Category Archives: Municipal Affairs

Compensating the compensators

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A recent conversation I conducted with my very attractive, always persuasive in-house accountant at The Bruce Mansions went a little like this:

Me: “It has come to my attention that I earn less than a sparrow stealing bird seed from a pigeon on my own feeder. What are you going to do about this?

She: “Well, I can shoot the pigeons, but that’ll cost you.”

Me: “How much?”

She: “About twice as much for buckshot as birdseed.”

Me: “What about setting up more feeders around the backyard?”

She: “Yup. . .That would work, if you want to attract more pigeons and, of course, spend more money on buckshot.”

Me: “So, what’s the solution? I’m out of money.”

She: “Have you ever considered running for Moncton City Council? I hear the birds there have just awarded themselves a massive raise in salaries and perks – to the tune of $100,000 this year. Of course, all things considered, clay pigeons and plastic, pink flamingos might be a worthier investment in downtown development.”

Me: “You had me at $100,000.”

I must have been snoozing – having just consumed the great news about OrganiGram’s and WestJet’s job-creation expectations, about an expansion to the planned downtown events centre – when this news report, courtesy of the CBC, passed across my screen:

“Currently, Moncton councillors earn $24,789.72, but that amount will increase to $33,494.53 on Jan. 1, 2017. The deputy mayor makes $28,539.72, which will jump to $37,244.53. The city’s next mayor will receive the largest pay increase, getting an increase of more than $14,000 that boosts the mayor’s salary to $83,736.33.”

All tallied, that amounts to a 20-35 per cent pay hike in a single year – at a time when middle-class salaries in this city (population: 70,000), province, region, and country have nudged upwards by mere fractions since 1981.

Is this egregious? Frankly, the optics could not be more embarrassing to a city that bills itself as a lean, mean, fighting municipal machine.

The City of Toronto, with a population approaching 4 million, pays its mayor, annually, $184,666. It pays its councillors an average of $110,000 a year. The hourly rates it maintains for councillor staffs hover between $15 and $47.

The Halifax Regional Municipality, with a population of about 400,000, will soon pay its mayor $163,000 a year and its councillors $74,000 apiece annually. (This, after that city council recently approved cutbacks in the salaries it approves for its members).

All of which only indicates that, compared with their counterparts in other urban centres in Canada, Moncton’s elected officials were making pretty decent change before they gave themselves dramatic raises just in time for the upcoming municipal election. Now, some of them even bloviate on the hard work they must sustain whilst prosecuting what are, officially, part-time jobs.

But let us entertain that these positions are part-time in name only; that they are, in fact, more full-time than those of us outside city hall are prepared to admit.

That’s fair enough. But can’t some mechanism be found to award hard-working councillors with regular, annual bumps in their compensation packages that actually track those of the people they purport to represent?

Must we forever endure these public-relations disasters in the halls of government?

As for me, my in-house accountant advises me to hold off four more years before running for mayor. By then, she says, the good citizens of Moncton might be all too willing to allow me to roll in their dough for a good, long stretch of cutting ribbons and talking out of both sides of my splendid mouth.

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As we build it, they do come

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A simple stroll down Moncton’s Main Street reveals the incongruity between the cloistered and the prodigal.

If you dare to see, you will notice entire blocks of historic edifices falling into disrepair, vacant and lonely but for the ghosts of past prosperities they must surely host, even now.

You will perceive the empty storefronts; the blinkered windows, the shuttered doors and the pigeon poop almost everywhere. You will witness what the sedentary rarely observe behind their towers of glass and concrete: an urban core begging for meaningful renewal.

What shape, then, shall it take?

I press my face to the fence that traverses Main from the bottom of Highfield Street and west to Vaughan-Harvey Boulevard. I watch the builders clear the ground for a foundation, from which girders will soar, on which a new chance for some sort of urban renaissance might take root.

I travel down the byway awhile and find a small café at which to ruminate. Here, over a small cappuccino, I dip into the local paper. “Construction on the first phase of Moncton’s new downtown events center has already generated more than $16.5 million in building permits,” the story reports.

Richard Dunn, the city’s economic development officer, is effusive. He says, “We expect the whole downtown center project will spur development in the vicinity of the building. There are a lot of developers who have been waiting for it to start.”

That’s not all, he assures. “It’s not just the events center. We are expecting big changes along Main Street as we have redevelopment grants available for the downtown core and heritage buildings,” he says.

I hope he’s right. So does the Conference Board of Canada, which recently staked at least a minor portion of its vaunted reputation as a reliable economic prognosticator on the efficacious effects of a new multi-use facility in Moncton’s urban core. (That organization predicts a 3.7 per cent, year-over-year growth rate in the Hub City, thanks to construction activity, alone).

In 2013, real research told the tale of this major build in, arguably, New Brunswick’s most commercially successful city.

David Campbell, the province’s current chief economist (who was an independent economic development consultant at the time) told Moncton City Council that the new downtown center, will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

The important point, which Mr. Campbell argued rigorously and cogently, was that a new centre is not – as some have proposed – a luxury; it is quite nearly a necessity. “Downtown – only 1.5 per cent of the city’s land area – generates nearly 10 per cent of the total assessed tax base and over 14.4 per cent of property tax revenues,” he pointed out. 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 around the city.”

Nearly five years later, these facts ring true. Yet – though the downtown hosts 800 business, 3,000 bars, restaurants and cafes, 18,000 workers, and anywhere from 1,200 to 5,700 residents – the area is in a state of disrepair.

Perhaps this will change in the coming months, as those who have been cloistered walk out their doors and imagine the civic life that could be, sometime soon, all around them.

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Opening doors, and hearts, to newcomers

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A community’s commitment to humanitarian aid is judged, in the final analysis, not so much by its words but by its deeds.

That’s why a story, detailing Moncton’s efforts to accommodate Syrian refugees, published earlier this week by Moncton’s Times & Transcript should warm the cockles of even the most curmudgeonly hearts.

“Moncton fire Chief Eric Arsenault, who is. . .the city’s director of emergency planning, quarterbacks (a) meeting of about a dozen people in a small room on city hall’s sixth floor,” writes reporter Jim Foster. “He keeps his questions short and expects answers that are equally concise.

“What solution has been found for the issue. . .about finding Syrian newcomers proper medical care? What’s been done to reach out to potential corporate donors?”

Says Mr. Arsenault: “I tell people that the future of our community depends on us doing a good job here.”

He’s right, of course.

The challenges, right across Canada, have been enormous. Hurdling linguistic barriers, finding affordable housing, locating and deploying even the most basic social services have not always met with success. And there are some legitimate questions about the federal government’s follow-through with the provinces, cities and towns that have agreed to welcome Syrian newcomers.

Still, this goes with the territory. The alternative is, in any case, far worse.

According to a Government of Canada website, “The ongoing conflict in Syria has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. The United Nations (reports that) 13.5 million people inside Syria need urgent help, including 6.5 million who are internally displaced. It is estimated that well over 250,000 people have died in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. Almost 4.6 million Syrians have sought refuge in the neighbouring countries of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Thousands more have made the harrowing journey to Europe in search of a better life.”

This country’s response has been broadly laudable. “Canada has given generously to the various international efforts to support the Syrian people, including those living as refugees in neighboring countries,” the government site notes. “To date, Canada has committed over $969 million in humanitarian, development and security assistance.”

What’s more, “As millions of Syrians continue to be displaced due to conflict, the Government of Canada (is working) with Canadians, including private sponsors, non-governmental organizations, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees. This is in addition to 23,218 Iraqi refugees resettled as of November 2, 2015, and the 3,089 Syrian refugees who have already arrived in Canada from January 1, 2014, to November 3, 2015.”

In fact, the Syrian crisis is of a piece. The UN refugee agency recently confirmed that the number of people around the world displaced from their homes and driven from their native countries due to war and famine has reached 50 million for the first time since the end of World War II. These malevolent forces are indiscriminate arbiters of misery, affecting victims from every social and economic class.

Last year, the Washington Post reported, “The rapidly escalating figures reflect a world of renewed conflict, with wars in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe driving families and individuals from their homes in desperate flights for safety. But the systems for managing those flows are breaking down, with countries and aid agencies unable to handle the strain as an average of nearly 45,000 people a day join the ranks of those either on the move or stranded.”

It’s good to know that Moncton’s band of volunteers is demonstrating, by their actions, that they are, indeed, handling the strain.

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We don’t mean to be rude, but. . .

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We’re the best, the brightest, the fastest. We’re so exquisitely fine, the sun glints off even the ugliest girders in our fast-corroding downtown core, just as it does off the brand, spanking new strip malls along the ribbon roads and circumferential highways that encircle us.

Welcome, Canada, to the eighth-fastest growing ‘metropolis’ in the country, the purebred greyhound of the Atlantic region.

Say hello to Greater Moncton. . .again.

Sure, we’ve been here before – before your adoring eyes. You know we have. You’ve read about us in the headlines. We’re the little city that could. We’re the home of social and economic pugilists who famously (if sometimes nauseatingly) “punch above their weight class”. Does the phrase “resurgo” ring a bell? It should.

We’re one of the world’s “smart cities” (if only because we weren’t entirely too late to the global party of installing free public Wi-Fi in our downtown). We’re the nexus of economic dynamism in southeastern New Brunswick (whatever that means), of transportation, light manufacturing, university innovation, and information technology. We’re great, and we know it. We just don’t brag about it; that, after all, would be rude.

And we don’t want to be rude. Heaven forbid that we let our hubris run away with our modesty and bury it in a muddy flat of the Petitcodiac River, which, in case we failed to mention, now hosts one of the greatest displays of tidal-bore activity on the freaking planet. Did I say planet? I meant universe.

Of course, we don’t have to brag about our achievements here in the Hub City. We have Statistics Canada to do that for us. Except for Moncton, said the agency in a recent report, “Preliminary estimates indicate that the seven CMAs (Census Metropolitan Areas) with the highest population growth rates were all located in Western Canada. In 2014-15, the population growth rate was two per cent or higher in four CMAs: Kelowna (+3.1 per cent), Calgary (+2.4 per cent), Edmonton (+2.4 per cent) and Saskatoon (+ two per cent). They were followed by the CMAs of Regina (+1.9 per cent), Abbotsford–Mission (+1.4 per cent) and Winnipeg (+1.4 per cent).

“In contrast, the CMAs that posted population decreases were all located in Eastern or Central Canada. The population decreased in the CMAs of Greater Sudbury (-0.3 per cent), Saguenay (-0.2 per cent), Peterborough (-0.2 per cent) and Thunder Bay (-0.2 per cent).

Population growth also varied in areas outside of the CMAs. In 2014-15, the non-CMA part of Alberta grew at a rate of 0.7 per cent, the highest among the non-CMA areas for the provinces. Population decreases were recorded in the non-CMA parts of three provinces: Newfoundland and Labrador (-1.1 per cent), Nova Scotia (-0.7 per cent) and New Brunswick (-0.4 per cent).

Except, naturellement, good, old Moncton, which posted a population growth rate of 1.3 per cent over the past year and a bit.

We are obviously overjoyed to be counted in this company of speedy CMAs. We also mourn the loss of vigour amongst our closest civic neighbours (Saint John at -0.4 per cent? Oh, for shame!).

But I wonder what any of this actually means in the larger scheme?

New Brunswick’s population can’t compete with Mississauga’s. Noting that Moncton is a “fast-growing” community is akin to observing that a snapping turtle runs more quickly than a tortoise.

If this province hopes to reverse its economic and demographic fortunes, its major communities must work together to determine how we all become the best, the brightest and the fastest.

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Dear Dad: Send money soon

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Canada’s municipalities want the federal government to avoid the middlemen and send them their allowances directly and without delay.

Given that the middlemen in this instance are the nation’s provincial governments, can you blame the burgermeisters for their impudence?

The country’s tripartite system of democratic rule has been, since Confederation, both a blessing and a curse. Lately, it’s been more of the latter than the former.

Cities – big ones, in particular – have become the indisputable magnets for international and domestic migration. Simply put, these are where most people in Canada now live, work, build businesses, and care for their families; in the process, they exert enormous pressures on physical, technological, social and economic infrastructure. These burdens are now beyond the capacities of many urban areas to shoulder.

At a recent meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, several mayors made their case.

Said Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi: “Ideally, the funds should flow directly from the federal government to the municipalities. If we have to involve the provinces in another layer of authority, it’s going to slow everything down.”

Added Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson: “Prime Minister Trudeau is breaking down the silos between cities, provinces, federal government and First Nations. Canada’s cities compete against cities around the world that have more jurisdiction, more tax revenue to work with. And frankly for us to compete economically, our cities need to have more resources and (a) stronger partnership with the federal government.”

Or, as Montreal’s Denis Coderre declared, “Cities are no longer just creatures of the provinces.”

Uh-huh. . .Tell that to the provinces. Here, in New Brunswick, this is exactly what the province’s three major cities are: creatures of provincial jurisdiction.

We love talking about our civic innovation, vibrant cultural amenities, dynamic entrepreneurship and “punching above our weight”. But, let’s face it, we’re still fly-weights in the arena of government funding and, with populations denuding across this province of ours, we’re not likely to land a palpable blow against the status quo anytime soon.

Still, perhaps we can learn from our more muscle-bound brethren across Canada (you know, in case we do have an even chance of someday emerging from our 98-pound-weakling cocoons).

According to a recent survey conducted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, “The 2016 (infrastructure poll) included a section on asset management for the first time. These questions shed light on the state of Canadian municipal asset management practices. Survey results point to varied asset management practices according to community size. For instance, 62 per cent of large municipalities, 56 per cent of medium-sized municipalities and 35 per cent of small municipalities reported having a formal asset management plan in place. All communities, particularly smaller municipalities, would benefit from increased asset management capacity.”

Read: More direct control over federal government assets specifically targeted at municipalities; fewer provincial middlemen.

In fact, the prime minister does seem cautiously optimistic about embracing a new paradigm for cities – though, by doing so, he would surely bite off a chunk of constitutional reform that would, by comparison, render a Senate makeover appear like child’s play.

“We are restarting a relationship that had been significantly neglected over the past 10 years,” Mr. Trudeau said at the mayors’ meeting. “Ensuring that we get the money flowing in a responsible and rapid way is a priority for all of us.”

If ‘Dad’ and his cabinet do manage to pull this off, of course, think of all the money that would liberate for the provinces to. . .oh, I don’t know. . .lure multinationals.

After all, middlemen never waste money.

Not ever.

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Altogether now

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Imagining that Moncton (“The Hub City”), Saint John (“The Port City”) and Fredericton (“Freddy Beach”) have it within their independent wheelhouses of determination to come together as one, driving urban force for New Brunswick is a little like conjuring the offspring of a duck-billed platypus and a giraffe.

Still, that doesn’t stop municipal mothers and fathers from occasionally musing about the good ideas that such a miracle of nature might produce. What say you, the apparent mayor for life of the province’s capital city, nestled along the flood plains of the mighty St. John River?

“We’re a small province and as I have always said, I don’t consider Saint John and Moncton to be the competition, and I don’t think they think any differently. It makes no sense to pull 25 jobs out of Saint John and move them to Fredericton or pull them out of Fredericton and move them to Moncton. It doesn’t do anyone any good. So, we need to make sure that we have our own little pockets to nurture.”

Those words from Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside, courtesy of some nice reporting by the Saint John Telegraph-Journal’s John Chilibeck, amount to some of the funniest observations to issue from a local public official in many a tidal bore.

Really, Your Honour, wouldn’t it be more genuine to admit, despite your evidently good wishes, that none of the province’s major cities are at all prepared to join hands and screech kumabya at the top of their municipal voices simply because such a display of solidarity runs counter to time-tethered, shop-worn approaches to municipal development?

After all, the thing about having one’s own little pocket to nurture is that it naturally invites competition, especially when you’re counting on two other levels of government to help finance your commercial and economic aspirations.

Just as soon as Fredericton scores a big deal in the IT sector, Moncton whines about the fact that, infrastructure-wise, it’s a far “smarter” city than its “bland” and “white-bread” rival to the northwest. Dude, so not fair!

Just as soon as Saint John snags a deal with the feds to do. . .oh. . .anything, actually. . .Fredericton throws itself down on the tiles and pitches a fit. Mama, where’s my soother?

Still, Mayor Woodside may yet be in possession of a kernel of imagination on this matter. It may be possible, in fact, to forge a tri-city social and economic development agreement – one that leverages the strengths of each community for the benefit of all.

A multilateral agreement on infrastructure spending that keeps the highways and byways among these municipalities in the best shape possible (girded by a concerted and collective effort to negotiate with the provincial and federal governments) might be a productive start.

An all-city development board that spends its time examining ways to reduce the costs that each city shares in duplication, and explore ways to goose economic opportunity across the southern, urban swath of the province might also provide a sense of communitarian purpose.

Apart from this, though, the Sea Dogs and the Wildcats will forever battle for the sentiments of their respective fans. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s inevitable. Within this context, though, we might still grow closer together.

So, what shall the new capital conglomerate be called? Greater Hubportbeach? Greater Portbeachhub? Greater Beachubport (pronounced: beech-a-pore)? I like the ring of that last one, if only because it drops an unnecessary consonant. You’re welcome, burgermeisters.

Dear me, can Maritime union be far behind?

What a miracle of nature that would be.

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Moncton resurgo redux

When a community can afford to announce well in advance that it’s about to make a major jobs announcement, then something must be going splendidly well in the local economy.

So it was last week when news of BMM Testlabs’ employment initiative for the Moncton area somehow just slipped out. The official unveiling won’t occur until this Thursday at the Capitol Theatre. Still social media continues to buzz with anticipation.

Moncton Councillor Dawn Arnold officially made the initiative the worst kept secret in the city when she posted to Facebook last week, “There will be the largest job creation announcement that has ever been made in the Greater Moncton are. The event will be streamed ‘live’ to generate international media coverage and visibility, as this announcement will have very positive ripple effects around the world. Most of these new jobs are high-end positions that will be filled by people coming from outside the region.”

Her post garnered 31 mostly positive comments by last Friday, including this one: “Anything that brings high salaried people here will create more jobs in every other sector. Can’t wait to hear what it is.”

And this one: “High end jobs in Moncton means more spending here in the city, from clothing to gym memberships to restaurant customers, furniture to cars and houses and so on. Even if the ‘spenders’ are coming from away, it can generate spin-offs for the people who do live here.”

Naturally, some will complain about the “come-from-away” aspect of this development, but that would miss the point. Whatever jobs are created here will, de facto, employ local people – newcomers, for sure – but now local, all the same. The economic impact would be just as significant as if existing residents were landing the positions.

And, while I don’t want to spoil the surprise, my sources tell me the impact will be significant, indeed.

As Brunswick News reported last week, the Las Vegas-headquartered BMM – a private gaming certification lab – is making the third announcement of this type this week in as many years. “In August 2013, the company expanded from three to 27 employees in the province, then in February 2014 it announced it would create up to 173 full-time positions over four years at its office in Dieppe.”

Certainly, Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the economic development agency for the tri-city area, couldn’t be happier. “The last 25 years we’ve continued to brand greater Moncton as the hub of the Maritimes,” he told this newspaper. “The next 25 years we want to brand Greater Moncton the hub between North America and the European Union.”

These are bold words, indeed. But do they conjure a picture that is actually beyond the realm of possibility?

Consider how far this community has come over the decades – from down on its heels to the top of the municipal, economic food chain in New Brunswick. It is, and has been for a while, the fastest-growing urban area in the province. It has become a virtual centre of excellence for IT and software development. Its bilingual and highly skilled and educated workforce have been a certain draw for businesses from around the continent.

The reason is, quite frankly, that community and business leaders here understand what it takes to create the momentum to change the status quo from stagnation to growth.

To be sure, Metro Moncton is not the only city in the Maritimes that knows how to do this. But, it’s probably the only one that does this before breakfast, during lunch and after supper.

The results speak splendidly for themselves.

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Will Moncton’s downtown dreams come true?

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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

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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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The Moncton Miracle strikes again

To the surprise of precisely no one in New Brunswick’s Hub City, Moncton has scored another top finish in the race to be known perpetually as the pluckiest, little urban area in Canada.

It is, perhaps, unbecoming to dwell on one’s civic greatness, but what the heck. . .let’s do it anyway.

According to the Conference Board of Canada’s latest Metropolitan Outlook, “Moncton and Saint John are among the five fastest-growing medium-sized (municipal) economies in Canada this year. . . On the other hand, St. John’s, Newfoundland, is on track to post the slowest economic growth among the 15 cities covered in the report.”

Specifically, the analysis finds that Moncton’s real “GDP is forecast to rise by a 10-year high of 3 per cent this year, thanks to healthy gains in manufacturing and the broader services sector. In particular, the local transportation and warehousing sector, whose outlook is closely tied to that of manufacturing’s, is expected to expand at a vigorous clip. The solid economy will translate into decent job and income gains, which should encourage consumers to continue spending.”

Meanwhile, up the highway a piece, Saint John will benefit from “a recovery in manufacturing and in resources and utilities sectors.” This will push economic expansion the Port City to about 2.3 per cent this year.

In fact, manufacturing and resources and utilities will rebound thanks to a comparatively weak Canadian dollar (relative to its U.S. counterpart) as well as “stronger housing demand south of the border.”

As if to invite a chorus of “We Told You So,” St. John’s economy is forecast to tank, dragged down by plummeting oil prices and steady declines in resource investment and production.

Still, the Conference Board chirps optimistically, “things will be better than last year when total output fell by 2.3 per cent. This year, St. John’s (GDP) is forecast to grow by 0.5 per cent, as solid gains in manufacturing, in wholesale and retail trade, and in finance and real estate are offset by declines in resources and utilities and in construction.”

All of which should comprise a heady argument for steady, efficacious diversification in mid-sized metropolitan economies. This is, of course, the not-so-hidden secret of Moncton’s success over the past 25 years. Hard experience has taught this city that one-horse towns are just fine until the horse breaks a leg and has to be shot.

Instead, this greater urban area has worked assiduously to develop a broad array of economic clusters, any one of which can, and does, imbue this region of the province with business and employment opportunities without – it should be emphasized – a disproportionate degree of help from provincial and federal governments.

As a consequence, Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe’s entrepreneurial verve has placed it first over the finish line repeatedly in KPMG’s annual survey of the most likely and winsome communities for economic growth in North America.

Our urban dynamo is also, by deliberate design, one of the “smartest” cities on the continent – if we measure intelligence by the sophistication and coverage of our telecommunications and information technology infrastructure and services.

Indeed, as other communities in this province suffer from their dependence on seasonal, resource-based industries, Moncton’s economy remains buoyant year-round.

There is, perhaps, no better reason than this to expect steady, self-perpetuating success from a new, multi-purpose downtown events centre – for if any community in this province can build a solid business case for such a project, it’s this one.

And it’s with our characteristic foresight and determination that we must proceed without delay, if only to preserve our reputation for promise and pluck.

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