Friday, December 30, 2011

Nouveau Scotia, Anyone?

Taking the “NO” out of Nova Scotia
Years ago, urban legend says, when Chevrolet introduced the Chevy Nova, they had trouble with the name in Spanish speaking areas, as in Spanish No Va means ‘it won’t go.’

In the past while, I’ve witnessed several incidents that make me wonder if this viewpoint has somehow been ingrained in us here in this beautiful province, and what we can do to change our own perspective.

I met a couple last year who follow the Toronto Argonauts quite fanatically and had come to Moncton to see them play in the new stadium.  They are well known in the media and are interviewed wherever they go.  They journeyed to Nova Scotia and were immediately struck by the difference in attitude between here and New Brunswick.   They saw that in Moncton the prevailing attitude in everything seemed to be ‘how can we make this happen?’ and in Halifax everyone’s outlook seemed to be ‘why should we make this happen?’

A man came into the shop where I worked and told me he was here for a convention.  He said when his organization has conferences in Halifax they attract 50% more delegates than any other host city, as everyone wants to stay a few extra days and see the province.  He told me that because of this tendency they had actually outgrown the facilities available in Halifax and would not be able to hold future conventions here.  Meanwhile, rumblings of dissent around a new convention centre persist, at least in the media.

Recently I was fortunate to meet a lovely young woman whose work I had admired for a few years.  She is Veronica MacIsaac, a local fashion designer.  Her work is youthful, avante garde, playful and wearable, and she crafts everything using authentic tartans; reinventing a traditional material for a contemporary lifestyle.  When I learned Veronica was at a party I was attending, I ran over to meet her.  She was in conversation with some intelligent financial minds who were trying to convince her that the only way she could make money was to outsource her garment construction to China.  There was some debate about whether China or India would be the best place, but no debate about the necessity.  It was obvious that Veronica was astounded at how easily it was assumed that this was the ‘only way.’  She is a craftsperson; for her the fact that her designs are locally hand made one at a time here in Nova Scotia IS her raison d’etre.  Clearly she’d like to be able to make a living at it; however it’s not about mass production.

A young man came up to me while I was at the Seaport Farmer’s Market selling wine recently one Saturday.  He gave me a bit of a hard time about the price of Nova Scotia wine; the industry in his opinion would not survive such ‘gouging’ when Chilean wines could be bought for half the price.  He didn’t seem to understand that the support of local industry is what makes for a sustainable economy.  Or that as the industry grows, the prices will go down.

Not everyone can afford local wines right now, or Nova Scotian couture.  We can all afford local carrots, onions and potatoes, however, and we need to start demanding them at the grocery stores.   A lady at the farmer’s market is selling hand knit hats for $15, about the same as the ones made in China at the Wal-Mart.  Whether it’s a skating oval offering exercise at minimal expense to children, a CFL quality stadium, business ventures to support the shipbuilding contract, or community gardens, we need to stop saying ‘That won’t work here’ or ‘Why should we?’  

As it turns out, the story of the Chevy Nova isn't true.  Chevrolet actually did quite well with sales in Latin America.  How cool would it be if negativity in Nova Scotia became an urban myth as well...we need to dream, and dream large, and dream large right now.  It’s time to say ‘Yes, let’s try that’ more often.  We have stayed home already, now let’s go big!


  1. Glad you pointed out the Chevy Nova thing is an urban myth. ;-)

    Obviously there has to be due diligence when it comes to any business plan. We've been burnt in the past (Clairtone TV in the '60s, as an example), as has NB (remember the Bricklin?) Over and over there have been fast operators who have milked our coffers with get-rich-quick schemes and then skedaddled.

    I can't say if NB is better or worse than NS WRT innovative concepts, but I will bow to those with more experience, such as your examples. I will agree that there is an inertia in this province that is tough to overcome.

    But instead of dreaming big, I would argue in favour of having many, many small dreams, like that of your fashion designer. I'm encouraged that the Gov't. has announced help for new agricultural producers: From what I've heard on CBC Radio, this could help a whole lot of innovative ideas come about.

  2. Happy New Year.

    You are so right- Nova Scotia is blinded & driven by its past rather than looking to its future.


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