Ibby and definition of urban

I was going through my old music cassette tapes a few days ago and uncovered one of my favs from the 1980s.  “The Politics of Dancing” by Reflex.   There’s a line in there that says “The politicians are now DJs”. 

I don’t know why but that line popped in my head which I watched this.   It is a comment by John Ibbitson to some 21Inc. folks about the need to focus economic development on the three urban cities in New Brunswick.

Instead of “The politicians are now DJs” – I heard “The journalists are now economic developers”.  How has John Ibbitson emerged as a great thinker on economic development in Canada?

First, let’s be clear about a couple of things.  One,  I heard Ibbitson speak in Toronto back when the “cities agenda” was a hot topic (circa 2003) and he declared that Canada needed to focus on its urban areas and he went on to mention the big 6-7 cities in Canada.  Of course, when he comes to Atl. Canada ‘cities’ can be smaller – here he talks about Fred/Mon/SJ. 

You know my opinion on this.  Urbanity does matter.  Urbanization is important and should be part of government economic development policy.

But there is no reason why Northern New Brunswick can’t have an urban centre or two and there is no reason why people couldn’t live in smaller, rural communities if they wanted and commute into their jobs in the uban centre, or at the Port of Belledune or some other industrial/commercial zone.

That’s the problem with Ibbitson’s logic.  He is stuck in a paradigm where size matters – but he defines size in terms that he knows – i.e. Toronto.  As I said in a previous blog, scale does matter but I don’t think there is evidence that only cities the size of Toronto or Calgary are destined to grow. 

The problem is simple.  If government policy is tailored to the largest urban centres, then we will have one of those self-fulfilling prophecies.

I think there is a future for small urbans. They need to have 21st century industries.  They need to have a very strong focus on incubating and attracting talented people but they can survive.

Don’t think I am invalidating Ibby’s points.  Urbanization matters.  Creativity matters.  Human talent matters.  I just don’t buy the premise that you need a million residents crammed in 20 city blocks to get it done.  But I admit you are what you eat and I have been eating New Brunswick for 20 years.

Oh, one last point on Ibbitson.  He said that urban centres are where universities are located.  Except Mount Allison, Acadia, St. FX and half the best universities in the MacLeans survey.

Ooops. I guess Ibby is not exactly correct on that point either.

7 thoughts on “Ibby and definition of urban

  1. There is another flaw in his comments. He says ” new ideas means innovation and innovation means wealth.”

    The later half of this statement is true but it is erroneous to assume the gigantic leap from new ideas to innovation.

    New ideas means creativity. Creativity with an ability to execute and extract value means innovation.

    We are effective at idea generation and chronically poor at extracting value. If some initiatives to improve value creation were in place, it certainly could lead to innovation and wealth.

  2. You know my opinion on this. Urbanity does matter. Urbanization is important and should be part of government economic development policy.

    Sure it matters, especially when economic success is built around 90 per cent federal government funding (and the private sector sees little attention in policy).

    Again, if you don’t grow, your seat count remains the same, and so does your political clout (so to speak). I noticed BC had gained 6 seats (provincially) since their last election, and they are to receive more federally. And remember, Ontario is set to receive more seats under the redistribution plan.


    In the current state of the Canadian federation, if your population declines, you subsidy plans die along with it. Simple as that.

  3. It kind of funny cause our Premier is actually a DJ. He used to DJ in clubs not that long ago and he does it from time to time (outside of the Legislature too).

  4. “How has John Ibbitson emerged as a great thinker on economic development in Canada?”

    And how do these people keep their jobs? Ibbitson seems to get most things wrong, but keeps his job just the same? Perhaps he picked up one of Florida’s books and was swept away by the rhetoric. I wish Ibby would stick to children’s books and leave the rest of us alone.

    Ibbitson’s talk is just another example of opinions trumping data. There is a distinct lack of fact-gathering and data analysis in the mainstream press in Canada; opinions are put forward as facts. Indeed, the same opinions are put forward so often that, to many, they are accepted as facts. That’s where the broad-based tax cuts come from; that’s where Ibbitson’s claims re urban areas comes from. There is no real evidence that e.g. tax cuts will have the stated impacts, yet politicians and journos get away with ludicrous claims of efficacy.

    People need good information in order to develop useful strategies for economic development. Bad information on ED is readily available from AIMS and other propaganda organs. We need to find a way to incentivize the distribution of good information and disincentivize the distribution of bad information. AIMS, for example, is a charitable organization. Where, in heaven’s name is the public good in allowing bamboozlers to have charitable status?? Despite their claims, they are not an organization that carries out usefulo research – if that was the case, then their staff would have a long list of scholarly publications in peer-reviewed journals. They do not, so why the charitable status?

  5. Just to clarify David, in my first line I was not advocating a plan focused on ninety per cent government funding for success, it was more of a shot at the 500 million dollar infrastructure demand to fund self-sufficiency projects.

    I mean honestly, being bailed out by government as a means to becoming self-sufficient. how can anyone take that seriously. lol

  6. To be devils’ advocate, why is it that when Savoie opens his mouth its like manna from heaven and he’s godlike in his pronouncements, yet if the voice comes from somewhere else-or SAYS something else, its a different story. How is ‘focus on the three cities’ any different than ANYTHING you’ve heard virtually anybody say in the past forty years? If its not said, its at least assumed, there’s a reason why three cities are growing, the other areas are shrinking. And no, its NOT because Fredericton, St.John and Moncton are just so fantastic people are willing to leave behind friends and family.

    IF Ibbitson were defining ‘size’ in terms he understands-namely Toronto, he would NOT be saying THREE cities. He’d be saying you’ve got to forsake two cities and massively build up ONE. He’d be saying you need a Halifax.

    Oh, and apart from the Universities you mention, virtually ALL universities are in urban areas. In ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta there are NONE outside urban areas. In BC there are two that are ‘iffy’ because I don’t know the area, in Quebec there MAY be a couple, but the vast majority are in LARGE urban areas. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything except that your statement is false. Ibbitson is no different than almost everybody else LIVING in urban areas who think that ‘the status quo is how it should be’. Even at this blog it’s often only been lip service to rural areas, if I said, “lets take Molson out of Moncton and move it to Edmunston’ I doubt I’d get away with it. If it COST Moncton something to develop northern communities then its probably a different story than the hypothetical cases bandied about.

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