Thursday, 8 January 2015

Peterborough Is Not Regina

Quaker Oats on the Otonabee River
I am spending part of the winter in Peterborough, Ontario, a city of 80,000 just outside the Toronto commuting area. It snowed last night, and by 8 am this morning our residential street had been plowed. Within the next  hour  machinery came and plowed and then sanded the sidewalk. By 9 am a city truck had sanded the road. All streets receive this service. The city has a budget for snow removal  and expect it to snow every year. This is a hockey town.

The city has a vibrant downtown, the result of city planning and the domination of the city council by traditional conservatives (not Harperites) who use their political power to support small Canadian-owned businesses. They have excluded the big American and Canadian chains from the downtown area.  They required the Galaxy Theatre, the only movie theatre in the city, to be in the core area.

Special tax incentives were given to encourage local businesses in the core area and to create residential rental spaces in their second and third floors. The downtown area has two large grocery stores, three large venues that host live stage events (former movie theatres), two boutique hotels,  a wide variety of small retail stores, restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, and numerous pubs. There are 20 places in the downtown area which have live music.

The big box stores are here, stretched out in a line on a highway leading out of town. But there is not the congestion and despair that one gets when being forced to drive through the free market mess that is found on the east end of Victoria Avenue.

Everything is not rosy, however. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) hit the city hard. Many of the large American corporations downsized as they shifted production back to the United States and then abroad. Canadian General Electric, the largest employer, saw its workforce drop from 6,000 to 1,500. Quaker Oats, bought by Pepsi Cola, downsized to 700. Outboard Marine Corporation of Canada, once the second largest private employer, shut down. The major employers are now government services, Trent University, and Fleming college. 

One result is that Peterborough has one of the highest unemployment rates for cities of its size. It also has one of the highest poverty rates and the problem of inadequate low income housing.

One final positive note: I have yet to find a pot hole on a city street.

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