The lesson of Moncton High

My column today is called The Lesson of Moncton High.  If you talk to folks close to the situation you will hear a wide variety of reasons that I don’t look at in the column.  Common among these would be:

1. That Moncton High School parents are, on average, more poor and less noisy than the richer schools.

2. Moncton “gets everything” and the government needs to spread around the money.

3. The government needed to ‘consult’ about the future of the school (these issues have been known for a decade).

4. The secret objective was to wait until the school was ready to fall down and then be forced to build a new one closer to the richer neighbourhoods in Moncton – out old Shediac Road or even in Moncton North.

I don’t mention any of these because – who knows?   I’m just a guy with three kids disrupted by the thing but I can’t see into the minds of the decision makers.

What I do know, because I did some research into it, is that it looks like the provincial government is spending far fewer dollars on education infrastructure per capita compared to the rest of Canada and far more dollars on highways compared to the rest of Canada.

 Per Capita Spending on Highways, Roads and Street Construction (1998-2007) – Annualized



Newfoundland and Labrador


Prince Edward Island


Nova Scotia


New Brunswick












British Columbia


Source: Statistics Canada. Table 029-0040 – Capital expenditures on construction, by type of asset, annual (dollars) (table).

If I put up this same chart for capital and repair expenditures in the education sector, New Brunswick is last on the list.

So, regardless of the conspiracy theories – there seems to be fairly compelling evidence that we spend the most on highways and the least on education infrastructure.

I also touch on the idea that rapidly increasing government payroll is crowding out spending on needed infrastructure (except, of course, highways).  We have gone from 33 cents of capital spending per one dollar of government payroll (all levels) in the early 1990s to 24 cents in the last five years.

11 thoughts on “The lesson of Moncton High

  1. > We have gone from 33 cents of capital spending per one dollar of government payroll (all levels) in the early 1990s to 24 cents in the last five years.

    This does not prove that payroll spending is increasing unreasonably, or even increasing at all. The exact same result could be obtained by holding payroll steady and decreasing capital spending. I don’t doubt that it is increasing – the increasing cost of living guarantees that – but you need far more support before you can claim it is the source of our problems.

    Also, I tried to verify the statistical data, but it is unfortunately behind a CANSIM paywall. Keeping data hidden is very convenient for governments. For this reason I wish you had actually posted the education capital spending data, rather than just mentioning it. Are we actually, as you suggest, spending “far fewer dollars”, or is it just lower in comparison with other provinces, which again wouldn’t really show very much.

  2. Classic political move – spending on highways/roads/streets leds to immediate job and GDP growth whereas much of the spending on education resources sees returns 10+ years out. Short term thinking.

  3. First, if you read the column I say clearly that much more research is needed to determine this conclusively and to draw conclusions. Second, government payroll is up 55% (aggregate) and the capital spending is up 26% over the 10 year periods (cap/ex lags one year on payroll data). Third, I am not the one hiding CANSIM data behind a wall.

  4. Yes, you say more research is needed, but you also say (in the same sentence) that “it does seem based on these two examples that the government wage bill in New Brunswick is indeed starting to crowd out needed investments in public infrastructure.”

    My point is that this assertion does not follow from what you’ve presented, either in your column or here. It simply doesn’t follow. So you have no evidence (that you have provided) for making such an assertion (or even such a suggestion).

  5. p.s. this is a matter of logic, not politics. I might even agree with you, if that’s where the numbers point. I’m not being dogmatic about this, but I do insist on correct reasoning. From you, at least (not so much the other columnists).

  6. Here’s another way of doing it, namely, even just for the atlantic provinces, go to their respective budgets and look up spending on education as a percentage of the total budget.
    It’s been awhile since I did this, but New Brunswick is dead last. I believe the numbers were something like 22% for NFLD, 25% PEI, 20% NS, and 17% for NB. Somebody should recheck that though, but its pretty telling when the only officially bilingual province is dead last as a percentage of budget spending.
    So ANY spending on increased government wages would by definition be robbing other departments of ‘infrasctructure’ funds. You can blame government wages, you can blame highway spending, or even spending on government beer production. In fact, if you look at just Moncton and Campbellton, I’m pretty sure that I read that Moncton ‘needs at least a million dollars’ in refits.
    Now, go read how much the province just spent on severance for the head of NBLiquor, and keep in mind that that position gets changed with virtually every new government (plus, we can add that its a position hardly necessary-keeping a monopoly ‘profitable’ hardly requires much effort).
    And then add up the retirement packages from the raises and pensions that the legislature implemented two years ago. Even closer to home, go read the CBC article about the school trustee wanting an audit because she says her district used to burn through money on non-essentials on a weekly basis.
    There’s more than ONE lesson from Moncton High.

  7. You are correct in your analysis.
    In most schools boards 80% of all spending is for the compensation package. Check out how much that has risen in the past 5 years.
    As for infrastructure, well Canada has a total infrastructure value of $275 Billion but in the last 25 years we have soaked away $800 Billion for the pensions of workers in the public sector.
    This has been the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on taxpayers. At your school boards the value of pensions and benefit is an extra 40% of the wages paid.

  8. Can the above link to the comment about 80% of all spending? That’s a big claim that really needs some evidence behind it.

    I did a quick search, and once again there is lots of information at stats canada-if you want to pay the $66 to get it.

    However, to add to what I said, I found a 2000 posting from The Daily, which lists school board expenditures. This wouldn’t include post secondary or government bureaucracy, but its telling that for 2000, Nova Scotia expenditures were 820 million, and for New Brunswick they were 630 million. The chart goes back five years, but the 200 million difference is pretty static.

    I know NS has a bigger population, but 200 million is a BIG difference, that’s almost 25% of the total, which would mean NS would have to have a population 25% larger than NB, and I don’t think that’s the case.

  9. “In most schools boards 80% of all spending is for the compensation package.”

    Is there a line item in NB school district budgets for pensions? Don’t think so. Is there a line item in the Dept of Education for pensions? Can’t find it. Pension costs don’t seem to be reflected in education budgets in NB.

  10. My concern is why are we as a “have-not province” spending twice as much on highways as other important areas such as economic development and education. Yes some highway infrastructure is required for economic development but not at twice the rate of the rest of Canada.

    The time frame also seems to skew the $ figures as it coincides neatly with a major investment into twinning the Trans-Canada. I wonder what the prior and the more recent years look like in comparison.

    As for the CanSim paywall, the Iggy and the Liberals are promising to take it down if they can ever get elected.

  11. @David Campbell
    Geez, all I said was “classic political move”. Of course more research would have to be done before drawing conclusions. But is it not fair for me to say that this happens – a lot – in this day and age?!

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