Downtown events centre as political football

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Condescension, thy name is Brian Gallant.

With breathtaking gall, the premier of New Brunswick delivered a message to Moncton last week from the river-soaked banks of Freddy Beach where, apparently, rising flood waters cannot stem the tide of execrable political rhetoric.

In a commentary published by The Moncton Times & Transcript, Mr. Gallant intoned, “Much has been said about the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .To create jobs and have strong social programs we must invest our money strategically. . .This principle is an important one that requires us as a government to do our due diligence when making decisions. This includes the decision on whether or not to financially support the Moncton Downtown Centre. . .It isn’t responsible to rush into a $107-million project.”

Furthermore, the premier noted, “I have personally met with Downtown Moncton Centreville Inc., and a number of our caucus members have spoken and met with mayors and city councillors numerous times to discuss the project. The provincial government’s Jobs Board also met with approximately 15 Greater Moncton business leaders and municipal councillors. . .The decision will not be made based on a marketing and lobbying campaign aimed at putting pressure on us to ‘hurry up’.”

What workmanlike spin. What politics as usual. What utter tripe.

To be clear, much has not only been “said about the Moncton Downtown Centre”; much has already been done. For years, successive economic impact studies and public opinion surveys have shown, definitively, that not only would such a facility be inspirational – it would be a generator of economic benefits on orders of magnitude that far exceed its design and construction costs.

How, then, is anyone “rushing into” the project or putting pressure on the Province to “hurry up” after more than a decade of disgraceful, official foot-dragging (albeit by previous Grit and Tory administrations)? At most, Monctonians simply want government types, for once, to evacuate their bureaucratic bowels or get off the thrones they so dearly cherish.

What’s more, if, as Mr. Gallant warrants, he has personally met with leading proponents of the events centre, how, then, do we accept the implication of his argument that he is somehow being pressed into service without sufficient information to make a “responsible” decision on behalf of all taxpayers in New Brunswick?

Shall we convene yet another panel to investigate?

The premier wants solid information to justify a thumbs up or a thumbs down. And yet, he has it. He must know he has it because one member of his worthy Jobs Board, the freshly minted senior economist of the province, David Campbell, literally wrote the book on Moncton’s mythological downtown events centre.

Specifically, in 2013, Mr. Campbell – an independent economic development consultant at the time – had this to say to the Hub City’s council: A new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, he declared, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.” In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.” What’s more, “the cost to service the downtown is much lower compared to many other neighbourhoods and commercial areas around the city.”

Any more questions for the jury? Only one, perhaps.

Why does Mr. Gallant conclude his commentary with a partisan attack on local Conservative Member of Parliament Robert Goguen, who’s done nothing (and I mean absolutely nothing) to advance or retard the event centre’s cause?

Answer: Because that, friends, is what hauteur tends to do in the aromatic springtime of a premier’s ever-shortening life.

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