Tantramar council hears requests for more climate change money & $80K for Sackville wilderness park

Richard Elliot sporting one of the two hats he wore during his council presentations on Sept. 19

Retired wildlife biologist Richard Elliot literally wore two hats on September 19 when he asked Tantramar Town Council to allocate more money for climate change projects and for creating a park in Sackville’s old Pickard Quarry.

Appearing first as chair of Tantramar’s climate change advisory committee (CCAC), Elliot asked for a doubling of the town’s annual climate change budget to $50,000.

He also requested the creation of a permanent staff position for the climate change co-ordinator.

“The climate change budget that has been assigned to Sackville over the past few years was $25,000,” Elliot told council, adding that the money has been used for projects such as installing solar panels on the roof of the Bill Johnstone community centre, a climate change art project and support for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations.

“It’s important though that we are able to keep responding in that way and right now we’re finding that $25K a bit limiting because we want to move to the next level,” he said.

Elliot explained, for example, that the CCAC wants to seek outside advice on major projects such as “looking at a net zero option for our arena.”

He said that expanding the Sackville climate change budget on a pro-rated basis to all of Tantramar would mean an annual allocation of about $40,000.

“We’re suggesting though, that given the increasing need…and the ability that we’ve demonstrated already of the CCAC, its partners and the staff here in the community to do things, we’re requesting that the climate change budget be set at $50,000 a year into the future.”

Full-time position

Climate Change Co-ordinator Brittany Cormier

Elliot pointed out that Climate Change Co-ordinator Brittany Cormier is currently working only half time for the town conducting research, writing proposals, overseeing projects such as the demonstration solar panels and establishing contacts.

“We’re really lucky to have someone like Brittany who’s been excellent as our climate change co-ordinator now for over a year-and-a-half as the essential focus to actually make things happen,” he said.

So far, he said, the co-ordinator has been funded completely by grants from outside sources.

“There have been no dollars from Sackville or Tantramar going to that position yet,” he said, adding that applying for grants every year is time consuming and creates uncertainty making it impossible to plan for the long-term.

Elliot said he considers the position essential and that’s why he’s asking council to make it a permanent, full-time one.

To view Elliot’s CCAC slide presentation to council, click here.

Quarry park

One of the ponds on the 20-acre quarry site where more than 80 species of birds visit or nest every year. More than 20 kinds of mammals can also be found here along with frogs, turtles, garter snakes and several species of small freshwater fish. See 2017 report by Richard Elliot & Kate Bredin

Elliot donned another baseball cap for his five-minute presentation to council on behalf of the Tantramar Outdoor Club.

“Right now we’ve got this gem in the middle of town,” he said, referring to the old Pickard Quarry, 20-acres of wilderness and water between Sackville’s Charlotte and York Streets.

“The Outdoor Club feels it’s a timely opportunity to make use of it as a naturalized park somewhat akin to the Sackville Waterfowl Park using safe, low-impact trails and pathways and informative, interpretive signs to talk about the history of this unique place,” Elliot continued.

“We propose it be used for recreation, walking and snowshoeing in winter, natural history viewing and learning about the past,” he said.

“[We] wouldn’t have vehicles on the trails, no wide trails, parking areas scattered around the edge so small numbers of people can park and linked to a network of trails that’s been developed across Tantramar and our own unique status as a Ramsar wetland city.”

Elliot said several local organizations want to work on developing the park.

“The Outdoor Club would provide the overall lead, co-ordination, planning, trail construction and maintenance,” he said.

“The Chignecto Naturalists’ Club, which is our local natural history group, are keen to provide their natural history expertise as well as help with the construction and maintenance of trails, and the Tantramar Heritage Trust…are there to provide the cultural history expertise.

$80,000 request

Photo shows an old path and fence crossing a quarry stream

Elliot said most of the labour would be provided by volunteers, but town funding would be needed to spread gravel on uneven trails, construct a foot-bridge over the waterfall and a small, wheelchair-accessible viewing platform at the end of Pickard Place as well as some some safety railings and interpretive signs.

“We’re asking for $40K next year into the capital budget and probably a similar amount the following year,” he said.

“But if we’re lucky in getting grants, we may be able to reduce that,” he added.

“So, that might be on the high side, but it’s realistic because, just for example, the cost of that bridge may run anywhere from $20 to $50K.”

To view Elliot’s Tantramar Outdoor Club slide presentation to council, click here.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tantramar is not paying for police services it doesn’t get — Treasurer Michael Beal

Tantramar Treasurer Michael Beal

As the RCMP faces a national crisis in staffing shortages, Tantramar Treasurer Michael Beal has confirmed that the local detachment here is also understaffed, but says the town is not being billed for police services it isn’t receiving.

In a report to council on Monday, Beal said that while the former town of Sackville’s federal contract for RCMP police services requires 10 full-time officers, the town paid for only 8.25 officers last year resulting in a saving of $267,703.

He added that by the end of June this year, the town had saved another $98,893.

“On top of this, current status shows 8.53 officers at this time and if this continues to the end of December, it would result in an additional 2023 budget savings of $232,410 for the former Sackville town which could mean savings of $331,303 under what was budgeted,” Beal said.

“Now, this is good from a financial perspective, but not good from a service delivery perspective of course.”

Staff shortages affecting services

Beal’s report follows one to council last month from Sgt. Eric Hanson, the head of the local detachment, who said four of his officers are on long-term sick leave out of the total number of 18.

The detachment polices the former town of Sackville, the former LSDs, Dorchester as well as Memramcook and the Port Elgin area.

“The way our organization works, there’s no replacement for these people,” he said.

Sgt. Eric Hanson speaking to council in August

“There isn’t a pool of RCMP officers that we can borrow from when somebody goes off sick; we just have to bear the weight of their loss.”

Hanson said he was hoping that one of the four would be returning soon, but the other three absences will be lengthy.

“We do apologize, but there’s nothing that I can do about that unfortunately,” he added.

“The others have to pick up the slack and we shuffle the schedule around to try to fill those holes,” he said.

“There’s less traffic work being done; there’s less of that proactive work being done because those who are working are picking up the slack in the investigations and the calls for service that come in.”

Source: RCMP

As the CBC reported last month, the RCMP is falling short of baseline staffing levels across the country, leaving detachments shorthanded and possibly jeopardizing public safety.

While the normal complement of officers in the former town of Sackville is set at 10, the municipal police service agreement (MPSA) states that officers aren’t replaced when they’re off on police training, on vacation or on sick leave unless their illness lasts more than 30 consecutive days.

During the council question period on Monday, Treasurer Beal confirmed that could mean that at any given time, local policing could be below the 8.53 officers.

“I can’t state for a fact, when, how many or if officers are on that short-term [sick] leave right now of zero to 30 days; I can’t state when people take their vacation, that is all managed through the RCMP,” he said.

Beal pointed out, however, that RCMP policing services in the rest of Tantramar — in Dorchester and the former local service districts — are covered under a separate provincial police service agreement (PPSA) and there can be overlap and a sharing of officers as needed.

He added that officers also work overtime to cover shifts and offset vacancies.

“I can even speak to this weekend when I was in through town hall on Saturday and I met a few officers; there were some officers in on overtime doing coverage from other detachments.”

Mayor says policing is adequate

Mayor Black

“I would argue that we are adequately policed,” said Mayor Andrew Black.

“It would be nice if we were back up to our full complement of course.”

He said there was a highly visible police presence during Sackville’s Fall Fair.

“We had countless foot patrols…which was incredible to see. We had two police officers at the field day and at the Farmers’ Market. We had a police officer who came to the lake for Anything That Floats and the sand-castle-making contest. There were foot patrols in other areas of town during the Fall Fair weekend and it was fantastic to see,” Black said.

“Can the police be everywhere all at the same time?” he asked.

“They can’t be. It just depends on what tasks they have and what their coverage is like, but I would say that Sackville is adequately policed.”

Posted in RCMP, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sackville’s competing rallies for freedom in Bill Johnstone park

“Concerned Citizen” (L) and fellow protester “Terry Freedom”

About 25 protesters from across New Brunswick brought the World Wide Rally for Freedom 13.0 to Bill Johnstone Memorial Park on Saturday while about three times that number joined a counter demonstration to support the right of LGBTQ students in the province’s schools to choose their own identities.

One of the Freedom Rally protesters, who would identify himself only as a concerned citizen from Hampton, said, at first, he was concerned about parents’ rights, but quickly backtracked to say the rally’s main purpose was to raise awareness about plans to impose a  cashless society, digital IDs and 15 minute/smart cities.

“The cashless society that comes along with the smart cities will inhibit this man right here in his food truck from making his living,” he said pointing to one of the vendors at the Sackville Farmers Market.

“Simple things that we take for granted like flea markets and the tooth fairy. How are you going to give your kids change any more, when there’s no change? It’s things like that that’s really deep with me,” he added.

He and a fellow protester, who identified himself only as Terry Freedom, referred to COVID 19 and the restrictions that came with it as a “plan-demic.”

“And, it’s coming back,” the concerned citizen insisted. “The masks are coming back.”

Newspaper called Druthers

Melissa Kearns with the latest issue of Druthers

Melissa Kearns of Norton, near Sussex, held the September 2023 issue of a 12-page, professionally produced newspaper called Druthers which carries a detailed, front-page article explaining their concept of a 15 minute/smart city in which people will be confined within a few minutes of their homes to facilitate the harvesting of both external and internal surveillance data for the benefit of “global corporations, governments and banking imperiums”:

Every aspect of life in a Smart City will be monitored by a wide variety of data harvesting technologies: SMART Lights, SMART Poles, SMART Cars, SMART Neighbourhoods, SMART Homes, SMART Appliances, SMART Energy, SMART Transportation and many other SMART technologies. Together they will form an omnipresent surveillance grid, continually collecting all information about every little detail on the life of the people.

These external SMART devices are being synchronized with devices that are directly connected to the human body, like SMART watches on our wrists or SMART phones in our hands. These devices are able to gather information about what is happening inside our body and even have the ability to alter functions of the human body. In the near future, they will be implanted inside the human body to collect even more data and have a lot more influence on what happens inside of us.

Under the subheadline, “Humanity must wake up,” the newspaper says: “The sheer evil of this agenda is indescribable. But what is even worse is the persistent unwillingness of the public to acknowledge something that is threatening their very existence. They insist on keeping their eyes closed, only caring for superficial entertainment. Staying dumb and blind at all costs, since ‘ignorance is bliss.'”

‘We do not hate’

Vanessa Arsenault

Vanessa Arsenault of Moncton participated in the Freedom Rally waving a Pride flag.

“We do not hate any group of people,” she said after identifying herself as a bisexual who was bullied mercilessly at school.

She said people should have the right to choose what they do with their bodies, but young people also need guidance.

“My problem is I don’t believe any minor should make life-altering decisions such as changing their names or pronouns without parental consent,” she said.

“If little Susie comes to Madame Teacher and says, ‘Hey, I’m confused,  I think I want to be Bob,’ Madame’s not going to call the Mom and Dad and say, ‘This is what your kid is saying.’ Madame is going to encourage the student to go speak to the guidance counsellor.”

Arsenault says she wishes that she had known she could turn to a guidance counsellor during her own difficult times at school.

“If I had understood what those resources were when I was younger, maybe I could have had some conversations with my parents before things got too far for me because at one point I did feel suicidal and I wanted to kill myself,” she said.

“But perhaps if I understood what the guidance counsellor’s job was, I could have talked those feelings out and I could have been able to approach my parents [because] I would have known how to have a conversation with them.”

Arsenault says she joined the freedom movement three years ago after she was forced, as a health worker, to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Nobody should be told they need an injection of any kind to have a job,” she says.

“I was put in a position that I never should have been put in.”

‘We’re fighting for freedom too’

Tasia Alexopoulos

Tasia Alexopoulos, who helped organize the counter-demonstration to the freedom rally, says she was pleased that so many people came out to show their support.

“We’re here today to celebrate what’s wonderful about our community, which is that it’s fun, it’s loving, it’s inclusive, it’s welcoming [and] we are not a place that excludes people or threatens people.”

She added she was concerned that the hostile and tense demonstrations in Moncton last Wednesday could happen here too in a park where children are present.

“So, we decided it would be a nice idea to invite everyone to the park to dance and eat cake and do some crafts and have fun.”

When asked how she would respond to the range of opinions expressed by freedom rally participants, Alexopoulos said everyone is entitled to their opinions.

“But I think a lot of the opinions they hold are not based on facts, or evidence, or reality. They’re based on fear and countering fear with fear doesn’t work and that’s why we wanted to have a really joyful event today to say, ‘We’re fighting for freedom too. We’re just fighting for a different kind of freedom. The freedom to be who we are.'”

Counter-demonstration attracted at least three times more supporters

Sackville resident Louis Belliveau (L) supported the Freedom Rally

Posted in COVID-19, Health care, Media | Tagged , | 2 Comments

NS MLA Smith-McCrossin won’t get to participate in Chignecto court case

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin (MLA photo)

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin says she’s disappointed that a Nova Scotia judge has rejected her application to participate in court hearings to determine who should pay to protect the Chignecto Isthmus and surrounding areas from potentially catastrophic flooding.

“The people who live on or near the Chignecto Isthmus that are talking to me, want the dyke work done now. They don’t want any more delays,” the independent MLA said in a telephone interview after today’s court hearing.

“My concern is that with the court action and the premier saying that he wants the federal government to pay for everything, our concern locally is that that is going to cause further delays.”

Court hearing

Smith-McCrossin also made that point earlier in the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal after Justice David Farrar asked why she wanted to intervene in the case.

“I applied to be an intervenor to make sure that the voice of the people that live on or near the Chignecto Isthmus is heard today,” she said.

“And what is the voice of the people going to add to the determination of a constitutional question?” the judge asked.

“The people that I’m speaking with your honour want the Nova Scotia government and the Canadian government to work together as in other issues of urgent attention that cause risk to the local people and I would like to have an opportunity to share some of those concerns today.”

The judge then warned her the constitutional question concerning which level of government is responsible for protecting transportation, trade and communications links on the isthmus is “a very legalistic issue.”

He added that the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal does not generally hear evidence.

“We don’t decide issues of the type that you’re talking about having the voice of the people. I’m sure that can be made known through the submissions of the Attorney General of Nova Scotia.”

Intervention denied

Justice Farrar denied Smith-McCrossin intervention status after lawyers from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and PEI expressed opposition on the grounds that her participation wouldn’t help resolve the constitutional issues in the case.

In July, the Nova Scotia government asked the court to rule on whether the federal government has “exclusive” jurisdiction over the dykes, dams and breakwaters that protect the isthmus from flooding.

The judge did grant intervenor status to the federal, New Brunswick and PEI governments and scheduled another hearing for November 8 to set filing deadlines for legal submissions and to work out other procedural and scheduling details.

Meantime, Smith-McCrossin says the federal and provincial governments should be co-operating to protect the isthmus instead of fighting over funding issues in the courts.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick say they want the federal government to pay the full cost of raising dykes to protect the isthmus while Ottawa says it’s willing to pay only 50%.

“What I would like to see is all the grownups to get around the table and hash it out and come up with something that’s fair for everyone involved, but do so, so that there’s no further delays,” she says.

Court submission

“When I went to court today I assumed that I was already accepted to be an intervenor,” Smith-McCrossin says, “because I was given the court date and I was prepared to give my submission, but none of that happened, so again, how much longer is it going to take before the case is even heard and the decision’s made by the courts?”

Smith-McCrossin’s submission concludes:

The people who live on or near the Chignecto Isthmus do not deserve to be in the middle of a battle for money between the province of NS and the Federal government. I ask on their behalf for the court to order the protective work to start now and for everyone to work together collaboratively for the good of all people, especially the people I represent who live on or near the Chignecto Isthmus.

To read her complete court submission, click here.

Posted in Environment, New Brunswick government, Nova Scotia Government | Tagged | Leave a comment

NS MLA Smith-McCrossin seeks to intervene in court battle over Chignecto Isthmus

Independent NS MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is seeking to take part in the court case to determine which levels of government are responsible for protecting the Chignecto Isthmus and surrounding areas from potentially catastrophic flooding.

The independent MLA for Cumberland North makes the case for her formal intervention in an affidavit submitted to the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

“I’ve been deeply involved for many years in and concerned with the various issues related [to] the dykes protecting the land in my constituency bordering the tidal waters of the Bay of Fundy and the dangers to people as well as the infrastructure connecting our province to the rest of Canada,” her affidavit states.

“I wish to and am prepared to make a submission on the duties and responsibilities of elected governments in a federal state like ours, to look after and protect its people when they face a predictable danger and to rise above constitutional technicalities,” it adds.

Smith-McCrossin will appear tomorrow before the court of appeal to argue for intervenor status.

Provincial attorneys general from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island as well the federal minister of justice are also seeking to intervene.

Jurisdictional squabble

In July, Nova Scotia’s department of justice asked the province’s highest court to determine whether the federal government has the “exclusive” responsibility to protect the transportation, trade and communications links on the isthmus.

The federal government has offered to pay 50% of the costs of raising and reinforcing dykes, but Nova Scotia and New Brunswick argue that Ottawa should pay the full cost.

Last year, the provinces released a consultants’ report estimating the cost could be just over $300 million, but New Brunswick now says its revised estimate has risen to $650 million.

Jim Quinn was appointed to the Senate in 2021 by Prime Minister Trudeau (official Senate photo)

Meantime, an independent New Brunswick senator has introduced a bill that would make the federal government solely responsible for protecting the isthmus and safeguarding the estimated $35 billion in trade that crosses it every year.

Sen. Jim Quinn, a former president and CEO of the Saint John Port Authority, argues the federal government should pay 100% of the costs because of its national responsibility to act in the best interests of all Canadians.

The preamble to his Senate bill points out that in 1948, federal legislation established the Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration, an agency that replaced or repaired 373 kilometres of dykes and more than 400 aboiteaux. It also constructed five big tidal dams on rivers draining into the Bay of Fundy so that the tides could no longer flow upstream. (The controversial dam on the Tantramar River was built in 1960. The one on the Petitcodiac at Moncton, built in 1968, was finally removed in 2010.)

In his 2021 book, Against The Tides: Reshaping Landscape and Community in Canada’s Maritime Marshlands, historian Ronald Rudin writes that the MMRA ceased to exist in 1970 when the federal government handed responsibility for dykes, dams and aboiteaux to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

For the full text of Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin’s affidavit, click here.

For coverage of the consultants’ three recommendations for protecting the Chignecto Isthmus, click here.

To read criticism of those recommendations, click here.

Posted in Environment, New Brunswick government, Nova Scotia Government | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Tears, laughter & remembrance as last veterans’ banners unveiled at Sackville’s civic centre

Volunteer memorial organizer Garth Zwicker preparing to unveil the last 10 veterans’ banners on Saturday

Garth Zwicker struggled to hold back tears as he prepared to unveil the last 10 banners honouring wartime service at the Tantramar Memorial Veterans Civic Centre on Saturday.

“How often I hear the words love, respect, remember, honour, proud, I miss you,” Zwicker said to about 25 family members who attended the ceremony.

“When we unveil these banners,” he added, “emotion might just overcome you a little bit. Go ahead.”

His own voice shook as he talked about driving by his own father’s banner and he paused awkwardly before adding quietly, “Boy, it’s something else.”

8th year

This is the 8th autumn that the vinyl veterans’ banners will adorn Sackville streets until shortly after Remembrance Day on November 11.

Families pay the $230 cost of the banners that are designed by graphic artist Graham Mesheau.

Zwicker said these latest banners bring the total number in Sackville to 148 and since the town has set a limit of 150, this will be the last year for unveiling new ones.

He noted that for the last four years, volunteer Mike Gillespie has also organized veterans’ street banner displays in Dorchester where the number is now up to 44.

Two of the new memorial banners unveiled on Saturday

Zwicker says he originally got the idea for memorial banners when he saw them adorning poles in Saint John and now many communities across Canada display them.

He praised the town for paying the cost of putting the banners up on power poles and taking them down again, but said town managers seem much less enthusiastic about the project than they once were.

This year he says he offered to get the banners ready in late August so they could go up early to avoid conflicts with the schedule for putting up Fall Fair banners, but the town showed no interest.

“It almost feels like we’re an inconvenience,” he says.

“This is a tourism, educational and respect for veterans opportunity for Sackville. I wonder where the town’s enthusiasm for this project has gone.”

Darla MacPherson beside the banner for her grandfather Russell Kaye

Darla MacPherson also struggled with tears as she talked about her grandfather’s military service during World War Two.

Russell Kaye volunteered, she says, because it was hard then to earn enough money to support a growing family.

“He was making a dollar a day in the woods and, going in to join up, he had one child and my mother was on the way, so he said, ‘I’m goin’ because that will be a good pay cheque for my family.'”

MacPherson says her grandfather was despatched to England in 1941 where he served as an engineer helping, among other things, to repair bomb damage until 1946 a full year after the war ended.

“He had to stay longer to do cleanup,” she says, adding that honouring him with a memorial banner is extremely important to her.

“It’s huge. I love my grandad very much. I was 16 when he died and it’s just wonderful to honour him,” she says.

“Sorry I’m getting emotional.”

MacPherson adds that when she first saw the banners going up, she wanted to sponsor one for her grandfather.

“I asked last year if I could do it, but it was too late.

“So, he’s in this year,” she says laughing.

Mike and Lorrie Purdy beside their father Hubert’s memorial banner which is next to one for Norman Rees-Potter on the left and Arthur George Bembridge on the right. Hubert Purdy served in Europe during the war. After settling in Dorchester, he managed the prison farm there. Active in the community, he served for several years on the village council

Posted in Dorchester, Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 3 Comments

Tantramar councillor seeking release of secret fire dept. report

Councillor Bruce Phinney

Tantramar Councillor Bruce Phinney says he’s hoping his council colleagues will support the release of a consultant’s report on persistent problems within the Sackville Fire Department that led to the resignations of about 17 volunteer firefighters over a four to five year span.

“There’s still, from what I’m hearing, issues within the fire department,” Phinney told reporters Tuesday after serving notice that he’ll move a motion at council’s next meeting on October 10th calling for the release of the Montana Consulting Group’s workplace assessment of Sackville Fire & Rescue.

“We need to turn around and find out exactly what was going on, what were the problems,” Phinney said.

He added that in the past, members of council were able to read reports they had authorized.

“We always used to read them and we used to have input on…some of the solutions to the problems,” he said.

“We haven’t had that opportunity and I feel like I’m still in the dark as to what’s going on, whether anything is being done.”

Fire dept. woes

The former town of Sackville paid Montana more than $27,000 to conduct the workplace assessment in 2021 after Warktimes published a series of stories about persistent bullying, favouritism, harassment and the flouting of safety rules within Sackville Fire & Rescue.

Montana gave an oral presentation to members of council on its 20 recommendations, but did not provide a written copy and the town posted a statement on its website saying that “since the results and recommendations are human resources related, they will not be made public and will remain confidential.”

Phinney says he requested a copy of the report last month under New Brunswick’s Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, but the town rejected his request on the grounds that it concerned an investigation into harassment or personnel issues, the same reason given when Warktimes asked for the report in 2021.

(In 2022, after I appealed that decision, the Ombud sided with the town ruling that the Montana report should not be made public.)

Phinney says he’s planning to ask his council colleagues for their support on October 10th in getting the Montana report released to council, the public and the media.

“Everybody needs to know what’s going on and what’s happening and I think my colleagues, I’m hoping to speak with them soon, and hope to be able to convince them to support me with this motion.”

Next steps

Phinney says he’s spoken to a couple of volunteers in the fire department about what’s been done to implement the recommendations in the Montana report.

“They feel that, actually, nothing’s really been done to alleviate the issues that were there,” he adds.

“I’ve only talked to a couple. I need to reach out and talk to the rest of them before next month, which I plan on doing, and seeing exactly if the issues are still continuing on from their perspective as well, not just the two that I spoke to.”

Phinney says he would not have voted to hire an outside consultant if he had known he would not be able to read the report.

“I feel I should be entitled to read that because I authorized the report and I also authorized the money to have it done and that is taxpayers’ money,” he says, “and people are asking me ‘how can you turn around and authorize such a thing and not be able to read it.'”

He says he would consider taking other steps if his council colleagues don’t support releasing the Montana report to the public.

“There are a couple of other options that are available. One would be [going to] the Ombudsman or the other one would be to go to court,” Phinney says.

“I’ll have to decide…after I find out when the motion is put forward and if it’s either rejected or accepted by my colleagues and we’ll go from there.”

Posted in Sackville Fire & Rescue, Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 2 Comments

RCMP promises more local traffic enforcement, but officer numbers are down by 22%

Sgt. Eric Hanson

The head of the Sackville RCMP detachment has promised to step up traffic enforcement because he feels his officers aren’t writing enough tickets.

“Traffic enforcement, I regret to say, has been down,” Sgt. Eric Hanson reported to Tantramar Town Council at its meeting last week.

“The number of tickets issued by my officers is lower than I’d like; that will absolutely go back up,” he said, also noting that school patrols were set to begin again.

Hanson reminded council that the officers who work out of the Sackville detachment also cover Memramcook, Port Elgin and rural areas in between.

“Some months more than others those territories can be quite busy,” he said.

He added that between July 15 and August 15, officers were especially busy dealing with calls for service from Memramcook.

“So that takes away from some of the other activities they may have done in Tantramar,” he said.

Officer numbers down

Hanson also reported that policing is affected here because four of his officers are on long-term sick leave.

“The way our organization works, there’s no replacement for these people,” he said.

“There isn’t a pool of RCMP officers that we can borrow from when somebody goes off sick; we just have to bear the weight of their loss.”

He said he’s hoping that one of the four will be returning soon, but the other three absences will be lengthy.

“We do apologize, but there’s nothing that I can do about that unfortunately,” he added.

“The others have to pick up the slack and we shuffle the schedule around to try to fill those holes,” he said.

“There’s less traffic work being done; there’s less of that proactive work being done because those who are working are picking up the slack in the investigations and the calls for service that come in.”

Hanson told CHMA’s Erica Butler later that there are 18 officers in his detachment.

With four out on sick leave, it means that the detachment’s numbers are down by about 22%.

NOTE: The 2012 contract for the 10-member detachment that provided policing for the former Town of Sackville says the following in Article 5.5: “Subject to the discretion of the Commanding Officer, no Member will be replaced when attending a training course that is related to the Municipal Police Service, when on annual leave, or ill except where illness results in a Member’s absence for a period of more than 30 consecutive days.”

For a backgrounder on RCMP services in Sackville that Warktimes published in August 2021, click here.

Posted in RCMP, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 2 Comments

Tantramar council won’t be adding public question periods anytime soon

Tantramar Clerk Donna Beal

Tantramar Town Council won’t decide whether to hold public question periods at its regular monthly meetings for at least another six months and possibly longer.

Town Clerk Donna Beal says staff will not be bringing forward possible revisions to council’s procedural bylaw until well into next year.

Until then, town council will operate under its current, provincially imposed bylaw which allows one, 15-minute public question period at the end of its committee of the whole discussion meetings and none at regular meetings where council makes its decisions.

“We are looking at all of our bylaws for Sackville and the Village of Dorchester and they all have to be consolidated,” Beal told council at its discussion meeting on Tuesday.

She said the bylaws are brought forward according to their priority.

“We would hope to look at the procedure and organizational bylaw sometime in mid to middle of 2024,” she added.

Long tradition

For at least 30 years, the town council in Sackville allowed members of the public to ask questions at the beginning and at the end of its regular monthly meetings.

More recently, that council added public question periods at the end of its discussion meetings, but two of the three monthly question periods ended on January 1st when municipal amalgamation came into effect.

During Tantramar council’s first meeting in January, Councillors Michael Tower and Allison Butcher attempted to amend the agenda to allow a public question period, but failed to get the required unanimous consent.

“I think losing this question period takes away transparency,” Tower said after suggesting that during last fall’s election campaign, candidates had spoken in favour of openness.

Mount Allison Politics Professor Geoff Martin called the lack of public question periods a step backward.

Martin, who served on Sackville Town Council from 1998 to 2004, said the practice gives citizens a chance to question the people they elected.

“This is supposed to be a democratic government, not a soulless corporation,” he wrote in an e-mail.

To read that story, click here.

Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 2 Comments

‘Full speed ahead, go, go, go!’ Frank McKenna sells AI & the digital economy

Frank McKenna addressing his digital innovation summit on June 13

Former Premier Frank McKenna is campaigning hard for New Brunswick’s public and private sectors to adopt and use digital technologies including artificial intelligence and the science of big data.

At the conclusion of his two-day digital innovation summit on June 13 at the posh Algonquin hotel in Saint Andrews, McKenna challenged about 50 invited business owners and executives, prominent academics and government officials to follow John F. Kennedy’s example and aim for the moon.

“I’d say to all of you here, we’ve really been set up for a big moon shot [with] the new, emerging, exciting technologies, so let’s embrace them and let’s win,” he said. “Full speed ahead, go, go, go!”

McKenna was referring to the announcement a few minutes before that the University of New Brunswick would be setting up a Data Science and Artificial Intelligence Institute to support interdisciplinary research on digital information technologies.

UNB President Paul Mazerolle

UNB President Paul Mazerolle said the new institute would provide shared resources for university researchers already using data analytics and artificial intelligence in such fields as biology, environmental science and computer science.

“Importantly it will allow us to better confront what I call the grand challenges that we see across our society,” Mazerolle said.

“Our university’s already fixated and focused on grand challenges, applying our skills, our knowledge, our expertise to these issues whether they’re in health, whether they’re in human cybersecurity, environmental systems, in water systems and importantly, future energy.”

Exclusive invitation

Warktimes may have been the only media outlet invited to McKenna’s digital innovation summit.

The former premier extended the invitation after I asked to cover former U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who was scheduled to deliver the keynote speech this summer at his annual networking summit in Fox Harbour, Nova Scotia.

“The event is totally private and our guest speakers know that Chatham House Rules prevail,” McKenna responded in an e-mail.

“Many of our guests would not be comfortable being in the public spotlight.”

However, he suggested that instead, I might be interested in his invitation-only digital innovation summit in Saint Andrews sponsored by the McKenna Institute at UNB.

The Algonquin Resort in the early-morning haze of June 13, 2nd day of McKenna summit when Warktimes suddenly had two hours to kill

A few days later, I received a formal invitation from Erin Hatfield, UNB’s director of communications.

“Again, this year, the sitting rooms and conference rooms will be packed with the who’s who of the business community talking about how digital innovations will help grow the province’s economy in all sectors of the economy – from software development to food production,” Hatfield said in an e-mail.

“There will also be breakout sessions on innovation hosted by top experts and business leaders,” she wrote.

“We’re only inviting those who will understand it’s worth investing the time to make the trip.”

Closed-door meetings

Hatfield’s invitation was for the second-day only with sessions from 8 a.m. to noon.

However, shortly after my arrival on June 13, she said I would not be allowed to attend the three breakout sessions from 9 to 11 where invited guests would discuss New Brunswick’s path to digital transformation.

UNB President Mazerolle explained later that the rules guaranteed anonymity to speakers at the breakout sessions.

He said it was only the second such summit and maybe there would be room for more public engagement at future ones.

“When we started this, we wanted to get the right business leaders in the room, the right government officials and the right academicians and build a Chatham House Rule approach where there can be full and frank discussions,” he said.

Elite recruitment

Mt. A. Politics Professor Geoff Martin

Mazerolle’s reference to Chatham House reminded me of McKenna’s e-mail about his closed annual networking sessions in Nova Scotia.

Mount Allison University Politics Professor Geoff Martin, who was not invited to the Saint Andrews summit, says exclusive, closed-door gatherings like that are known in political science as tools for elite recruitment and socialization.

“You have to find new people who will come into the economic and political elite and you also have to then shape their views,” he says.

“I think particularly too in this neo-liberal era of the last 40 years, these events tend to be secret events because the views they’re expressing are often unpopular,” Martin adds.

“You’re in a long game, you’re chipping away little by little on major public policy goals, privatization, deregulation, maintaining the domination of the oil and gas sector, protecting the national banking system and the privileges of the chartered banks.

“These are the kinds of things that are not really all that popular and the popularity I think is declining over time, but that’s really what I think that event is all about.”

Martin was speaking specifically about McKenna’s networking event in Nova Scotia while the digital innovation summit in Saint Andrews seemed more narrowly focused on persuading key leaders to embrace the digital economy.

‘Play at the top of our game’

Frank McKenna interviewed after his digital summit

During an interview after the summit, I asked McKenna what he thought the big “take-away” from it was.

“It’s just the transformational power of technology,” he replied.

“In a place like New Brunswick, even though we think of ourselves as small and rural, we still have to play at the top of our game in terms of innovation and competitiveness — whether it’s the way we grow potatoes or the way we grow blueberries or whether it’s our health care offerings. It could be any one of a number of things. It could even be our tourism product. We still have to use the most advanced technology in the world if we want to be competitive.”

McKenna added that governments are also learning that by analyzing massive amounts of data, they can improve the quality of health care while reducing its costs.

“It’s not often you get a chance to get a two-bagger,” he said with a smile.

Note: Mark Leger, UNB’s managing editor of strategic communications and marketing, did get to attend one of the closed breakout sessions. To read his report, click here.

To listen to my CHMA radio report on McKenna’s digital innovation summit, click here.

Posted in Health care, Technology | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Takin’ care of business during summer of flood & fire

Councillor Allison Butcher

During a summer of steady news about lives and homes lost in torrential rains, flash floods and devastating wildfires, Tantramar Town Council has approved a $1.2 million tax break for a six-storey apartment building in Sackville’s flood-risk zone while moving to lift the ban on more greenhouse-gas emitting drive-thrus near the TransCanada highway.

“In the not so distant past, we had a request come before council to change the no drive-thru rule that did not pass,” Councillor Allison Butcher said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

She was referring to Sackville council’s decision in 2016 to reject an application for a Robins Donuts drive-thru at the Ultramar Gas Bar near TransCanada Exit 506 because of concerns about traffic congestion and the polluting effects of greenhouse gas emissions from idling cars.

“Here we are after COVID,” Butcher continued, “when we realized that there are some times when a drive-by getting their food is something that people want to do that maybe they didn’t before.”

She added she was reassured that rules would be in place requiring the developer to pay for a traffic study if the expected number of drive-thru vehicles would exceed 40 during peak periods or if the developer could not provide at least 11 queuing spaces for vehicles heading into a drive-thru and at least two for those heading out.

“This shows me there will be safety considerations,” Butcher said. “Traffic studies. Rules about the amount of vehicles in a space. Those were the things that, in the past, really worried me.”

She did not mention previous concerns about idling vehicles and no one else raised the issue before council voted unanimously to change the bylaw that has prohibited new drive-thrus for the last 23 years.

Council was responding to an application from a numbered company for a drive-thru at the former Pizza Delight property on Mallard Drive.

Unless members change their minds, the bylaw allowing more drive-thrus will likely get final approval at their next regular meeting on September 12th.

Little apparent concern

Members of council and staff seemed to be under little public pressure on the once contentious drive-thru issue after no one showed up for a public hearing last month.

Town Planner Lori Bickford suggested then that Tantramar could have more effect fighting climate change by continuing to limit greenhouse gas emissions from its own fleet of vehicles.

And issues raised seven years ago suddenly seemed less urgent such as concerns expressed in a 2016 letter from the local environmental group EOS Eco-Energy which urged council to uphold the ban on more drive-thrus.

The EOS letter referred to research conducted in 2011 showing that cars lined up in the Tim Hortons drive-thru were idling for an average of 5.7 minutes and that about 80 vehicles visited each day.

That underlined federal anti-idling messages from Natural Resources Canada: “If drivers of light-duty vehicles avoided idling by just three minutes a day, over the year Canadians would collectively save 630 million litres of fuel and 1.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.”

 7-2 vote on tax incentive

Unlike the unanimity on permitting more drive-thrus, the vote was seven in favour and two against on whether to approve the nearly $1.2 million tax incentive for JN Lafford Realty’s six-storey, 71-unit apartment building overlooking the Sackville Waterfowl Park.

The concern was not about the location of the building in a potential flood zone, but on the size of the 10-year tax break.

“On the one hand, I see the need to spur development in our area, but on the other hand, I feel like the proposal is too rich,” said Councillor Josh Goguen.

He added that while the government has forced municipal amalgamation, it has limited Tantramar’s ability to generate new income to pay for services in the former LSDs.

Councillor Josh Goguen

Goguen said the economic incentive program was modelled on Moncton’s, but Sackville is less able to afford such a generous tax break.

“This could mean the difference between taxes staying the same or seeing an increase,” he said.

Councillor Bruce Phinney also said the incentive was “a little too rich” and that he saw no similarities between the Sackville program and the ones in Moncton and Riverview.

Councillors Michael Tower and Allison Butcher strongly supported the tax breaks.

Tower pointed out that Tantramar will get as much money as it gives in a 50/50 split.

“We have to compete and we can’t compete with Moncton,” he added.

“If we’re going to get developers to come here, we have to have something.”

Councillor Butcher argued that the tax incentives were put in place in 2020 and the Lafford project qualifies for them.

“This development fits the criteria that we have right now,” she said.

“I, for one, wouldn’t feel comfortable picking and choosing,” she added.

“Once they fit the criteria that’s set in place, why should we go, ‘Oh well, this one yes, but that one no?'”

In the end, only Goguen and Phinney voted against approving the economic incentive.

For previous coverage, click here.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged , | 10 Comments