Monthly Archives: August 2015

Give sober review to trade laws

It would take something like beer to upend the Constitutional status quo of this country – if, of course, it ever does.

Consider the strange case of Gerard Comeau who was caught crossing the border from Quebec into New Brunswick with 14 cases of beer and three bottles of liquor in 2012. According to an antiquated Prohibition-era law, that’s a big no-no.

Mr. Comeau is now on trial for violating the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act, which states that individuals are allowed to bring one bottle of wine or liquor or 12 pints of beer into the province at any given time.

According to a CBC analysis of the historical context underlying the case, “The Canadian law regarding the shipping of alcohol was meant to thwart bootleggers, and led to a gradual devolution of federal responsibility to the provinces in matters relating to liquor. Each province established an agency that oversees the distribution, sale and consumption of wine, beer and spirits.”

The CBC piece quoted Mark Hicken, a Vancouver attorney who specializes in interpreting Canada’s quirky interprovincial trade regulations, thusly: “A lawyer down in California once said to me, ‘You can’t understand any North American liquor laws unless you trace them back to Prohibition.’ You look at any regulatory structure in North America and if it was examined in a global perspective, you’d look at it in stunned disbelief, like ‘What is going on here?’ It really does go back to the Prohibition mentality of control.”

Added Mr. Hicken: “The shipping laws were brought in to stop the inter-provincial bootlegging traffic following the repeal of Prohibition at different times and in different provinces. Today, the major reason for the continuation of those laws is money – the liquor boards want to maintain absolute control over all liquor in their jurisdiction so they can levy a liquor board mark-up on it.”

Bingo, and that, sadly, is the lay of the land for so many other brands of goods and services in Canada.

Without commenting on the merits, or demerits, of the specific case against Mr. Comeau, I will say that this nation’s arcane, out-dated and just, plain bizarre interprovincial trade rules are stunning incongruities at a time when federal officials are successfully negotiating, or renegotiating, sweeping commercial agreements with the United States, European Union and the Asia-Pacific. And I’m not the only one who thinks so.

“As we approach the 150th anniversary of Canada’s founding in 2017, we still have some unfinished business to deal with,” University of Prince Edward Island political scientist Peter McKenna has recently written. “It comes in the form of pernicious and persistent internal trade barriers between provinces.

“There is no disputing that the founding partners of Confederation had in mind unfettered trade and commerce between them. In fact, section 121 of the Canadian Constitution states: ‘All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.’”

Now, we face the very real prospect of welcoming European cheese into our local marketplace where Canadian-made craft beer and wine from outside our resident province are outlawed.

Does this make any sense to consumers or producers? The answer is as obvious as its corollary: interprovincial trade barriers benefit, most reliably, cash-strapped provincial governments.

But even when they don’t, the sheer inertia of the status quo virtually guarantees that nothing changes, despite the well-meaning noises various premiers make about finally getting things done.

Will the Comeau case make a difference?

I’d cheer that efficacious outcome.

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Our ignorance is their bliss


Knowing what we know today, is it likely we’ll forget it all by tomorrow?

Human nature inveighs against the better angels of our civilized character. Memory doesn’t so much serve us, as pester us.

Consider, for example, higher education in New Brunswick.

For decades, we assumed that a broad, liberal course of study – in the undergraduate years – would prepare students in this province to take their places in the productive working world. They might go on to specialize in any number of disciplines: law, medicine, business management, architecture, theatre, even (gasp!) journalism.

Now, we require them to choose their paths in society before they even know their own minds – to, in effect, forget their youthful passions in the service of actuarial accounts that determine who will be useful, and who will not, to the common weal. Memory is the sentimental enemy of the current political good; so get with the program, kids.

Similarly, we imagine that life for New Brunswickers aboard the good ship Stephen Harper has been either uniformly splendid, or utterly awful. Again, our capacity for accurate recollection fails us.

Once, not so very long ago, the prime minister toured these environs and declared, in so many words, that Atlantic Canada must fight its culture of “defeatism”. We screamed and cried, as we are wont to do. But was he entirely wrong in his sentiments? We said he was.

On the other hand, within scant years, Mr. Harper made it perfectly clear to New Brunswick that Ottawa would guarantee a culture of defeatism here by eviscerating social programs, capping health-care transfers and knee-capping local MPs in his own party if they dared speak truth to power. Was he entirely right? We said he was.

Does memory serve, or merely pester?

Why have we forgotten about the enormous potential of renewable energy technologies in this province? What happened to wind, tidal and biomass, fading into our collective memory of hope and grace? What about early childhood education, universally accessible to all in New Brunswick? Was it just a dream, a faint memory of a better future, idly conjured in the past?

All of which raises the question: If we know what we know today, is it inevitable that we’ll forget it all by tomorrow?

If human nature inveighs against the better angels of our civilized character, shouldn’t we conjure stronger angels to shepherd our finest instincts? If memory doesn’t so much serve us, as pester us, oughtn’t we banish the tyranny that accompanies habitually following those who desperately want to erase that which we would otherwise remember? (Spoiler alert: the babies we elect to high office).

In fact, I adore the memories that pester me. I love remembering when a boy or girl could expect a straight shot at a decent job for life, thanks to a tax-payer-funded training program.

I relish thinking about my own (non-tax-payer-funded) apprenticeships at Canadian Press, CFDR Radio in Dartmouth, and Atlantic Insight Magazine in Halifax. These are images from my life, lessons I have learned, cherished recollections of a society that – while not perfect, by any measure – embraced the ever-spinning wheel of history; past, present and future.

I grew up at a time when Tommy Douglas’ words still resonated: “Courage, my friends; ’tis not too late to build a better world.”

Indeed, we are made of sterner stuff than the current basket of expectations that Ottawa and Fredericton retails daily: Believe what we tell you, try not to think too much; your ignorance is our bliss.

Blow it to bits, friends; and never forget.

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Our dwindling democracy


Some who reside in the Greater Moncton area don’t give a chocolate-coated fiddlehead about the Mike Duffy affair.

According to one straw poll I conducted by cell phone between the hours of 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on a recent Saturday afternoon, as I careened out of town for a weekend of fun in the sun at an undisclosed Maritime location, which is, I hasten to add, not my primary residence.

I should also say that the five people I interviewed comprise a statistically meaningful sample of Canada’s voting public exactly zero times out of 20, with a plus-or-minus margin of error of precisely 100 per cent (in other words, about average for national pollsters in recent elections).

I posed only one question, providing survey respondents with the opportunity to rank their five main issues from one to five, in descending order:

“What would you say is your most pressing concern in this absurdly long, already tedious, election cycle? Is it (a) Duffygate; (b) unemployment; (c) the economy; (d) global warming and Canada’s reaction to it; and (e) the weapons-grade stupidity evinced by all but the tiniest fraction of politicians of every stripe in the soon-to-be-again Great White North?”

The results were compelling, if not especially unexpected.

All five respondents declared unequivocally that political stupidity was their most urgent worry. Comments ranged in tone and perspicuity from, “I hate them, I hate them, I hate them. . .did I mention that I hate them?” to, “you know, it’s probably not their (politicians’) fault; inbreeding causes a lot of problems elsewhere in society too.”

Coming in a close second was the economy. One respondent observed: “So, here we have in the Harper government a regime that once insisted the best thing it could do was to stay out of the private sector’s way, and yet it now runs on a platform extolling the virtues of its economic hegemony.”

Third on the hit parade of grievances was unemployment – or rather, underemployment. “I came to this province on the promise of green fields of opportunity,” said one interviewee. “I figured my advanced degree would make me a fine candidate for good-paid work in New Brunswick. Now, I drive a cab in Moncton.”

Fourth was global warming.

Assorted remarks included: “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost froze my feet off”, “I went to a beach in New Brunswick and I almost had heat stroke”, “Oh. . .wait, I think I see an asteroid about to destroy all of us. . .Funny how it looks just like Mike Duffy.”

In Ottawa, far away from what matters to most people down here, the Senate moils and roils to reclaim its significance, the trials of important others proceed apace.

The world here now begins with irrelevance, marches towards false gravitas and ends in self-importance. The regions of this country do not matter; neither do the cities or towns we call home. And the Mike Duffy affair, which should concern us, simply doesn’t rise to the occasion.

We are, all of us, victims of our own distractions, our own obsessions, our own grievances. There is almost nothing left in the collective piggy bank of charity, forgiveness and grace; nothing with which to rebuild the world we so recently broke.

But should we, in our minds, with our hands and hearts so easily abandon the struggle to understand what goes horribly wrong in the National Capital Region?

To our abiding shame, we have begun to care nothing about the condition of our own democracy, with a margin of error of exactly zero.

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Lost in the barrens of Moncton

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Anyone who hasn’t endured shock therapy to erase the memory of last winter along the East Coast will surely greet the latest forecasts of the coming fall with a mixture of fear and loathing.

Yes, dear reader, we are heading for another prelude to snowmaggedon: A Maritime autumn of brilliant colours, sparkling skies, pumpkin pies, and then a picture of me standing on a glacier that was once my driveway in downtown Moncton, shovel in hand, maniacal grin fixed to face, wild eyes cast heavenward, and a guttural invocation issuing from trembling lips.

“Really? I mean, really?”

Last February, my wife and I spent a balmy 11 days in nearby Charlottetown looking after our kids’ kids (ours had skipped off to Costa Rica for a well-deserved sojourn involving horseback riding and beach combing). What began as a routine “mission impossible” for us, the grand parents, quickly devolved into a mission from hell.

The snow began on a late Sunday and didn’t stop until mid-Tuesday. When it was over, 90 centimeters of the white stuff had fallen within 36 hours. Roads were impassable. Shovels were pilfered. The city was at a standstill. Only stores of milk and games of monopoly kept us going.

Finally, it was time to travel back to Moncton, there to see what obscenity the weather had wreaked on the home front. As we careened up our street, which had been reduced to less than one lane of traffic, we agreed it could have been worse. After all, our city had received a mere 66 centimeters in that particular tempest. We would take the win – until, of course, we attempted to hike the heat.

Here’s the thing about natural gas furnaces: They like snow and ice about as much as my wife and I do. The only difference between them and us is that they shut down, while I am inclined, in prone position, to dig out the various inflow and outflow valves so as to guarantee not freezing to death in my own house – in, by the way, yet another blizzard.

And so it continued for weeks; and, if the predictions are correct, it will continue apace this winter. That’s climate change for you, or, perhaps, just the luck of the meteorological draw.

Accuweather has done its studly job of scaring the stomachs of weak-kneed New Brunswickers of late. Its forecast for the region, issued last week, posits: “A majority of the Arctic fronts will be directed into northern Quebec, Labrador and the Maritimes this fall, resulting in some early periods of chilly weather. This pattern will also help reduce the threat of a landfalling tropical storm or hurricane into Nova Scotia. Newfoundland will continue to see cooler and wetter conditions into the fall with several storms intensifying just offshore.”

Meanwhile, says the weather service, the El Nino phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific, “continues to intensify. . .and we expect this current episode to be one of the strongest. . .on record by the upcoming winter. . . .Strong El Nino’s typically produce unusually mild winters across western Canada. Farther east, the impacts are less certain, but tend to favor reduced snowfall around the Great Lakes region. Current indications are that this upcoming winter will not be nearly as cold as last winter across eastern Canada.”

As for Atlantic Canada. . .well, we’re not so lucky as to be so certain. Still, maybe our permanently hard winters represent an economic opportunity: winter tourism, anyone?

After all, if snowflakes were dollars, all New Brunswickers would be millionaires by now.

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The one that got away

Even a cursory look at the numbers reveals the inarguable truth about the contribution that southeastern New Brunswick brings to the table of the province’s economy: This region, anchored by Greater Moncton, drives every other in measureable ways.

So why, then, does it merit only perfunctory recognition from the federal Conservative government, whose agents now, rather counter-intuitively, desire the undying support and approval of its residents mere weeks before the next general election?

Every major federal leader has done his or her pass through the southeast in recent weeks. Everyone, that is, except Stephen Harper, who, we are told, is getting around to it.

The prime minister’s persistent absence from the banks of the Petticodiac is conspicuous for several reasons, not the least of which is his filial connection to the area (one of his forbears actually hailed from here; there’s even a crumbling street in the east end of the city named for his family).

Another is that he has a fine lieutenant in the body of Tory MP Robert Goguen, who must, by now, feel like Little Orphan Annie pining for a Daddy Warbucks.

Mr. Goguen’s efforts to spin the federal government’s determination to divert regular infrastructure money (snow removal, road repairs, etc.) into a downtown events centre on the expectation that the completed facility will return enough to replenish municipal coffers was beyond brilliant. No one, to my knowledge, has made a better “robbing Peter to pay Paul” argument in the recent political history of this province.

Then again, no one outside this province really gives a darn about this province – least of all this part of the province, which boasts far too much commercial success to characterize as a basket case in need of federal support.

Again, look at the numbers, courtesy of Moncton’s official website: “In 2014, KMPG ranked Moncton as the lowest cost location for business in Canada; Moncton is known as the hub of the Maritimes with more than 1.3 million people living within a 2.5-hour drive; with a 9.7 per cent population growth between 2006 and 2011, Moncton is the fastest growing Canadian urban centre East of Saskatoon and the fifth-fastest growing CMA in Canada; Moncton (has) added more than 25,000 jobs to its workforce since 1990; home sales in 2011 reached the fourth highest level in history; there were twice as many houses sold in 2011 than (the) decade (before); with an average price of $166,476 in 2013, Moncton remain(ed) one of the most affordable housing markets in Canada; total value of building permits issued in 2011 reached $184 million, the second highest level in history; retail sales reached $2.1 billion in 2011.”

All of which suggests that Mr. Harper has nothing to gain by spending his political capital here – or, perhaps more accurately, no one to control, apart from his various factotums.

An affecting piece in the New York Times last week, written by veteran political journalist Stephen Marche, makes several compelling points:

“Americans have traditionally looked to Canada as a liberal haven, with gun control, universal health care and good public education. But the nine and half years of Mr. Harper’s tenure have seen the slow-motion erosion of that reputation for open, responsible government.

“(Mr. Harper’s) stance has been a know-nothing conservatism, applied broadly and effectively. He has consistently limited the capacity of the public to understand what its government is doing, cloaking himself and his Conservative Party in an entitled secrecy, and the country in ignorance.”

Under the circumstances, then, perhaps Mr. Harper’s ignorance of us is our bliss.

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The downtown party starts


Just because Greater Moncton, after years of hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing, has finally awarded itself a modest sports and entertainment complex in the western heart of the city, doesn’t mean the controversies have concluded.

In fact, in all the most significant ways, they’ve only just begun.

Exactly what sort of a facility will (should) this be? Has the community had a proper chance to review the planning options? What will transform the venue from an expensive hockey arena into a vibrant cultural space and back again. Indeed, how will the various clients and tenants shake hands to benefit all? And what, pray tell, is the deal with parking?

It may be a certain comfort to know that almost no capital project of this type or size at a downtown location in a metropolitan area of Canada (actually, anywhere) has ever proceeded without also generating a riot of objection and opprobrium. That is the nature of this particular beast.

Many reviled Maple Leaf Gardens in the heart of Toronto’s financial district as a monstrosity when it flung open its doors in the early 20th century. Yet, here’s what the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada wrote about it in 2006 upon its designation as a National Historic Site: “One of the most renowned ‘shrines’ in the history of hockey. . .the largest arena in the country when it was built, it was one of the country’s foremost venues for large-scale sporting events such as boxing matches and track meets, and non-sporting events such as concerts, rallies and political gatherings, religious services and opera. . .the Gardens holds a special place in the country’s popular culture: here Canadians welcomed a wide range of cultural icons from the Beatles to the Metropolitan Opera, from Tim Buck to Team Canada vs. the Soviets, from Winston Churchill to the Muhammad Ali-George Chuvalo fight.”

All of which suggests that the birth pangs and growing pains associated with integrating a brand, new cultural edifice into a community that maintains, at best, an ambivalent relationship with its downtown core will eventually subside. But not without effort, and not without a broad appreciation for the hard-won successes other cities have somehow managed to manufacture.

Consider, as examples, the two Londons – the original and its Canadian namesake. The former is home to the redoubtable Southbank Centre; the latter hosts the less expansive Budweiser Gardens.

Established in 1951, Southbank Centre has evolved by effectively engaging the neighbourhoods that surround it. Today, it boasts three main buildings – Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward

Budweiser Gardens, on the other hand, better resembles in both form and function, the as yet unbuilt and unnamed Moncton facility. Again, according to Wikipedia, the sports and entertainment facility opened in 2002 as the new downtown home of London’s Ontario Hockey League team, the London Knights. Significantly, though, over the years it has also become an important venue for other worthy distractions: “Budweiser Gardens was launched as a concert venue with Cher’s ‘Living Proof: The Farewell Tour’ in 2002. In 2007, Meat Loaf’s ‘3 Bats Live’ DVD from the ‘Seize The Night’ tour was recorded here. Cirque du Soleil chose Budweiser Gardens to stage its first-ever arena show, a rebuilt production of Saltimbanco.

Sting performed during his Symphonicities Tour on July 21, 2010, along with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2010, Budweiser Gardens was awarded as the Canadian Venue of the Year at the Canadian Music and Broadcast Industry Awards.”

For Moncton, the controversies will surely continue. Eventually, though, we, like other cities, will get our downtown centre right.


This bromance might backfire


He’s young, fit, energetic and, more importantly, telegenic. He has a smile that could set 1,000 campaign managers’ hearts a flutter. And that hair – don’t get me started on that hair.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that the Grit Premier of New Brunswick, the unstoppable, unflappable Brian Gallant (who considers the environs of Greater Moncton his natural hunting ground for Ottawa-fed Tories) is preparing to wage electoral battle this fall.

In fact he is – just not his own.

It is, of course, customary – nay, expected – for the premier of this province to support in every rhetorical way possible the principals, priorities and plans of his federal counterparts heading, as we presently are, into a general election. After all, what good is the rapport Mr. Gallant evidently enjoys with Liberal Party of Canada Leader Justin Trudeau, if he can’t splash it onto the front pages of local newspapers?

Still, the premier’s buddy routine comes perilously close to crossing the line he, himself, drew a month ago when he insisted he would not campaign (officially, at any rate) for Mr. Trudeau, but would, instead, meet with any federal leader who wanted to discuss issues critical to the province’s future, including the so-called “fiscal imbalance”.

Only last week, however, a far less circumspect-sounding Mr. Gallant delivered a politically charged tirade that could have been ripped from Mr. Trudeau’s own choir book.

“We have a Canadian economy that’s going in the wrong direction,” he thundered. “The current federal government has a bad plan for the Canadian economy, and we’ve seen that not only New Brunswick, but in many provinces across the country and, in fact, I would argue, in all of them. Some of them have had slight growth, but it’s been minimal.”

What’s more, Mr. Gallant continued, “We are in (a) recession and the current federal government refuses to change its strategy and plan. I would imagine it was because there was a 78-day federal election campaign coming.”

If nothing else, the outburst underscores the dangers of a political bromance between Messrs. Gallant and Trudeau that’s grown just a tad too fond for its own good.

Imagine, for a moment, the tone and temper of a conversation about fiscal imbalance today if the federal leader sitting across the table from Mr. Gallant happened to be Prime Minister Stephen Harper who, rumour has it, does plan to pop in to New Brunswick sometime before Election Day.

Naturally, none of this would be problematic if Mr. Trudeau’s fortunes at the ballot box were secure. They’re not.

Ottawa pollsters reckon the campaign is a virtual dead heat, with the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair slightly ahead of Mr. Harper in popularity. The young Liberal leader’s outlook is decidedly downcast and has been for weeks. Where once he enjoyed a 42 per cent approval rating, he now endures one in the range of 24 per cent.

Even here in the Maritimes, where the federal Liberals could once count on a majority of support, the NDP have gained ground. The two parties are virtually tied for public approval in New Brunswick.

Beyond any of this, though, the window dressings and pomp of campaigns only emphasize the real challenges Mr. Gallant doesn’t appear to be tackling in New Brunswick, the ones that are far closer to home and heart than a red tide in Ottawa: rising unemployment, deepening public debt and no convincing plan to stimulate economic revival and diversification.

The premier would do best to apply his inestimable energy to the issues that outlast even this, the longest of election campaigns

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Tripping up on climate change


When it comes to the phrase, “the tipping point”, in all matters related to global warming, our cups now runneth over.

It is, perhaps, inevitable that a discipline as complex, as frustratingly imprecise, as climate change should attract oversimplifications to the point of cliché the way a garden invites dandelions.

Still, the use of this expression seems to have spiked recently as scientists struggle to explain why we’re not already stewing in our own juices.

According to a story in MarketWatch online last week, “In June, Pope Francis, in his encyclical on the environment, called upon humanity to take responsibility for the planet, including climate change. Yet millions of Americans just don’t trust scientists warning of a ’95 per cent certainty’ humans cause global warming.”

That figure was originally published in a MarketWatch story a year ago in which writer Paul B. Farrell noted, “But they do trust Big Oil, the GOP, God. They honestly believe climate science is a dangerous fear-mongering liberal conspiracy.”

That’s because most people can’t, or refuse to, observe the largely subtle changes that accumulate in their environment – and even those who can don’t automatically perceive them as evidence of manmade global warming.

Yet, anyone who spends any time at all lounging in his backyard this New Brunswick summer must surely notice the virtual absence of the little brown bat at dusk. This once-plentiful species filled the sky only five years ago. And then, seemingly overnight, it was gone, a victim of a virulent fungus, the proliferation of which, zoologists believe, is directly related to long-term warming weather trends along the northeast U.S.

That, dear reader, is what the experts call a tipping point. Everything proceeds apace – business as usual, move along, nothing to see here – and then, one day, boom! The new normal rears its frightful head and you don’t know what the dickens slammed into you.

All of which puts paid to the notion that we humans have plenty of time to consider our options. The tricky thing about tipping points is that you ever know when they’re going to occur. Noted environmentalist Bill McKibben alluded to this in an article he penned for Foreign Policy some years ago.

“Time might be the toughest part of the equation,” he wrote. “That melting Arctic ice is unsettling not only because it proves the planet is warming rapidly, but also because it will help speed up the warming. That old white ice reflected 80 per cent of incoming solar radiation back to space; the new blue water left behind absorbs 80 per cent of that sunshine. The process amps up.”

What’s more, he warned, “There are many other such feedback loops. Another occurs as northern permafrost thaws. Huge amounts of methane long trapped below the ice begin to escape into the atmosphere; methane is an even more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

In fact, his piece is fairly dripping with tipping points. Indeed, can we ever tip in a way that not necessarily catastrophic?

That’s a question Andrew Simms asked in an editorial last April for The Guardian: “One of the great environmental stories is of how catastrophe can creep up and be noticed only when it is too late to act. Examples range from the sudden, inexplicable collapse of bee colonies, to ice cores revealing the potential for dramatic climatic upheavals that happen not in millennia or centuries, but the time it takes to pass through a coalition government or two.”

All of which suggests, sadly, that we may have already tipped beyond the point of no return


Will Moncton’s downtown dreams come true?


The hole in the heart of this fair city is about to be filled. The question is: with what?

That 11-acre scar between Highfield and Cameron Streets along great Main now stands as a testament to either a promise fulfilled or a promise broken.

It is, in fact, astonishing how inured we can become to ugliness, lassitude and dereliction. Harder still to calculate are the imaginings of civic pride in the absence of something to behold: a structure to regard, an edifice of iron, concrete and glass to observe.

Still, that will be for later.

For now, Moncton City Council has voted (8-3) to dream and to dream big. Barring acts of God, Parliament and the winds of economic fortune, a multi-use sports and entertainment facility will rise in the urban centre sometime within the next three years.

This has been a long time coming – at least seven years, and likely more. That’s nearly a decade of studies, economic impact analyses, debates, arguments, public consultations, and more debates.

It is only human nature that makes us cool, over time, to something we once burned to have when we were younger, braver and less complacent. And so we now witness a sizeable chunk of Metro Moncton’s populace wondering whether any of this was worth the wait.

It’s a fair question. After all, what does $100-million buy these days?

Will the final product be a fancy, extraordinarily expensive hockey arena? Or will it be a true cultural space, where sporting events shake hands with ballet companies, theatrical tours and musical concerts?

Will it be a monolithic, concrete gulag that incarcerates its patrons with foggy front doors, rotten fast food, and more parking space than anyone has a right to expect in a city that’s less than half the size of Oshawa, Ontario?

Or will it be an elegant, nuanced commons for athletes, artists, performers, and prestidigitators of all stripes and fashions? Will it be a place to gather and ruminate and appreciate just how marvellous civic life in the public square can be when thought transforms both the form and function of everyday life into art and sport and, finally, durable memory.

Imagine walking downtown, years from now, in a blizzard and finding, instead of an empty lot, a place to warm your ears as the convivial roar of a practice hockey game fills an arena while a final, public dress rehearsal of the Atlantic Ballet Company concludes to stupendous applause.

This thing we’ve conjured over the years – this mythical centre, now made manifest – is less a state of bricks and mortar than it is a state of mind. It becomes anything we choose; anything we want to make of it.

The economic effects of a facility like this are, frankly, inarguable. Managed intelligently, it will pay for itself within 15 years of its door opening. After that, it will return millions of dollars in tax revenues to the metropolitan area, year after year, generating untold direct and indirect economic benefits.

But more than this, far more than this, it will anchor a beautiful little city’s spirit to itself. It will mend the tear in the fabric of a community that should never have considered its downtown area – where 18,000 office workers ply their trades and skills and, in high season, 50,000 tourists gambol for fun and profit – irrelevant, a vast parking lot, a hole that can’t be filled.

Then again, what sort of facility will we erect to repudiate this claim? What is the promise?

And will it be broken?

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No summer recess for Moncton


The happiest communities in the Maritimes, it’s fair to say, are those that routinely make their own luck when misfortune grumbles like a storm cloud on the horizon.

Greater Moncton has always demonstrated a special proclivity for resilience, if not outright reinvention, in the face of uncertainty. This summer proves the rule again.

Economists are by no means unanimous in their opinions about the condition of the Canadian economy. Some state firmly that the nation is in a technical, if mild, recession. Others say, “pish-tosh, let’s stop scaring our fellow citizens, lest we talk ourselves into a real downturn.”

Into the sky-is-almost-falling camp parachutes Randall Bartlett, a senior economist at TD bank. “Looking further ahead, the yawning output gap in Canada due to the weak economic performance in 2015 has also pushed back our expectations for any future hiking cycle,” he observed in a note to investors last month.

Joining the hold-your-horses gang earlier this week was Steve Ambler, a professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal’s management school and the David Dodge chair in monetary policy at the C.D. Howe Institute, and Jeremy Kronick, a senior policy analyst at the Institute.

In a newspaper commentary, they wrote, “After a 4-per-cent fall in export volumes over the first five months of 2015, Canada’s sales to foreigners came roaring back, with a 4.8-per-cent increase in June alone. Imports also decreased in volume by 0.9 per cent from May to June.”

But even if the country manages to skirt the abyss without losing all traction, a general malaise descends upon the land practically everywhere.

Still, practically everywhere doesn’t actually mean here.

Early indications are that tourism in southeastern New Brunswick, especially Greater Moncton, is more robust this year than in any other in almost a decade. You can see the evidence in the diversity of license plates, voices and faces on the bustling, downtown streets.

Meanwhile, the tri-city area is enjoying (if that is best word) one of the busiest private and municipal construction seasons in many years. To get anywhere by car these days is a bit like playing a game of steeplechase.

Of course, one could argue that these happy developments have less to do with Greater Moncton’s special talent for driving its own civic agenda and more to do with circumstances beyond its control (the same principle behind recessions, but with more efficacious results).

After all, the surging tourism trade owes as much to the anaemic condition of the Canadian dollar, which makes local amenities immensely desirable to comparatively rich Americans, as it does to our friendly service with a smile.

And if the tri-city area is in the thick of a building fever, look no farther than the federal government ­– whose pre-election purse strings have become, not surprisingly, loose over the past few week – for a likely reason.

Still, neither of these arguments explains why the tourists keep coming back to this location or even, for that matter, why city works officials are perfectly happy clogging most major arteries at peak times of the day if it means squeezing every last dime for infrastructure before the pot finally runs dry.

It’s called initiative, and it comes in all shapes and sizes in Greater Moncton regardless – or, perhaps, because of – unearned adversity.

At this writing, Moncton City Council was deciding the fate of a new downtown event centre, a facility that would almost certainly inject new life and economic opportunity into the community.

Let us hope that city fathers and mothers are, once again, choosing to make their own luck.

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