Tag Archives: Greater Moncton

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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The one that got away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No summer recess for Moncton


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, practically everywhere doesn’t actually mean here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Retooling New Brunswick’s economic engine

Resurgo, indeed!

Resurgo, indeed!

This past summer, the Petitcodiac River roared back to life, its tidal bore once more ascendent. Californian surf-boarders came to marvel at its muddy might and frolic in its frothy curl. You Tube went berserk and, for a short, sweet time, Moncton made headlines around the world.

Perhaps, then, it is fitting that the city’s largest downtown hotel, the site of the first economic summit for the municipal region in 20 years, should overlook a waterway whose resurgence holds more than metaphorical meaning. After all, it was not fate that brought back the bore after an absence of 40 years; it was us, mere mortals, who opened the causeway flood gates and kept them open.

As 300 of the community’s movers and shakers from all avenues of life prepare to assemble tonight at the Greater Moncton Economic Summit 2014, one wonders: What new gates shall they open?

Not even the event’s organizers can be sure. “We don’t know what they are going to come up with,” Ben Champoux, CEO of Enterprise Greater Moncton, told the Moncton Times & Transcript. “The tangible result is we are going to have a list of great ideas that are realistic, that are tangible, that people agree with.”

Still, why gather and why now? By every possible yardstick, the Greater Moncton  area has exceeded its own and others’ expectations over the years.

Dieppe, Moncton and Riverview currently comprise the fifth-fastest growing Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) in Canada. In fact, the region has typically attracted at least three times as many people every year than any other area in New Brunswick.

Since 1990, this CMA has added more than 25,000 jobs to its workforce. The annual unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the Atlantic region and substantially below the national average.

In Moncton, alone, home sales in 2011 reached the fourth-highest level in the city’s history. Yet, with an average house price of $158,561, the municipality remained one of the most affordable housing markets in the country.

Meanwhile, the total value of building permits issued in 2011 reached $184 million, the second highest level on record. What’s more, retail sales reached $2.1 billion in 2011, 17 per cent higher than the Canadian Cities’ average.

Then, of course, consider Greater Moncton’s formidable technology sector: major Canadian customer contact and back office operations with a robust “near-shore” IT outsourcing industry. It continues to leverage its success with a plan that calls for new partnerships with regional universities to deepen the region’s knowledge economy, diversify the IT economy, and actively promote tech-based entrepreneurship.

Given the broader context of a fiscally imperiled province and a moribund national economy, Greater Moncton is not only punching above its weight class; its punching above just about everyone else’s .

So, again, why bother brainstorming?

The answer is in the question. And it has something to do with an ounce of prevention.

Summits, conventions, conferences are only marginally useful when their conveners are mired in full-blown crises. Adrenaline and cortisol may be handy hormones to have in a fight. But they are not particularly conducive to rational, creative or innovative thinking.

Greater Moncton’s relatively healthy and prosperous economy permits the sort of blue-sky musings that arc out over the horizon to destinations that remain hidden in bad times. And, of course, the whole point of an idea factory, such as Summit 2014, is to figure out how to avoid the bad times altogether.

What new gates shall open, indeed?

What fresh ideas will be brought to bear on a downtown core that has, frankly, seen better days?

What will impel municipal officials and entrepreneurs to transform the concept of a multi-use events centre into actual bricks and mortar, sooner rather than later.

As Mr. Champoux astutely notes, “The dance floor is more crowded than ever before in economic development and business development. Let’s brainstorm and and define who we are now, what we want and how we are going to get there and who is going to lead that.”

Let us, indeed. Let us begin again.

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