Printer Friendly

The third era.

Manitoba's economy has slowly declined for 70 years. Can we turn it around in the Nineties for good?

It's after 6 a.m., September, 1991. On the bedside table in my quiet room the clock radio turns on CBC. Perky voices babble in the darkness about weather. Then a third voice breaks in. It's a federal manpower economist. He's talking about job losses in Manitoba.

"There are 65,000 people out of work in Manitoba," he announces. "It's a record," he says glumly. He says the recession is far from over. The '90s starts Manitoba's third economic era since the 1800's. The start is abysmal.

I'm conscious now, jolted awake by the reality that something profound is happening in my province and in my country. There are a lot of people in trouble. This includes my friend the electrician, who lost his business in Winnipeg, and my friend the TV sales manager in Montreal, and my friend in financial services in Vancouver.

I roll over, my mind starts functioning. I'm working on a story on the future of Manitoba while all around me people seem to be unemployed. Is my province dying? I'm the editor of a business magazine. I can telephone the people who should know.

I start with University of Manitoba professor John McCallum, who has been a columnist for this magazine for 10 years. He is also the chairman of Manitoba Hydro and a friend of Minister Michael Wilson. He tells me he has lived in Winnipeg all his life and his kids go to school here. He says Manitoba is losing its young people. If kids go to university here they will likely stay here. But our kids are studying at so-called "hot" universities; McCallum identifies these as Queen's, Dalhousie and McGill. Those universities have developed a reputation for fun and hard work and have made university life a dynamic experience. Maybe, he says, the University of Manitoba hasn't made a serious effort to make itself a "hot" campus and so attract more of Manitoba's bright, keen students.

Then McCallum ticks off Manitoba's positive points: "the lake, no traffic jams and an atmosphere of safety. And then I think about how Winnipeggers like to complain about mosquitoes and cold, when what they're really doing is bragging about how tough they are."

McCallum and I talk about battered wheat prices. Wheat has lost its 1920s glow, and manufacturing has lost thousands of permanent jobs from plant closures. How can a 50-year-old flour mill worker or a meat plant worker get a job in a data processing office at a computer? Who will retrain them?

"It's preposterous," McCallum says, "to think that a bright, well-educated and resourceful population of a million people with its own food production, natural resources and energy can't have a long-term, prosperous life indefinitely."

After speaking to McCallum, I pick up the Price Waterhouse economic strategy report on Winnipeg's future. Number 87 on the potential business list is retail shopping. It's rated high. It says Winnipeg has a range of national-class retail shopping centres. Prices can be attractive for some items, like china. But Price Waterhouse doesn't mention that cross-border shopping is killing Canadian retail. Why is retailing rated as a high-potential opportunity?

Computer software is rated high, so are national insurance claim centres, telephone survey firms, market testing centres, telemarketing firms, mail-order houses, credit approval centres, computer information retrieval bureaus and cheque-clearing centres. The report says grain commodity future trading has high potential. In health care the report says wheelchair production could be big; crutches and canes hold medium potential. The list goes on.

I change my focus and read an essay about Manitoba's economy by University of Manitoba professor Cy Gonick. He says Manitoba's economy has been in a long-term decline since the '20s and that it's "fragile." Now "global restructuring" has affected all sectors of the economy. Agriculture is in decline, with a continuous drop in the number of farms. Important mines have closed, with more to follow as metal prices weaken; technological change has drastically reduced the size of the work force at mines that do stay open. He continues with scary details I already know. Traditional industries such as meat packing, agricultural implements and metal fabrication, and financial services will continue in a long-term decline. Head offices have moved from Winnipeg. He names names; I recognize them. The Bay, parts of Richardson Greenshields, Great-West Life, Monarch Life and Citadel Life have gone. On the bright side Royal Trust is moving 200 data processing jobs to Winnipeg. More of this is needed. But will it help keep young people here?

I call a young man who is well-educated. Jeff Bayne is 30 and a graduate of the University of Manitoba faculty of management studies. He has a master's degree in business administration, having studied general management at the University of Western Ontario. Bayne is president of a group of Western Business School graduates which includes Ashleigh Everett of Royal Canadian Securities, and Gary Brownstone, owner of Uncle Willy's Buffet, a new chain of all-you-can-eat restaurants.

Bayne says about 15 members of this group meet monthly to kick around a variety of topics. He says there are about 120 honors grads and MBAs from Western in Manitoba. Why is he here? "In Toronto affordable housing is out of the question," he says. "And it takes hours to get home even if you do have a house."

Bayne is educated and knows all the financial angles in life. He's decided his lifestyle is best served by living in Winnipeg. What does he think of young Canadians? "They're not brash enough, not confident," he says. "Americans are far more competitive."

Fine. Not competitive.

Yet, in Winnipeg, we do have world-beaters. But you'll never see their faces on a signboard with the words 'Winnipeg Winner' to pump up pride in our people. Only real estate agents do that. Here's something to think about. Winnipeg's Lisa Fraser is the Canadian National Women's Court Handball champion. Her father is John Fraser, head of Federal Industries, a free enterpriser. Sherman Greenfeld has been the Canadian Men's Racquetball champion for six consecutive years. His father owns a chain of local grocery stores. These young people are managing international careers. Are they ever invited to talk to anyone about how they do it? No. They are almost obscure.

Here are more winners: Cal Murphy lives here and runs a successful football franchise called The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, winning three Grey Cups, one with him as coach and two as general manager; Art DeFehr of Palliser Furniture, one of the best furniture makers in North America and a Harvard Business School graduate; I.H. Asper, owner of Canada's Global Television Network; and Robert Chipman, who's a conglomerate himself. There are many more, if one cares to look.

Douglas Stephen is another example. At 37 he owns several restaurants including the Old Spaghetti Factory. I call him and ask where he got his start.

"Waiting on tables while I studied zoology at the University of Manitoba," he says. After learning the hospitality business all over North America, including the fabled Los Angeles, he chose to come home to Winnipeg. "You can do it here," he says.

He has made himself a respected enough figure to become the president of the Canadian Restaurant Association. Then there's Ike Vickar, president of the Federated Automobile Dealers Association of Canada, and John Bulman, president of the Bulman Group Ltd., and named manager of the year for Manitoba and Saskatchewan by the Canadian Institute of Management. And the Reimer Trucking people are renowned in North America for total quality management. They did it here, in Winnipeg.

Someone else who has done that is Barbara Huck. She is a past recipient of a National Newspaper Award for excellence in sports writing as well as several other writing awards. Huck has lived in Winnipeg most of her life and has just returned from a year's stay in Germany where she completed an historical Canadian novel. She has raised four children here; two currently attend the University of Manitoba. As well, she is the co-chair of Manitoba's bid for the 1994 Pan Am Games.

Why is she in Winnipeg? "Once you've experienced living in Germany where there are 77 million people, with constant noise and pollution, you know why space, fresh air and silence and roads you can still drive on are attractive." But there's also a lot wrong. Here it comes. "No self-confidence, kids poorly educated, few women in maths and science compared to Europe," she observes.

Frank Reiter, vice-president of the Federal Business Development Bank, says education is important. "Leaders have to update their knowledge base all the time. And if you don't have a fax and a computer you're out of date," he says. What else? "The world business community is a constantly evolving place," he says. So, we need to know how to do business better? Are we obsolete in Winnipeg? "Let's put it this way," he says. "You never see the bullet that kills you." Interesting.

I call John (Turnaround) Fraser, president of Federal Industries, once referred to as "the house that Jack built." Fraser started business life with a degree in commerce from the University of Saskatchewan at Saskatoon and business brought him to Winnipeg and kept him here. He took over the reins of Federal and has "world-class" management skills. Fraser knows what it's like to have his feet to the fire. He's bought and sold more properties than a monopoly player.

"There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Manitoba," says the master. "We have a stable workforce, Hydro power, sizeable markets and an established small business community." But Fraser knows that since 1978 many businesses have moved their head offices away and that the provincial growth rate is slow. He says this results in bright young people moving away. Fraser is a part of the Winnipeg 2000 group of 34 of the best of the business community trying to convince businesses to come to Winnipeg. They've landed the data processing centre of Royal Trust, bringing 200 jobs here soon.

Says Fraser: "If people (Manitobans) get together, including the government and educators, and make their minds up and are committed to getting competitive, it's going to happen."

But it's not going to be easy, he says. Such things rarely are.

It's late Friday night. I look again at the big blue economic strategy book prepared by Price Waterhouse for the City of Winnipeg. It says Winnipeg is entering 'The Third Era'. The Second dates back to the Second World War -- the First from 1800 to the Second World War. I chuckle. Everything has a tag. I close my briefcase, turn off the lights and go home.

It's midnight when the phone's ring shatters the quiet.

"Ritchie, it's Gary Filmon."

That's Gary Filmon, the premier and CEO of the $5.2-billion, 17,000-employee business known as the provincial government. The premier has put his career on the line, leaving his chairmanship of the Treasury Board to chair a special cabinet strategy group to coordinate his government's role in powering up Manitoba's aggressive plan to gain international business.

"It's the biggest challenge of our term in government," says the premier. He wants anyone who asks to be told that you can 'do it' in Manitoba. He lists a number of businesses that will lead us to the promised land of 'do it.' My pen is smoking: Bristol, Boeing and Standard Aero, medical research and high technology, computer companies, Systemhouse, Wang, Unisys.

We finish talking. As I prepare to sink into my bed I reflect on what the premier had to say.

Gary Filmon earned a master's degree in civil engineering at the University of Manitoba. He and his wife, Janice, raised five healthy children here. He ran a business and has always lived in Winnipeg.

At only 49, Gary Filmon has faced the fire of a minority government, the heat of the constitutional debate and the politics of Brian Mulroney and survived. As the point man on the new cabinet committee on Manitoba's economic renewal, his feet will be pressed to the fire. He won't be alone as the business sector of this province puts its collective shoulder to the wheels of commerce. Nothing less will rekindle Manitoba's economy.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Manitoba Business Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:forecasts for economic recovery in Manitoba
Author:Gage, Ritchie
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Abacus Data Ltd.
Next Article:The free trade deal is good.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters