McNeil listening to Burnside's concerns

Ken Partridge
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GBBA: Burnside not just municipal business park; it's a provincial, regional hub

Burnside News editor Ken Partridge speaks with Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil during his recent tour of Burnside.

If the Greater Burnside Business Association (GBBA) had one message it wanted to communicate during its most recent meeting with Stephen McNeil it was this: Burnside isn't just a municipal business park; it's a provincial and regional hub that deserves to be part of a broader transportation strategy.

McNeil, leader of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party and the official opposition, seems to be listening.

"Burnside is a provincial industrial and business park in many ways. Goods and services move in and out of here all across the province and we need to figure out how to do that in the most efficient way; we need to find ways for the province to work with the municipality to face any challenges to that," McNeil says.

Those challenges are many and much of the meeting between McNeil and the board of the GBBA was occupied in detailing what they are and what action has been taken to date. Leading off that list was the issue of transit – a long-standing sore spot among Burnside businesses. Lack of access to adequate transit service has been identified as a leading reason many companies won't consider moving to the Park, including one well-worn tale of a provincial department rejecting a proposed Burnside relocation for that very reason.

The issue has even led to prospective tenants opting instead to purchase space in other business parks, Moncton being a leading rival.

None of this was helped by the most recent proposal from Metro Transit, which advocates scrapping the planned transit terminal for the Park in favour of another round of route changes.

"Not everyone likes to hear it, but we are competing with Moncton," McNeil says. "Businesses want to know where can I get my goods and services in and out quickly? Where are people more receptive to my development? We need a more global transportation strategy to move people and goods around our capital."

The idea of a more integrated transportation strategy is something McNeil returned to again and again during the meeting, identifying it as a key tool in expediting the construction of the Burnside Expressway – a roadway he believes is crucial to not only the Park's future, but the province's.

"We don't have a good holistic transportation strategy. We've always looked at rail separately, or roads separately, or shipping separately. We need to look at everything together," McNeil says. "Then we can streamline the process so we can move things like the Expressway along."

Although he agreed the issue of Burnside, as a business community and not a residential one, lacked voting clout, McNeil says he sees the issue as being bigger than who or how many representatives the area has in the council chamber or provincial legislature.

"Yes, one aspect of it is trying to get votes, but the other is that we have to grow the economy."

To do that, McNeil sees Burnside, and other business parks for that matter, as an under-utilized resource that needs to be better tapped in the future to create more sound economic policy.

"What hasn't happened," he says, "is that organizations such as the GBBA haven't been used as the knowledge resource they are. The government should be initiating a process to unlock that potential."

As an example, McNeil points to the provincial tendering system. He believes the diversity of views represented in the more than 30,000 people who work in Burnside every day offers a far greater insight into how to make such systems better than the narrower view offered by special interest groups and lobbyists.

"Maybe this is something for the Park, through the GBBA, to discuss; to look at ways to improve our processes," McNeil says.

Two other major issues discussed at the meeting were the simmering rivalry between the business parks and advocates of increased downtown development, and the possible create of a central body to speak on behalf of business parks.

On the first issue, GBBA Chair Sean O'Boyle was quite clear that as a private businessperson himself, he is not in favour of government deciding where companies should locate.

"As part of the private sector, I don't like government coming in and using tax policy to force business decisions," O'Boyle says.

McNeil believes the taxation question has obscured the real issues.

"Both of the challenges here are completely different," he says. "Downtown needs a mix of residential, commercial and cultural, which is completely different from Burnside where we need a transportation policy that brings goods and people in and out in an efficient manner. It needs to be part of a global provincial strategy."

On the final topic of how best to represent business park interests, McNeil was less committal on whether Burnside or the other parks should form their own business improvement districts or an overall industrial commission should be established. Instead, he advocate for more study first.

"We would have to see what that looks like from a financial point of view. Would another layer of bureaucracy really help? What we really need are better ways for the province and municipality to access the knowledge base in Burnside."

Organizations: Greater Burnside Business Association, Nova Scotia Liberal Party, Metro Transit

Geographic location: Burnside, Moncton

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