Trump a hit in Saint John
After months of anticipation and preparations, American business magnate Donald Trump hit the stage in Saint John Thursday as keynote speaker at the Spark: Crash, Learn, Conquer event.
And while it was not the sold-out show organizers had hoped for, with hundreds of empty seats at Harbour Station, The Donald was a hit with those who did attend, based on the laughter and applause.
The billionaire real estate developer and television personality arrived at the airport in his private jet and had a security escort to Harbour Station, where he was greeted by his signature song, For the Love of Money, and a pyrotechnic display.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams also spoke at the motivational event, which attracted thousands of people, many of them from out of town.
The high-profile trio focused on three main themes during their talks — perseverance, leadership and entrepreneurial thinking.
Trump started his speech on a serious note by paying tribute to Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who died Wednesday at age 56.
"A genius," Trump said.
But the rest of his speech was humorous and self-deprecating. He joked about his dark days when random street people in New York were worth "900 million more than [him]" and encouraged everyone to "always get a prenuptial agreement."
Trump also urged people to do what makes them happy, saying "the most successful people are the happiest. Lots of billionaires are miserable."
"Want to be an entrepreneur? Get the best people around you and don't trust them," he said.
Security was tight, with private firms and undercover police officers on hand for the event, put on by the New Brunswick-based promotions company The Momentum Group Inc.
Several politicians attended, including New Brunswick Premier David Alward, Environment Minister Margaret-Ann Blaney, Attorney General Marie-Claude Blais, Minister of Wellness Culture and Sport and Tourism Minister Trevor Holder, as well as numerous mayors from across Atlantic Canada.
Williams charmed the audience with stories of his New Brunswick son-in-law, who can hit a golf ball 375 yards. He also produced his birth certificate and challenged Trump to question his Canadian citizenship. And he continued to trash talk Prime Minister Stephen Harper, saying, "His culture of defeat is my culture of success."
Giuliani immediately talked about 9/11, thanking people in the area for the kindness they showed during the crisis by taking in people affected. More than 2,200 people were stranded in Moncton when their flights were diverted.
Giuliani encourage people to be prepared for everything possible and to respond to the things they're not prepared for in a pro-active way.
"Pessimists are no fun," he said. "No one wants to go to dinner with a pessimist."
"I'm very excited to see that this event is going on in Saint John," said Saint John Coun. Gary Sullivan, noting the Port City has been overlooked by other celebrity speakers in the past couple of years.
"The other piece is I'm extremely interested in hearing Danny Williams, just because how this fella dealt with other levels of government in the style that he did and kept rolling is quite impressive," Sullivan said.
"Rudy Giuliani, not just 9/11, but everything he did in New York to help clean up New York before 9/11 as a municipal councillor, I'm just so impressed by that. I really do want to hear what he has to say.
"And how can you not go see The Donald? 'Cause you never know what's going to come out of his mouth. So, [I] just love to have the opportunity."
The Momentum Group Inc. had tried for two years to get Trump to Saint John. His visit — his first to Atlantic Canada — was announced last spring.
CEO Brad LeBlanc has said staging the event cost more than $1 million, but has estimated it could generate up to $3 million in economic spinoffs for the city.
Momentum was also responsible for bringing billionaire Richard Branson to Moncton last fall. LeBlanc said Trump's speaking fee was much higher than Branson's $275,000, but that he's worth the cost.
Ticket prices ranged between $169 and $269 before taxes and fees.
Jeff Roach, who works in IT in Saint John and sits on the board of Spark, said he hoped the event would be the "shot in the arm" the city needs.
"We're a very project-based city and we've always had these big announcements of new refineries and new building on the waterfront and these big things we've always waited to inject some energy and life into our city and I really feel like what Saint John needs is a shot in the arm that shows us that it's us that's going to build the city," he said. "It's the entrepreneurship of the people in this region that are going to build this region. And these people are all people that have done that.
"So that's what I'm really excited to see is three entrepreneurs, three builders who can talk about their failures and their successes and how they rebuilt them."