New Brunswick's government, captained by none other than former gym teacher Shawn Graham, paid $229 000 to a marketing firm to reinvigorate New Brunswick's ancient provincial slogan. We used to be 'the picture province', now we're telling others, and perhaps ourselves, to put our cameras away and just 'be...in this place'. Our new slogan was delivered to the people of New Bumslick in February 2008, and the debate over it's appropriateness has been raging for eighteen months.
Do I have an opinion with regard to our slogan? Yes, but it's given from the uncomfortable position assumed by a fence sitter....with a prickly picket up my stump, and a pleasant view of both sides. I don't have a great big giant problem with the new slogan, really, although you could apply it to any place in the world equally effective. There is nothing about New Brunswick that makes it any more a place to be than, let's say, Quebec, British Columbia or Necker Island.
There is nothing about New Brunswick that makes it any more photogenic than Newfoundland, Alberta, or Nova Scotia....so really, what makes us the picture province? Simply put, every province is the picture province, even Manitoba. You could happily 'be' anywhere in Canada. The point is moot, at least when comparing the two slogans. What matters is what you do with the slogan, where it's targeted, how it's delivered.
I have no idea where the government of New Brunswick directs its tourism marketing, so I'm unqualified to discuss its effectiveness. I am, however, more than qualified to discuss our province's lacklustre performance in helping small businesses become visible. We are, in a word, pathetic.
I was recently in Prince Edward Island, a picturesque province if there ever was one. It would appear that tourism and agriculture are the mainstays of the island economy, and from what I saw, it looks like they're good at what they do. Take tourism, for example. I'm a snoop at heart so I did a lot of eavesdropping in Anne's Land. I heard a lot of service industry people doing a great job of making visitors feel welcome. The folks working the desk at the Stanley Bridge Resort were experts...asking their guests where they came from, and then generating meaningful conversation beyond their opening pleasantries.
In some ways it made me sad, because the people of PEI made me want to be be in their place more than my own. We have a business in Cambridge-Narrows who, a few years ago, contracted a local businessman to do some trucking for them. They never paid the hardworking, honest individual for the work that he did, yet their doors are still open for business and they expect me to walk through them. I won't. You can't get away with behaviour like that, not in this place.
Another thing that I noticed in PEI was that there were plenty of neatly organized signs, clearly the work of a government who understands tourism. The signs, white letters on a blue background, legibly announced that I was in the vicinity of a small business. One of those signs let me find the Cheese Lady of Winsloe, where I purchased an unhealthy amount of Gouda. The cheese lady's aged Gouda was incredible, and my only regret is that I didn't buy the entire round, and not just a wedge. I will return there some day, and the signs will help me find her 'out of the way' cheesery.
Now, had I been driving along a New Brunswick country road, chances are that I would never have found the cheese lady on that side road because the New Brunswick government doesn't do anything for it's small businesses in terms of roadside signs. There are laws in New Brunswick that make it very difficult for small business to get noticed. You'd think that the government would try to help small business in this regard, but they don't. Instead, our government spends all of it's time and effort on a big glossy brochure and tv, print and radio ads. Their thinking must be 'get them here', they'll figure out what to do on their own.
If you drive along coastal route 1 in Maine, you'll see tasteful government issue signs that direct you down side roads to the East Addison Lobster Company or the Blue Hill Gallery. These signs are also helpful in that they give the distance to the business, so you know what your investment of time might be. Clever. Thoughtful. Helpful. These signs make for happy campers, like me.
I'm astounded that the New Brunswick government does nothing in this manner. Many small business owners put out shitty little signs that are ugly and often lost in the grass. These signs are technically against the law, though no one enforces the law, or so it would seem.
I'd like to see our province make a real effort to help small businesses to become visible. Until then, our slogan will forever be 'New Brunswick...The Drive Through Province'. There are countless reasons to 'be...in this place', it's just that no one is telling our story the way that it needs to be told. It's too bad that Shawn Graham was a gym teacher in his former life, because if he was a Professor of Marketing, then he might understand the importance of signs. Our Minister of Tourism was a self-employed carpenter before getting into politics. Surely he has the knowledge power to make a few signs!
All we need to do is cut down some of the 785 000 000 trees that Irving has planted since the 1950s, mill them, paint and label them, then re-plant them on our roadsides. Only then will we give the tourists a reason to stay...in this place.