The deputy mayor of Saint John is calling for a four-month ban on negative news about New Brunswick’s port city.
Shirley McAlary said the city of about 67,000 people has a great quality of life, and city council, the public and the media need to tell a positive story to convince others to move there.
She said the media has to tell stories like the Oland murder trial, and recent explosions at the Irving refinery and at a metal recycling plant. But there’s more to talk about, she said.
“Those things happen in life. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the life here. We’re an industrial city, but also a city with a great residential area,” McAlary said Thursday.
“I’m just trying to get it out there that it’s a great place to live.”
McAlary suggested, during a committee meeting this week discussing the city’s growth priorities, that there be a four-month ban on negative news.
“I know the media are not going to start not reporting the news, but I want us to be more up on the positive stories. I don’t know how many times I’ve read in national media that in the last few years we’ve had a decline in population, for example. We don’t have to say that every time we have an interview with somebody.”
McAlary said she’s gotten lots of calls from reporters since making her remarks, but she wasn’t trying to hurt the media. She just thinks the city needs to do a better job of marketing itself, and that starts with what Saint Johners tell others about their city, she said.
“I want people to be proud of Saint John and to be happier and pass that message on. If you travel anywhere, there’s lots of people who don’t have the quality of life that Saint John has. We should be proud of what we have,” she said.
Last December, Saint John Mayor Don Darling got a flood of responses after issuing a social media plea for people tired of long Toronto and Vancouver commutes to move east.
Darling posted his message after Statistics Canada released data showing New Brunswick commute times are much shorter than in most big cities.
He said the post got over 100,000 hits and many people inquired about jobs and home prices in the city.
“I have people I meet on a weekly basis now who tell me they moved here from Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and other places all over the globe,” Darling said Thursday.
He said the effort to speak positively about Saint John is a way to “dial-up” the success of past efforts to attract new residents.
The 2016 census showed the population of Saint John fell by 3.6 per cent over the previous five years – falling from 70,063 to 67,575 – and losing its status as the largest city in the province.
A New Brunswick sociologist, Hassan Arif, likened the city to Detroit in a 2012 column for HuffPost, saying Saint John’s decline isn’t as severe but it faced similar challenges: They were both declining cities with growing suburbs, with concentrated urban poverty and a shrinking tax base. Both have multiple vacant and abandoned buildings.
The city was also stung by the failure of the Energy East pipeline project last year, which civic backers hoped would create thousands of jobs over several decades.
Darling said council is not trying to sweep the challenges “under the rug,” and will deal with issues openly.
He said there are 700 unfilled jobs in Saint John right now, and lots of opportunities for people to make their home in the city.
Darling said there will be a greater effort to market the city in the new year.
“You’re going to hear a lot from us in 2019,” he said.