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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Saint John Airport takes on Plan SJ

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SAINT JOHNPlanSJ, Saint John’s community exercise to produce a new Municipal Plan, is coming under criticism from the region’s airport for being ‘unnecessarily restrictive’ and threatening the airport’s long term viability. To survive, the airport hopes to diversify its revenue sources by also becoming an industrial park, and fears that PlanSJ may prevent such development. Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase sounded the alarm bell by suggesting the airport may close in five years if action isn’t taken.

The presentation to Common Council on Monday is available here [PDF], page 185.

The airport’s representative, Bernard Leblanc, has been asking for a change in language in Saint John’s Municipal Plan to allow (encourage) non-air-transport use of airport lands. But he ignores the fact that the airport lands are federal and don’t fall under the governance of the Municipal Plan regardless of the language in that plan.

The only motivation I can imagine for the airport to request a designation under PlanSJ is the hope that the City will be obligated at a later date by its own plan to run municipal services out to the airport, which is only one of many things that might need to happen to enable the kinds of development Leblanc desires. (This idea is even cited in the airport’s own draft land-use plan from last year.) I’m not against the airport getting municipal services, I’m just against Saint John taxpayers being the only ones paying for it.

Claims that the airport’s input has been ignored by PlanSJ are unjustified. I know that staff have listened to Leblanc’s comments. We on the PlanSJ Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) have listened to him. He’s been asked repeatedly for information that would explain the airport’s paradoxical position and clarify what is being asked for (even once by me, in person) and has failed to do so. The airport has failed to provide any sort of business plan or strategic vision that would allow a cost-effectiveness analysis to support either changes to the plan or potential municipal investments in the airport. And Leblanc simply falls back to the same fuzzy talking points we’ve been hearing for the last year.

Making unreasonable requests of Saint John taxpayers is, strictly speaking, ‘providing input’; that input isn’t being ignored, but it is being dispositioned until the airport can provide the kinds of information needed to find a real solution that involves all the stakeholders in the airport’s success.

As an individual CAC member I feel the position taken by PlanSJ regarding the airport is completely appropriate. As a taxpayer, I would have been livid had a commitment been made by the City – through PlanSJ – to provide services to the airport unless it was part of a larger regional investment in the airport.

As a citizen and businessperson who relies on air transport, I want the airport to pull its thumb out, develop a realistic business plan to ensure sustainability, and start lobbying heavily all levels of government and all municipalities in its catchment area to obtain the support it needs.

David Drinnan is a member of PlanSJ’s Citizen Advisory Committee. His comments here are his alone, and are not intended to represent the Citizen Advisory Committee.

Photo from Your Saint John Airport.

Editor’s note: Earlier this year, the Airport was left empty-handed when the federal government doled out to upgrade the province’s two other International airports, Fredericton and Greater Moncton.



  1. While I don’t disagree with the points in this piece, perhaps it should be made clear that this is an opinion piece.

    1. All of our commentaries are de-facto opinion pieces. I’m confused by your statement.

  2. if airports are federal lands then the SJ Airport does not come under PlanSJ, seems pretty clear. PlanSJ can only be put into place and judged if its working if its actually followed.

  3. I can’t believe how much this chat keeps going in circlies-I watched the presentation and obviously the Airport CANNOT get government support if they in fact DO NOT have Municipal Support. Everyone knows it takes “a Champion” or MLA in order to receive government funds but the city shutting down the plan for development based on fears of future costs is ludicrous.I understood the Aiport stated they are currently working on a plan which will presented at a later date. At that time, Council can decide if the plan is appropriate-(think all the Councilors and Aiport agree on this except for one).
    With development at the airport, we are ensured the future of a much-needed airport and we as citizens do need the aiport so why is it up to “The Plan SJ Team” to stifle such a necessary future when everyone knows the Aiport could be charged by the city for extra services if the council so decides–at that time–providing EXTRA income to the city’s pockets and adding to our local economy. It seems to me a few are digging in their heels because they are looking at a crytal ball trying to stifle what the city will do (in terms of taxes) down the road…why not let business and the City develop and decide such matters in the course of business instead of stamping NO -which only shows the government that the city does not support their aiport. On Government land or not-everyone knows the development will not take place without the support and cooperation of the City. Period.

  4. The Airport are clearly asking for the City’s support such that they can gain Federal support and ascertain the future of the Airport. One cannot exist without the other. They state they are working on a Plan for growth and want the City to work with them. The City seems to agree that it makes sense and can decide if they want to charge the Airport for services as the plan progresses…to say No based solely on what should be the City’s business decisions down the road does not make sense…

  5. You seem to be looking for hidden agendas…like there is some kind of conspiracy? it sounds like the airport want to create a “win-win” situation and are putting all their cards on the table…why does there need to be a conspiracy theory? The global business world today exists on honesty and open conversation; why can’t it be as modern here at home?

  6. The argument I made three years ago was not against City support of the airport. It was against the City entering into a commitment — through its municipal plan — to provide municipal services to the Airport solely at the expense of Saint John taxpayers.

    The inclusion of the Airport into PlanSJ would have done nothing more than that, due to the federal jurisdiction over Airport lands. If Bernie Leblanc’s request for designation within the municipal plan was meant to be simply a sign of municipal support, it would have been an expensive one (costing the City an additional $20 million during the implementation of the plan).

    The Airport’s strategy over the past several years has evolved. Mr. Leblanc was dismissed by his Board, and the Airport has since sought financial support from ALL the communities in its catchment area to enable more effective marketing.

    Unfortunately, as far as I know there’s still no realistic development plan, and the Airport’s future is as much in doubt today as it was in 2011. There’s still a need for support, commitment and action by all levels of government, and all communities served by the Airport, to ensure its sustainability.