However, I was interested in what I read in the Telegraph-Journal today as a result of an editorial board meeting with Francis McGuire yesterday.
Some selected quotes:
New Brunswick's near future includes a Miramichi that is little more than a commuter town and a north stripped of much of its population, according to Francis McGuire, co-chairman of the province's Task Force on Self Sufficiency.I have a lot of thoughts on this...
"It is going to happen anyway," he said during an editorial board with the Telegraph-Journal Monday. "We could let it happen or we could accelerate it."
But, for many of New Brunswick's rural residents, perhaps more controversial is the report's focus on urban economic growth at the expense of rural.
Citing numbers that point to an irreversible trend - that 80 per cent of New Brunswick's population works in seven centres and 67 per cent work in the province's three big cities - McGuire stressed that by growing New Brunswick's cities one can grow the economy.
McGuire's vision sees a New Brunswick where rural residents travel to the major centres to work.
"You can make the Miramichi a commuter town with a good four-lane highway. And what's wrong with that?" he said. "As long as they are making the money and going to spend it at Wal-Mart."
"There are a heck of a lot of things that need to be done right now," he said. "Sure, we could build the infrastructure in 15 years. But you have to be like the Chinese and build it all now in five years."
Otherwise, he predicted, the province is going to "go into a spiral of decline," as workers age and leave the province - something McGuire said he would do if this worst case scenario comes to pass. "I'm getting the hell out of here if that's where we're going," he said.
With a proper highway, the drive from Miramichi to Moncton should be little more than an hour, a fraction of the commute that a lot of Ontarians make every day.
However, this model is a bit more questionable for (true) Northern New Brunswick, even if you made the most direct route from Campbellton to Moncton you would be looking at a three hour drive, if you follow the current routes - via Bathurst and Miramichi which makes more sense in any event - it is probably more than 4. That is not commutable - are the communities between Edmundston and Bathurst meant to die? Also, what does this mean for Saint John? Such a plan would mean huge growth opportunities for Fredericton and Moncton as they draw from the Upper St. John Valley and Eastern New Brunswick respectively, but what of Saint John? Does it get left in the dust?
This is certainly a radical plan and as a rural New Brunswicker, one I am somewhat wary of. On the other hand, I have always believed that in terms of rural economic growth "if you build it, they will come". I'll never forget the story I heard of a businessman flying into Fredericton to go to meetings somewhere up the valley in the early 90s. He got in the car with the gentleman sent to pick him up and as they drove up the windy undivided, unshouldered, TransCanada the businessman inquired "How much longer until we get onto the highway?" The driver responded that they were in fact on the main highway. As the story goes the businessman's knuckles turned white and he looked as though he was going to throw up as he watched the transport trucks fly by shaking the car.
The Fredericton-Moncton highway and the soon to be (finally) finished highway from Fredericton to the Quebec border go a long way to fix that. I agree with McGuire that we need to be more agressive in highway construction as we were with the Fredericton-Moncton project. Highways 1 and 7 have always been slated for upgrading to divided freeways, but to be truly competitive, I think we need to twin 8, 11 and 17 as well - it seems like this is the way that McGuire is going in his comments.
So I think I agree with McGuire's formula. We do need to focus to some degree on our urban centres, because there is a certain population threshold that you have to hit to be considered in league with the likes of Halifax, Hamilton and Winnipeg and, from there, hopefully be able to compete with Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. We agree that infrastrucutre, particularly highway infrastructure, is key to starting this process. However, I disagree with his analysis that this paints the end of rural New Brunswick.
I think that it would also create more jobs in the resource sector in the North if you had better infrastructure to move goods, it would be easier to sell the idea of doing value-added work close to the source of, for example, wood. With proper access to roads, businesses from outside of New Brunswick will take our rural areas more seriously. With an ability to properly transport our goods, I believe we can create more resource related jobs at higher rates of pay doing value-added work in our mill towns and mining towns.
We also need to think outside of the box. We should consider investing with Quebec in twinning Route 185 (the untwinned TransCanada from the NB-Quebec border to Riviere-du-Loup) and with Maine in twinning U.S. Route 1 from Fort Kent to Houlton giving our border communities in the Valley better access to the U.S. market and with Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Ontario, Nova Scotia, PEI and the two federal governments to investigate a direct Maritimes-to-Ontario highway running from St. Stephen across central Maine and through northern Vermont and New Hampshire to upstate New York and Ontario (Northern New Brunswick would have access to this route via U.S. Route 1 and the I-95 to wherever it would cross). Such a road would be costly and out of our jurisdiction but would create instant economic spinoffs as we became a new market to many areas. If this did indeed spur growth in rural New Brunswick as I believe it would, we should take it to the next level down the road.
The Port of Belledune could become competitive with Saint John and Halifax to transport goods from our new value-added facilities and from Quebec - and even Maine and northern New England - to Europe and Africa. In the 1970s there was talk of building one regional airport in Sussex for all of Southern New Brunswick, that was an opportunity missed, but now we could build one regional airport for Northern New Brunswick.
Let's make sure this Task Force a) moves forward with an aggressive plan but also that b) it doesn't leave rural NB behind!
An addendum, kudos to whoever came up with the clever bilingual URL for the Task Force - http://www.gnb.ca/2026 - I like it!