Tuesday, August 19, 2008

NIH - No Irvings Here

Responding to Tom Young.

When I visited Saint John a year or two ago I was staying down near the convention centre and the mall downtown. I walked along the public path around the inner harbour, and it was very nice.

Then I decided I wanted to see the waterfront out on the Bay of Fundy itself, not just on the river. I walked all through Saint John looking for that waterfront, but all I saw was run-down housing and industries. The main part of Saint John is completely blocked from the sea!

If you were to design a coastal city, you couldn't do it worse. How do you take the city's most prime real estate, that should be a pleasure to live in, and completely block it from the sea?

It reminded me of the day before, when I went to see the Reversing Falls. The falls were there all right - but somebody had built a big factory (it looked like a power plant) right on top of them!

You see - the problem isn't just this one project, and it isn't just this one bit of harbourfront. It's that Saint John has been so badly treated by industry over the years - including, especially, Irving, which routinely gets breaks from the City government.

Now there's nothing left for people. Every last bit of real estate is taken by companies, like Irving, that seem to have a lock on city council.

Before I moved to New Brunswick 8 years ago I thought Saint John would be a nice place to live. But now I realize that we have more ocean front here in Moncton than they do in Saint John.

I think we should have a campaign here, targeted toward the poor people in Saint John who can't ever see the sea behind the factory fences:

NIH - "No Irvings Here"

Not strictly true, of course, as our laughingstock of a newspaper proves to us every day. But at least we use the best and most scenic land in our city for parks and recreation, not Irving offices.

And at least it looks like our Council - realizing that it must serve the interests of the city population and the other businesses in the city - has managed to learn not to cave every time an Irving asks them for a handout.

Our Councils (Moncton, Riverview, Dieppe) - despite the loud wails of protest from the Irving newspaper - spend money on parks, nice roads, bicycle paths, bridges, schools, swimming pools, and the rest. Come here to Moncton and you see a modern city with clean streets and buildings in good repair.

In Saint John, where the Irvings hold such sway, exactly the opposite is the case. After giving huge breaks to the Irvings, and browbeaten into keeping taxes low for the rest, the city of Saint John looks like it could not afford a dog-catcher, much less a public infrastructure program.

In your column you ask us to imagine that some other company was thinking of that land. Well it wouldn't happen! You can't set up shop in Saint John unless you're partnering with Irving - because if you aren't, you won't get any breaks from Council. And if you partner with Irving you understand that Irving is the top dog. Any breaks you get, you get through Irving. Period.

Tom, I am not opposed to industry and commerce, and I would normally support the efforts of a large company to locate in the city. But the Irvings have used an essential monopoly on commerce in the city - and media in the city - to create a system that enriches themselves while impoverishing everyone else.

We have managed very well in Moncton without the presence of Irving head offices or Irving refineries (especially once we finally got rid of that polluted eyesore the Irvings left on our riverfront). We have a diverse commercial and industrial base, with city government taking into account the needs of all citizens, not a privileged few.

The problem isn't the presence of industry and commerce - it's the special deals the Irvings manage to get as a result of their comfy relationship with government and stranglehold over media, a special relationship that favour them but drives out all other industry (all other competition!) in the city.

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