A visit to Freddy Beach

I spent this long weekend in Fredericton. My wife and I take the kids each year as we started our life together in the town and still have fond memories. We did the Saint John trip a couple of weeks ago and had a great time as well.

A couple of observations about Freddy Beach:

1. We drove around the old downtown area – Waterloo Row, University Ave, etc. and were absolutely shocked that we could only find one house for sale in an area of hundreds of houses. For a Monctonian this is unthinkable. Drive around Downtown Moncton this time of year and you will find dozens and dozens of houses for sale. I think that the non-university kids churn in Fredericton must be very low. Moncton, on the other hand, is churn city. People move in and out. I attend a church of 500 people and easily 1/4 of the church or more moves out of Moncton every five years or so.

The transience of Moncton and the permenance of Fredericton is based to the underlying structure of the two economies. In Freddy, you work for the government or university (or in support of those) and they typically tend to be life long jobs. In Moncton, people are constantly being promoted to Toronto or Halifax or finding a lack of upward mobility and moving away. There is some thinking that Moncton needs more regional head offices to provide more upward mobility for workers in the community.

2. Bumped into an old friend who’s a mid level manager in a government department. After a little chit chat, the discussion turned to the election. In his opinion, the Lord government has been very listless and has not pushed for innovation in government services for years. He says there is an appetite for change among the civil service. I don’t know his politics but I imagine it’s a bit harder to be an obvious Liberal and a government worker these days (consider Brad Woodside’s wife).

But upon reflection after our conversation, I found myself disagreeing with him. Consider my logic on this. We know public sector wage increases adjusted for inflation have never been better than under Bernard Lord. We know that public jobs have increased substantially. It’s true that he offended the unions when negotiating these contracts but the outcome has been quite favorable.

In addition, if you don’t have pressure from your political bosses to be more efficient or innovative or to truly solve the province’s challenges, doesn’t that make life easier? Why would you want to change and shift into uncertainty? What if Shawn Graham started cracking the whip?

No, I disagree with my former colleague. I suspect that Fredericton will go strongly Tory because when it comes to your job and income – it truly may be better the devil you know.

I drove around that town. There are new retail stores (Home Depot). There’s new housing developments. There are new government buildings being constructed. There’s quite a positive atmosphere.

Is there an appetite for change?

I don’t see it.

But than again, I have been wildly inaccurate in my election predictions before so we will see.

But I will close on this final note.

There is a serious divide emerging in this province. I have had the opportunity to work and interact with folks all over the province over the past 10 years and for better or worse, the north is bleeding hard – certain areas harder than others. The Miramichi is tilting on the edge – the closure of that mill which could come as early as next year – will push that town is a very bad direction. The Acadian Peninsula has shed thousands of people but is no better off (as those preferring a ‘consolidation’ would have hoped). The three cities in the south are doing much better but when you look at some of the underlying drivers – in-province migration, the peaking of call centre jobs, the build out of new retail, etc. it is truly hard to see what will drive economic growth in the urban centres over the next ten years.

Despite the great pub food (Lunar Rogue), great dinner (Brunos) and great QOL (all those walking trails), Frederictonians would be well advised to think a little harder about the next ten years and what’s in store for their city. UNB’s student population is dropping and government funding will be serious challenged. UNB hopes to benefit from the proposed realignment of post-secondary education in the province but if I were them I wouldn’t put much stock in that.

The government can’t continue to hire workers at a record pace. Eventually the drop in population and other factors will put a limit on the new money available by the provincial government to be spent. So Fredericton can’t count on that source of jobs either.

Information technology jobs? Maybe but not much luck there in the past 5-6 years.

Maybe my old friend is smarter than I think on this issue.