Drinking from the public trough

Brian Jones
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It seems only fitting that as St. John's progresses toward full-fledged boomtown status, it also aspires to produce a higher-class drunk.

The boastful claim that George Street has - supposedly - the highest concentration of bars in any Canadian city is fatuous and pathetic. What, North America's oldest city has nothing greater to brag about than the number of licensed establishments on a short street that churn out gutter-barfing, brawling idiots at a prodigious rate?

It seems only fitting that as St. John's progresses toward full-fledged boomtown status, it also aspires to produce a higher-class drunk.

The boastful claim that George Street has - supposedly - the highest concentration of bars in any Canadian city is fatuous and pathetic. What, North America's oldest city has nothing greater to brag about than the number of licensed establishments on a short street that churn out gutter-barfing, brawling idiots at a prodigious rate?

To hear the civic patriots tell it, George Street is right up there in stature with Gastown or Greenwich Village. Why, people fly in from Vancouver and New York just to see that picturesque stretch of ... bars. Oh sure, it looks pretty and colourful. Vinyl siding can do that. But George Street is no Gastown. I haven't been to Greenwich Village, and can't comment definitively on that, but I'm guessing ... no.


St. John's city council received a study this week stating George Street can be made spiffy enough to attract and satisfy even more tourists for the bargain price of $19 million. That seems kind of pricey for some new pavement and concrete.

Apparently, the plan involves making the area more family friendly, and usable day and night, with street markets and children's programs. You have to wonder about the latter idea.

"Mommy, why do all the windows and doors have beer signs on them?"

"This is awesome for my stained-glass project - look at all the broken bottles I found."

Is council thinking clearly, or have they been tippling?

It's a bar strip.

Even if they fix up the bandstand, it will still be a bandstand on a bar strip. Any markets or programs they dream up will take place on a bar strip. More sensible locations would be parks, schools, community centres and so on. Save the bar strip for bar stripping activities.

Speaking of which, some citizens might give it some sober thought and wonder just what kind of bar-hopping binge you have to go on to conclude that spending public money on a private bar strip is a responsible expenditure.

Let's keep it in focus. The bar strip is private property. The street, of course, is public. But council's eagerness to spend $19 million on improvements to George Street - the public rather than private parts of it, we must assume, although riskily - seems odd when you think about all the complaints year after year after year about potholes and the state of the city's streets. Maybe tourists haven't complained about the potholes, so council feels no urgency to spend $19 million on them.

Super suds

Don't get me wrong. I'm no teetotaler or prohibitionist. I enjoy a cold Corona or two out in the shed or around the fire pit. But there seems to be a nationwide trend toward spending public money to boost tourism. Why? Tourism is fine, but since when did it become a public good?

The main argument is that it creates jobs. Sure, but so does education. You don't ever hear politicians say, "I've got it - let's build a few new schools and hire a couple of hundred more teachers."

More tourists visiting and spending money is swell. But the financial benefits of tourism go largely into private hands. Governments don't have an obligation to spend taxpayers' money to entice tourists.

As for local usage of George Street, it is odd timing indeed that the RNC and RCMP both seem - finally - to be making serious efforts to catch drunk drivers, and city council sees fit to go looking for $19 million to pour into a bar strip.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by e-mail at bjones@thetelegram.com

Organizations: RCMP, The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's, Greenwich Village, North America Vancouver New York

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Recent comments

  • James II
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    When I first read your headline DRINKING FROM THE PUBLIC TROUGH, I thought you were referring to Bay Bulls Big Pond. Yes, our mayor and councillors believe they have the divine right to spend our money - as much of it as they want - in whatever fashion they want. O'Keefe assures us that, dump trucks and diesel in Big Pond notwithstanding, our drinking water is as good as it ever was. Which, of course, makes you wonder how good it was to begin with. The intake is two km from the oil spill says O'Keefe and of course, as we know from the Gulf, oil doesn't travel much in water. Is he a complete idiot or does he just think we're all idiots. No matter how good a clean up job the City does, we can be absolutely certain that molecules of the oil WILL find their way into the intake. We can afford to pump $20 million into private bars on George that cater to 5% of the population but we can't adequately protect lakes that provide drinking water to 100% of our citizens. As a Telegram editorial last week pointed out, this Council doesn't know what its real function is, nor does it understand the requirement to stay within its (our) budget and not keep moving the goalposts with more taxes every time it want some shiny new trinket that has nothing to do with city services.

  • Blair
    July 20, 2010 - 13:03

    The boastful claim that St. John's is North America's oldest city is rather fatuos and pathetic as well.

  • Sea-Dog
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    George Street is a SEWER and if you inject millions of dollars $$$ it will become an expensive SEWER..have you all gone nuts? Last week a friend of mine was entertaining a guest from the mainland and during a shopping trip down town they decided to take a stroll down George Street at 4.30 PM in the afternoon both ladys are in their 50s...as they passed one of the dives on the street a bunch of locals were overheard to remark I wonder what those two old bags want down here I rest my case. George Street is a SEWER what a super place to bring the kids!!!

  • james
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    george street is a disgrace

  • Windowsfree
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    We should be ashamed of George Street, not proud of it. In the last 10 to 15 years or so George Street has lost it's unique appeal and is now nothing more than an over crowded cesspool. Many friends of mine from the mainland, some expatriates, some not, have questioned the appeal of going down to George Street when all they encountered were drugged up teens and agressive drunks. They witnessed many assaults and one was even assaulted himself. Yep, great place b'y! It was a decent place to go have a meal, few beers and a scuff or two but those days are gone and it's a shame but no amount of taxpayers money is going to bring that back.

  • Jack
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    For a city that is so far in dept this idea is the stupidest thing yet to come from the leadership how about paying off past expenditures before moving up to pie in the sky thoughts?

  • Jerome
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    This is the same wonderfull mayor who said we must have high rises on Water st, to prevent tax increases, and was frightened that Fortis would leave the province because of it. Now spends our money for a study on George St. and wants us to foot the bill on the planned so called improvements. He will not get my vote next time, bring back Andy, at least he was actually concerned about tax increases, not spending like a drunken sailor, O'Keefe.

    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    tHIS LOOKS LIKE A PROPOASL FROM THE hysterial society and Shannie Nannie followers. Down town , Water,Duckworth and George Street. Until we get some leadership and council that can think and bring this city into 21st century and start new developments
    that pay their way instead of Duff, Oleary, Galgay,Hickman, Colbert followers who have their hand outs and contribute nothing to the economy. I guess Our fair Mayor and Deputy will soon have their hands out for a tax increase,saying they provide such good services and roads ,tax increases are justified.

  • Janet
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I totally agree with Windowsfree from Mt. Pearl. George St. was once the place to go but more and more bars have opened over the years and drugs are more available and all George St. seems to have is a bad name. Also to note bars are open way too late because by the time the bars close their doors it takes another few hours before they are emptied and George St. is emptied... before wasting all that money spiffy George St. solve the many other problems first.

  • Anne
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    I would like to know how much that study has cost the taxpayers of St. John's. Is this council nuts? $19M to enhance George Street, we don't have a street fit to drive on, the sidewalks are all broken up and the lines disappear from the roads in February never to be seen again until June. Our city councillors can't even get the garbage situation under control and they bring up something like this?

  • Seamus
    July 20, 2010 - 13:02

    Wow, Mr. Jones, you are really a pessimist aren't you. Gastown must be the only place you have visited because I have been coast to coast and I can tell you George Street is quite the tourist attraction and quite well known. Your comments are pathetic and you write with the intelligence of an 8 year old. If adult want to drink, let them. Don't write an editorial about how much you hate people who drink and hide it in an actual issue. Grow up. And as for your talk about tourism, you really don't have a clue do you? Maybe you should go for this education you talk about. I work in the tourism industry in a Sales capacity and I get to see the amount of money that is spent and infused into the economy and believe me it is more then a worhty investment. That being said, I can agree with one thing. This is a foolish waste of money. If anything, this will ruin the reputation of what George Street is and reduce the amount of tourists. If you want to have a family attraction build a family attraction, don't try to change what is already succesful.