Senators' Statements

Startup Canada Day on the Hill

October 17, 2018


The Honourable Senator Colin Deacon :

Honourable senators, many of you have some idea how passionate I am about innovation, start-ups and entrepreneurship. That is why you will understand I am pleased to stand and tell you today about Startup Canada Day on the Hill. It brings together entrepreneurs, innovators, investors and government officials to talk about how to accelerate Canada’s ability to innovate and compete.

Start-ups are central to our future, especially in Atlantic Canada. Let me provide some perspective. Employment in Atlantic Canada had flatlined for more than a decade, certainly in Nova Scotia. That means no net new jobs — every job created just replaced a job lost. Senator Christmas co-authored an important study of this problem, the Ivany report, which made many recommendations.

In stark contrast, Atlantic Canadian start-ups are now adding exciting and inspiring jobs at a remarkable rate, growing their employment base by 26 per cent last year alone. Their employment growth is fuelled by sales growth, mainly in export markets, up by 73 per cent last year alone.

But statistics only tell part of this story. Many of you have heard about the Hadhad family, refugees sponsored by Senator Coyle’s community of Antigonish. Tareq Hadhad’s family chocolate business was bombed, and they were forced to flee Syria. Following three long years in a refugee camp and within weeks of arriving in Antigonish, they were already making chocolate in their kitchen and selling it at the local farmers’ market. This year it looks like Peace by Chocolate looks like will double their employment to 50 people in the community of Antigonish.

One more story, about Barb Stegemann. This journalist became an unexpected entrepreneur when her best friend, Captain Trevor Greene, was severely injured by a member of the Taliban, who put an axe in his head in Afghanistan in 2006. It was a horrific event that I am sure we all recall.

Barb was determined to continue her friend’s mission to build peace and found her way when she learned about Abdullah Arsala, an Afghani man who was encouraging farmers to switch from growing poppies for opium to growing orange blossoms and roses for perfume. Barb’s start-up was born, making perfume from essential oils sourced from countries rebuilding after war or strife and offering farmers a fair trade and sustainable source of income.

Barb launched 7 Virtues Perfume with her Visa card in her garage and eight weeks later became the first Atlantic Canadian woman to land a deal on “Dragons’ Den” on CBC. Importantly, Brett Wilson not only became Barb’s investor but her mentor, too, providing critical advice and support.

Today Barb has expanded her work to more than six countries, including Haiti and Rwanda. And Abdullah Arsala, her first supplier, earns twice as much as he could have in the illegal poppy trade. Other suppliers, like Nicholas Hitimana in Rwanda, now earn three times what they otherwise could make.

Honourable senators, that is the power of start-ups. And those are just two little stories.

Tareq Hadhad, Brett Wilson and entrepreneurs from 50 communities across our country will be at Startup Canada Day on the Hill tonight and tomorrow. I hope you will be able to join these exceptional Canadians. Thank you very much.