Obstacles and Opportunities

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    The following is an article from a column I wrote for the Telegraph Journal in February 2010, 7 years ago. The article more or less captured a conversation I had about with a businessman about Moncton and their success in attracting businesses and families.

    Given that Moncton is now the largest city in New Brunswick with it’s population having 2017-02-08_10-44-10reached  71,889 while Saint John’s population has dropped by 2500 to 67,575 during the same period doesn’t it suggest that perhaps our vision ( Vision 2015 has come and gone) and or growth strategies are not working?

    Is it time to implement “true” and “objective” municipal benching in an effort to identify obstacles and opportunities?

    Think about it.

    “Last week I had coffee with a gentleman for whom I have a great deal of respect. He has lived and worked in a professional capacity in a number of Canadian cities as well as countries around the world. We talked at length about the good, the bad and the ugly of Saint John – opportunities lost, pending and promising.

    We talked about Saint John’s considerable potential to attract both business and people and become one of the best small cities in Canada, and why the city can’t seem to grab the brass ring as the merry-go-round of opportunity goes around and around.

    We talked about Saint John’s lack of strong visionary municipal leadership at both the elected and non-elected levels for a number of years, present council included.

    Most folks would consider the cancellation of Irving Oil Ltd.’s plan to build a global headquarters at Long Wharf a major setback when it comes to waterfront development. We talked about how opportunities of this significance are few and far between – it was a major brass ring within our grasp and we missed it.

    During our conversation, we recalled how Moncton fell upon hard times during the 1970s with the closure of the Eaton’s catalogue division and CNR’s locomotive shops – two significant body blows, a veritable economic earthquake. The shock pushed historic and petty squabbling between francophone and anglophones to the back burner. Economic survival forced the community to galvanize in an effort to redefine its future and rebuild its economy. During the late 1980s and 1990s Moncton more than made up for the job losses. Its economic turnaround is often referred to as the “Moncton Miracle.” Most would agree Moncton has been on a roll for the past number of years. During the most recent census Moncton’s population growth outstripped the national average for cities. But Saint John still enjoys some key advantages over Moncton – a city rich in history and heritage, an established industrial base and port, and close proximity to the U.S. eastern seaboard. With these major advantages, Saint John still has difficulty getting its municipal act together compared to Moncton.

    Perhaps things in Saint John might have to get a lot worse before they get better. Would it take a Saint John economic earthquake, or would it be a series of economic tremors, such as the cancellation of Eider Rock (a proposed second oil refinery) or the spiking of Irving Oil’s plans for a world headquarters at Long Wharf?

    Few would disagree that there have been multiple layers of erosion at the municipal level over the years:

    * Erosion of our infrastructure (water system, roads and recreation facilities).

    * Erosion of our city’s population base (at the expense of steady growth in the outlying communities).

    * Erosion of a competitive property tax rate (it’s the highest in New Brunswick).

    * Erosion of confidence in city council and its failure to follow provincial guidelines to lower the tax rate to offset an increase in property taxes tax brought about by increased provincial assessments.

    The Moncton Miracle was in response to a serious economic earthquake. Given the nature and complexity of Saint John’s economy we run the risk of a slow and gradual economic erosion that over time may be equal to, or more devastating than, what Moncton experienced.

    Saint John’s miracle will come about when polarized attitudes and self- interest on the part of any individual or entity become subordinate to the overall good of the community. That’s where we have to go. Here’s a little ‘ugly’ for you – we ain’t there yet.”

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