Category Archives: Municipal Affairs

The ‘Big Smoke’ – Part II

IMAG0604We walk down to the municipal park, my grandkids and I, past the garbage bins and recycle containers and into the broad, well-tended expanse of splash pools and basketball courts. These recreational areas are everywhere in some parts of Toronto. In a city of this monumental size, the idea is to get the kits and pups out of their tiny, fractional backyards.

It’s a downtown development strategy no one talks about in the burg that Drake named. Here, in Moncton, maybe that’s a conversation we should have. In every other respect, though, we don’t know how lucky we have it.

Late last month, the CBC reported, “All three levels of government (will) meet Tuesday in Toronto to figure out ways to cool the red-hot real estate market in the region, where average home prices have shot up 33 per cent in a year.

Immediately after figures revealed the average home in the Greater Toronto Area cost $916,567 in March, Finance Minister Bill Morneau called for the meeting with his Ontario counterpart Charles Sousa, and Toronto Mayor John Tory.”

As Mr. Morneau fretted that he is “concerned that dramatic price increases will have long-term implications for housing affordability and housing market stability,” Mr. Sousa added that he was almost scornful of those with “deep pockets. . .crowding out families who are trying to put down roots.”

Indeed, as the Globe and Mail reported in February, “Bank of Montreal is not backing down from a call that residential real estate prices in the Toronto area are moving too fast: economists at the bank are comparing prices to a runaway train. BMO recently urged market watchers to drop the pretense and acknowledge that Toronto’s housing market is in a bubble.”

The piece continued: “Chief economist Douglas Porter explains he made the bold call to reinforce the message that the market has lost contact with economic fundamentals and has the potential to become dangerously overheated. ‘This is not a near-term call on the market,’ he stresses, “in fact, given the outlook for interest rates and an improving underlying economy, there’s nothing obvious to meaningfully slow the market at this point,’ Mr. Porter says in a note to clients.”

Of course, for big cities around the developed world, there’s nothing new in any of this. Vancouver has, for years, been hobbled by absurdly high house prices. Rental markets have also been squeezed to the point where some reasonably paid workers have been forced to bivouac – if only temporarily – in their cars and trucks.

Still, affordability is one social measure of income and labour market stability, and it speaks directly to the equitable distribution of wealth. According to a Statistics Canada report, based on 2011 data, for example, “the population of Moncton census metropolitan area (CMA) was 138,644, representing a percentage change of 9.7 per cent from 2006. This compares to the national growth of 5.9 per cent and to the average growth among all CMAs of 7.4 per cent. . . In total, there were 58,294 private dwellings occupied by usual residents in Moncton in 2011. The change in private dwellings occupied by usual residents from 2006 was 13 per cent. For Canada as a whole, the number of private dwellings occupied by usual residents increased 7.1 per cent.”

Moncton is not yet in any credible danger of travelling down Toronto’s path. But safe, affordable housing is an issue that’s becoming urgent in almost every urban area of Canada. Wise political moves and intelligent social policy should mitigate the effects of runaway market forces – if we have enough foresight.


Surviving ‘The Big Smoke’

DSC_0153Toronto was, once upon a fanciful time, one of the least assuming major cities in the western world. Affordable, polite, even deferential, it stood there on the North American landscape with nothing to offer but its reputation for blurting to the world: “Sorry, eh?”

Times have changed. I now walk through the neighbourhoods of my youth and witness the full-scale transformation of tiny shacks, which may have cost hopeful, young couples all of $12,000 to buy in the early 1960s; today they’ll set you back about a million bucks.

How do I, a Toronto boy, reconcile my kid memories, growing up in the city’s once-gritty, amazingly fun Yorkville district with the recent news?

“The average selling price of all homes in the Greater Toronto Area skyrocketed last month, climbing 33.2 per cent from a year ago to $916,567,” blared the Toronto Star last week. “The latest data from the Toronto Real Estate Board comes as policy-makers mull potential measures to slow the rapid pace of price growth. Here are some of the factors believed to be playing a role in the upward trajectory of house prices in Canada’s largest city:

The arrival of newcomers to the city is a frequently cited reason for rising prices. Roughly 120,000 people immigrated from outside of Canada into Ontario from July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, according to Statistics Canada, with a sizable portion of them landing in the Toronto area. ‘(The city) is a magnet for both other Canadians and for people from other countries, and it’s the economic engine of the entire country,’ said Dianne Usher, senior vice-president at Johnston and Daniel, a division of Royal LePage.”

Then, there’s this from the same news source: “One of the culprits often fingered for soaring prices in the GTA is the lack of developable land. In 2005, the Ontario government introduced the Places to Grow Act, a piece of legislation aimed at protecting the Greenbelt and curbing urban sprawl. However, the legislation is often also blamed for escalating real estate prices, as some argue there isn’t enough land to build homes. Usher says the two land transfer taxes that Torontonians have to pay have also discouraged many from selling their homes, further exacerbating the supply problem. ‘It’s stopping people from moving up,’ says Usher. ‘They’re renovating and adding on instead of moving.’”

As we endure another round of ‘he-said-they-said’ nonsense in New Brunswick’s everlasting controversy broiling over property-tax assessments, we might remember that other municipalities in this grand nation of ours remain absurdly overpriced. That shouldn’t render us sanguine about our own circumstances, but nor should we jump to conclusions about the putative land of milk and honey that Toronto – ‘The Big Smoke’, ‘The Six’ – has always represented.

A place is only as accommodating as its citizens decide it must be. For my money – both figurative and literal coin – Moncton has been the most welcoming burg in my getting-younger life. It routinely opens its hearts and minds to newcomers. It may struggle with the condition of its downtown, its cultural cohesion, its frequently challenging school system and educational amenities, but it has never failed to improve, evolve and remain essentially liveable.

Sadly, I can no longer say that about the city where I was born, some 1,000 kilometres due west, up the track.

Shortly, my better half and I will board a plane to visit our daughter, son-in-law and their two beautiful kids in the gritty heart of TO.

You can bet that city won’t be blurting: “Sorry, eh?”

Moncton’s resurgo redux


If there’s anything supernatural about the much-ballyhooed ‘Moncton Miracle’, it’s that the city manages to thrive despite itself. That could be said about almost all successful municipalities, of course. But one look at this community’s downtown core, and you would not necessarily detect the urban energy and drive bubbling beneath the surface.

That, fortunately, may be changing. The city lifted the lid on its new plan at a public gathering at the Capitol Theatre last month, and the future of the downtown appears brighter than it has for years. As Mayor Dawn Arnold told the CBC, “We need to be intentional about that development,” she said. “We need to have a plan so that things work together. We need more people living in our downtown.”

Naturally, this is not the first time civic engineers and other assorted boosters have talked gamely about a downtown renaissance, within a broader economic development context. The city’s website currently carries this message attributed to Mayor Arnold:

“Earlier this year (2016), Moncton City Council participated in a strategic planning session to discuss priorities for the next four years. This session was key in helping Council to focus on our most significant issues, and shed light on what we must do to move Moncton forward. During our lively conversations, several key themes resonated loud and clear. We need to cut the red tape; we need to grow our economy; we need more economy. We must continue to leverage our existing investments and collaborate with our diverse private sector partners to make smart investments in the future. We are a community of dynamic entrepreneurs and skilled workers – we must take every opportunity to tap into the talent we have right here.”

Presumably, that means building and maintaining a vibrant downtown area. The fundamental problem, however, has had less to do with money and resources to get the job done than with a persistent, if not pervasive, ambivalence among some segments of city society. Even the late Reuben Cohen was a quiet sceptic. “I was born on top of a pool room in a cold-water flat on Main Street,” he told me a few years before his death, at 93, in 2014. “My father owned a grocery store next door to it. My mother would take me to Sunbeam bakery to buy cream puffs at five cents a pop. That was amazing. The big-wigs in the city would always head downtown to get their daily shaves at the barbershop. That was, I believe, 15 cents a pop.”

Still, he averred, “You can’t compare one time with another. You can’t compare an age when the only commercial games in town were, in fact, located downtown, with an age when cars and trucks take so many people so far away for their shopping and eating. That’s just the way things happen.”

Discussions about downtown cores always provoke existential debate. Should they cater primarily to pedestrians or drivers? How much and what type of parking should be available. Who constitutes the target market: businesses and office workers or cultural organizations and urban dwellers?

In fact, healthy, thriving downtowns typically accommodate all modes of life, work and transportation. That is the essential challenge of crafting a city’s personality beyond the big box stores, shopping plazas, strip malls and triple-lane expressways that make the outskirts of Fargo, North Dakota – visually, at any rate – no different than Halifax, or St. John’s or even Moncton.

As a fan of bustling urban cores, I’m heartened by this city’s latest attempt to reinvent its own for new generations of residents.

Compensating the compensators


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.


As we build it, they do come


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


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. . .


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


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


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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