Jolting Moncton’s priorities to life

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The fact that Moncton city council even maintains a list of priorities to pursue in its effort to better the community it serves speaks volumes about the worthy preoccupation with thoughtful civic planning around here. After all, few municipalities of comparable size spend much energy crafting “to-dos” and even less time fulfilling them. 

Still, there is something broadly disappointing about an ersatz action plan (the existence of which came to light in the Moncton Times & Transcript last week) whose number one standard operating procedure is to “continue to foster a culture of fiscal responsibility.” Really? As opposed to what?

Had the vow been to spend money like this was our last day on Earth – to go into cosmic hock building a fleeting, terrestrial version of Paradise because the only debt collector is the Grim Reaper, himself, and he’s got bigger fish to fry – well. . .at least that would have been interesting. Irresponsible, but interesting.

What, exactly, is intriguing about a promise to keep our fiscal noses from running? Who and what is that supposed to inspire?

When I check my personal Ten Commandments, affixed via post-it note to my bathroom mirror, before my daily, morning ablutions, I do not see inscribed there, “Thou shalt not rob Peter to pay Paul. . .not today, anyway.”

Nowhere do I encounter admonitions to cut back on $4-a-cup cappuccinos or to switch to a cheaper, less talented hair dresser because, after all, a penny saved is a penny earned and that’s exactly what’s written on my calling card.

No, what I see staring back at me from my looking glass are phrases like “Go Big or Go Home!” and “Shock and Awe is a Way of Life!” and “Be Amazing!”

Okay, so maybe they’re not affixed to my bathroom mirror (who does that anyway?). But, over the years and with the help of boardofwisdom.com’s inspirational quotes page, I have made a small collection of various motivational squibs, none of which, I hasten to point out, has anything to do with maintaining a healthy bank account.

Here’s one: “Never tell me the sky’s the limit when there are footprints on the moon.” Here’s another: “I do it because I can, I can because I want to, I want to because you said I couldn’t.” And there’s this: “Everything is okay in the end, if it’s not ok then it’s not the end.”

Perhaps most disappointing is how far down on city council’s list “reinforcing Moncton’s position as a sports and entertainment hub” appears. It’s number 11, just below the commitment to “launch Magnetic Hill Zoo’s 5-year plan” and just above a rather amorphous declaration to “support and promote arts, culture and heritage/incent public art with an emphasis on the downtown.”

Other priorities, chronicled in order, include stimulating economic growth (2), fixing public transit (3), creating a Tourism Marketing Fund (4), promoting “business-friendly services and processes”, ie., cutting red tape (5), developing the downtown area (6), pursuing “environmental stewardship” (7), welcome immigrants (8), and “invest in parks and trails” (9). Way down at the bottom in 16th place is “promote affordable housing/assist in poverty reduction”, below the one about enhancing “democracy in our local government” (14), which one might persuasively argue should head the entire crop of promises and imprecations.

On the “capital projects” side of the ledger, the top priority is, again, tethered to cash flow – or, at least, the desperate fear of running short of the stuff, as implied by the wording, “reduce Moncton’s infrastructure deficit.” Building a “downtown multi-purpose sports and entertainment centre” is number two on that particular list.

And this is, of course, the problem with this sort of exercise. It’s both exhausting and dispiriting. Worse, it’s futile.

“Reinforcing Moncton’s position as a sports and entertainment hub” is exactly on par with “developing the downtown area” and vice versa. Anyone who demurs has evidently never spent any time on Main Street during one of these summer extravaganzas.

In fact, most, if not all, of Moncton’s priorities are horizontal, interconnected and self-reinforcing – as they should be in any healthy community.

Ranking them distorts an overarching municipal vision, which is just as injurious to thoughtful civic planning as is a self-imposed injunction to follow the money, above all else and come what may.

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