The name game

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In principle, I do not object to the notion of selling the naming rights to public infrastructure in New Brunswick.

But Tory Opposition Leader Bruce Fitch makes a fair point when he says the scheme, proposed by the Gallant government to raise badly needed cash, risks ignoring citizens who simply don’t possess the wherewithal to ensure that their names live on in splendid glory, affixed to the side of a bridge in the middle of Hicksville, Nowhere County.

“There’s a lot of people that have contributed significantly to the province of New Brunswick,” he told the Telegraph-Journal last week, “yet they maybe aren’t of great means or haven’t been able to donate hundreds-of-thousands of dollars to a capital campaign.”

Hear, hear!

Why, I, myself, have spent an inordinate amount of time pitching and boosting a mixed-used, multi-purpose downtown events center for Moncton. Let’s call that my contribution to the moral and spiritual health of the locality and dub the facility appropriately: “The Brucesplex”.

Of course, there’s also the contiguous system of pot-hole-riddled roads that my wife and I have travelled faithfully from Moncton to the Confederation Bridge, across the Abegweit Passage of the Northumberland Strait, and into Charlottetown, to visit our grand-kids and their parents. Henceforth, let us know these byways and highways collectively as “The Bruceway”.

Still, paupers like myself (even, unlike myself, genuinely influential ones) do nothing for the provincial budget by having their names gratuitously slapped on the odd park bench. As Victor Boudreau, the provincial minister responsible for the government’s strategic program review, told reporters last week, “If we can generate a million or two that doesn’t have to come out of the pockets of New Brunswickers to help us address the fiscal challenge we’re facing in the province, then maybe it’s a option worth considering.”

Clearly, then, this particular name game is reserved for the playgrounds of the rich and influential, where participants don’t mind forking over sizeable sums in return for designated immortality etched into the edifices of the province’s public works. This, naturally, raises other concerns among the hoi polloi; chief among them is the danger of branding New Brunswick according to the increasingly narrow constraints of those in possession of real money.

Last month, Barrie Examiner ran a piece touching on a similar issue in its neck of the woods. “Councillors heard the pitch about a plan to sell naming rights of city facilities and sponsorship of programs, events and other community initiatives,” reporter Bob Bruton wrote. “It could generate a net income of almost $850,000 during its first five years, after staff, marketing and servicing costs are paid. ‘Barrie is like a lot of municipalities. They are looking for new and innovative ways to find revenue,’ said Bernie Colterman, Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing, who’s been in the business for 20 years. ‘The timing is right for sponsorship. You have to look at this as a positive thing.’”

On the other hand, Councillor Bonnie Ainsworth worried that the community’s Eastview Arena, for example, might suffer from an inappropriate proximity to filthy lucre. “We don’t want someone to look up and have it named Jimmy’s Tow Truck Arena,” she said.

All of this, however, could be moot. As Marvin Ryder, a marketing professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, recently told The National Post, the name game may not be as remunerative as government officials hope.

“The only place where this has worked well is in sports facilities,” he said.

Indeed, in New Brunswick, a highway or a bridge by any other name would still be as harrowing.

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