Now hear this: John Risley, former chairman of Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund

On a strategy for remaking Atlantic Canada from have-not to have.

Atlantic Canada is home to three “have not” provinces, but that hardly fazes John Risley, the former chairman of Clearwater Seafoods Income Fund. The entrepreneur believes the region can be a leader in important global issues, such as education, health care and the environment. He shared his ideas on how the region can accomplish those ambitious goals at the Atlantic Business Summit in June at the Rotman School of Management, as Calvin Leung reports.

We can be a leader in preventative medicine. We need more effective nutrition programs in schools. We get rid of junk food in hospitals, and if you don’t want to get rid of french fries, then put a label on it that says: “This is junk. Eat at your own risk.” That’s what we’ve done with cigarettes. We could tax soft drinks in Atlantic Canada. We can go to PepsiCo and Coca-Cola and say, “You want to sell soft drinks in Atlantic Canada? You’re going to have to offer your vitamin water every place you sell soft drinks, and you can’t charge more for vitamin water than a 280-calorie can of Coke.”

We must find the best teachers and the best curriculum writers, and rewrite the math and science curriculum. We pay them a million dollars. Can we find the best math teacher in the world for a million bucks? You bet your ass we can.

We don’t have enough cultural engagement in our schools. We can put kids in buses and airplanes and send them away for hockey and baseball games around the country. Why can’t we do the same thing to engage with native communities and make the students understand what Canada was all about, where Canada came from and what are important cultural traditions? What’s the value of that? The value is, it teaches mutual respect. It’s very hard to have relationships between native and non-native communities in the absence of respect. We need to get that respect level very early.

We should move medical records online. It would mean nine figures, if not 10 figures, for the Atlantic Canada software industry. If you’re prepared to make your records available to researchers, you could learn about new therapies for your disease. Let’s look at a comprehensive program for moving medical records online. It’s a lot of money. Think about what it would mean for the software industry in Atlantic Canada. We’re talking nine figures here, easily.

Technology is going to change the landscape more significantly than it has the last 10 or 15 years. We need to make sure we’re an enabler of new technology and new ideas. The people that are advocates and proponents and who work in these new technology industries are neat, cool people. If we do unique things in health care, education and culture, and have a program around being a pretty smart, green society, we’re going to attract cool, neat people and cool, neat businesses.