I like Moncton very much. But it does have elements of the drab and listless about it, too. So, let's start with the bad part.
Moncton ( it's English newspaper prefers the grander title of Metro Toronto) holds about 160,000 people within a province of less than 800,000. Both the city and the province are dominated (indeed, saturated) by a handful of very wealthy families. One alone, Irving, is said to employ one person in ten in the province. Their domination - and their love of domination - reaches down to every level of life in the province.
The Irvings and their friends effectively control government at both provincial and local levels. It is a control so pervasive that most New Brunswickers, though they are well aware of the power of these people, are commonly afraid of any serious discussion since serious discussion will almost certainly touch on something that the Irvings and Ganongs and McCain's own or control.
The Irvings own all the English language newspapers in New Brunswick. And those papers are real stinkers by any measure. They are heavily biased on any subject favoured by the boss and the bias shows strongly in what they report and how they report it. They also give prominence to any report issued by the far right wing propaganda agencies for big business that call themselves think tanks - like The Fraser Institute and the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies.
The bias goes beyond bad to reporting that is often unethical, and editorials that are both unethical and loutish. Private radio and TV reporting on this region is not much better. CBC radio is here, but is limited in local programming by being in a low priority area for English CBC. As well, like everything else down here, it has to remember that corporate interests have influence that extends all the way to Stephen Harper -who needs no urging to get rid of the CBC.
There is no serious discussion of politics at any level. Nor is there much media information to base it on. Nor would it matter. The only paries with enough money to campaign are the Liberals and the Conservatives; and that money comes largely from corporations and the wealthy. In short, in this respect, New Brunswick politics are much like those of other provinces -but worse. It's just more obvious here.
The fear of open discussion has become the norm for daily life. And that has led to a society whose outlook is based on trivia. This is enouraged by The Moncton Times & Transcript whose mission appears to be to keep its readers uninformed and trivial. (This showed up in a recent provincial election in which neither party seemed to have anything that could be called a platform. The big difference was that the Conservative leader promised to listen to people. Hell,I used to have a dog who could do that.)
The defenders of families like the Irvings say they have developed New Brunswick with oil refining, paper, chemical plants, etc. Nonsense.
The people of New Brunswick developed New Brunswick. Families like the Irvings took advantage of the people to get scandalously low rates for electricity for their industries, grants and low interest loans from the provincial and municipal governments, and access to a vast portion of the province's forests for cheap wood for their paper mills. The Irvings and others have certainly taken a great deal out of New Brunswick to enrich themselves; but they have been an obstacle to any real progress. To say we should be grateful to them is like a storekeeper feeling gratitude for the thief who robbed his till - but left a dollar for the cup of coffee he had taken.
Again, New Brunswick is not all that different from other provinces in any of the above. But the power in New Brunswick has a sense of closeness and obviousness in this small society, a sense that discourages both action and thought.
That may well be what explains the intellectual sterility and flabbiness of so many civil organizations, notably Home and School, Parent-Teachers Association and, most notably, the churches.
City services are pretty poor. That is probably because the city is largely concerned with grandiose schemes to "put Moncton on the map", often schemes to lend public money to billionaires so they can build things like an 80 million dollar stadium for their hockey team that nobody outside "metro" has ever heard of. They would also like a subsidized CFL team. There is little sign the public wants either of those. But who cares what the public thinks? Play up and play the game. The game is to soak the public to build facilities that the rich can then rent on special terms to make more money for themselves.
That's the bad part. But there's lots of good.
The first time I saw Moncton, thirty years ago, it was a pretty homely place that looked as if it should have been called Mudville. But it has quite transformed since that time. The city is generally attractive, even charming. (Parts of it could be even better with a little civic action; but that's where you feel the pressure of the billionaires, again.)
Like any city, it has those suburban-style developments where they cut down the trees, and named the streets after them. But there are many (and not expensive) areas with trees that have escaped the axe for a century and more, lots of very pleasant and reasonably priced areas to live in. The nineteenth century architecture still common is often delightful. (It takes a while for a Montrealer to get used to the wood finish of most houses - but I've at last decided it's better on the eyes than brick.)
The people are the most courteous I have ever encountered. The use of first names is common right from the start, even in phoning offices about a bill. People are always friendly and helpful - though fitting in as an accepted Monctonian seems to be as slow as it is in most cities.
Monctonians all seem convinced they have the worst drivers in the world. I don't see why. I have seen only one common fault - passing on the right. Certainly, the courtesy of drivers down here is unmatched in any other country or city I have seen.
The problem is pedestrians. They can be expected, day or night, to suddenly step off the sidewalk at any point along a block, with looking either way, and stroll into the traffic. In Montreal, you could get points for hitting them. Here,drivers actually stop.
Moncton, though no metropolis, has a very satisfactory range of shopping, all of it within a ten minute drive of anywhere in the city. (In fact, almost anything is within a ten minute drive. I usually bicycle everywhere in summer,) I have no difficulty finding excellent shops for anything, including exotica like art supplies or old books and 33 rpm records.
They also have a couple of Frenchy's stores. These are an experience that everybody in the world should have. They are part of a maritime chain of stores that sell clothing, often high-end and usually new, at absurdly low prices.
Police services are provided by the RCMP, and are excellent.
The schools are excellent, too. They are underfunded, and interfered with by private business. This is happening all over North America as corporations attempt to get control of public education, and convert it to education for profit. They movement has been strong in the US (and also a colossal failure in educational terms). Kissing up to what corporate leaders want is why the local papers are always attacking the schools. But that is happening across Canada as corporations try to get control, and then to copy the American system of contracting out, ranking schools (a false science) and pushing for "freedom" of choice. Despite this, NB public schools, like all schools in Canada are still among the best in the world - far superior to the US, Britain, Germany...
The US schools are rated thirtieth in the world, and sliding down fast. But corporations and the media they own are working hard to take our system down the toilet with the American schools. However, NB, like most provinces, is holding out.
There are two, excellent and large parks in Moncton. One is an attractive strip of playing fields and walks along the river that extends for all of the downtown. The other is the well treed Centennial Park which has a large pond, a great water spray area for kids in summer, an outdoor swimming pool, and excellent sliding in winter. It also has enclosed dog runs.
Neighbourhood play parks for children seem to have been neglected.
The countryside is a fiften minute drive; and it's very attractive. Superb salt-water beaches are another five or ten minutes.
The YMCA has first rate facilities for exercise and swimming. Its social and intellectual programmes are not nearly as strong. There are places available, however - and it varies from year to year - for painting, acting, modelling (teaching girls how to dress and to use makeup intelligently), - though you have to search a bit to find the full range. The Moncton Library is good, and offers groups for children and adults. Like the schools, it is underfunded - but not so badly as to hamper most readers.
The two hospitals, one French and one English, are both good and well-equipped. Both are within ten minutes of any part of the city. Both are so bilingual that I sometimes have to look for a nameplate to remember which one I'm in. More important, the language service you want is delivered as naturally as breathing. Official bilingualism works very well in New Brunswick. There is a certain amount of resentment of it, mostly from anglos. But I have never encountered any hostility speaking English to an Acadian - and only a mild amusement when I try my French. There is very little here of the stresses and hatreds that have marked Quebec.
Moncton is an attractive city of convenient size. It is publicly friendly in a way that few cities are. It has easy access to a pleasant countryside and excellent beaches. On balance, I enjoy it very much.