenon because I’m hearing the same feedback from friends in Nova Scotia, Ontario, BC, and even Alberta now. It seems there are no jobs anywhere for anyone under the age of 40.

    However, I feel that with jobs comes people and with people comes the cool factor noted in earlier comments: restaurants, bars, funky independently owned businesses. It all comes down to this: we need people but people need to be able to make a life for themselves.

  • I am originally from New Brunswick and grew up there. I went to university in Halifax. I love the maritimes just as much as the next homebody. However, when I graduated, I applied for hundreds of jobs with very little opportunity provided to me. As a university graduate, I was eligible for call centre jobs and that pretty much sums up the list of employers that were interested in investing in me. I studied a discipline in school that is highly employable in other parts of the country. I now live in Calgary and have been working in my field for close to 5 years now.

    The issue with these advertisements trying To entice young professionals to move back to the maritimes is this: we are faced with little to no opportunity at the same calibre we have currently out west, with most opportunities for advancement in the maritimes being mostly from people retiring as there is very little internal or external turnover.

  • We took an opportunity to give Nova Scotia a try after 10 years in Ottawa. After two years of living on the bubble of hiring in the education sector, and hearing it would be 4-5 more years to get anything resembling a secure job, we took our dwindling savings back to Ottawa, with two secure jobs that pay well. I’m all for the intangibles, but I didn’t go to Teachers’ College to work retail. Wish it had worked, but I’m not cut out for the stress lack of security causes.

  • Thanks to all the previous commenters for contributing to the discussion. Reading these perspectives reminds me of how fortunate I’ve been.

    I left NB after high school and never really thought I’d return. After university in Ontario, I worked all over the world. When I came back to Canada, I took a job in Ottawa and thought I’d settle in there. Bought a house, build a network of friends and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Then, my high school sweetheart asked me to move home to Fredericton. I said I’d only do it if I could find a job I could get excited about. Popped HR and Fredericton into Google and up came a great position in my preferred industry (IT) with a start-up.

    Took the 30% pay cut, sold the house, moved home, bought a house for less than half of my previous mortgage and made a go of it. It took a while to build an equivalent social network, as many of my acquaintances from grade school didn’t “fit”.

    Fast forward to today – I am raising my daughter in an extremely safe city, close to her grandparents, surrounded by neighbours who look out for us, walking distance from a fabulous market, innovative local retailers, and world-class cultural experiences like the Harvest Jazz & Blues festival, the Beaverbrook and the Bricklin! My quality of life is exceptional. I love the energy of the entrepreneurs in this province who are determined to build global businesses from our gorgeous corner of the world.

    It seems like I’m the exception, but I have a number of friends who’ve “come home” and found a way of life they love here. How can we make this the norm?

  • Reading through these posts I’d define the problem into three points:
    1. The Maritimes does not have a diverse job list, particularly for university-educated people. As John Serroul says, he didn’t go to teacher’s college to work retail, and Nancy Drew doesn’t want to work in a call centre (I will refrain from making a mystery-solving joke);
    2. The skilled jobs that are here pay less than equivalent jobs elsewhere, which is why Vickie and Craig aren’t here; and,
    3. That lack of career diversity and wealth creation makes our communities feel less vibrant and so people who want that think seriously about leaving for a place that has all three.

    That’s a wicked problem, which incidentally is a real term. It refers to a problem that cannot be solved through traditional linear thinking and which has competing interests that make finding a solution very difficult. Here’s the Wikipedia definition.

  • Lisa, thanks for opening this discussion. It has already led to an interesting discussion.

    I’m in the process of becoming a certified immigration consultant. In this course, we have been spending quite some time examining BC’s Provincial Nominee Program (a program aimed to have immigrants settle economically in BC).

    BC’s approach is quite interesting with categories that allow immigrants to establish or purchase businesses that may contribute to BC economy specifically through developing innovative and creative approaches to traditional businesses, servicing underserved regions, or transferring technology, skills and specialized know-how to the province.

    I compare this with NB’s Nominee Program. Nothing – at all – slightly comparable to BC’s approach to invite new ideas and innovation. Through NB’s Nominee Program business investors “must prepare a business plan of economic benefit to NB”. The terminology is quite different, and NB’s is neither particular welcoming, nor inspiring.

    Continuing down the same path will probably not provide new results, so how about taking chances and trying something new, perhaps by encouraging innovative people to come to the province with their ideas and drive. Does NB really have anything to lose? I for one am not interested in seeing how worse it can get in NB.

    A common criticism of the provincial nominee programs is that immigrants just leave for other provinces once in Canada. In the particular BC program, that situation was addressed by only granting permanent resident status to the immigrants AFTER they had met performance measures after a few years running their business – it isn’t a given that they will become permanent residents until then.

  • One thing that strikes me about the conversation so far is that it echoes the broader conversation I hear daily in Cape Breton, where I live. People decry the lack of employment, but seldom consider creating employment for themselves via entrepreneurship. (That isn’t a criticism – just an observation).

    I wonder what would happen if public schools in the Maritimes (particularly in rural areas) created an entrepreneurship curriculum for the elementary level, rather than offering it as an elective in grade 11 (by which time most teens have already decided to leave for work elsewhere).

    What would happen if we created a culture of entrepreneurship? What would happen if our rural schools were re-defined as community hubs that encompassed adult education opportunities, business incubators, and arts labs? What would happen if, instead of educating our children for jobs that exist elsewhere (as written about in Michael Corbett’s book “Learning to Leave”), we developed a more flexible curriculum that allowed kids the option of building a living here at home?

    The Georgetown Conference: Redefining Rural (http://thegeorgetownconference.ca/) is still looking for delegates – particularly in the “under 35” category. The conference is bringing together rural activists and community leaders from across the Maritimes, to talk about changing the future of “rural”. If any of you fall into this category, I urge you to apply!

  • Ase & Kate – more great observations, thanks.

    Kate, The Georgetown Conference is going to be a really cool event, we will be watching what emerges from it and we’re certainly encouraging people to check it out. Wade MacLauchlan, the president emeritus of UPEI is always up to something and this time he’s out to change the way we view rural communities.

    Over the past few years I’ve listened and watched the rhetoric about the Maritimes harden into an either/or proposition. Last year’s ‘needs vs wants’ narrative during the provincial budget debates was a great example of that and reflected the frustration politicians and civil servants feel with the onslaught of special interests demanding their share of the provincial pie.

    I understand where they’re coming from and while I agree we need to make choices, I think the first choice we need to make is that we need to change the way we do things at a very fundamental level.

    I think for communities like those in Cape Breton (where my mother-in-law’s people are from) local solutions are desperately needed. The Membertou First Nation is a great example of local decision-making in action.

    For all communities in the Maritimes, and beyond for that matter, solutions will likely be a mix of small entrepreneurs and community-led efforts to attract outside investments.

    So to your point Ase, a provincial nominee program that encourages newcomers to chase their own ideas in this part of the world may be more successful than the current program, which I agree does little to retain immigrants after they’ve put in their required years in the region. It’s a very ‘Northern Exposure’ approach to populating the hinterland.

    Would love to know more about what they’re doing in BC, so please share Ase.

    And Kate – keep us updated on your Road to Georgetown. Good to know they’re looking for people. We’ll do our best to get the word out.

  • Hi everyone! I just came across your discussion while researching on my current pet project – how to move home. I don’t have much new to add to the discussion – I’m like a lot of folks who’ve already commented here. I grew up in Halifax, went to university there as well, and then left. Fast track 12 years and I’ve lived between Sydney (Australia) and London (UK) and back again all the while working for some really fantastic companies. Having started a family, I would love to be able to move home, enjoy the East Coast lifestyle, live in a much less chaotic place, and most importantly be really close to family in a way that we are really part of each others’ lives, rather than just people on the other side of FaceTime who you see in person once a year. But I am really concerned that we would be able to make a go of it – that my partner and I would be able to work in our fields, let alone in a fulfilling way. It’s a daunting thing to think about leaving the vibrant community we’ve built up here in incredibly expensive Sydney (but so far away) to move home and then, as others here have, have to move somewhere else because we would struggle to make a go of it. I’ve been reading Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City? and trying to work out where Halifax fits in. We feel like we’ve got enough about us that we can make a go of most things, but could we succeed in the Maritimes…? Sometimes I feel like it could be an incredible opportunity, and then sometimes I think I’m deluding myself too! 🙂

  • This is SUCH an interesting conversation and I am passionate about this topic. Thank you Lisa for this great initiative and to all of you for contributing !

    First off, I love the Maritimes. There’s no where else I’d rather be. I will be moving back in the near future, and I feel great things to come for this very unique and special part of the world.

    On the ‘cool’ factor, it’s funny because in my circle of friends, it’s somewhat seen as ‘cool’ to move back to the homeland. It’s ‘cool’ to come back and contribute to your home community that gave you so much growing up. It’s cool to be from a small place and to understand life in such a simple and beautiful way that you couldn’t get in a big city. In my opinion, it’s way cooler raising your kids in a safe, secure and natural environment than in a concrete jungle. It’s funny because every time I come home, I always notice all the ‘cool’ new trendy cafes and hip shops popping up in every Maritime city. Just to name a few of my faves : Dancing Goat Cafe (Cape Breton), Cedar Tree Cafe (Freddy), Young Folk and the Kettle Black (Ch’town), Just Us Coffee (Hali), Brewed Awakening (Corner Brook, ok not Maritimes, but close enough).

    On the economic issue, I’m all about the ‘Build it and they will come’ attitude. If you create cool companies, cool people will come. If you start amazing initiatives, it attracts people to you and you will always feel surrounded by interesting and inspiring people. I have met so many ridiculously passionate and inspiring people in the Maritimes. We just need a few more that are willing to take the leap, move back, and make things happen.

    I guess for me, and I believe for many others of my generation, money isn’t such a big factor anymore. We can be creative and have amazing lifestyles with less money. Growing your own food, ridesharing/carsharing, cycling, owning a smaller home and less material objects are all things that are becoming more trendy as people see what’s really important in life. I don’t need an oversized house, 2 cars and a flat screen TV. Those things just don’t make me happy. Nature, family, good friends, cultural activities, fresh food, fresh air, a sense of community, and a relaxed lifestyle does though.

    Maybe if we change the way we think about ‘success’, we can find everything we are looking for in the little ol’ Maritimes. It’s all a question of perspective ;

  • I agree with Nathalie, cool is what you make it to be. I also think moving back to the Maritimes is the “cool” thing to do. “Back to the land” and “quality of life” is definitely trendy. Whether or not one chooses to see it that way is subjective. However, for myself, I know that PEI and the Maritimes are the coolest.

    I think that much of the pessimism and the defeatist attitudes vis-à-vis the Maritimes/Atlantic provinces is based on what “society” claims our “past” to be, and our perceptions of this past: a so-called history of failures and/or decline. I want everyone to consider that a) we need not agree with this assessment and b) that our future needs not be reflective of this generally agreed-upon interpretation of our past. Indeed, whatever challenges may have been, or whatever challenges we may perceive to have today, we can create the tomorrow we want for the Maritimes. What’s stopping us from doing so? (Except ourselves and our excuses?)

    The Maritimes are going to be what we make them out to be. I’m choosing the Maritimes to be a prosperous, ingenious place where quality of life is second to none. I understand that there are certain careers that can be perceived as “harder” to practice in the Maritimes. However, I do think we can also create our own possibilities, our own career paths. A few people in the thread mentioned entrepreneurship. I definitely think that is one interesting avenue. There are as many possibilities as we can imagine/create for ourselves. I invite anyone who has pointed to this or that obstacle to consider whether or not they have explored all the options, and seen the potential opportunities in these perceived obstacles.

    For myself, I was following a path in international development, to “save the world” so to speak. I realized I could do that by contributing to PEI’s development. So I came home and looked for opportunities in renewable energies in PEI. I could have said “there are no jobs in this field” and have gone somewhere else to work in this field. Instead, I looked for the opportunities and I am now working on a fantastic project building PEI’s energy independence by building its sustainable biomass heating industry. It’s my dream job, and I’m doing it. Right here at home, in PEI, near the beach, and surrounded by friends and family. Triple Win!

    I invite everyone who is still doubting the Maritimes’ chances of success, to consider what opportunities may truly lie for them and to see what’s possible in the Maritimes if they truly want to come home. Many have done it, many more indeed will. With our technologies and the spread of knowledge, nothing is impossible. Now an important distinction: this may not be the easiest route. But I do want everyone to consider that all is possible in the Maritimes. If we are courageous enough to not stop at those first road blocks, we can make anything possible. As Margaret Mead’s famous quote goes: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

    In short, for 2017, I vote for “celebration” for the Maritimes. ; )

  • Fascinating insights! As a researcher of social media and big data and sitting as a board director for the digital industry association for NS, it’s a question I ponder often. I’m an ex-pat Brit who’s chosen to tough it out here, but oddly enough, my daughter in 2017 will be leaving Nova Scotia.

    I think a major part of the challenge is the economic factor. Over 50% of the workforce in Halifax are government employees. That’s not good for tax revenues. It means less than half of the working population have to support public spending. This is only seen in Nova Scotia in Canada.

    My horizon of hope is the the number of start-up companies revving in Nova Scotia and that some successful entrepreneurs who’ve exited their start-ups elsewhere have returned and are investing back in the community. I also think that some people will want to return to the province, once the bigger markets become tiring. We shall see.

    Great insights here and discussion!

  • The Michael Haan video on internal migration was interesting. The information Don Mills of Corporate Research Associates shared with attendees at Ideas in Digby last week suggests that there is a link to increasing urbanization. The Maritimes , and particularly New Brunswick, are resistant to this trend. Even my home province of Saskatchewan has an accelerating urban population while maintaining a modern and productive agricultural sector.Why is urbanization such a catalyst to growth? May I recommend Richard Florida’s “The Flight of the Creative Class’ and Doug Saunder’s “Arrival City” for two perspectives on the subject. Some of the younger (pardon the bold assumption) contributors to this discussion have already mentioned the “cool” factor.

  • I came to Canada from the US to see if my long distance relationship would turn into something more. Well, guess what age I was? 27. It was time to make a decision to move and I did. I moved to Halifax(I live in Saint John now) and the rest is history. The past 13 years have been great, but I had to make some changes. My status car is now a Subaru not a BMW, for instance. Life here in the Maritimes is different than big cities or large markets. Let’s face it the lifestyle IS different. Better in some and not so much in others. However, the thing that has kept me here is the People and that “Special” way we do business as a community. I have made a decision that this is how I want to live and I tune out the rest. There is no doubt the competition for jobs here is more of a challenge, and pay scale can be skewed to fit the area; but the life is so much more rewarding. I am not sure how to get people stay here or get back here, but it starts with us; the ones that live and love it here.

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