Feb 11

Separate PlanSJ blog

Due to increasing spikes of traffic to the PlanSJ portions of this blog, I’ve migrated all the PlanSJ content to a separate blog: http://drinnan.com/drinnansj. Current PlanSJ posts will remain here for convenience. For a short period, any new posts will appear on both blogs. Any remaining legacy posts (stuff still not migrated from the old EasyBlog site) will appear in the new blog.

So if you want to track this PlanSJ blather, please RSS the new blog (which you can do by clicking here).

Why the move? I’ve had a few comments that people looking for PlanSJ info find the professional topic posts confusing or distracting. And I’d like to open up the PlanSJ stuff at some point to open commenting, which wouldn’t be appropriate on the professional blog.

Feb 11

To whom is the City of Saint John responsible?

Note: My comments in this blog regarding PlanSJ are mine alone as a citizen and Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) member, and are not intended to represent the views of the CAC as a whole.

What’s wrong with this picture?

This is a page from a petition to the City of Saint John Common Council from the Friends of Rockwood Park, submitted last fall. Look at the addresses. On this page almost all the names are those of people who live outside the City.

Think that’s just one page? I looked through a number of other pages from this petition. See below. The yellow tags below flag  non-residents. (I give some credit to those signatories who actually disclosed that they lived in Rothesay, Quispamsis, Grand Bay or elsewhere; shame on those who didn’t.)

These few pages are just a sample, but in fact the petition is filled with signatures of people who don’t actually live in Saint John, but obviously think they should have a voice in the conduct of the City’s affairs. (I can only hope that Councillors didn’t take this particular petition at face value.)

Don’t get me wrong. My article today isn’t about Rockwood Park. I’m simply using the Rockwood Park petition as an example of another problem, and that problem is the sense of entitlement that many outside Saint John seem to have regarding their right to participate in City policy-making. (The Rockwood Park petition neatly demonstrates that attitude, as do many online comments under a typical Telegraph Journal City Section article.) Many residents of Greater Saint John also think the City has an obligation to provide them with services, even if they don’t pay municipal taxes in Saint John itself.

So who is the City actually obligated to serve, and who are its Councillors responsible to?  This is a key question underpinning the very definition of PlanSJ‘s mission, and it’s one that’s already being challenged as PlanSJ begins to c0mmunicate a vision for Saint John that some outside city limits seem to find either inconvenient or threatening.

This isn’t a trivial issue. A municipal plan that optimizes the outcome for the region as a whole would look very, very different from one that optimizes the outcome for Saint John and its citizens. Unfortunately, prioritizing the interests of non-residents means — at least to some degree — compromising the interests of Saint Johners themselves. So it’s absolutely essential that PlanSJ be clear in its mission, both in its execution of the municipal planning work, and in its dealings with various stakeholders inside and outside the City.

I’ve personally run into this issue when the topics of PlanSJ or City politics have come up during conversations with  people who live in outlying communities. More often than not, non-residents I’ve spoken with expect to have a voice in City affairs. They also expect the City of Saint John to look after their interests. That expectation is clearly reflected in the opinions of non-residents about what PlanSJ should and should not be doing, and what Saint John should be putting its money into.

It’s hard not to get a little angry over this. The fact is, residents of Greater Saint John want to eat their cake and have it too. They don’t want the burden of Saint John’s finances, but they certainly expect the benefits of its services and infrastructure.

And it isn’t just individuals. We’ve seen a prioritization of regional interests over City interests in discussions with the Saint John Board of Trade, and that issue also lies at the heart of PlanSJ’s resistance to the demands of the Saint John Airport (which is a regional facility and should be supported regionally). It’s even a key element of Enterprise Saint John’s current dispute with Saint John Common Council.

Regionalism isn’t a bad word. Regionalism and cooperation is the ideal, as long as every party involved gets benefits that outweigh their costs and risks. But regionalism that’s based on investments and compromises made by Saint John alone is unacceptable.

PlanSJ’s mandate is clear. We’re here to help make Saint John sustainable, and to serve the needs of citizens of Saint John. While I wish the residents of Grand Bay, Rothesay, Quispamsis and other outlying suburbs well, the sustainability of their communities and the interests of their citizens are not the responsibility of the City of Saint John or the PlanSJ team. We’re here for the citizens of Saint John, and that’s it.

So my message to all those good people of Greater Saint John who want a voice in City policy … If you aren’t allowed to vote here, then you’re out of the game. That’s one of the many costs of choosing to live outside the City.

Residents of Grand Bay, the Kingston peninsula, Quispamis, Rothesay, Westfield, Hampton, Sussex, St Andrews, Black Harbour, Musquash, Norton, Baxters Corner, St Martins, et al … please think about that the next time you’re signing a petition, pontificating in the TJ, or going mad dog at a dinner party. If you really want a voice in municipal affairs, camp out on the doorsteps of the people to whom you actually do pay taxes.

Jan 11

CBC TV turns its back on Saint John

The CBC has decided that Saint John no longer deserves terrestrial (over-the-air, or ‘rabbit ears’) TV coverage. In its application to the CRTC for digital television, the CBC is proposing that it abandon Saint John altogether. (Link to Wire Report article here.)  This means that starting in the summer of 2011, Saint Johners will no longer be able to watch CBC TV unless they subcribe to a cable or satellite provider.

What’s unexplained in the application is why Fredericton will continue to get terrestrial CBC TV coverage, even though its population is only half that of Saint John. Given the income demographics in Saint John, I would expect that the need for terrestrial TV is far greater in Saint John than in Fredericton, regardless of population. (More homes in Saint John are challenged to afford the $50+ per month of a TV subscription.)

I find it offensive that the CBC has decided to ignore one of the most densely populated areas in the province and has chosen to rob many Saint Johners of a service that we all pay for through our tax dollars.

The CRTC is looking for input from stakeholders and the public. The deadline is February 17th. (Link here.) If you care about this issue — either because you watch CBC, you use it to reach others, or you simply care about those in our community that can’t afford subscription TV — make yourself heard.  Make a submission to the CRTC on this issue. You should let the CBC know what you think too: contact page.

UPDATE: It looks like the proposed digital footprint will also cover Oromocto, which combined with Fredericton roughly matches the population of Greater Saint John. That takes some of the sting out, but it still doesn’t explain why the Fredericton area gets to keep its terrestrial while Saint John loses out.