Tag Archives: Hub City

A sweetly wonderful life in the Hub City

In the interest of full disclosure, growing up as a callow and ambitious youth Moncton never nestled into my top-five list of places to live. To be candid, it didn’t even reach the lower echelons of my top 50.

Why would it?

The Hub City and I first became acquainted during a blizzard in January 1975. Here, my father and I landed on a tarmac at the airport, en route to somewhere else. Ours was to be one of those dad-son adventures – a take-your-kid-to-work day for the peripatetic pater familias, whose writing career kept him jaunting from place to place, port to port.

Stranded under blankets of snow, there was nothing to do but arrange for a truck ride back to Halifax – a journey that in those days and under those circumstances took ten, teeth-clenching, white-knuckled hours.

Arriving more or less safely home in body and soul, Father Bruce poured himself a stiff drink, turned to me and asked whether I was still interested in becoming a commercial pilot.

“Sure,” I replied. “But not if I have to fly out of Moncton.”

Of course, today, some 40 years later, it seems everyone wants to fly in and out of Moncton. The Chinese send their most promising aviators to the flight academy here; Calgary-based WestJet has just announced a new training facility at the international airport; and sun-starved travellers leave daily from these environs for points south.

And, of course, that’s the point: Wait a few years and the Moncton of old becomes the Moncton of new.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of my permanent residence in this vibrant, changing city. According to some, that still makes me a Johnny-come-lately, a come-from-away. But if you know anything about my family, or me, I’ve become the Rip Van Winkle of my kinder.

Almost from the day of my birth in downtown Toronto, we’ve been a rambling bunch – some or all of us bivouacking in southeastern Ontario hockey country, Ottawa, Halifax, Prospect Bay (NS), Port Shoreham (NS), Vancouver, Victoria, Los Angeles. (Family lore has it that I was actually conceived on a mountain pass somewhere in the Swiss Alps, or maybe Santa Monica. Who can tell? It was the 60s, for crying out loud).

But since May 1996, I’ve installed myself in Moncton and have been almost bizarrely happy to do so.

No, I don’t speak French the way I should. No, I don’t recall, off the top of my head, the history of every founding family in this community. And heaven forbid that I should go to church every time the bells ring along Gordon and Queen Streets (and they ring a lot).

Still, I feel at home here.

I feel at home in the cruddy, defiantly optimistic urban core. I feel at home with the constant existential angst over the fate of the Petitcodiac River and the causeway that bisects it and the wastewater treatment plant that tries not to defile it. I feel at home amid the plethora of open hands – and in the absence of clenched fists – that greet me wherever I go.

God willing, I’ll be here another 20 years, extolling it, criticizing it, observing its progress, forgiving its periodic failures, and defending its achievements against all detractors.

Nowadays, the Hub City nestles into the number one slot of my Top 50 places to live.

I’m not alone. KPMG routinely tells the world that Moncton is the place to be for business, quality of life, educational opportunities, and a little thing called hope.

You say it, come-from-away.

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Altogether now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear me, can Maritime union be far behind?

What a miracle of nature that would be.

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Spreading a little of Moncton’s famous mojo

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Hindsight makes geniuses of us all, which is one reason why the most astute economic development gurus are keen students of history.

For Greater Moncton last week, the past met the present and together they stared steadily, if not altogether fearlessly, into the future.

It’s nearly impossible to get 300 people to sit still in one room, let alone command their undivided attention, but there were times during the 2014 Greater Moncton Economic Summit when all eyes were fixed on the gantlet that history has thrown down.

That gantlet is nothing less than 25 years of sturdy growth in the Hub City regardless – and, at times in defiance – of weak economic conditions elsewhere in New Brunswick and Canada.

The challenge, as always, in the here and now, where and when we gather to consider our options, is in properly appreciating what the community has done right – not to replicate an old vision, but to help create a new one for different and, in some ways, tougher times.

Of course, ever since the financial meltdown of 2008 and subsequent recession cities and towns all over Canada – indeed, the world – have made routine naval gazing a part of their municipal roadshows.

But in my 30-plus years covering city halls and urban planning conferences, only in Moncton have I observed deliberate, indefatigably cheerful determination actually transform street scapes, sectors and even industries.

All of which is fortunate for those of us who live, work and play here. The city – nay, the entire province – is going to need such a patented brand of pluck.

“We’ve seen almost five years with no net employment growth in Nova Scotia, for example, and there’s a big difference too now between Newfoundland and Labrador, which is looking to a long and sustained period of large project activity and all the benefits that brings in terms of high income growth, high employment growth. The difference here in the Maritimes couldn’t be more stark.”

Those were Elizabeth Beale’s words in mid November. She’s the president of one of the region’s leading think tanks, the Atlantic Province’s Economic Council (APEC). Specifically, here’s what the organization predicted for the provinces:

“Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to have one of the fastest growth rates in Canada this year, at six per cent, due to increased oil production and capital investment.

“Prince Edward Island will see its economy expand by 1.1 per cent in 2013, due to a strong labour market. The forecast for 2014 calls for growth of 1.3 per cent, due partly to growth in the bioscience sector, a rebound in aerospace and defence, increased food processing and a decent tourism season.

“Nova Scotia sees flat employment and weak consumer spending in 2013, limiting GDP growth to about 0.8 per cent. In 2014, that is forecast to accelerate to about 2.0 per cent, boosted by a jump in natural gas output and increased investment in major projects.”

And what of New Brunswick, host province of the original “Moncton Miracle” – the retail, transportation, IT and entertainment capital of the central Maritimes?

Says APEC: “New Brunswick will have no economic growth in 2013 as a result of a weak labour market, the closure of the Xtrata mine in Bathurst and a lack of major projects. New Brunswick’s real GDP growth is forecast to expand 0.9 per cent in 2014.

However, that is expected to slow to 0.8 per cent in 2014 due to flat oil production and investment.”

This follows five straight years of double-digit unemployment overall (despite one of the highest per-capita public-sector employment rates in the country) the slowest housing starts and lowest house prices east of Toronto. Then, of course, there is the fiscal morass: a $550-million annual budget deficit on a structural long-term debt of $11 billion, closing in on $12 billion.

This is the context in which Moncton now reviews its history by way of envisioning its future.

What does it want to be over the next 25 years, not merely to itself but to a province that, in important respects, has lost its way along with whatever mojo it once possessed?

History may open doors to the future, but attitude – and lots of it – marches us through them.

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