New technologies overcome distance

Beaton Tulk likens the wireless movement in Canada to the digital equivalent of the trans-Canada railroad envisioned by John A. MacDonald more than 130 years ago.

“It’s the railway of the 21st century. It will connect us and make us a [closer] country,” said Tulk, minster of Industry, Trade and Rural Development for Newfoundland and Labrador, and MP for Bonavista North, during an interview at the recent Wireless Vision Technology conference held in St. John’s.

Geographic boundaries have always been a restriction for people living in that province, he said, which has forced many of them to move elsewhere in the past when choosing a career.

“A Newfoundlander never wants to be away from home,” Tulk said. And, with wireless technology coming to the forefront, they may no longer have to, he continued.

“I’m not about to tell people where to live, but wireless (connectivity) provides the choice of where to live. If you are connected to the rest of the world, you can do it. Your choice of lifestyle becomes as important as your choice of career.”

Tulk said when ground fishing was shut down in 1992, it essentially “shut down the world of Newfoundland.” But since about 1996, the IT industry in the province has been growing steadily and has given industry a whole new meaning there, he said.

“We will never have the critical mass (of IT companies) that you’ll find in Toronto or Ottawa, but we’ve started down that road already,” he said, noting that Newfoundland’s IT industry is doing very well in terms of smaller companies, and is also home to some bigger ones such as xwave and Stratos Global.

“We want to build the kind of economy today where people will want to stay and work in Newfoundland. You’ve got to be competitive with other provinces in order to attract the industry – you’ve got to provide services to them.”

Education is key and “as many efforts as fiscally possible” are being put to that goal, he said. Another advantage the province has is a good supply of labour, he said. But the biggest drawback may be that Newfoundland and Labrador still has an image to overcome in order to keep workers there and draw new business from elsewhere in Canada and the rest of the world, he said.

“That stereotype of who we were – I wouldn’t want you to print it – it’s obsolete now,” Tulk said.