Tag Archives: Saint John

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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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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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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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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New Brunswick’s pipeline to opportunity


Now, for something completely different in New Brunswick: unvarnished good news. What began, for many, as a pipe dream becomes, for all, a bonafide pipe line into Saint John. And, unquestionably, not a moment too soon.

For much of the past 15 years, the urgent conversation in this decidedly unpromising corner of Canada has had everything to do with loss. How much public debt can we bear before our international creditors come knocking at the door? How many young people must we send west for jobs before, as public policy pundit Donald Savoie once famously wrote, New Brunswick becomes an old folks home?

Trans Canada Corp.’s announcement last week that it will move forward with a multi-billion-dollar pipeline from Alberta east to refineries in Quebec and Saint John – tentatively scheduled for completion by 2018 – changes the channel. (Quebec insists it wants to study the proposal, but the odds are in favour of its support).

In a report issued last Tuesday, Scotiabank energy analyst Patricia Mohr framed the opportunity clearly: “The line would allow access to less expensive and more secure domestic crude oil, allowing displacement of imports into the Suncor Energy and Ultramar (Valero) refineries in Montréal and in Lévis (near Québec City) as well as the large Irving Oil refinery in Saint John. These refineries have in the past been mostly supplied by expensive light oil imports.”

Moreover, “Greater access to stable supplies of domestic oil would improve the financial viability of current refineries and could eventually encourage development of a larger domestic refining industry in Québec and Atlantic Canada. History shows that pipeline developments – linking crude oil supplies to markets – often precede refinery expansion.

And, thirdly, “The line could provide vitally needed new export outlets for Western Canadian oil – to Europe and, most interestingly, to India – accompanied by expanded port and marine service-sector activity near Québec City and Saint John.”

All of which led her to conclude: “The economics of the ‘Energy East Pipeline Project’ are compelling. . .Refiners in India have shown considerable interest in importing Alberta blended bitumen. Estimated tanker charges from Québec City and Saint John to the west coast of India average a mere US$4.20 per barrel in a Suezmax vessel. A marine terminal at Saint John would be ice-free year round and could accommodate VLCCs of 350,000 DWT, cutting tanker costs to India to only US$3 per barrel. . .developing low-cost transportation infrastructure to access overseas export markets is critical.”

Against this backdrop, of course, languishes Keystone. As the Globe and Mail astutely observed in its coverage last week, “Politically, the project has attracted far less opposition so far than either Keystone XL, which has become a prime target for American climate-change activists and a political bone of contention between U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, or the Gateway project, which has been opposed in its current form by Premier Christy Clark.” Meanwhile, it added, “Canaport (has) applied to transform its offshore facility to a gas storage and export terminal, giving it a new lease on life.”

For New Brunswick, the economic stimulus will be enormous: immediately translatable into thousands of skilled, highly paid jobs. Longer term, the energy sector, itself, will undergo a profound transformation as clusters of small and medium-sized enterprises emerge to support the refining anchor in the Port City.

But the broader significance of the pipeline has as much to do with national, as it does with regional, identity.

Premier David Alward was not wrong last year when he likened the project – when it was still just a concept – to a country-building exercise. For too long, the solitudes of West and East have driven the dialogue about what it means to be a Canadian. The have-less and have-more provinces have bickered over their respective slices of the energy pie.

The pipeline is, in effect, a handshake, across thousands of kilometers of geography, that unites once-competing interests. It says we’re in this together.

It also says to Alberta: You know all those Maritime sons and daughters we’ve been sending your way in recent years. . .Well, we’re gong to need you to send some of them back.

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Forging a confederation of common cause


Typically, when Canada’s premiers gather to discuss the state of the federation, they produce enough hot air to float several trial balloons, all drifting in different directions at once. But last week’s gathering in Niagara-On-The-Lake suggested that provincial leaders might be warming to the idea of pinpointing one or two destinations at which to touch down together.

New Brunswick’s David Alward can take much of the credit for forging at least the semblance of common cause among his colleagues this year. He has been a vocal and effective critic (whether or not you agree with him) of federal changes to both the Employment Insurance system and labour market agreements. He has emphasized the shared impact of these moves across the country.

He has also reached out to other premiers in a consistent and collegial way – not seen since the Frank McKenna era – on the subject of energy, which is rapidly becoming the most important file on the interprovincial agenda. Even in the notoriously self-absorbed central Canadian press, his name tends to come before all others in stories about a dearly imagined west-east oil pipeline.

“They’ve all been very open to that discussion – I don’t have any concerns at all,” he told the Globe and Mail last week. “We’re bullish on the project because it’s a nation-building project, it’s going to have a positive impact on Canadians from coast to coast to coast. . .We feel very good about the work that is taking place and I have full confidence in the next steps.”

Reflecting on Quebec Premier Pauline Marois’ refusal to discuss the pipeline in the wake of the Lac Magentic tragedy, Mr. Alward was circumspect: “In discussions with the Quebec government thus far in our working groups, in terms of the pipeline, have been excellent, and we look forward to continuing to work with them,” the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal quoted him in Friday’s edition. “A catastrophe in their province, the derailment. . .I don’t believe Premier Marois is commenting out of respect for that. . .And I respect that.”

In fact, Mr. Alward was one of the first Canadian leaders to recognize the project’s symbolic significance to the country, as whole. He likened it to a new “national dream”, as big and bold for this century as the transcontinental railway was to the 19th. The argument resonated immediately with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, whose overriding priority is to get her province’s crude to refineries (any refinery) as soon and as cost-effectively as possible.

It’s clear, from her quote in the Telegraph-Journal last week, she hasn’t changed her mind. “We believe it is terribly important that this be considered exactly what it is,” she said. “(This) is a commercial transaction that must be approved by the approval processes in each province that has to take into account the integrity of the project, as well as the environmental impact of the project.”

Moreover, she said, “I’ve heard nothing (at the premiers’ meeting) that in any way suggested to me that there was any possibility that there were any new developments that would change this – that each jurisdiction that is touched by this project will do the work that it needs to do to make sure it does receive the approvals.”

Translation: Stay tuned, but matters are proceeding apace.

The pipeline company, itself, seems to agree. Last week, the Globe and Mail broke news that TransCanada Corp. was nearly chafing at the bit to execute its Energy East strategy sooner, not later.

“(The company) says it has garnered significant support for its quest to ship Western crude to refineries in the East, as premiers seek consensus on a politically charged cross-country pipeline,” the newspaper reported on Thursday. “The Calgary-based company (said) it has received major backing from producers who want to ship crude on its Energy East pipeline, and will make an announcement in the coming weeks. ‘We are very optimistic about the project,’ Alex Pourbaix, TransCanada’s president for energy pipelines, said in an interview.”

For New Brunswick and the rest of Canada, this is one trial balloon that may be getting ready to come down to earth.

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