Wilson supports unifying urban and rural

Tuesday, Mar 27, 2012 12:30 pm | Paul Frey
Noel West/Olds Albertan
Noel West/Olds Albertan
Guest speaker W. Brett Wilson gives an address during the gala.
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Brett Wilson, a former host of the CBC program Dragons’ Den, told a group of about 500 people on Friday – including politicians from all three levels of government – that what he sees as the divide-and-conquer mentality of pitting urban and rural populations against each other by government needs to be fixed so that Canada can truly prosper from its entrepreneurial spirit. Wilson was the keynote speaker at the 2012 edition of Olds College’s Gala: Growing the Legacy.

“I’ve never been more disappointed in the political system. The division between rural and urban (isn’t productive) … let’s cut the crap and fix the system,” Wilson told the audience.

He also took aim at the provincial Tories, calling the royalty review conducted by the government five years ago “stupid.” He also criticized the political climate in Alberta for not having had a legitimate opposition for several years.

Wilson has used his considerable financial resources in recent years to buy a township worth of land in rural Saskatchewan and has worked with the local residents to turn it into as productive as possible farmland. He has also purchased a stake in a coal-fired power plant in northern Alberta to help workers there retain their jobs. Several years ago, he also purchased several vintage horse-drawn carriages in Ontario to keep them in Canadian hands and is now having them restored to peak condition in southern Alberta.

The main thrust of Wilson’s speech, however, was how Canada can build a country full of entrepreneurs. Since graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a civil engineering degree, Wilson has been involved in hundreds of startups in energy and other sectors. That experience led him to co-host Dragons’ Den. By the time his three-year run on the show ended last year, it was the highest rated show on CBC, drawing 2.5 million viewers per episode.

“That show has so much potential,” he said.

Wilson said he wants to use the platform Dragons’ Den has given him to encourage entrepreneurs at every opportunity. In his view, every classroom in Canada needs to have three core classes: marketing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

“We don’t celebrate our entrepreneurs the way we could,” he said.

In an interview before his speech, Wilson said he believes strongly in the “entrepreneurial thought process.”

“Let’s remember that Western Canada was opened by the original entrepreneurs: the hunters, the trappers, farmers, the fur traders. They were all entrepreneurs, and at some point we started working in a socialistic way, especially in Saskatchewan … and we stopped letting the … entrepreneur take charge. Now, we’re doing that again, and I’m pretty excited about where the West can go when we celebrate entrepreneurs. Rural or urban, it doesn’t matter. It’s the spirit of entrepreneurship that I celebrate,” he said.


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