It’s clear to see why he has championed the multi-purpose Downtown Events Centre, a project that is now, after years of setbacks and obstacles, finally moving forward. The 250,000-square-foot sports and entertainment facility, with permanent seating for 9,000 and an NHL-sized ice surface will be the future home of the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It will also have luxury club suites, a club lounge, event day restaurant, 20,000 square feet of meeting space, tenant offices, and a multi-use outdoor plaza with a skating rink.
“I think that will be one of the most impactful developments in the city and will also initiate a lot more development in our downtown area,” says LeBlanc. “This is significant.”
O’Reilly also foresees a boom from the centre both in construction jobs and economic spinoffs. “This is going to change our community. Right now we have investors looking at ways to build in the downtown area with condos or shops nearby. This will bring in foot traffic. The centre itself is going to be community-minded, with activities in the winter and summer. People already drive here to do their shopping. Maybe they will spend another night to take in a show or a hockey experience.”
Leblanc says one of the things he has come to appreciate during his time in office is the growing arts and multi-cultural vibe in the city.
“You can not only see it, but feel it everywhere you go — at the [farmers] markets on the weekends and in the schools… go to any of the productions and you will see the multi-cultural face of Moncton. I’ve always taken a view that immigration is good for jobs and prosperity. This is important, but the other side of the coin is what it does for the quality of life… the vibrancy of community.”
O’Reilly also mentions the city’s tourism potential and the Greater Moncton International Airport, which services over half-a-million passengers annually. A 2014 study showed the airport helped generate $665 million in economic activity that year, while providing 2,798 local jobs.
She believes one of the bright spots in the city’s future will be innovation and predicts the manufacturing and retail sectors will continue growing, along with the service industries that support them. “We are at the forefront of a changing economy.” She points to supportive business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, 3Plus, Conseil économique du Nouveau-Brunswick, Downtown Moncton Centre-ville Inc., as well as the economic development specialists working in each of the tri-community municipalities. “All that businesses need to be successful is right here in Greater Moncton.”
Mayor LeBlanc expresses a deep pride in his city’s friendly nature and spirit of helpfulness. As an example, he cites the strong community leadership and hard work of an ‘army of volunteers’ during the planning for the IAAF World Junior Track and Field Championships in 2012 and subsequent events that placed the city in a global spotlight.
“They did it simply for the opportunity to make things happen. That set the stage and when we got to FIFA, we had a game plan to go by. We called upon the community and the community responded. That was one of the secrets of success in getting FIFA done exceptionally well.”
But the city really showed its heart and cohesive spirit during the RCMP shootings in 2014. It was a time when the city’s motto Resurgo surfaced again, this time as a trending Twitter hashtag while the nation watched the tragedy unfold on social media.
LeBlanc was in his car when social media began buzzing, but did not discover the details until he got home. “It was devastating. Just beyond my wildest thoughts of what happened. I was not ready for the news that five officers had been shot and three killed.”
How does one face such a situation? Did he feel like running away?
“No,” he says without hesitation.
“I didn’t want to run from it. If anything, I wanted to run to it. I knew that people in the city were in a state of shock, uncertainty and fear. I knew we all had to pull together and work our way through this. It was important for people to feel confident that the RCMP were going to get the person who did it and that we were going to be safe.”
Deputy Mayor Shawn Crossman called it the mayor’s finest hour. “To get that phone call from him and hear him say, ‘Shawn, I may not be able to make the right decision… can I count on you?’ and to understand the scope of concern, then to see him manoeuver and work with people, staff, emergency measures personnel and council, and to give that leadership, was truly amazing. When he came to the microphone, that was true, down-to-earth, I-know-how-you-feel, straight-from-the-heart George.”
LeBlanc redirects the praise. “It was the role of the RCMP; their families and spouses… that was exceptional. I always tried to keep foremost in my mind the families who had lost somebody, the officers who were injured, and all the other officers and their families who were dealing with something exceptionally difficult.”
But throughout the crisis, he saw the true spirit of the city. “The best way I can say it is they collectively wrapped their arms around the RCMP and families. In the midst of that darkness, people came through in a way that the city was recognised not for the shootings, but rather by the manner in which the city responded.”
That’s Moncton rising. Resurgo.