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Author: Chris McLeod

Global talent and IRCC programs and supports for employers

In partnership with Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Edmonton Global is hosting two information sessions on global talent and IRCC programs and supports for employers.

Tech Session – Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019, at 14:45:

  • Facilitating Access to Global Talent.
  • IRCC Outreach officers can provide targeted information to help employers address skills shortages and labour market needs when there are not enough Canadian and Permanent Resident workers for available jobs. 
  • Participants will learn about IRCC permanent and temporary economic programs and supports, including International Mobility program work permits that are exempt from a Labour Market Assessment, and Global Skills Strategy which allows employers to hire highly skilled workers faster. There will also be information on how employers can support an employee’s application for permanent residence.

Ag Sector Session – Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019, at 13:30:

  • IRCC Programs and Supports for Employers.
  • IRCC Outreach officers can provide targeted information to help employers address skills shortages and labor market needs when there are not enough Canadian and Permanent Resident workers for available jobs. 
  • Participants will learn about IRCC permanent and temporary economic programs and supports, including International Mobility program work permits that are exempt from a Labour Market Assessment. The differences in International Mobility work permits and those requiring a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA), will be explained. There will also be information on how employers can support an employee’s application for permanent residence.

Seating is limited, please RSVP directly to Amanpreet Bhatti, Business Program and Events Coordinator, Edmonton Global abhatti@edmontonglobal.ca.

Edmonton metro region leads Canada in export growth

New data on export growth shows the Edmonton Metropolitan Region leading Canada – at more than double the national average.

Exports from the Edmonton CMA (census metropolitan area or Edmonton metro region) grew by 10.8% from 2010 to 2018. The national average over that time span was 4.8%. In 2018 alone, the Edmonton metro region’s exports exceeded $12 billion, with manufacturing accounting for $8.28 billion of that. Oil, gas, and mining extraction accounted for $2.1 billion of the region’s exports.

The Edmonton metro region is a manufacturing powerhouse in Canada and the growth in exports is part of what has fuelled the region’s overall strong growth across the 2010 to 2018 timespan captured in this Stats Can report.

Flourishing software app Jobber blazing the trail for Alberta tech startups

Jobber’s Forrest Zeisler and Sam Pillar. Photo credit, Globe and Mail

It’s been eight years since University of Alberta graduates Sam Pillar and Forrest Zeisler started technology startup Jobber after meeting in an Edmonton coffee shop.

As a freelance software developer, Pillar had worked with a number of not-for-profit organizations and small businesses.

Seeing some of the challenges they were experiencing running their organizations inspired him to develop a software application to help small businesses and home services cut paperwork and simplify their daily operations. 

“This was ancient history in technology time … 2008, ’09, ’10, and so the solutions that were available at the time were pretty archaic, if not nonexistent,” Pillar, Jobber’s co-founder and CEO, told CBC Radio’s Edmonton AM on Monday (audio of CBC interview).

“So I felt there were lots of opportunities for me to help these kinds of businesses and organizations do a better job.”

This month, the Edmonton software company was recognized by Canadian Business magazine as the second-fastest growing software company in Canada.

Back in 2010, Pillar and Zeisler — also a freelance software developer — kept running into each other at the coffee shop, so Pillar told him his idea.

“He said, ‘Wow, that’s crazy,'” Pillar recalled. Zeisler had just been talking to a friend of his who worked at a painting company, asking about whether he knew of any software to help a business that’s disorganized.  

That painting company became Jobber’s first customer.

Since then, Jobber has blazed the trail for other tech startups in Edmonton. 

Business growth

Today, Jobber has customers in 42 countries, and has identified some five million businesses in North America alone that could be using its software. 

The company employs a total of 185 employees in Edmonton and Toronto, including 145 at its Edmonton headquarters.

This summer, Jobber announced it’s moving out of its 12,000-square-foot Jasper Avenue headquarters into a larger space to accommodate the growth of its workforce. 

The firm is now renovating its new 30,000-square-foot space on three floors of the 103 Street Centre building in downtown Edmonton. The updated headquarters will include a 3,000-square-foot patio, which will make it one of the largest private outdoor workspaces in Edmonton.

Could ‘breed more success’

Jobber is clearing a path for other technology success stories in the region, said Darrell Petras, executive vice-president of business development at business accelerator TEC Edmonton.

“It’s a good example of the potential to start a tech-based company in the Edmonton region and to see it flourish, not just locally, not just provincially, but on a global scale,” Petras said. “I think it’s certainly an inspiration to all other tech companies in the region.”

Tech companies in the Edmonton region face challenges such as finding the right mentors, the right team and the investment dollars, Petras said.

“Now if we have successes like Jobber, that is going to attract the highly qualified people to the region, it’s going to attract investment dollars, so it will essentially breed more success.”

The biggest advantage of being a tech company in Edmonton competing with companies in large tech hubs such as San Francisco, Boston, New York and even Toronto is cost, Pillar said. The San Fransciso Bay area “is an incredibly expensive place to build a company,” he said. 

Jobber will move into its new Edmonton headquarters in early 2020.

AMII INNOVATES ANNOUNCES FIRST COHORT, LOOKS TO ACCELERATE AI ADOPTION

Image courtesy Unsplash

The Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii) has launched Amii Innovates, a program aimed to guides teams and businesses in AI adoption.

Amii Innovates is one of four program areas within Amii, and works closely with Alberta-based businesses to grow their internal AI capabilities. The organization’s Innovation Affiliates were selected based on their readiness for machine intelligence adoption and potential for commercial success. Amii said it has worked collaboratively with these 24 companies over the past year, four of which have already become alumni.

“We strongly believe that machine intelligence will be the primary driver of sustainable growth for Alberta’s economy.”

“We’re proud to work with organizations that understand the transformative potential of machine intelligence across every sector, and who are working to innovate within their industries,” said John Shillington, president and CEO of Amii. “We strongly believe that machine intelligence will be the primary driver of sustainable growth for Alberta’s economy, and that this program will help bring our province’s bright future into focus.”

Amii Innovates comprises four core offerings: a machine intelligence roadmap, project validation, advisory and mentorship, and research support. The roadmap is a two-day session allowing teams to collectively to identify processes that are ideal machine learning opportunities. Project validation offers the chance for companies to work with machine learning scientists and advisors to refine a company’s business problem statement.

Through Amii’s advisory and mentorship services allow companies to consult with machine learning scientists for guidance and oversight, which involves regular check-ins with technical staff and strategy formulation. Finally, Amii Innovate’s research support offering enables companies to use its Machine Learning Process Lifecycle, to ensure research on a business problem drives toward a clear objective.

Amii will bring together Innovation Affiliates and members of business and technology communities for Amii Innovates launch events in Edmonton and Calgary. These events aim to showcase the first cohort of Innovation Affiliates, feature other Amii partner businesses, and officially unveil the Amii Innovates program offerings.

“In keeping with the high standard of providing leading edge trading software, our company is pleased to have partnered with Amii to work towards expanding our internal AI capacity,” said Tim Gunn, president of Net Energy Exchange. “Working with Amii has substantially expanded our company’s knowledge in the area of Machine Learning. This knowledge has enabled our company to begin hiring and training our own AI support team, paving our way into the future.”

Founded in 2002 as the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning, Amii is one of Canada’s three AI centres of excellence established through the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy. Over 200 technologies have been created since the organization’s inception, including algorithms, architectures, theories, methodologies, approaches and applications)

The first cohort of Innovation Affiliates includes:

Polykar pays for new factory to double sales

PHOTO DAVID BOILY, ARCHIVES THE PRESS Amir Karim, President, Chief Executive Officer and Majority Shareholder of Polykar

Already the largest manufacturer of bags and plastic wrap in Quebec, Polykar is aiming for 100 million sales by building a new plant in Alberta that will double its production. Despite the bad reputation of plastic, the packaging industry is increasing its sales by “5 to 6% a year”.

Polykar acquired a 130,000 square foot lot in Edmonton in an industrial park near the airport called Discovery Business Park. The first shovel of earth is planned for “next spring or summer” and the start-up, “early in 2021,” says at the end of the line the president, CEO and majority shareholder of the company, Amir Karim.

In all, the project is estimated at $ 20 million. It will create forty jobs.

“It is certain that the goal is to gain market share. Our strategic plan is to double our sales in five years. That would bring us 50 to 100 million.”

Amir Karim

The new plant will produce the same products as its big sister in Montreal (in the borough of Saint-Laurent), that is to say, various bags and types of plastic film intended for industries, businesses (hotels, restaurants, offices) and the agri-food sector. They use it mainly for garbage, but also for packing bread, frozen vegetables, garden soil, mattresses, sofas, etc.

Polykar also manufactures small thin bags distributed in grocery stores for fruits and vegetables, biodegradable bags (10% of sales) and bags made from 100% recycled material (recovered from other plastic factories).

The company is little known to the general public because it does not sell its products to consumers, but plans to do so once its Alberta plant is inaugurated.

Why Alberta?

The choice of Alberta has two advantages, says Amir Karim. As the province is one of the largest plastic resin manufacturers in North America, Polykar will be closer to its suppliers. And since about 30% of sales are made in Western Canada, its transportation costs will be reduced.

Unknown: plastic bags (polyethylene) used in North America are made from natural gas, not oil as is the case in Europe and Asia, says Amir Karim. In 2018, Alberta produced “no less than 69% of the marketable natural gas” in the country, according to Natural Resources Canada.

Polykar’s current facilities in the borough of Saint-Laurent, employing 113 people, could no longer grow.

“We have already done it twice, and there is no room left.”

Amir Karim

Plus, they’re already running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. “It’s typical in our industry that it works 24/7 because shutdowns and starts are very expensive and time-consuming. “

The Edmonton plant will allow the family business founded in 1987 to increase its annual production capacity by 15,000 tonnes.

Despite the bad press that plastic is the object and the ban on distributing thin bags that extends, the “reality is that we need more and more packaging as the population grows and our needs change, “says Amir Karim while acknowledging that” there is a stake to treat post-use plastic. “

According to the businessman, “the file is more emotional than objective” at the moment, but he says “convinced that science and facts will prevail” and that the more efficient resins will promote the image of plastic .

He argues that plastic, especially in the food industry, is necessary for food safety and preservation. He allows us, he gives as an example, to export our pork to the other side of the world.

“We are able to manufacture here in Quebec and to be competitive in the world. Moreover, you will see very few bags imported from China, “rejoices Amir Karim, who became president of Polykar in 2018 when his parents (the co-founders) transferred him control.

The Canadian plastics industry in brief

82,000 employees
2,600 businesses
Net income of $ 2.2 billion
Source: Statistics Canada

Polykar Announces Plan to Build a New Manufacturing Facility in Edmonton

Artist rendering of Polykar’s proposed facility in Edmonton, operations to begin in 2021.

Polykar, a leading Canadian manufacturer of flexible packaging including polyethylene film, certified compostable bags, garbage bags as well as food and industrial grade liners, today announced it has acquired a site to construct a new state-of-the-art plant in Edmonton, Alberta.

This second facility will add significant production capacity (30 million pounds) to all of Polykar’s product lines and expand the company’s reach and expertise to serve the retail, commercial and institutional sectors.

The proposed three-acre site in the Discovery Business Park, on the south side of Edmonton adjacent to the Edmonton International Airport, makes the location ideal to support Polykar’s customer base in Western Canada and the United States. Having a dual plant model will allow the company to offer faster delivery, bolster its production capacity, as well as build and retain manufacturing capability in the region.

“This is an important milestone for Polykar and we look to the future with confidence as we continue to develop innovative and sustainable products,’’ said Amir Karim, President & CEO, Polykar. “We are excited to finalize the plans for our new manufacturing facility in Edmonton in the coming months, and bring ourselves closer to our valued suppliers and customers in Western Canada.”

Polykar has engaged Calgary based FarMor Architecture to design the 50,000 square foot facility.

“Polykar will be a strong addition to the Edmonton Metropolitan Region’s manufacturing sector. This investment highlights the wealth of opportunity that exists here for companies looking to access talent and reach global markets,” said Don Iveson, Mayor of Edmonton. “Our region is home to the entire advanced materials and plastics value chain. On behalf of the City of Edmonton, we welcome Polykar and look forward to helping them grow.”

“Our government is working every day to make Alberta the best place to invest and start a business, and I’m excited to see a new and innovative facility coming to Edmonton,” said Tanya Fir, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism. “This potential $20 million total investment will not only create dozens of jobs during and after construction, but also keep more of the value added of local polyethylene production in Alberta. I join Mayor Iveson in welcoming Polykar and look forward to seeing this facility when it is completed.”

This announcement is also receiving a strong endorsement from the region’s mayors including Sturgeon County’s Mayor Alanna Hnatiw. “The development and current assets within the region, like those in Sturgeon County’s portion of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland are proof that the strength of our primary plastics and chemical manufacturing continue to drive growth. As a proud partner of Edmonton Global, we welcome Polykar and look forward to supporting, and helping them thrive in the region.”

About Polykar: Founded in 1987 in Saint-Laurent, Québec, Polykar began as a family business. Today, we are a leading Canadian manufacturer of polyethylene film, certified compostable bags, garbage bags as well as food and industrial packaging. We have also developed a solid expertise in plastics recycling. Our mission is to grow and lead the plastics industry by providing innovative, world-class sustainable packaging solutions. We are driven by operational efficiency and committed to our company values of excellence, collaboration, pride, sustainability and trust in all we do.

For more information, visit www.polykar.com.

Media Contacts

Polykar:
Natalie Mountain
Marketing Director
+1 514 232 6547
marketing@polykar.com

Edmonton Global:
Chris McLeod
Marketing & Communications Director
+1 780 499 4517
cmcleod@edmontonglobal.ca

$27 million to support 23 innovative projects across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region

From: Western Economic Diversification Canada

Western Economic Diversification Canada announced over $27 million in new investments for 23 projects across the Edmonton Metropolitan Region. Funding for these projects is provided through three programs that foster innovation.

Business Scale-up and Productivity (BSP) funding of $18,249,749 will support 12 small- and medium-sized businesses in Edmonton, DeBolt, and Leduc. By providing interest-free loans for these projects, the Government of Canada is supporting expansion into new markets and innovation related to nanotechnology, cosmetics, electronics, health technology, textiles, and digital technology.

Through the Regional Innovation Ecosystems (RIE) program, the Government of Canada is providing $6,250,730 to eight projects in Edmonton. These investments support a diverse range of innovations in advanced manufacturing, aviation, youth-developed technologies, natural products and foods, life sciences, and artificial intelligence.

The Western Diversification Program (WDP) makes strategic investments in initiatives that enhance and strengthen the economy of Western Canada. Through this program, three projects in Edmonton will receive a combined investment of $2,680,670 to support development of autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing, and natural resources youth leadership.  

All funded projects indicated below are subject to negotiation of contribution agreements.

BSP program funding

OrganizationProject DescriptionLocationFunding
Applied Quantum Materials Inc.EdmontonIncrease silicon nanomaterials production for defense, security and construction markets.$200,000
Barriertek Inc.LeducExpand manufacturing capacity of fire-retardant construction materials for residential and commercial buildings.$1,950,000
Clinisys EMREdmontonOpen new markets in Canada and the United States for a new cloud-based electronic medical records and data analytics software system, which makes use of artificial intelligence to improve patient care.   $907,875
Davey Textile Solutions Inc.EdmontonMake improvements to a facility that will increase manufacturing productivity of reflective safety trim for the textile industry.$742,000
EC Labs Inc.EdmontonLaunch a new, luxury, high-performance hair care line for the North American, Chinese and Japanese markets.$350,000
Levven Electronics Ltd.EdmontonIncrease manufacturing capacity to handle sales volume increase of smart building products.$660,000
NanoSpeed Diagnostics Inc. & 1715940 Alberta Ltd.EdmontonEstablish a manufacturing facility for rapid tests and commercialize a test for ferritin.$804,812
Pleasant Solutions Inc.EdmontonIncrease sales and promotion of high-security offerings, including Pleasant Password Server, a solution for organizations to manage passwords and sensitive information, to international markets.$2,450,000
Quantiam Technologies Inc.EdmontonExpand production of nanomaterial and processing technology that reduces wear, corrosion, and buildup of coke residue on metal alloy surfaces.$2,369,541
Sonar Software Inc.DeBoltCommercialize the next generation of billing software for internet service providers.$3,000,000
Umay Care Holdings Inc.EdmontonPurchase equipment and launch a device, which manages digital eyestrain, in North American and European markets.$276,353
Willowglen Systems Ltd.EdmontonMarket and globally commercialize new automation technology that improves environmental stewardship and efficiency of mission-critical industrial infrastructure such as pipelines and metro systems.$4,539,168
Total:$18,249,749

RIE program funding

OrganizationLocationProject DescriptionInvestment
Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii)EdmontonDemonstrate technologies from Alberta stakeholders that establish viable uses for artificial intelligence and machine learning in health and data analytics.$2,750,000
BioAlbertaEdmontonSupport producers of natural health products and functional foods in Alberta to innovate and grow their businesses.$200,000
BioAlbertaEdmontonAssist small and medium-size enterprises in Alberta’s life sciences sector to scale up, grow, and market their products internationally.$60,000
C-FER Technologies Inc.EdmontonPurchase equipment for local companies to use for calibrating and testing high-load equipment products exceeding 1 million pounds.$225,000
Edmonton Economic Development (Startup Edmonton)EdmontonDeliver a Youth Entrepreneurship Program to build post-secondary students’ entrepreneurial skills and empower youth founders to launch a tech-enabled business through program support, workspace, and mentorship opportunities.$250,000
NorQuest College, Bow Valley College, Concordia University of Edmonton, and Athabasca UniversityEdmontonDevelop and enhance programming to increase the number of students, skilled workers, and companies trained in artificial intelligence and data analytics.$1,150,000
University of AlbertaEdmontonTest and validate renewable jet fuels, which are produced from lipid-to-hydrocarbon technology that converts agricultural waste fats and low-grade oils into fuels and other chemicals.$1,565,730
University of AlbertaEdmontonDeliver international advanced manufacturing event and hackathon in May 2019.$50,000
Total:$6,250,730

WDP funding

OrganizationLocationProject DescriptionInvestment
Alberta Centre for Advanced MNT Products (ACAMP)EdmontonPurchase equipment that will help companies develop, test, and commercialize new technologies for autonomous systems.$1,500,000
United Nations Association in CanadaEdmontonDeliver “New Diplomacy of Natural Resources” forums throughout Western Canada that bring together young Canadian scholars and leading experts from the private sector, government, environmental, and Indigenous organizations to engage in productive discussions about the sustainable and inclusive development of Western Canada’s natural resources.$120,670
University of AlbertaEdmontonDevelop an advanced manufacturing system for automated repairs of heavy machine components.$1,060,000
Total:$2,680,670
 Related Products News release: Government of Canada supports innovative businesses and organizations in Edmonton and surrounding areas
Contact Donna Kinley
Regional Communications Manager
Western Economic Diversification Canada
780-902-2984
Donna.Kinley@canada.ca

Edmonton can become ‘multi-billion-dollar tech hub’: Downtown biz report

Downtown Business Association executive director Ian O’Donnell.
Photo Credit: CODIE MCLACHLAN / POSTMEDIA

A report released Wednesday, detailing the state of Edmonton’s tech industry, says the city has the ability to become a ‘multi-billion-dollar tech hub.’

The Downtown Business Association argues for increased tech-oriented buildings, a downtown accelerator, talent retention, collaboration between organizations and enhancing urban infrastructure in the downtown core in its new report, “Accelerating Tech in Downtown Edmonton: Impacts and Opportunities.”

“There’s a lot of hidden gems of tech companies in the downtown, that people might not have even heard of, that are global and that are doing amazing things with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue,” said Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, from TEC Edmonton on Wednesday. “We wanted to … really talk about, ‘How can we expand that and how can we accelerate that?’”

Edmonton is home to 394 tech companies — a majority of them in the downtown core — and supporting and attracting them will take a major shift in mindset, said the report. Of these, 44 per cent are considered start-ups and could grow into major companies with the right resources, O’Donnell said.

“We have a lot of amazing companies downtown in Edmonton,” said Karolina Korzeniewski, an MBA consultant on the project. “We are quietly working away, solving the world’s problems, at the forefront of the AI race, very humbly doing our work, and not really telling everybody about the wonderful things we’re doing.”

The report highlights a number of tech companies Edmontonians may not know are operating right here in the city, like Run With It Synthetics, which is working on Silicon Valley’s earthquake mitigation strategy.

Implementing the report’s recommendations would take a significant investment from all levels of government, as well as from businesses themselves, but O’Donnell said the point is that the foundation is already here in Edmonton.

“We all want the same thing,” said Korzeniewski. “So it’s a matter of channeling all of that positive energy in the right direction.”

O’Donnell noted the strong tech-oriented post-secondary programs in Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson’s idea for an innovation corridor between NAIT and the University of Alberta and strong transit infrastructure in downtown as key building blocks for a thriving tech sector.

Ultimately, O’Donnell and Korzeniewski hope the report can serve as a catalyst for a change they see as urgent and necessary.

“We have everything ready to go, but we have got to go now,” said O’Donnell. “If we don’t move today in a very collaborative and thoughtful way, we will be left behind.”

Emerging tech sector promises better economic balance

Edmonton at night
Edmonton at night
Edmonton is home to the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute and is becoming a hub for Artificial Intelligence.

Laura Kilcrease is on a mission to change the way the rest of Canada – and the world – perceive Alberta’s economy.

The CEO of Alberta Innovates, a provincially funded corporation with a mandate to deliver 21st-century solutions for the most compelling challenges facing Albertans, says there is far more to Alberta’s economy than just the energy sector.

“When we host people who have never been to Alberta before, they are absolutely blown away by what’s happening here, particularly in the tech sector,” says Ms. Kilcrease. “For example, Alberta is a global leader in the research and development of artificial intelligence, but that’s hardly known in Canada, let alone the rest of the world.”

Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates

For example, she points out that Deepmind, a world leader in AI research and its application founded in London, England, and acquired by Google in 2014, has one of its two research centres in Edmonton.

“It was initially meant to be a small research centre with a handful of staff, but that’s grown to 50 people in just over a year. I believe that’s going to happen more and more, both with multinational companies and new startups,” adds Ms. Kilcrease.

One of her goals is to help Alberta earn the respect she believes it deserves for a diverse and innovative economy that’s benefiting not only the province, but Canada as a whole in sectors ranging from the creative arts to agriculture and digital health.

Recent research by IDC Canada for Calgary Economic Development shows that companies across the province will increase spending on digitization at a compound annual growth rate of 20 per cent over three years and that agribusiness is forecast to be the fastest adopter of the technology.

Lorraine Nicol, a senior research associate in water resources policy and management in the Department of Economics at the University of Lethbridge in southern Alberta, specializes in irrigation agriculture, a sector in the province that is being transformed by the implementation of new technology.

There are 1.7 million acres under irrigation in Alberta, which accounts for 70 per cent of irrigated land in Canada and is one of the main drivers of the provincial economy.

“Sixty different crops are grown under irrigation, including 28 speciality crops. Those crops, in turn, provide inputs into a vibrant processing industry. Sugar beet and potato processing, for example, are major industries here. Forages grown under irrigation provide input into a very large confined feedlot industry,” says Dr. Nicol.

And in keeping with Alberta’s overall focus on digital transformation, many farmers are adopting new agriculture technologies such as satellite imagery, GPS systems and drones – often called ‘precision agriculture’ – to enhance their operations. In a recent study of the Taber Irrigation District, Dr. Nicol found that 81 per cent of irrigators have implemented some form of precision agriculture.

This is important, she says, because irrigation agriculture contributes $3.6-billion to Alberta’s economy and accounts for an equivalent of 56,000 full-time direct and indirect jobs. More precise irrigation methods boost crop yields and quality, help conserve water and better protect the environment

In fact, Dr. Nicol’s research found that farmers who adopted precision agriculture reported yearly crop yields had increased an average of 20 per cent, crop quality had increased an average of 16 per cent, irrigation water use declined by 24 per cent, fertilizer use was down 21 per cent, herbicide use was down 14 per cent and pesticide use was down 19 per cent – all good news for Alberta’s economy and environment.

This post originally appeared in the Globe and Mail, and was produced by Randall Anthony Communications.

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