Category Archives: Municipal Affairs

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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On political acrobats and citizen arenas

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If, we once thought, a new downtown event centre in little, old Moncton would never support artistically inclined gymnasts, torturing their minds and bodies to make their daily bread, then fear not populace.

The acrobatics of acrimony and conciliation are, in equal measures, on display right now in the council chambers and parliaments of power. Though the players’ creaking bones and calcified ligaments might be past their prime, they are nonetheless fascinating for their late-game contortions.

Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe Member of Parliament Robert Goguen has devised an utterly splendid solution to the problem of funding a $107-million multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility in the Hub City’s downtown core.     As his federal Tory confederates say “no” to anything that smacks of hockey rink, Mr. Goguen, in his wisdom, has decided that all that money the feds owe to the tri-city area for regular road and sewer upgrades should be leveraged against a new downtown centre.

That is to say simply this: All the money we might have given you to upgrade your city’s urban core, we are now going to give you to expand your suburbs whose residents don’t give a fig about Main Street.

Take the municipal funds, Mr. Goguen sagely advises, that we would have otherwise invested in road repairs in the outskirts and pour it into an event centre, if, of course, we dare.

The problem with this “solution” is that it begs a problem.

It intimates that the feds have no real responsibility – notwithstanding a major build, such as an event centre – to upgrade the roads and sewers along routes in this city where people live and work. The Constitution declares otherwise.

It also suggests that a part of Moncton – the downtown core – simply does not contribute to the cultural and economic life of the greater urban area in ways and means that are sufficient to justify honest public investment. The evidence argues to the contrary.

Once again, I will trot out the fine work of my friend David Campbell, now New Brunswick’s senior economist. Three years ago he was on this file like a fly on honey. Here’s what he said:

“Like a successful shopping mall, a vibrant downtown will have economic anchors strategically located throughout the area. Moncton City Hall anchors a cluster of office buildings and services in the eastern part of the downtown and the Highfield Square Mall played this role in the western part of the downtown. “With the closure of that facility, it opens up the potential for another ‘anchor tenant’ that will drive economic activity and foot traffic in that area. There are not many large-scale opportunities that would apply on that site. The proposed Downtown Centre; however, is one such opportunity. It would be large enough to drive significant incremental economic activity into the downtown.

“The Sierra Planning and Management report reviewed for this brief estimated that the new Downtown Centre would cater to between 316,800 attendees (lower attendance scenario) and 396,000 attendees (moderate attendance scenario). These attendance estimates assume that 53 per cent of the traffic would come from regular season Wildcat home games. The lower attendance scenario is expected to result in over $12 million in new direct and offsite expenditures and the higher attendance scenario will bring in nearly $15 million in new expenditures to the downtown.”

In other words, a new downtown event centre does not need to be justified through political acrobatics. It justifies itself, and always has.

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Imagine Moncton’s future

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If a small city can host a big world-beating sporting event, divine what Moncton can do with a hole in the ground, where once stood a shopping complex.

We walk past that vast 11-acre wasteland in snow and in heat, casting our eyes dolefully to its future. We wonder what will become of that empty space. Will it succumb to a series of poorly planned private condominiums, a sequence of public scrublands, a tract of parking spaces?

Or will it rise again as proof of life, a canvas for beginnings and the finer things in our municipal imagination?

Sometimes, it takes a tourist to tell us what we already know about ourselves. Sometimes, it takes Louise Taylor of the U.K.-based Guardian to plump our pillows and kiss our cheek and call us “charming” on the morning after we helped host the FIFA world women’s football extravaganza.

Vancouver was more beautiful, Montreal more chic, Ottawa more interesting and Edmonton – well Edmonton had more tall buildings – but Moncton in New Brunswick was the most charming venue of Canada 2015,” the British journalist recently opined. “Virtually everyone, everywhere, was friendly but in Moncton people are super friendly. If drivers see you hesitating on the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) and think you might want to cross the road, they stop for you. It also had by far the best newspaper of any read at breakfast in the five cities I visited – so hats off to the Times & Transcript.”

Hats off, indeed.

Still, some day soon, I imagine crossing the road, from that cinder-block of an edifice that employs me from a distance, to greet a great entertainment complex – replete with sports arenas, mobile stages for local, national and international theatre companies, and hot and cold cafes providing, to smiling patrons, everything from real espresso to local Panini.

I envision spending my time in Moncton’s rejuvenated downtown meeting friends, drinking coffee, debating the issues of the day, the week and the year, and then, when the time is right, pulling away with a happy roar.

“See you next time,” I might say. “I have tickets.”

“So, to what?” my friends might ask.

“To bloody everything,” I would respond.

Bring on the hockey, the Phantom of the Opera, the Atlantic Ballet Theatre, and the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir.

I would, in this universe, own passes to see Sid Crosby downtown, followed by Bruce Springsteen around the corner, and the last vestiges of the Grateful Dead, eating somebody else’s lunch on Robinson Court.

Picture, again, what Moncton can do with a hole in the ground. (Back-filling other people’s mistakes is, after all, one of the things this community does best; think CN, think Sears, think Hudson’s Bay, think Target).

Now think what’s in store.

Elected officials voted wisely earlier this week. According to a report from Kayla Byrne in the Moncton Times & Transcript, “After nearly three hours of debate, Moncton council agreed to apply to the Municipal Capital Borrowing Board for $95.4 million.”

What, exactly, constitutes the “Municipal Capital Borrowing Board” is a subject of conjecture; but that this council, with exceptions, feels confident about the future of that vast, empty acreage – which begs daily for redevelopment – is the kind of good news that should make residents and visitors, alike, imagine.

Imagine the next, great resurgence of entrepreneurial verve in the downtown core. Imagine the buzz and business. Imagine the play and the playfulness.

Now, imagine you being there, as the Guardian’s Louise Taylor was, just the other day.

What does this tourist know about us that we have already forgotten?

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A centre will build growth

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Was it only just the other day when New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant appeared less than convinced by the multiplier effect in economic planning – specifically, by the wisdom in pouring public money into a new downtown events centre for Moncton?

My, what a difference a day makes – even though that day has taken three months to properly arrive. With his government now willing to invest $21 million in the form of a forgivable loan toward the estimated $107-million construction cost, Mr. Gallant is leaving himself precious little room for political wiggle, as the momentum for the project clearly swings forward.

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

Last week, his chief cabinet lieutenant Victor Boudreau was whistling a  somewhat different, and happier, ditty. “I am here to say the City of Moncton’s application has not only been reviewed, but approved. To date, discussions on this project have been a bit of a moving target. It is our hope our commitment to invest in this project will allow the City of Moncton to leverage funding from other partners.”

From the beginning (at least since 2010, when the City commissioned its first, full economic impact study), the issue was always whether or not a new multi-purpose event centre would become a catalyst for economic and commercial growth and diversification throughout the urban area and even beyond.

Two years ago, New Brunswick’s senior economist David Campbell – who was an independent economic development consultant at the time – told Moncton City Council that a new centre will annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, he declared, it will “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

In fact, the urban core “generates nearly 11.5 times as much property tax revenue, compared to the rest of Moncton, on a per hectare basis.”  

Still, not everyone was encouraged by last week’s funding announcement. Kevin Lacey of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation told this newspaper the province’s poor finances clearly argue against these sorts of discretionary infrastructure builds. “The government has hiked taxes, cut teachers and hospitals are in troubl., And the government is spending money on a hockey rink today?”

It’s a nice line, sure to generate buzz in all the right constituencies. But it’s not especially accurate.

There’s very little doubt in the calculating mind that a mix-use sports and entertainment facility (if it is large enough, designed well enough and comes deliberately equipped with cultural spaces) will, as Ben Champoux, CEO of Metro Moncton’s 3+ economic development agency, persuasively points out, take “the game” to a “much higher level. . .An announcement like this gives us the tools to turn around and (show) the can-do attitude that we have. . .As a result of this project, other projects going on in Greater Moncton that are tied to this one, there is more than a quarter of a billion dollars  right now in the pipeline of projects.”

Indeed, those are economic multipliers that any smart politician must be only too happy to endorse.

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More wheel-spinning for event center

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

All hail another day, another means test for the, as yet, unrealized Moncton Event Center. How has this facility become a white elephant even before it’s been born? For an answer, look no farther than the New Brunswick government and its new “major projects funding policy”.

This policy stipulates, among other things, that a “major project” must be financially sound, socially efficacious, internally fire-proof from failure (either acts of a capricious God or the mendacities of His human agents) and, most importantly, pervasively good for the community in question, the province the community occupies, the country the province calls home, the world the country must endure, and (though not stated explicitly), the cosmos Carl Sagan talked about when he famously called all of us “star dust”.

Specifically, the new policy stipulates the following as law:

“To facilitate regional cooperation and ensure proposals for new recreation infrastructure and major renovations are both feasible and sustainable, the principles outlined below will be used when reviewing projects seeking government funding:

“Applications for recreation infrastructure projects seeking RDC funding must (1.) Include a Needs Assessment Consideration – should be given to the following: a) location of the proposed new as well as existing infrastructure; b) Infrastructure in adjacent communities; c) demographics of the community and surrounding area (both past and anticipated for the future); and d) community plans.” Then there’s “(2.) Include a Business Plan – a Business Plan that demonstrates the viability of the project is a requirement.”

Blah, blah, blah. . .

Here’s the kicker anyone actually needs to know as reported by the Moncton Times & Transcript more than a week ago: “Another policy criteria states successful projects must leverage funding or investment from federal, local or private sources and must demonstrate all required financing is in place before receiving money from the province.”

So, then, what exactly has changed? Isn’t this precisely the same circumstance Moncton faced before the provincial government introduced its newly vaunted Regional Development Corporation Guiding Principles for Recreation Infrastructure Investments (or RDCGPRII, to, you know, just shorten the long hand a tad)?

The story rarely changes in government relations. One level starts with a proposition that it can’t possibly behave responsibly until and unless another does. The second one, in due curtsy-cue, insists that it can’t act appropriately until the first one comes forth with its hand and begs for a minuet around the dance floor. Since both are, essentially, wallflowers, the band plays on, the parents and chaperones get depressed (or drunk), and everyone wakes up with hangover in a giant hole in the ground where an event center ought to have been built before politics became the true name of the tune.

Hey, kids, I have a few ideas. Now that summer threatens, why don’t we, in the Hub City, repudiate any idea of petitioning governments or their factotums.

That vast, ugly, dirt-strewn, 11-acre tract of land in the middle of Moncton can be repurposed in a variety of efficient ways. As the city owns it, thanks to our municipal taxes, so do we. By extension, we could. . .well, just occupy it.

Call it a commons, but don’t bother sodding it over. No, no, we like our suburban mansions far too much to also pay for a downtown park. Let’s just transform it into a free parkade, a place to spin our wheels and, when we’re done, moor our Ford 150s and Ram 1500s until we’re good and ready to take them home to our various “Pleasantvilles”.

Why not?

It beats letting government tell us what to do with our very own elephant graveyard.

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A voice from the wilderness

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Permanent winter for a Moncton events centre?

Was it only a stitch in time, a hiccup in history, a diaphanous dream, or did Greater Moncton once actually believe that its downtown was worth preserving, protecting, even pampering?

Or were we always determined to be Fargo, North Dakota, where the ribbon developments and strip malls make Detroit look like heaven on Earth?

A couple of years ago, Moncton economic development consultant David Campbell (now chief economist of the Province of New Brunswick) and university economist Pierre-Marcel Desjardins put numbers to the proposition of rejuvenating Moncton’s urban core.

According to Mr. Campbell, in a report to City Council, a new centre would annually “attract between 317,000 and 396,000 people. . .generating between $12 and $15 million in spending.” In the process, it would “support retail, food service, accommodation and other services in the downtown,” where it “should also support residential growth.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Desjardins estimated that the construction phase, alone, would generate $340 million worth of “economic impacts” for New Brunswick and other parts of the country, as well as nearly $17 million in taxes for the provincial and federal governments.

But the crucial point, which Mr. Campbell argued rigorously and cogently, is 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 noted in his report to City Council. 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.”

Yet – though it plays host to 800 business, 3,000 bars, restaurants and cafes 18,000 workers, and anywhere from 1,200 to 5,700 residents (depending on how one fixes downtown “borders”) – the area is in a state of disrepair.

“The economic engine is showing signs of weakness,” Mr. Campbell lamented. “There is currently over 350,000 square feet of vacant office space in the downtown. Office space vacancies across Greater Moncton have risen from 6.6 per cent in 2011 to an estimated 13.5 per cent in 2013. Residential population in the core declined by 9.1 per cent between 2006 and 2011. Including the expanded downtown, the population dropped by 3.3 per cent. (This) compared to a robust 7.7 per cent rise across the city.”

A new centre that hosts a wide variety of events, with enough seats to compete for top shows, will incontestably revitalize the downtown area.

The real question is whether that’s still a priority here.

It’s a question that Adam Conter appears to ask daily. At a Moncton City Council meeting a couple of weeks ago, the former Haligonian – a transplanted real-estate professional – testified that such a centre is “good for the province. . .the conversation over the past couple of weeks has been that this centre seems to be the divining rod. . .We are going to run a $479-million deficit (in this province), of which (the centre costs the province) $24 million. (That) represents 0.5 per cent (of the budget). If we were to have a rounding error, we could build the centre for that money.”

Of course, he is entirely correct and in preaching to Moncton Council he is, against few notable exceptions, preaching to the choir.

But this thing of ours will only get done when we finally decide whether or not we want a downtown area to nurture our diverse cultures, our economic potential.

Otherwise, the ribbons and highway malls of Fargo beckon.

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Under pressure, he’s still “Gallant”

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Apparently, the premier of New Brunswick and I are on a first-name basis. He’s 32. My daughter will be 34 this year. I’m turning 55 and feeling every inch the old scold these days.

So, Mr. Premier, you can call me “Dad”, though I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure of actually meeting you directly. Still, at least you managed to get my name right (it’s not Alex, or Aleck, or Ozymandias) when you penned this remarkably courteous and circumspect note before emailing it to my personal inbox the other day:

“Hi Alec – I hope all is well. After reading your blog commenting on the Moncton Downtown Centre and my commentary, I just wanted to clarify why Mr. Goguen (i.e., Robert Goguen, MP for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe) was mentioned in my commentary.”

I’m listening.

“The GMCC (Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce) announced it’s going to mount a lobbying campaign against myself and our government. I was completely surprised that its campaign would solely focus on us and not also target the federal government.”

Yes, yes. Do go on.

“The reason one may say the target should be only our government is because Mr. Goguen has said he is supportive of the project. But I haven’t heard Stephen Harper say his government is supportive. I haven’t heard the regional minister Moore say his government is supportive. And even if one of them did make comments to confirm support, the next question would be why is the federal government not providing a letter to the city confirming funding that would be conditional on the province being at the table? That is how any project like this would work.”

Hmmm. And how does that make you feel?

“The point I was, therefore, trying to make was why is the GMCC focused on just us and not the federal government since neither of us are at the table officially at the moment?

“That was my only point regarding Mr. Goguen. Perhaps I didn’t make that point clearly enough. I will try to do a better job in the future, and hopefully this email will clarify it for you. All the best. . .BG.”

Indeed, “BG”must be the most solicitous premier New Brunswick has ever enjoyed hosting (although history suggests Richard Hatfield and Hugh John Flemming were also pretty fine gents).

But this does not excuse Mr. Gallant from his responsibility to avoid partisan politics when the issue is nothing less than the future of economic development in New Brunswick’s urban jobs’ dynamo.

Personally, I don’t concur with every word that issues from Mr. Goguen’s mouth. He’s a Harper man, trained and true. When he insists that the feds are willing to invest in a Moncton events centre, he likely means that they are prepared to divert necessary federal infrastructure funds from sewers, roads and bridges in the tri-city area to fulfill their end of the bargain. Then, just watch them step through potholes to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, plaudits and honorifics in hand.

But you, dear Brian (if I may be so bold), are better than that. You are already known for taking stands (fracking comes to mind, though we clearly don’t agree).

Take a stand on this one. You have the research. You have the evidence. Does a Moncton downtown events centre make economic sense? Of course, it does. Now say so, and make the project yours.

I hate to be a scold, my son, but at my age it comes with the empty territory where a brilliant meeting place, a gathering space, waits to rise.

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Downtown events centre as political football

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Condescension, thy name is Brian Gallant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shall we convene yet another panel to investigate?

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

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

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

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

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

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