Category Archives: Uncategorized

TelPay: Canada’s largest independent electronic payment company

How it works, why you should care, what it costs

An advertorial published in the fall 2017 issue of The Franchise Voice, a Canadian Franchise Association magazine


Most franchisee vets will tell you that if you aren’t staying on top of your bills, you likely aren’t staying in business very long. Doing so isn’t easy, though. Even with the ubiquity of electronic payment systems in recent years, franchisees usually need to know how to use different software platforms to pay employees, suppliers and the government. It’s annoying, and moving between all those platforms takes time — and money — away from actually running a business.

Enter Winnipeg-based Telpay, Canada’s largest independent electronic payment company. In 2016, their all-in-one platform processed $17.7 billion in payments to over 100,000 billers here and around the world. Other similar systems typically handle about 5,000 billers. In Canada, some 100 franchise brands are Telpay customers, including McDonalds, Tim Hortons and A&W.

More of those franchisees are getting Telpay’s software every year, according to company president Bill Loewen. Their main reasons, he says, are that Telpay can process all those payments at a lower cost than most methods, and it can do it from one platform. “We do payroll payments, bill payments, even collection files where, say, an owner is collecting rent from them. International payments, too — the whole gamut.”


How it works

Telpay’s basic system is pretty straightforward: A company gets the software and installs it on their computers; they enter the payments they want to make and send Telpay the money; and then Telpay pays the bills. Payment instructions can be sent via phone, internet, other payment software systems and other financial services providers — basically anyone who can provide accurate and secure electronic info.

That comprehensiveness is big for franchisees, says Dale Lacombe, Telpay’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Especially for franchisees that have multiple locations. They love the fact that they can have it in all their stores and can authorize bill payments remotely.”

He also says franchisees love that it’s compatible with other accounting packages they may already be using — QuickBooks, Sage 300, Sage 50 and Adagio, for instance.

Understandably, though, and in light of recent data breaches by Equifax and others, some business owners are concerned about security. They should be, says Lacombe. “But they should know that we basically introduced this market, and over 32 years we’ve strengthened our internal controls and are constantly developing our procedures. I think business owners want to know that the company they’re working with has been around and has those controls in place.”

Thirty-two years ago was 1985, by the way. That’s when Telpay was launched by Comcheq, the computerized payroll company started by Bill Loewen in 1968. Telpay pioneered the first telephone bill payment service (hence the name), and went on to land contracts with many financial institutions, including National Bank of Canada. Today, Telpay’s customer base is as varied as its six-figured billers list.


Why you should care 

It’s no wonder that one of Payments Canada’s top three priorities over the next few years is to modernize the Canadian payment system. People are spending too much time and money on payments, says Loewen. Particularly business owners who have to try to balance and sync multiple payment platforms using different rules.

Not surprisingly, of course, he and Lacombe believe The Telpay model is a way forward. And they believe franchisees in particular can reap the most rewards. “Franchisees are busy folks,” says Lacombe. “They have staff and operations and customers and suppliers to worry about. Being able to use Telpay to pay all those suppliers electronically, being able to approve bill payments remotely — it can be a gamechanger for making a business much more efficient.”

It can also be a gamechanger for a franchisee’s bottom line. More on specific costs below, but when you factor in every type of biller Telpay covers, it’s a good deal, says Lacombe. “Looking at the cost of using paper-based systems and cheques alone, it may cost $8 or $9 to produce that cheque. Being able to do that electronically has a significant impact.”

One more reason to care: Telpay can make billers much happier, which just makes for happier franchisees. Instead of receiving multiple individual payments by cheque or electronic credits to their bank accounts, billers get a file ready for posting to other accounts and a single account credit.


What it costs

Compared to other systems, such as that bloated paper-based model, Telpay is relatively inexpensive. The one-time software setup fee is $99, and after that the monthly cost is $15. For most payment transactions, including those to suppliers and the government, the fee is 50 cents each. Direct deposit payroll transactions are 15 cents apiece, and international payments are $2 each.

Staff training is included at no extra cost as is customer service. And, says Lacombe, when franchisors or franchisees call in, they’ll get someone on the other end who knows where they’re coming from. “We have a lot of staff who have a lot of experience with the franchisee-franchisor relationship. We know how those dynamics and decisions work, and that’s important. These are sensitive topics, and when customers call in they want to make sure they have an expert on the other end that can help then with any questions they might have.”

That customer care team can also recommend bookkeeping services for franchisees. Telpay has a network of 2,000 bookkeepers across the country, and many of them can handle the needs of single-unit franchisees and multi-unit franchisors with corporate locations of their own.

In short, says Lacombe, franchisees and franchisors should consider Telpay because it will make their lives easier. “For franchisees, their passion is running the business, whether they have one or multiple locations.” It’s not being stuck in an office paying bills. “Many are looking for ways to reduce the amount of time, energy and expense spent on the administrative side of their operations. We’re a good way to do that.”


[Sidebar] Who else cares?

What other businesses use Telpay daily? Thousands, it turns out, including almost 100 franchise brands across the country such as Tim Hortons and A&W.

McDonalds is another, and according to Toronto franchisee Lindsay Bridge, Telpay has drastically streamlined previously cumbersome administrative tasks. “Telpay helps to expedite back office payment processing and to reduce costs,” she writes. “It’s an outstanding service that more operators should be aware of.”

Dayna Rivest at Winnipeg’s Reliable Accounting & Tax Services agrees, saying there is no alternative to Telpay. “Now we can offer our clients payroll direct deposit at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing payroll, and we get to stay in full control of the process.” By doing so, she adds, they’ve saved over 75 per cent of time in the payments process.

Telpay’s global reach is huge for customers like Howard Loewen, the president of MicroPilot, the world’s leading manufacturer of autopilot systems. “I’m not always at the office and it’s tough to sign a cheque when I’m away,” he writes. “With Telpay I can process payments from anywhere in the world”

For bookkeeper Margaret Chwyl, the convenience is what she values most. “I really like the freedom of not having to find dual signors before releasing the payments,” she writes. “Telpay is so convenient, because it works on my schedule and not everyone else’s.”


Building Strength

How Snap Fitness became a powerful Canadian Franchise force

(Published in the July/August 2016 issue of Franchise Canada Magazine)


Back in the mid-2000s, Leigh and Tim Ostiguy were working in Alberta’s oil fields, and life was, as Leigh puts it, “really overwhelming.” The couple’s jobs were becoming ever-more stressful; Tim’s sometimes keeping him away from home for weeks at a time. With a blended family of eight active kids, it’s not surprising they wanted a change. “We knew that we wanted to be entrepreneurs and that we wanted to pursue something in the health industry, but we weren’t sure what it would be,” says Leigh.

After a rigorous search, they eventually found Snap Fitness, a fitness franchise that was approaching 2,000 gyms worldwide. “For us, the concept seemed exactly what we were looking for, because the process in becoming an owner was so simple, it made sense to us,” says Leigh. “Plus, they already had many successful franchises, they had a proven track record, so we realized this business is working.” Apparently they really liked what they found. Leigh and Tim opened their first Snap Fitness in Sylvan Lake, Alberta, in January 2009, followed by their second that spring in nearby Lacombe, and eventually two more in Red Deer.

Headquartered in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and under the Lift Brands umbrella, Snap’s track record was, and still is, built on offering no-frills gyms with great customer service in clean, 24/7 facilities close to home. Most are between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet, and an average club has over 550 members. There are now about 2,500 locations built or in development in over 20 countries, including 86 gyms in Canada’s four western provinces and Ontario.

It all got started in 2003 with Peter Taunton at the helm. A former pro racquetball player who was once ranked second in the U.S., Taunton owned and operated five America’s Fitness Centers in Minnesota. “The void that I thought I was filling with Snap Fitness was convenience,” he says. “I thought I could create a smaller footprint that had a nice array of strength equipment, cardio. And by having a smaller footprint, I could tuck it into the neighborhood strip centres, making it more accessible for people driving by it on their way to and from work.” His belief turned into reality, and in 2004 it was enough to get people in the doors and get franchising.

Today, though, you have to offer so much more than convenience, says Taunton. Clubs have to be clean; the staff has to be engaged and supportive with knowledge of nutrition; equipment has to be top-notch and always working; and there better be personal training and programs to help people meet their goals. “And that’s just ground zero,” he adds.

Where Snap Fitness has excelled is building on that base with new technology, more well-rounded, robust service, and updated, modern facilities. What that specifically looks like is a physical activity belt, for example, a device recently introduced that can track members’ heart rates and calories burned while they exercise. “Let’s face it,” says Taunton. “If I’m going to set you up on a workout program, I have to know the effort you’re putting forth that’s more than watching you huff and puff. So with this strap, I can track your effort and pair up a meal plan and workout plan that’s going to get you to the promised land.”

It also helps to be working out in a gym that you actually want to be in and that creates energy. And that’s been a big focus over the past year-and-a-half as Snap Fitness has undergone a brand remodel. Although each franchise is given a dedicated interior designer to customize their look, there are common features to the redesign, such as a wall option that features a huge Canadian flag made up of images of Snap Fitness members. In 2016, Snap plans to modernize over 300 clubs, and over the next four years between 300 and 400 clubs per year should get the treatment.

Another huge part of Snap Fitness’s success has been its process for new franchisees, which Leigh Ostiguy says is “simple, streamlined and not stressful at all.” To financially qualify, they’ll need $75,000 in liquid assets, a $250,000 net worth and $75,000 in household income (all figures U.S.), but business experience isn’t that important because the company can teach owners how to run a gym.

What is important for Snap Fitness is finding engaged franchisees (the absentee inclined need not apply) who are excited about working in this field and making someone’s day, says Steele Smiley, the company’s chief marketing and development officer. “When people meet us and say, ‘I want to be in a business where I can provide a positive experience,’ that’s a wonderful characteristic. Certainly we look for people who are looking for great financial returns, but really we look for positive people who want to be in the wellness business.”

Once a new franchisee is onboard, a 20-step plan is put in motion that walks them through the entire process, from the day they sign the agreement to the day they open the club. And right with them throughout is an individually-assigned concierge (aka “brand performance specialist”) whose job it is to support them and move them through the process. Most franchises don’t have a concierge system like this, says Smiley, but for Snap it’s proven to be worthwhile, and not just to for efficiency’s sake, but because it makes new people feel more welcome and comfortable.

It certainly did for Leigh and Tim Ostiguy. “They helped with everything, from securing the location to setting up funding,” says Leigh. “They also had all of their vendors in place, so the decisions were simplified, and it was low stress because it was like, ‘Here is what you need to do, and here’s how you make the decisions.’ They really do have turn-key systems in place.”

By the way, that concierge—for the Ostiguys, a man named Mark—doesn’t leave them high and dry once the club doors are open. “He’s our go-to-guy, and we can connect with him on a daily basis to get anything we need,” says Leigh. “He’ll point us in the right direction to help get us the right answer, whether it’s IT or marketing or whatever.”

And if franchisees tell their go-to they want to speak with someone on the management team, the manager will actually take the call. “We have nearly 450 corporate employees in 20 countries, and I’ve never seen a company of our size and scale where the senior leadership routinely gets on phone calls with individual franchisees,” says Smiley. “It’s just our culture; we’re very entrepreneurial, hands-on, we’re all accessible, we’re all in the boat together.”

As for the future, the Snap Fitness boat looks steady. As of May, they were adding a new country every month to the brand, and Peter Taunton anticipates them opening 150 to 250 locations per year for the near future.

Taunton knows, though, that to continue to grow, they’ll need to keep evolving with the industry, and he thinks that’s going to mean even more integration of technology into people’s workouts. “There’s very good and affordable technology out there that allows me to track your effort in the gym and put together a plan for you that can yield a really positive result,” he says. “Anyone today in the health and wellness space who’s going to be relevant, that’s what they have to have. If you’re not offering that today, I don’t think you’re going to be competitive long term.”

If the past is any indication, two Snap Fitness franchisees who should be competitive in the long term are Leigh and Tim Ostiguy. When they launched their first clubs in 2009, they had about 300 to 400 members per club. Seven years and two more clubs later—including the Sylvan Lake location that recently grew from 3,000 square feet to more than 5,000—they have over 2,100 memberships and 2,700 members at the four locations.

Those stressful, unsatisfying days in Alberta’s oil fields are long behind them. “Snap Fitness changed my family’s life, it really did,” says Leigh. “Not only has ownership allowed my husband and I to spend more time at home with our family, but it’s allowed me to live a healthier lifestyle as well and make a difference in people’s lives. And that’s probably the most important part:  it’s just very positive and uplifting to be part of the health industry.”

Native Ad Copy: Family Memory Builders (Ontario Tourism)


[Upper Canada Village Hed] Throw Away Your History Book. This is Way Better!
An hour’s drive from Ottawa, travel back 100 years. Upper Canada Village is one of the largest living history sites in Canada. Perfect for kids.

[Aquatarium Hed] How to Dive Under the St. Lawrence River Without Getting Wet
Jump into the St. Lawrence at this new 27,000 square foot aquarium and discovery centre. Your voyage takes you into an underwater tunnel, by a shipwreck, and lets you play with otters, teaching the whole family about the naturally and historically rich 1000 Islands region.

[Fort Henry Hed] The Story of a Military Fortress Told With a Bang
Perched high over downtown Kingston sits this 19th-century fort and National Historic Site. Once a protector, it’s now a mecca for history buffs, kids wanting to march like a soldier, and anyone into a Sunset Ceremony complete with mock battles and canons.

[Hell Holes Nature Trails & Caves Hed] A Gorge, A Rainforest, A Cave — Just A Half Hour From Kingston
Drive the backroads to one of the most unique geological areas in Eastern Ontario, where a 3-kilometre trail guides you through a mini rainforest and across a gorge. Don’t forget your flashlight: you’ll need it to descend into Devil’s Horse Stable Cave.

[Boldt Castle Hed] A Castle on an Island and a Monument to a Husband’s Love
Take a 1000 Islands cruise to this 120-room summer home on Heart Island built by hotelier George Boldt for his family. Begun in 1900 and stopped in 1904 after the death of Boldt’s wife, construction included tunnels, Italian gardens, and a children’s playhouse within a tower.

[Sandbanks Provincial Park Hed] Sun, Sand, Unforgettable Summer Memories
With the largest baymouth barrier dune formation in the world, three expansive sandy beaches, and daily interpretive programming, Sandbanks has to be on your family’s road trip bucket list. Cross it off, then explore Prince Edward County’s other treasures.

[Land O’ Lakes Hed] 5000 Lakes, 600 Trails, 356 Bird Species. Take Your Pick.
There are indeed thousands of lakes to fish, swim in and camp beside in this region northwest of Kingston, but more to the point: this is a land of the wild, reckoned with at every meandering turn of country road. Get up close at Frontenac Provincial Park or eight conservation areas.

[Rideau Heritage Route Hed] From Kingston to Ottawa, Your Paddling Adventure Awaits
Get off the road, drop in at one of hundreds of access points, and take the Rideau Canal’s true scenic route: a paddling voyage on the 202-kilometre waterway itself. Cruise through quaint villages and historic locks, and keep your ears peeled for the call of the loon.


Halifax Pride

Halifax Pride is now the fourth largest Pride event in the country, but has it lost touch with its political roots?

Published in the Spring 2015 issue of Local Connections magazine.


Photo: Stephen Downes/Flickr Creative Commons

Consider this sobering fact for a moment: twenty-five years ago in Nova Scotia you could be refused service at a restaurant, denied a lease from a landlord and left with no hospital visitation rights if you were gay or lesbian. Back then, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act still hadn’t protected sexual orientation, and beyond this legal battle, there were very real physical battles for the GLBTQ community as well. Like the one faced by John William Tha Din, who was beaten to death in 1988 at Camp Hill Cemetery, a known gay cruising area.

With so much on the line by being out, it’s not surprising that when some from the province’s GLBTQ community heard about what many now call the first official Halifax Pride march the same year Din was murdered, they were scared to attend. “Before the march I was worried I was going to get there and be the only one who showed up,” said Eric Smith, the gay teacher in Shelburne County who was removed from his teaching position in 1987 after it was revealed he had HIV.

But Smith wasn’t alone when he showed up at the southeast corner of the Halifax Common that July 1st. About seventy-five others were there, some with signs and banners that reflected the theme of that first Pride Week, “Out of the Closet & Into the Human Rights Act.” Fear was still very much in the air, however, as the march began. “The scariest moment was when a car in the oncoming lane took a run at us,” recalled Anne Bishop. “It . . . screeched to a stop a couple of feet over the line, the young man laughing as people scattered.”

Contrast that scene with what Halifax Pride has become in recent years: a city-wide, ten-day, corporate-sponsored celebration that’s now the country’s fourth largest Pride. It welcomes about one hundred fifty thousand people who are free to take in or take part in theatre, concerts, dances, lectures and way more, including the focal point, the parade—no longer a march. “It’s grown into a festival where everything goes, anyone can feel accepted,” says Willem Blois, the chair of the Halifax Pride Society’s organizing committee. “You always have this feeling that nothing can go wrong, nothing will actually dampen our spirits because everyone is there to celebrate love, to celebrate diversity.”

But if you’re aware of the history of Halifax Pride and the struggles the GLBTQ community still deals with, including the marginalization and violence faced by transgender people, you might also have a couple of questions: How did Pride evolve into a celebration, and what was lost along the way?

To answer that first question, I caught up with Chris Aucoin, who researched Pride’s history for its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2013 and provided the quotes you read above from the people who were at the march in ’88. He says Halifax Pride began to morph into more of a celebration in 1991, when sexual orientation was added to the list of protected grounds in the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act. “That made it easier for people in the community to feel they could be more public, so you really started to see the numbers climb after that, and I believe by 1992 they started calling it a parade, instead of a march, which was when it began to blur into less about a political statement.”

That blurring didn’t sit well for those who were politically inclined, however, says Aucoin, and even to this day there’s debate about what Pride has become.

One organization at the centre of that debate is Rad Pride Halifax, which organizes an alternative to the city’s Pride celebration that has included self-defence classes, a queer and feminist porn screening, and the Dyke & Trans March. No one from the organization could be reached for comment, but Jude Ashburn, a founding member told Metro News in July: “We need to be proud of the fact that we’re not the same as other parts of society, and our struggles are not going away. They can’t just be slapped into the rest of the world and tolerated for a day with rainbows.”

Willem Blois says the Halifax Pride Society is aware of these concerns. “That kind of controversy—the move to be more celebratory and away from politics—has existed in a lot of Prides around the world, and we’ve received a lot of feedback from our community that they would really value an acknowledgement of where we come from.”

Although Blois couldn’t provide any specific details about how Pride will acknowledge those political roots at this year’s Pride (July 16-26), he did say they’re planning events “that will create spaces where we can celebrate our heritage.”

We’ll wait and see if that will be enough for Rad Pride Halifax and others questioning the direction of Halifax Pride, but even if it isn’t, it’s hard to argue Pride hasn’t played an important role in this city. “It’s given us visibility,” says Aucoin, who’s been attending Halifax Pride on and off since 1990, “but visibility isn’t the only thing we need. We still need to change people’s attitudes. And Pride helps do that; it helps to say we aren’t some scary monsters out at a distance. It helps to humanize.”


Shubenacadie Canal Commission

Enhancing one of Nova Scotia’s most ambitious engineering feats for over 25 years

Published in the Winter 2015 edition of Local Connections Halifax.

Shubenacadie Canal looking north from the Harbourfront Trail bridge, Dartmouth. (photo by bricoleurbanism/Flickr Creative Commons)

Shubenacadie Canal looking north from the Harbourfront Trail bridge, Dartmouth. (photo by bricoleurbanism/Flickr Creative Commons)

If you’ve ever flown into Halifax Stanfield and looked out the window at that chain of lakes and rivers extending all the way from Halifax Harbour to the Minas Basin, you know the Shubenacadie waterway. It’s been there for over 10,000 years, and for at least 4,000 of those it’s acted as a lifeline and a gathering point for people living near its banks. Today, it’s the Shubenacadie Canal Commission leading the charge to keep it as a public treasure, and with projects like the Dartmouth Canal Greenway finally underway, that treasure appears to be safe for the keeping.

Based in the Fairbanks Centre in Dartmouth’s Shubie Park, the eighteen-member strong canal commission is responsible for overseeing and promoting the canal system, the job it’s had since the mid-1980s. Funded by a combination of provincial, municipal and private sources, the commission tries to fulfill its mandate by maintaining the greenbelt that surrounds the waterway and enhancing access to it for hikers, paddlers, campers and anyone just wanting to get outside for a water adventure that’s not of the standard ocean variety.

“And one of the most important parts of our mandate is maintaining the historical aspects along the canal,” adds Megan Blumenthal, the commission’s chair of promotion. “So we have several walks along the way, inclined planes and projects that align with that history and the parks spaces there as well.”

That history is a fascinating story of man versus land. Originally conceived of in the late 1700s, the canal, through a system locks, would be a way to move goods and military forces across the province similar to how the Mi’kmaq had used it as a transportation corridor for millennia. Construction began in 1826 and continued for another five years, but in 1831, with 13 of at least 17 locks complete, they had to give up; the Shubenacadie Canal Company had run out of money.

In 1853, however, the idea for a functioning canal was revived with a less expensive plan that favoured inclined planes, which use cradles to move boats between different water levels, over locks. Three years later, the canal—the longest in the Maritimes—was in operation, transporting everything from goods for the gold mining era in Waverly to iron used for the new Nova Scotia Railway.

Ironically, it was that railway that led to the closure of the canal as a commercial operation in the early 1870s, but the canal’s historical roots live on through some of the projects the Shubenacadie Canal Commission takes on today.

One of their biggest has been the Dartmouth Canal Greenway, an open space spine that will connect to the Trans-Canada Trail and run from Lake Banook to the Halifax Harbour. “That area has been a dead space in the community, but it’s an important part of our heritage,” says Blumenthal. “It’s called Irishtown because Irish stone masons building the canal stayed here and shaped our community. So you’re looking back at that but you’re also looking ahead to the future and a beautiful green space where people are going to be able to meet and gather. I think it’s going to really pick up this particular part of the neighborhood.”

Although the project is slated to be finished by the fall of 2015, it hasn’t been easy getting to this point. For one, it’s an ambitious project that’s been in the works for ten-plus years and includes the construction of an eleven-ton replica cradle, archaeological digs, and the reconstruction and restoration of various features of the original site. For another, funding from the municipality was delayed for a year.

You won’t hear Blumenthal or her team complaining, though. They’re just happy the project is off the ground and will soon be another way for people to enjoy the engineering and natural treasure that is the Shubenacadie Canal. “When you visit, not only are you seeing these amazing manmade structures, some of which show the carvings and signatures of the stone masons, but you’re seeing that mixed with nature. It’s an incredible mixture of the manmade with the environment working together, and I hope people really enjoy that.”

Uber comes to Halifax

But what will it mean if the car service app company decides to expand here?

Published in the November 2014 issue of Halifax Magazine.

Right now Uber is only offering its black car service in Halifax. (Matt Galligan/Flickr Creative Commons)

Right now Uber is only offering its black car service in Halifax. (Matt Galligan/Flickr Creative Commons)

In June, San Francisco app company Uber began offering one of its car services in Halifax, and although Uber reps are staying tight-lipped about how successful they’ve been here so far—let alone how many Uber drivers are on the streets—expansion appears to be on the table. If you’re a driver looking for more income or a passenger looking for more convenient ways to get around the city, that’s probably a good thing. But if expansion includes introducing its controversial taxi-like services, it could be a problem for cab drivers and the municipality.

Right now in Halifax, Uber is only offering its UberBlack option, which connects app users with licensed limousine drivers behind the wheels of high-end sedans. Like most of the company’s other services, users can see nearby cars on a map and each driver’s customer rating before selecting a ride. The best part for passengers and drivers: no digging for change; the ride is paid for with a credit card via the app. The worst part: UberBlack’s high-end prices; minimum fare is $12 to go anywhere on the peninsula.

That could change if Uber’s cheaper options, such as UberX, come to town, which Uber Canada’s General Manager of Expansion Jeff Weshler doesn’t deny as a possibility. “We’re always looking to go for what consumers are looking for,” he says.

This would be an issue for the municipality, however, because drivers would need taxi licenses, and the HRM has no more to hand out. “We have given out our maximum number of cab licenses [1,000],” says Brendan Elliott, a senior communications advisor with the HRM. “We currently have a waiting list of 300 people who want cab licenses, so Uber drivers would have to get in line and wait with the rest if they wanted to get into the cab business in Halifax.”

Dave Buffet, president of the Halifax Taxi Drivers’ Association agrees that it would be a concern, saying that one reason regulation matters is because it ensures quality control. “If, for example, you have a ride with a cab driver and he took the long route or whatever, you can easily complain about the service by noting the roof plate number. So the advantage of having a taxi license and having a system is that if you’re not adhering to bylaws, you can be disciplined.”

Local regulations haven’t necessarily stopped Uber, however, which has a valuation of over $18 billion and is now in over 200 cities around the world. Its general mode of operandi has been to operate first, ask permission later. After Uber launched in Berlin and Hamburg this year, for example, courts banned two of the company’s services—UberBlack and UberPop—ruling that they didn’t comply with licensing rules. Closer to home, Uber is facing 35 bylaw infractions in Toronto after setting up in 2012 without a brokerage license.

To be fair, nothing about Uber’s approach in Halifax has concerned city officials so far. “They are using already-licensed limousine drivers,” says Elliott, “so from our perspective, everything that we’ve seen and heard from them and on the streets is that they’ve done nothing to raise any red flags for us.”

And according to Weshler, the city shouldn’t be worried. “We look to foster really strong working relationships with cities, and I think we’ve been able to do that to date with the HRM. To us, it’s a matter of working collaboratively to drive innovation and new ways of doing things that couldn’t have been imagined.”

Time will tell if that collaborative approach holds, but whether you’re an Uber fan or not, one thing is clear: this is a company to watch.

Uniting Nations

Saint Mary’s alumnus Dr. John W. Ashe elected President of the United Nations General Assembly 

Published in the May issue of Maroon & White, Saint Mary’s University’s alumni magazine.

President John Ashe at the opening of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (photo courtesy of United Nations General Assembly - President of the 68th session)

President John Ashe at the opening of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. (photo courtesy of United Nations General Assembly – President of the 68th session)

Last June, Dr. John W. Ashe (BASc’79) was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, and in one of his first speeches to the gathering of the entire membership of the UN, he reminded the audience of the almost sixty-year journey that brought him to that global stage, a journey that began on the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

“There, in a household of seven kids,” he said, “whose parents never had the opportunity to complete high school, one child . . . whose mother was a descendant of slave plantation owners, was determined to be the first in his family’s generation to attend university and seek an opportunity wherever it may occur to make a difference. I am that child of those parents!”

And he succeeded in reaching those lofty goals, in large part by sticking to the values his parents instilled in him at a young age. “Determination, dedication, hard work and patience were all necessary requirements in our household,” he wrote in an email exchange we had in February. “Fortunately, they are also the attributes one needs for the job of President of the UN General Assembly, where bridging differences and building consensus among the 193 Member States of the UN General Assembly are all the lingua franca of the day.”

They’re also the attributes he took with him to Saint Mary’s, where he graduated in just two years with a degree in mathematics and engineering and a diploma in engineering, and later to his roles as Antigua and Barbuda’s Permanent Representative to both the UN and the World Trade Organization.

Today, he’s using them to fight for sustainable development around the world, which is, he says, “the singular quest that consumes and defines” him. And no wonder when you consider where he grew up. “In my region of the world, the effects of a hurricane on the economy of an island can set back a country’s economy by decades. Scientists predict that climate change will increase the magnitude, frequency and severity of such severe weather events, thereby rendering long-term sustainable development and the global fight against extreme poverty all but moot.”

Yet as you might guess he is determined to make a difference. During his presidency of the General Assembly, he is working to set the stage for the adoption of a new global development framework in 2015. Applicable to all countries and with the eradication of extreme poverty at its core, the framework will hopefully guide the development of our economies in a sustainable way for decades to come.

“As a human being, it would have been unthinkable to sit back and do absolutely nothing when the opportunity to contribute to—and perhaps shape—the debate presented itself,” he wrote in a final email. “For the sake of present and future generations, we need to set the world on a path to a sustainable development that will restore a harmonious relation between our planet and its inhabitants.”