Given the economic realities of Saint John, I thought I was try and attempt to see where the various parties stand on economic development during the by-election campaign in Saint John Harbour. I couldn’t find Ms. Hooton’s web site anywhere but I did find the Liberal candidate Dr. Ed Doherty at http://www.ed4mla.ca.
But before I give you Dr. Doherty’s priorities, let me lay out the state of the union for Saint John as it relates to the local economy (as always based on my microscopic view of the world but indulge me for a moment):
*Saint John’s population has been steadily declining for well over a decade. In the past five years alone, it has shed almost 2,000 people according to Statistics Canada estimates.
*Saint John county was larger (population) in the 1950s than it is today. In contrast Westmorland county (Moncton) has more than doubled in that time frame.
*Saint John in the late 1800s was larger than Detroit and Washington, DC by population and was in the top six cities in Canada for population. Now it is one third the size of Kitchener, Ontario.
*Saint John has consistently been among the worst performers across the full set of economic statistics among Canada’s urban areas for most of the past 10 years.
*The new Trans Canada Highway is a real threat to marginalizing Saint John even further. Parrsboro, Nova Scotia (population 4,000) was a significant port city on the Bay of Fundy and on the major trade route from Halifax to central Canada at the turn of the last century. Now, it is a small retirement community with a few small local industries.
*One of the top employers for generations, NBTel, is slowly downsizing its operations and influence in the city.
*As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been a new major office building constructed in downtown Saint John in 20 years.
Now, having said all that, let’s look at Dr. Doherty’s platform, shall we? There are five priorities:
1. Harbour Clean-Up
3. Young Families and Child Care
5. Literacy and Jobs
Saint John is in the middle of a slow decay that threatens to marginalize this once great city into another Parrsboro (and most likely take down the whole province with it), and the Liberals are flogging child care.
I know you have to appeal to what the voters want. I’ll give you that the Liberal polling probably suggested these were the top five issues that resonate with the voters. But, cripes folks, why won’t anyone run on a platform of making Saint John strong again? On Saint John taking its rightful place as a major economic driver? On reclaiming its status as an economy with regional influence? Can’t you appeal to people’s pride? Aren’t Saint Johners worried about this slow decay to their beautiful city?
So, here would be my priorities if I was running in Saint John Harbour (again, indulge this little fantasy):
1. Reclaiming Saint John’s role as a major economic driver in eastern Canada.
2. Fighting hard to open up a four lane trade route to the US through St. Stephen and taking back a spot on this critical trade corridor.
3. Immigration – 10,000 immigrants over the next 10 years (note: I went to the ballet last night in Saint John and of the 600 people there I didn’t see one visible immigrant or hear one word of French spoken at the intermission. Saint John desperately needs new blood.)
4. Attracting major, world class companies to Saint John. At least 10,000 jobs over the next decade -mostly from large, multinational firms – opening up Saint John as a global destination for investment and trade.
5. Forging new partnerships with Moncton, Fredericton, Halifax, et. al. I would propose taking the lead on this – leadership on regional cooperation emminating out of Saint John.
6. Enhancing the role of UNBSJ – maybe splitting off as a stand alone Saint John university. Over the next decade – doubling or tripling students – mostly offshore.
Now, what do you think? Think Saint Johners would elect me on that platform? One not even mentioning child care?
And for anyone out there that things the Liberals or the NDP are going to have a strong economic development platform, I would crave your insight. So far, the Liberals are pushing the agenda far to the Left and are barely mentioning economic issues. Take a look at this report published on the NB Liberals’ web site called:
How many of the 24 unfulfilled promises do you think are economic-development related? One – and that is loosely defined ‘innovation’. The rest of the 24 are things like a ‘Basic Income Guarantee’, nursing homes, prescriptions drugs, etc.
I suspect either way you slice it we are in for 10 more years of disinterest among politicians regarding serious, tangible and community-changing economic development.
But this will make for 10 years of blog fodder so I shouldn’t complain too much.