I think people are making a mistake when they look at Northern New Brunswick in the same way as the urban/rural situation. They are not the same thing. Northern New Brunswick has urban centres – by Statistics Canada definition and by precedent. They are small urbans but they have hospitals, schools (including colleges/unversities), entertainment centres, personal and business services, etc.)
We can and should argue about whether or not size matters when it comes to urbanity but I still think that is a debate that doesn’t have a clear answer. In 2003, back when the ‘cities’ agenda was all the rage, experts were telling policy makers in Ottawa that there were really only 7-8 urban centres in Canada – and none in Atlantic Canada. I think that is ludicrous – Moncton, Halifax and Fredericton have grown faster than many of the large urban centres in North America. In fact, across North America mid sized urbans (100 to 500k) are growing faster than the large urbans.
Any strategy for Northern New Brunswick has to factor in the ‘urban’ issue. There needs to be urban consolidation to some extent. The 19th Century model of small self-sufficient towns every few mile down the road is not viable in the 21st Century. But there will still be people that want to live in the country and there will be people that want to live in the city. The size of the city and the extent of the ruralness is not some fixed issue. I think small urban centres will be able to compete for business investment and people attraction.
If people start writing off Northern New Brunswick as some big rural area that needs to be consolidated into southern urban cities, that would be a mistake. Cripes. There is a city of over a million people smack dab in the middle of the most inhospitable region of North America (Phoenix). Finland has highly successful urban centres inside the Arctic Circle.
If we write off Northern New Brunswick it won’t have much to do with ruralness or cold climate or the East-West highway in Maine. It will be because of a lack of imagination. A lack of vision for what could be up there – a 20-30 and even 50 year view.