Tag Archives: Moncton

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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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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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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Starting up our start-up dreams


When tech entrepreneurs hunt for locations in which to launch their enterprises, they typically follow a checklist. It goes a little like this:

Does a community offer a “business-friendly environment” (low cost, high technology infrastructure, state-of-the-art telecommunications networks, regulatory simplicity)?

Does it provide convenient, engaging and diverse educational, cultural and recreational opportunities (after all, these folks are motivated by the lure of the near-mythical “work-life” balance)?

Most of all, perhaps, does it labour hard to become a magnet for venture capital investors?

In most significant ways, Moncton scores high on the scale.

Business-friendly environment? Check.

Extra-curricular amenities? Check.

Private venture? Well. . .we’ll get back to you on that.

According to Shane Dingman, The Globe and Mail’s technology reporter, in a piece he wrote for that newspaper earlier this year, “The Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association’s annual funding report (shows) the total venture dollars invested declined in 2014 to around $1.9-billion on 379 deals, compared with 2013’s $2-billion on 452 deals. The average dollar amount per deal, however, rose from $4.4-million in 2013 to $5-million.

“That’s still a far cry from the more than $48-billion (U.S.) in venture capital that accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP estimates was invested in U.S. companies in 2014. But observers are confident that gap will shrink.

The Globe compiled 21 examples of the largest venture funding announcements in Canadian technology over the last 18 months.”

Among other things, he reports, “The list reveals a growing number of big-dollar deals among medium-sized startups – a change for a sector that has historically focused on mostly seed, or early-stage financing. Those 21 companies collected more than $784-million (the massive $100-million funding of Ottawa’s fast growing e-commerce provider Shopify in December, 2013, and the $60-million raised by Vancouver social media dashboard maker Hootsuite in September, 2013, make up a significant chunk of that total).”

Moncton, with all of its economic and social advantages, stands to gain, but only when its tech buzz truly catalyzes a critical mass of venture investors from across Canada and around the world.

Again, the advantages here are clear, according to the City’s tale of the tape: “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 a decade ago; with an average price of $166,476 in 2013, Moncton remains 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, 17 per cent higher than the Canadian Cities’ average.”

Now, if we could only make that message viral around the nation, the continent and the world. Certainly, we are trying. But, as Ben Champoux, CEO of 3+, the tri-city area’s economic development agency, might say: Try harder.

Silicon Valley was once an orange grove; today, it’s a corridor of multi-billion-dollar venture investments in technology start-ups that have, in the past 25 years, changed the world.

Not for nothing, this New Brunswick jurisdiction enjoys the highest per capita income on the East Coast.

Moncton, what are you waiting for?

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Lost in the barrens of Moncton

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Anyone who hasn’t endured shock therapy to erase the memory of last winter along the East Coast will surely greet the latest forecasts of the coming fall with a mixture of fear and loathing.

Yes, dear reader, we are heading for another prelude to snowmaggedon: A Maritime autumn of brilliant colours, sparkling skies, pumpkin pies, and then a picture of me standing on a glacier that was once my driveway in downtown Moncton, shovel in hand, maniacal grin fixed to face, wild eyes cast heavenward, and a guttural invocation issuing from trembling lips.

“Really? I mean, really?”

Last February, my wife and I spent a balmy 11 days in nearby Charlottetown looking after our kids’ kids (ours had skipped off to Costa Rica for a well-deserved sojourn involving horseback riding and beach combing). What began as a routine “mission impossible” for us, the grand parents, quickly devolved into a mission from hell.

The snow began on a late Sunday and didn’t stop until mid-Tuesday. When it was over, 90 centimeters of the white stuff had fallen within 36 hours. Roads were impassable. Shovels were pilfered. The city was at a standstill. Only stores of milk and games of monopoly kept us going.

Finally, it was time to travel back to Moncton, there to see what obscenity the weather had wreaked on the home front. As we careened up our street, which had been reduced to less than one lane of traffic, we agreed it could have been worse. After all, our city had received a mere 66 centimeters in that particular tempest. We would take the win – until, of course, we attempted to hike the heat.

Here’s the thing about natural gas furnaces: They like snow and ice about as much as my wife and I do. The only difference between them and us is that they shut down, while I am inclined, in prone position, to dig out the various inflow and outflow valves so as to guarantee not freezing to death in my own house – in, by the way, yet another blizzard.

And so it continued for weeks; and, if the predictions are correct, it will continue apace this winter. That’s climate change for you, or, perhaps, just the luck of the meteorological draw.

Accuweather has done its studly job of scaring the stomachs of weak-kneed New Brunswickers of late. Its forecast for the region, issued last week, posits: “A majority of the Arctic fronts will be directed into northern Quebec, Labrador and the Maritimes this fall, resulting in some early periods of chilly weather. This pattern will also help reduce the threat of a landfalling tropical storm or hurricane into Nova Scotia. Newfoundland will continue to see cooler and wetter conditions into the fall with several storms intensifying just offshore.”

Meanwhile, says the weather service, the El Nino phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific, “continues to intensify. . .and we expect this current episode to be one of the strongest. . .on record by the upcoming winter. . . .Strong El Nino’s typically produce unusually mild winters across western Canada. Farther east, the impacts are less certain, but tend to favor reduced snowfall around the Great Lakes region. Current indications are that this upcoming winter will not be nearly as cold as last winter across eastern Canada.”

As for Atlantic Canada. . .well, we’re not so lucky as to be so certain. Still, maybe our permanently hard winters represent an economic opportunity: winter tourism, anyone?

After all, if snowflakes were dollars, all New Brunswickers would be millionaires by now.

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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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A walk to remember


The day began, a year ago today, under the hard light of an uncertain spring. That day was not for strolling or cavorting in the newly opened playgrounds and parks of downtown Moncton. The mercury barely touched 12 degrees, and the sky, thick with cloud, lingered and loomed like a certain threat.

Still, my wife and I, in our early 50s and determined to amplify our expectations of a happy life together, set out as usual on our fast walk around Jones Lake in the west end of the city. As we did, we spoke of many things.

We spoke of our children, and how lucky we were to still have them in our orbit. Our Melinda in faraway Toronto was thriving as a professional practice analyst at the Ontario College of Early Childhood Educators. Our Jessica was less than a year away from completing her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Prince Edward Island.

What’s more, our sons-in-law (Richard Whittall to Lindy; Myles Thompson to Jess) actually seemed to like us, as did their kids (Lindy’s and Rich’s James and Isla; Jess’s and Myles’ Euan and Ruby).

We were fortunate, indeed, we agreed, as we turned the corner where the late, great Reuben Cohen still lived.

How many more blessings, we wondered, could we count on our way around and past the coffee shop that used to be a liquor outlet, not far from the paint store where we once bought buckets of latex to coat our walls, right next to the kid’s emporium of puzzles and games and books where we once spent happy hours pretending to be grown-ups on behalf of our grandchildren?

We had arrived in this town on a wink and a prayer in 1996. And from the moment we landed on a hot, thundery May afternoon, we knew we had found the home, the community, we had always wanted together – not the cold, grey doom of Toronto where we had spent five, penurious years; not the fatuous, underwhelming promise of Halifax where we had spent far too much time fruitlessly chipping away at the fossils of calcified privilege and money.

No, Moncton – with all its gloriously openhanded enterprise and entrepreneurial vigour – hit us like a lightening strike. This absurdly ugly, magnificently beauteous burg was where we belonged. We would always own its Petticodiac, its struggling downtown, its bewildering ex-urban ribbons of big-box stores, its mysteriously neglected riverside parkways and byways.

When my wife and I finished our walk around the neighborhood we call home, the word came down through local, national and international media, through Google alerts and Facebook, through Twitter and Instagram that the unthinkable had happened in the northwestern part of Moncton. A maniac had killed, in cold blood, three officers of the law.

We shed tears for the RCMP who had lost their lives as they had executed their duties – for their parents and wives and children. We mourned the passing of time in the brevity of life.

We grieved for those who must endure the unendurable: The sudden loss of the cherished; the abrupt absence of the beloved.

As we counted our blessings, we considered those of others in this fine town of a city; and then we went for another long walk. We walked in memory of those who sacrificed their lives for the rest of us.

The day ended, a year ago today, when the sun finally began to shine softly – the pain still daggered, the shock still stunning – and we held onto each other, speaking of many things.


Et tu Brute?


When the knives, unsheathed, flash in the political moonlight they somehow sink deeper than those that plunge in the noonday sun.

And so it was last week that two, lifelong New Brunswick Liberals – Bernard Richard and Michael Murphy – sharpened their shivs and stuck them into the current, Grit provincial government over its decision to locate a youth treatment centre in Campbellton, rather than Moncton.

According to a CBC report last week, “Former child and youth advocate Bernard Richard says the decision to build a youth mental health facility in Campbellton is ‘the worst public policy decision’ he’s witnessed in a long time.

The new $12.6-million facility will be built in the same area as the Campbellton Regional Hospital, the province announced on Saturday. It will have 15 beds and offer outreach treatment to other areas in the province.

“Richard has wanted to see a youth mental health facility established for close to a decade and was excited last year when the government announced it would build one. But after learning the location would be in Campbellton, Richard says he was distraught because of its close proximity to Restigouche Hospital Centre, which is a psychiatric hospital.

“’After the youth detention centre in Miramichi, it’s probably the worst place due to the issues of stigmatization and institutionalization,’” says Richard. “In January, Richard and a colleague canvassed mental health professionals to see what they wanted for a new facility. They made recommendations to the government to build the facility in Moncton where access to two hospitals, in both languages would be available.”

Again, for the CBC, erstwhile Liberal MLA and once-contender to the provincial crown, Michael Murphy added: “As a former minister of health I can tell you how hard it is to get specialists to go to our urban centres versus Toronto – let alone Campbellton,” (he) wrote in one of a series of tweets that suggested the Gallant government was putting ‘politics first, kids second’ with the decision.”

Of course, both men are absolutely correct.

As politically convenient as this profoundly wrong-headed decision is, most people in this province don’t live and work in the north; they ply their trades, professions and economic opportunities in the south – in Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.

What’s more, decades of deliberate government policy designed to build so-called “centres of private-sector excellence”, academic research institutes, and incubators of culture (for both French and English) in the southeast and southwest of this province have produced predictable results: a compelling influx of educated Francphones from the north into Dieppe; an equally persuasive wave of skilled Anglophones from the north into Moncton, Riverview, Saint John and even Fredericton.

Like it or not, southern New Brunswick is where it’s all happening (if “happening” is the correct word in a province that still nurses a debt-to-equity ratio that rivals Greece’s).

Now, more than ever before, we must build on what we’ve done right and locate critical, public, social services in those communities where most people reside.

Greater Moncton’s civic population now tops out at 138,000 people. That’s nearly as many who live in Prince Edward Island. That’s more than three times as many who reside in Edmundston, Bathurst and Campbellton, N.B., combined.

Forcing “youths at risk” to travel from their southern homes to their northern treatment centre, several times a week, as much as five hours per trip, to receive an hour or two of succour, seems to me cruel an unusual.

At the very least, it’s poor public policy, weakened even more by political gamesmanship.

This is, of course, what Messrs. Richard and Murphy are driving at.

Their knives may be sharp.

Still, their points are true.

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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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What, us worry?



So we are, after all, a rollicking, jolly bunch. We stick our fingers in our ears and sing “la…la…la”. We believe in the power of positive thinking and even giggle appreciatively when some curmudgeon suggests we’d be better off sticking our digits in the fiscal dam that’s just about to break in this province.

Oh well, what shall do about the inveterately “happy” amongst us?

Give them all a kiss, a slap on the back, a high-five?

Sure, why not. After all, summer is the best two-and-a-half weeks of the year in these parts, and the rumors are that it didn’t actually die in 2015, after plummeting into a pothole sometime between the first snowfall and the last.

Maybe it’s time to accept the fact that despite what nature and man throw at us in this often-benighted corner of the world, we refuse to be sad, morose or even (gasp!) realistic about our present circumstances. Maybe it’s time to take the win, for a change.

According to a Statistics Canada survey released last week Saint John and Moncton are the fourth and seventh happiest cities, respectively, in Canada. This, despite the fact that downtown development in both bustling metropolises is moribund, house prices are plummeting, for-sale signs are springing up like tulips in an April downpour, and municipal mothers and fathers are just about at the end of their wits trying to figure out how to keep the figurative wheels from falling off their metaphorical trucks.

Still, reveals StatsCan, “Many factors account for differences in life satisfaction, and there is a growing body of international and Canadian research in this domain. This includes work that examines the role played by the physical characteristics of geographic areas, such as urban size and population density, natural endowments, economic opportunity or deprivation, and access to, and quality of, infrastructure, amenities and services.”

Sure, and why not jump aboard the “happiness” train? It goes to Pleasantville by way of the big, rock candy mountain. There, at that mythical depot, we will meet all who went away from us, and all who will return someday – just as soon as we can invent and sustain good, long-term jobs for them upon their arrival.

This “happiness” garbage is a pug’s game, played by the powerful to rook the penurious. If we spent more time genuinely examining that for which we are grateful, we might discover the joy that’s mere illusion to a vast swath of our fellow men and women, under the influence of daily propaganda.

I am, for example, grateful for a democracy in which periodic voting is not always a pro-forma exercise designed to establish and enable despotism.

I am grateful for knowing that I can still count on my neighbours ­– even some elected representatives of my province and country – to boost me when the economic chips are down.

I am grateful for my parents, siblings, wife, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren and for the fact that they are alive and kicking against the bleak and black of daily imbecilities that seem to proscribe everyone’s life these days.

I am grateful for the home I can offer to them, for the absurd amounts of snow I shovel, for the weeds I pull, for the lawn I mow, for the people I meet at the local Sobeys and liquor store, for the guy I greet at the corner of Main Street and Robinson Court – the guy who needs a coin or two to continue singing and playing his acoustic renditions of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” and “Old Man”.

Am I happy?

Ask me after the next federal election.

For now, I’m merely waiting, with ears wide open.

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