Truth or Consequences: Your Call, Saint John

Media Appearances, Municipal Government, Frontier Centre

Sometimes when I want to get a snapshot of what the people are thinking, I go to the newspaper’s online site. At the top of the list, both in terms of most read and most commented, was "Pothole Pandemonium" (Feb. 18) with 33 comments mostly critical of the condition of our streets with literally hundreds of thumbs-up. However, one particular comment unrelated to the public’s growing disenchantment with the condition of our streets caught my attention. Here it is:

The Pothole Pandemonium story that ran on C1 of the Feb. 18 edition of the Telegraph-Journal received several comments online from readers.

"This is a bit off topic … and please, I think you all know where I stand on the oversight our current council gives this city! But why is it that Saint John gets all the bad press? Moncton and Fredericton both have homelessness and poverty. They both have old building stock and depopulated centres. They have questionable financial practices and snow removal and parking issues. And they both have potholed streets the same as Saint John. So what do we get in the paper? Saint John battered in the press again.

"I can’t help but wonder just who is going to benefit from Saint John becoming a ghost town (given all the negatives that are bandied about)? Who wants this to happen? We hardly ever hear about the ‘bad’ news from the other cities in this paper but boy, does Saint John take it on the chin!

"Meanwhile, Moncton is growing by leaps and bounds and Fredericton becomes more entrenched as a beautiful little N.B. city." – Ella H.

Ella has presented us with a very valid question.

So, what’s the answer? Does Saint John become a magnet for businesses and people by ferreting out the good news stories and sweeping under the rug the stuff city hall doesn’t like to talk about – news reports that don’t place the city in a favourable light – and hope for the best?

Will marketing alone reverse a city’s image, fortunes and produce the desired results, or is there more to it than that?

The City of Saint John currently has a million-dollar marketing budget. There’s an old saying that "a coat of paint will hide a multitude of sins." Do we get a million-dollar paint job, or do we get transparency? It’s your money – what do you think?

The question asked by Ella was why do Fredericton and Moncton seem to get all the good press and move ahead while Saint John seems to come up with the short end of the stick? Is it possible that both cities have a better track record? Why is it that one kid in school comes up with straight As while another ends up with a failing grade? Aren’t the grades assigned simply a reflection of effort and results achieved?

Speaking of grades, Fredericton (rated fourth) and Moncton (rated fifth) have consistently scored high on the Moneysense 2010 annual report on Best Places to Live based on a broad set of criteria, while Saint John struggles at a distant 87th on the list. The results for the three cities were pretty much the same for 2009. With respect to the issue of Moncton and Fredericton’s shortcomings – taxes, potholes, homeless, poverty, dilapidated building, etc. – these are all factored in by Moneysense in determining a city’s rating. It’s not if you have shortcomings, but the degree to which these negatives exist in your community.

The press doesn’t create the ratings; the press simply reports on them.

Saint John rated dead last out of 133 cities on the Frontier Centre’s national Municipality Transparency Index. (Results can be found at

How do you turn those results into favourable press, or a good news story?

Anecdotally, I’ll pose a scenario: a middle-aged, overweight smoker has gone to a clinic for a medical evaluation. Should the doctor compliment the individual on how nicely he or she is dressed, or should the patient be told that if he or she doesn’t quit smoking and lose weight, they’ll be a candidate for diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease?

Twentieth century electrical engineer and inventor Charles F. Kettering once stated, "A problem well stated is a problem half solved."

Saint John clearly has the potential to be one of the top five cities in Canada in which to live, but accepting the good, bad and ugly of our city is the first step toward solving problems and achieving that objective.

So, which is it Saint John: the truth, or the rose-coloured glasses? Your call.