Electoral map showing boundaries of Memramcook-Tantramar with the town of Sackville, centre left, the village of Memramcook, upper left, the village of Dorchester between them and the village of Port Elgin to the right (click to enlarge)
English and French-speaking voters in what is now the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar may be getting a divorce before the next provincial election if the newly-appointed electoral boundaries commission follows through on a commitment made in 2015.
The province announced today that a new six-member commission would be redrawing riding boundaries before the election expected in 2024.
“This represents a victory for Acadians and Francophones in New Brunswick,” the release adds.
The last redistribution in 2012 united the predominantly English-speaking populations of Sackville, Port Elgin and Dorchester with the predominantly French-speaking one in the Memramcook area.
It shifted French-speaking voters there from a riding where they represented 68% of the electorate to Memramcook-Tantramar where they make up only about 29%.
In 2015, Acadians called off a court challenge when the province adopted a regulation requiring future electoral commissions to take English and French-speaking communities into account when drawing new boundaries.
“The factor of effective representation of linguistic communities is not a factor like any other,” SANB President Alexandre Cédric Doucet is quoted as saying in today’s release.
Aside from the electoral imbalance in Memramcook-Tantramar, the SANB is also counting on the new boundaries commission to correct the situation in the riding of Miramichi Bay-Neguac where French-speakers make up only 35% of voters.
Flyer bundles continue to appear in Sackville driveways in spite of town bylaw
Residents of Middle Sackville awoke to another illegal offering this morning: fat bundles of pink, plastic-wrapped advertising flyers that had been tossed onto their driveways in spite of a town bylaw that requires them to be placed in mailboxes, on doorsteps or in special tubes or receptacles.
After the bylaw took effect in December, the driveway flyers kept coming, especially in Middle Sackville, courtesy of Brunswick News. That company is now owned by Postmedia, the country’s biggest newspaper chain.
“When the bylaw was approved by council, we began with education with the company responsible for the delivery of the flyers,” Treasurer Micheal Beal told councillors on Tuesday.
“We went through months of education, reported things that we had seen that went against the bylaw,” he added.
“We then indicated a few months back that we would begin enforcement of the bylaw and issuing fines.”
Beal said that so far, Brunswick News has been issued four, $140 fines and after the latest one, the company promised to hold another meeting with its drivers and to conduct “route audits” to make sure the bylaw is followed.
He said that the company has also indicated that, if it needs to, it will change carrier drivers to ensure compliance with the flyer bylaw.
Beal added that the company has been warned that if the bylaw infractions continue, town council may decide to ban residential flyer delivery altogether.
Moncton issued dozens of fines in the year after it passed a similar bylaw in 2020, but Austin Henderson, the city’s manager of communications, said today there have been only 18 complaints so far this year.
Meantime, Mike Power, Vice President of Editorial and Sales Operations for Brunswick News, says the company is doing everything possible to make sure its delivery contractors comply with Sackville’s bylaw.
“We acknowledge that the bylaw is there and we give instructions to our contractors about what we are obligated to do,” he said during a telephone interview.
“We are making our best efforts.”
Power says the company distributes just over 2,000 flyer bundles in Sackville each week.
He declined to discuss how much the flyer contractors are paid.
Sackville’s fire chief says he’s “very confident” his department could put out a fire at the planned plastic pipe manufacturing plant and storage facility at 318 Walker Road near Exit 500 on the Trans-Canada Highway.
“I am very confident in the ability of our members for fire suppression, our members are well-trained in fire suppression,” Chief Craig Bowser said last night during the Sackville Town Council meeting.
“They’re fully trained in self-contained breathing apparatus and all the foam agents that we use in fire suppression as well,” he added.
Bowser was responding to questions originally raised last week by residents of the Walker Road area who pointed out that the nearest fire hydrant is nearly two kilometres away from the plastic pipe factory that Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL) is planning to build.
Environmental engineer Bonnie Swift warned then that fires associated with combustible dust explosions at plastics factories are extremely difficult to extinguish and require specialized training and equipment to fight as well as water and chemicals.
At last night’s meeting, the fire chief said that aside from the training Sackville volunteer firefighters have received in the use of breathing apparatus and foam, they would also have thousands of gallons of water to fight a plastics fire.
“In our fleet of apparatus here at the station, we have a tanker that’s a 2500 gallon tanker,” he said.
“We have the same resource of 2500 gallons in Memramcook and we have another resource of 1800 gallons with the Amherst Fire Department,” he added.
Bowser said Sackville Fire & Rescue could also call on firefighters in Dorchester and Point de Bute “to assist in the water shuttle.”
When asked how much plastic pipe and other materials would be stored on the AIL site, the fire chief said he did not know.
“To date, I do not have that information,” Bowser said.
No permits yet
Landscaping and drainage work underway last month on the site at 318 Walker Road. Photo: Will Kriski
During last night’s council meeting, Town Planner Lori Bickford was asked what permits have been issued so far for the AIL site.
“To date, we have an application before us for a development permit, which would be the landscaping aspect of the property,” Bickford replied.
“So, [it’s] the storm drainage, storm management plan that’s currently being reviewed by town engineering, but that, to date, is the only application before us,” she said.
Bickford suggested that the work so far that includes clear-cutting trees, levelling the site with heavy equipment and hauling in rock, can be done without a permit.
“There becomes a certain point that the storm drainage plan has to be approved before that is complete so, if there was stuff that was done that was contrary to that, it would have to be rectified,” she explained.
So far, no EIA
It hasn’t been decided yet, whether the AIL project will require a provincial Environmental Impact Assessment or EIA.
“The Department of Environment and Local Government (ELG) is currently screening project information and no decision has yet been made regarding whether or not an EIA registration is required,” says a statement issued today by the province.
At last night’s council meeting, Sackville CAO Jamie Burke said water use could be one factor that would trigger a provincial EIA, which would include a public hearing.
Under Schedule A of a provincial environmental regulation, “all waterworks with a capacity greater than fifty cubic metres of water daily,” would be subject to an EIA. (Fifty cubic metres equals 50,000 litres of water.)
But, Mike Wilson, CEO of the AIL Group of Companies, says the plastic pipe factory won’t need much water.
The Walker Road plant will require only small amounts of water from a water well on the property. The closed loop system for cooling the process will need small amounts of make-up water required because of evaporation. The most water will be required for the office and plant washrooms for an estimated staff of 20 people.
Mayor Mesheau presiding at April 11 meeting when town council gave final approval to zoning change
Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau has denied that he violated conflict of interest rules when he chaired council meetings that discussed and voted on changes to the town’s zoning bylaw clearing the way for a plastic pipe factory at 318 Walker Road.
The mayor’s brother, Peter Mesheau, is vice-president of marketing and communications at Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL), which is planning to build and operate the factory.
“I am not in a conflict of interest,” the mayor said during the public question period at Tuesday’s town council meeting.
“It is up to each individual councillor to declare a conflict of interest,” he added. “I am not in a conflict of interest.”
After an e-mail request for more information, the mayor responded today that council was dealing with a zoning change that was not specific to any one business.
“Council considered a text amendment to the zoning by-law, which applied to all industrial zoned properties in the town and not an individual property or variety of properties owned by any particular company,” Mesheau wrote.
“This is why I provided the response I did at the meeting Tuesday evening, where I stated that I am not in a conflict of interest.”
At its meeting on February 14 with Mayor Mesheau presiding, council discussed an application from Andrew Fraser and Mike Wilson seeking a zoning change that would allow companies to build and operate in the 177-acre industrial park in the Walker Road area without having to connect to town water and sewer services.
Although company names weren’t given in the town planner’s staff report, Andrew Fraser owns Can-Tech Construction and Mike Wilson is CEO of the AIL Group of Companies, which includes Atlantic Industries Limited.
At that February meeting, council decided to proceed with the zoning change and set March 14 as the date for a public hearing.
On April 11, with the mayor presiding, council voted to give second and third readings finally clearing the way for site preparations for an AIL pipe factory at 318 Walker Road.
What the law says
Sackville Town Council’s Code of Conduct states that members of council “are committed to making decisions impartially and in the best interests of the Town and recognize the importance of fully observing the requirements of the Local Governance Act, with regard to the disclosure and avoidance of conflicts of interest.”
New Brunswick’s Local Governance Act says a member of council has a conflict of interest if a “family associate” would benefit financially from a matter dealt with by council.
It defines a “family associate” as “a council member’s spouse or common-law partner, child, parent or sibling.
The law requires members with such a conflict to disclose it and “immediately withdraw from the meeting room while the matter is under consideration or put to a vote.”
Professor Geoff Martin, who specializes in municipal politics and who served as a Sackville town councillor from 1998 to 2004, reviewed the summary sent to him by Warktimes and responded with the following statement:
On the face of it I believe that Mayor Mesheau should have declared a conflict of interest under the municipal and provincial rules, in dealings between the Town of Sackville and Atlantic Industries Limited.
Law Professor Nicole O’Byrne, who teaches at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, also received my summary as well as an audio recording of the mayor saying he was not in a conflict of interest:
I really don’t know enough about whether there is a real or perceived conflict of interest here. However, I will say that relying on self-declarations can be problematic for obvious reasons. There should be a way to contest a self-declaration of conflict of interest by using the Code of Conduct process. If there is evidence of a real or perceived conflict of interest then someone should be able to raise it as a breach of the Code of Conduct. That should trigger a 3rd party investigation.
Warktimes has filed a complaint under the Code of Conduct, to read it, click here.
Mt. A. biology professor Matt Litvak addressing town council
A biology professor at Mount Allison University asked Sackville Town Council last night to reconsider a bylaw change that cleared the way for building a plastic pipe factory on Walker Road.
“You have it in your power to put together a motion to look at this again,” Matt Litvak said during his presentation to council.
Littvak, who lives in the Walker Road area, was accompanied by about a dozen of his neighbours.
He argued that council needs to reconsider the bylaw change because none of the residents knew anything in advance about plans for a plastics factory.
“There was really no posting or notification on the town web page,” Litvak said.
“There was no posting on the zones that were affected,” he added, and that’s why, he suggested, no one showed up at a public hearing on March 14 to object to clearing the way for a plastics factory that could, among other things, threaten residents’ wells and the town’s water supply.
Litvak noted that even though Councillor Sabine Dietz expressed concerns that no one had attended the public hearing, council took no action to defer voting on the bylaw change so that citizens could learn what was happening and register their objections.
The amended bylaw, that council finally approved on April 11, allows for projects to go ahead in the 177 acre Walker Road industrial park even though there are no town water or sewer services there.
Litvak was one of 35 residents who signed a letter to town council on May 16 expressing alarm about the pipe factory after heavy equipment began clearing and levelling the 18.5 acre site to prepare it for construction.
Atlantic Industries Ltd. (AIL) is planning to manufacture and store high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe there.
Litvak said he hoped that, at the very least, council would invite AIL to make a public presentation of its plans so that people could judge the risks and benefits for themselves.
He also showed a slide summarizing citizens’ concerns:
Litvak said he consulted a provincial hydrologist to confirm that surface water in the area flows from higher elevations near the site of the pipe factory to lower ones where residents depend on wells.
“The water that flows along the side of the [TransCanada] highway is water that will eventually meet the Ogden Mill Brook,” he said, “and that water flows directly into Silver Lake.”
Environmental engineer Bonnie Swift, who also lives in the Walker Road area, addressed council on fire risks associated with combustible dust explosions.
“There were 180 of these in the last six years,” she said.
“Unfortunately, plastics manufacturing is in the top 10 of the type of industries that can cause this type of event.”
She said plastics fires release toxic chemicals harmful to human health that can settle on surface waters, on crops and soil and eventually migrate into groundwater.
Environmental engineer Bonnie Swift
Swift also said that plastics fires are extremely difficult to extinguish and require specialized training and equipment to fight as well as water and chemicals.
She pointed out that there are no fire hydrants in the area and that the pipe factory exit is across from Beech Hill Park.
“If there were people in the park and there was a major explosion or a fire, getting those people out of the park could be very difficult because the exits are right across from each other and there’s only one exit out of Beech Hill Park.”
She urged members of town council to meet with the fire department to discuss an emergency plan if the pipe factory goes ahead.
CAO and council response
CAO Jamie Burke thanked Litvak and Swift for their presentations and noted that municipalities struggle with notifying the public about bylaw changes such as this.
He said the province’s Community Planning Act requires the town to post a notice on its website.
In this case, the town’s website notice did not mention the AIL pipe manufacturing factory, only the bylaw change because it applies to the entire 177-acre area that was zoned industrial in 2008.
Councillors Bill Evans and Allison Butcher said they weren’t aware that the bylaw amendment would clear the way for the plastics factory and that, in any case, the AIL project would be assessed on its own merits when the company applies for building and development permits that must comply with town bylaws as well as provincial environmental regulations.
CAO Jamie Burke
For his part, CAO Burke cautioned town councillors not to reconsider the bylaw change.
“I wouldn’t want anybody thinking after the presentation today that you have the power I guess to say ‘no’ to what’s been presented,” he said in an apparent reference to the AIL project.
“You don’t [have the power] and I want to make sure that’s clear, that you don’t go down that path,” Burke added.
“We, as a municipality, are not meant to stifle or get in the way of development.”
Councillors Butcher, Evans and Michael Tower echoed Burke’s argument that the developer has a right to build the plastic pipe factory as long as AIL follows the rules.
Councillor Tower said he had spoken to the fire chief and that he has no major concerns.
Councillor Sabine Dietz said that she personally felt bad that residents weren’t notified about the project, but added that council can’t revisit a motion once it has been passed and acted upon.
Councillor Bruce Phinney said he felt the residents’ concerns had not been answered and that he would follow up on their suggestion to consult the fire department on its emergency preparations.
After the meeting, Matt Litvak suggested the story isn’t over yet.
“We’ll see what happens when it goes up through the province’s process,” he said during an interview outside the council chamber.
“Hopefully, they’ll take into consideration the risks and mitigation of risks associated with a development like this,” he added.
“The reality is this, we don’t even know what the development truly is. I mean we get some tidbits on Facebook and on the AIL website,” Litvak said.
“It would be really nice to have an open-forum discussion as to what’s going on to truly discuss the risks associated with a development like this in a basically residential community.”
Note: On May 24, AIL CEO Mike Wilson wrote a short, two-page letter to town planner Lori Bickford stating the company’s Walker Road plant “will require only small amounts of water from a water well on the property.” The letter said the materials from the high-density polyethylene manufacturing process “do not leach hazardous chemicals” and that “there are no fluids leaving the building or air born (sic) fumes.” Bickford shared the letter with town council and after checking with Wilson, she got his permission to release it to Warktimes. To read it, click here.
Paul Henderson (Struts) & Emily Falvey (Owens) appearing before town council
The directors of Sackville’s Struts and Owens art galleries are calling on the new Town of Tantramar to increase funding for arts and culture groups in 2023.
During a joint presentation to Sackville Town Council last week, Paul Henderson and Emily Falvey argued that investments in arts and culture pay huge dividends.
They cited a 2019 study from Oxford Economics showing, for example, that non-profit galleries, libraries, archives and museums in Canada generate nearly $4 in social benefits for every $1 invested in them.
Falvey says the returns for Sackville’s municipal investments have been even higher.
“The Owens’ annual operating grant from the town last year was $1,000, but we provided Sackville with $160,000 worth of exhibitions, arts education and community outreach projects and events,” she told council.
“For every dollar the town spent on the Owens in 2021-2022, it got $160 in benefits and that doesn’t include all the indirect benefits to tourism and the local economy that came from our programs — and the same is true for Struts,” she said.
Falvey, who made the presentation to council on behalf of both galleries, also referred to a report published in 2019, showing that, according to Statistics Canada, New Brunswick’s arts and culture sector generated nearly $1 billion in economic output in 2017 and contributed $550 million to New Brunswick’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), higher than other key sectors such as agriculture, the pulp and paper industry, seafood production or mining.
The StatsCan figures also show that New Brunswick’s arts and culture sector employed 7,570 people in 2017, 1,600 fewer than in 2010.
“When a business thrives, you invest in it and a few people get richer,” Falvey told council.
“When you invest in arts and culture, the entire community gets richer.”
Mayor Mesheau thanked Falvey and Henderson for their presentation.
“That’s incredible, that information,” Mesheau said. “It’s definitely an eyeopener.”
For previous Warktimescoverage of recommendations from the Premier’s Task Force on improving artists’ status and economic security, click here.
Note to readers: The following statement was issued by the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU) in response to a request for comment from The New Wark Times on the secrecy surrounding the settlement of the case involving Mt. A. Psychology Professor Rima Azar. Azar, supported by her union — the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) — challenged her seven-month suspension without pay last year after students complained, among other things, about posts on her personal blog. For more background on the case, click here. The terms of the settlement reached in April between Azar, MAFA and the university are being kept confidential and although her suspension came as a result of student complaints, the students themselves have no way of knowing if the final outcome reflects their concerns. The arbitration proceedings that led to the settlement were held behind closed doors in spite of a joint request from Warktimes, CHMA-FM and The Argosy, Mt. A’s student newspaper, for open hearings.
The MASU was disheartened to hear that the proceedings would be conducted entirely in private, although we understand the potential reasons for why such a decision might have been made.
As the MASU, our role within the politics of the university, students and the local community is always to play an advocating role for students. The same held true for this situation and will hold true for all forthcoming ones as well.
However, the MASU recognizes that there are major complexities within this issue which require detailed investigation of all the evidence present in a factual and unbiased manner. In such situations, careers, reputations, and relationships can get caught in the crossfire easily if those responsible are not cautious.
While we understand the decisions being made, the MASU hopes that the happenings and conclusions of this case can be heeded as a learning opportunity to set better precedent for the handling of such issues in the future; we hope that public discourse around such issues in the future is done in a fruitful manner and avoids volatility and hostility, rather encouraging critical discourse and discussion between all involved, especially students.
We echo Brad Walters’ sentiment stating that the handling of this case could have been improved on all sides. However, we also feel that academic freedom as a concept is not as simple as it may seem. Educational institutes are organizations with hierarchies, both in power and status, across students, faculty, and administration. Creating an educational environment in which students feel comfortable, free, and respected is part of what academic freedom entails.
Academic freedom is not synonymous with free speech and requires much greater consideration of the ends at which it is aimed and the context in which it is situated. Academic freedom is not inherently absolute and untethered, but situated with its end-based goal of creating a non-toxic learning environment.
However, logic, as always, is silent on the particulars. The specifics of what does and does not constitute a breach of academic freedom is an incredibly complex question and should be evaluated within our specific local/intellectual context through civil discourse – something the MASU hopes occurs at any such future proceedings.
In recognition of this, while we are disheartened that the decision and proceedings will not be made public, we trust and hope that those responsible for the proceedings are conducting them in a fair and clinical manner and that the conclusion reached will be as close to a just outcome as possible.
Sackville Treasurer Michael Beal is recommending three main priorities for next year’s municipal budget:
(1) Maintaining the same level of town services for residents.
(2) Continuing to pay down municipal debt while pushing ahead with projects such as Phase III of the Lorne Street flood control project and buying a new fire truck.1
(3) Pursuing environmental initiatives such as supporting the climate change co-ordinator and acquiring more electric and hybrid vehicles.2
“I hate to say, but I’m still kind of a little blind,” Beal told council last night referring to the uncertainties brought on by Sackville’s forced amalgamation with the village of Dorchester and three surrounding local service districts (LSDs).
“We’re told [by the province] that it’s going to be essentially five different (tax) rates,” Beal explained.
“We’re also told that the local service districts, being Sackville and Dorchester LSD rates, will not go up significantly in 2023. So, if they’re not going up significantly, there’s no additional revenue, but [if] there is additional expenses, I’m kind of still going back and forth trying to fathom it,” Beal said.
Councillor Bill Evans said residents in the LSDs should pay more tax for the services they’re getting.
“We’re not allowed to raise taxes, so I don’t see us getting anything,” Evans added.
“We will have to provide services that we’re already providing for them — recreation comes to mind — but there’s no extra revenue there because they’re not being taxed,” he said, suggesting that this is a problem the new municipality will face in coming years.
Councillor Sabine Dietz repeated her warning that after amalgamation, Sackville residents will be required to pay for increased services from the Southeast Regional Service Commission and that could reduce the amount of money available for local priorities.
The province has given Sackville until June 10th to submit its budget priorities for next year to Chad Peters, the Moncton marketing man hired to facilitate the amalgamation of the five local entities, including Sackville, into the new Town of Tantramar.
It appears provincial bureaucrats, assisted by Peters, will draft next year’s budget before it’s approved by the new Tantramar council to be elected in November.
“The new council’s going to approve the budget, so we’re not entirely sure what the role of this council will even be with the 2023 budget,” said CAO Jamie Burke.
“Even that part is up in the air,” he added. “Talk about a weird process.”
Deputy Mayor Andrew Black
Sackville councillors are expected to vote on a formal motion at their meeting next Tuesday setting out their budget priorities for the provincial facilitator.
Deputy Mayor Andrew Black said the motion could also include the town’s need for a personnel or human-resources (HR) manager.
“I think that would be nice to have in the budget,” he said. “It would certainly help with a lot of employee relations issues within the town of Sackville.”
Black also mentioned what he sees as the need to devote more resources to drafting strategies for affordable housing, diversity and inclusion as well as an invasive species policy.
“I think we need to make the climate change coordinator position part of our operating budget,” Councillor Evans said.
“I think the need is there, the usefulness is there [and] that should be something we should try to do,” he added.
Work underway at 318 Walker Rd. to prepare industrial site for proposed AIL plastic pipe plant. Photo: Will Kriski
A spokesman for Concerned Citizens of Sackville says the group isn’t happy with Mayor Mesheau’s response to their letter expressing alarm over plans for a plastic pipe factory on Walker Road near TransCanada Highway Exit 500.
“We don’t feel he answered the questions we raised,” Will Kriski said today during a telephone interview.
“He said, in effect, that it’s none of our business,” he added, referring to the mayor’s statement that plans for such projects are not typically made public until someone submits a building and development permit.
In his e-mailed letter to the group last Friday, Mesheau also says the pipe manufacturing plant being built by Atlantic Industries Ltd. (AIL) will create 20-30 jobs.
“This will be a state-of-the-art plant, which will include solar electricity, this will be similar to some of their other facilities in Ontario,” the mayor’s letter adds.
Mesheau also repeated assurances made to town council by planner Lori Bickford that aside from washrooms for plant workers, there would be no effluent from the factory and any well water consumption that does not meet provincial requirements would be subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment.
“It’s what I would call a dismissive response,” Kriski says on behalf of Concerned Citizens.
He adds that the mayor’s letter did not address the group’s concerns about a wide range of issues including potential airborne emissions, plans for on-site chemical and fuel storage or how any spills would be cleaned up.
Aside from concerns about the potential effects on their wells, the Concerned Citizens letter, signed by 35 residents in the Walker Road area, says the town’s water treatment plant would be only about 300 metres from the pipe factory.
“Everyone in town needs to be concerned,” Kriski says.
“We’re not attacking a particular project or business, we just need more information and the town isn’t giving it to us,” he adds.
“If we have to wait until someone applies for a building permit, we’re afraid it will be too late to ask the questions that need to be asked,” Kriski says.
He adds that since the site has been cleared and graded, AIL must have detailed plans for the factory, yet according to Mayor Mesheau, the public has no right to see them.
“We elect councillors to represent us, but they’re not really doing that,” he says.
On April 11, council approved a zoning change clearing the way for the proposed pipe factory with only Councillor Bruce Phinney voting against it.
The change allows projects to go ahead in the 177 acre Walker Road industrial zone where there are no town water or sewer services.
To read the Concerned Citizens original letter, click here.
By Bradley Walters, PhD, Professor of Geography & Environment, Mount Allison University
Professor Brad Walters
The issues of academic freedom raised by the Rima Azar case are too important to sweep under the rug.
I will explain the reasons why, but first wish to recount some earlier experiences.
Between 2006-2015, Canada was governed federally by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. Harper lurched the government hard to the right on many issues, including aggressive opposition to action on climate change, promotion of climate change denialism, and systematic muzzling of federal scientists.
The effort to suppress the communication of the federal government’s own cadre of experts was unprecedented and motivated me to speak-out frankly and publicly against the government through the media, my teaching, etc. My thinking was this: if scientists working within the government could no longer speak openly about the growing risks of climate change, it behooved scientists like me to do so given my privileged position as a university professor.
In doing so, I never doubted my right to speak freely as an academic and knew then that the President of Mount Allison “had my back” should there be any political blow-back from my words and actions (there was some, but I won’t get into that here).
Turning to the Azar case, I recognize the complex and sensitive nature of the issues, but also believe the University community could have handled it much better than it did. For one, I am troubled by the heavy-handed, closed-door approach taken by the Administration from day-one. But I am also frustrated that neither MAFA nor Rima Azar insisted as part of the negotiated settlement on an outcome that would have reaffirmed in no uncertain terms that academic freedom remains a bedrock principle of the University.
That so few of my fellow faculty have likewise been willing to speak out publicly about their concerns, and I know many of them have such concerns, is also depressing. At every stage, all the key actors involved have insisted on complete confidentiality and so, we know next to nothing in part because the faculty have not demanded to know more. In fact, I have learned more from reading Warktimes pieces about the affair than from any internal sources!
That this occurred during the COVID pandemic likely contributed to the problem as everyone then was pre-occupied with just getting through their work under circumstances that were unusually challenging. As such, I can to a point appreciate why the Azar case unfolded the way it did and genuinely sympathize with the actors caught at the centre of this.
Yet, standing back, it is hard not to conclude that this whole affair reflects a failure of University governance. For example, rather than deal with this as primarily a matter of faculty concern, which I believe it was, the Administration went immediately into crisis mode and brought in the lawyers, which provoked MAFA and Rima to bring in their lawyers and, well, the rest is a history of behind-closed-doors meetings and negotiations and an outcome that I suspect few are really happy with (except for the lawyers, of course).
Maybe I am naïve, but it seems that this whole thing, rather than spiraling inward and downward into a costly legalistic morass, could instead have been seized-upon as a ‘teachable moment’ from the beginning.
This brings me to a second story.
Back when I was a doctoral student at Rutgers University in the late 1990s, the President of Rutgers made public remarks that were deemed racially offensive and highly inappropriate. An epic scandal ensued: this was the President of one of America’s largest and most distinguished public universities, after all. I don’t recall many details about the events that unfolded, but in response, the President organized and hosted a major university forum with a panel of high-profile speakers, keynoted by Professor Cornel West, the distinguished scholar of African American Studies and then a prominent public intellectual.
Professor West brought the audience of several thousand students and faculty to their feet with his wry humor and breathtaking orations. (During the scrum afterwards, Dr. West even signed the plaster cast on my broken left hand!). Anyway, the President kept his job, and the University community came together, learned some important things, and grew from the experience.
Mt. A. Psychology Professor Rima Azar
I wish the same could be said about Mount Allison. Instead, a lousy and costly precedent has been established and it is unclear if anything productive has been learned.
But how then, could things have been different?
Consider: A professor says some provocative things that run counter to current, conventional narratives about racism and climate change offending and angering some students. Uncomfortable indeed, even more so because unlike the late 1990s, we live under the oppressive sway of Twitter mobs.
Still, rather than fly into damage control and lockdown, why not seize such a moment as an opportunity to start a broader conversation?
One possibility would be to have followed a Rutgers-like example. A public forum could have been held to discuss and debate issues raised by the controversy. People could have aired their opinions, a stimulating Q&A could have followed, and we would have all learned some things, moved past the personal affronts, and become better and more enlightened citizens for it.
Another possibility would have been to follow a common Mi’kmaq practice and hold a ‘talking circle’, where interested participants face each other seated in a large circle with each given the opportunity to provide personal biography and express their views and concerns. Talking circles can foster conflict resolution and have the advantage of a less formal setting, relatively free of social hierarchies. The goal is less one of debate and more one of achieving consensus.
Whatever the route pursued, by stepping forward as a community at a critical moment, we would have performed as a university at its best should perform, i.e. by engaging openly with difficult issues of wider public interest, rather than hiding from them.
Unfortunately, trends of illiberalism are spreading everywhere and opportunities for frank, open discussions about sensitive political topics have become increasingly polarized and are more likely to be discouraged than encouraged in today’s university environment. This is both sad and worrisome. As with society at large, current social and cultural trends (aided in large part by social media’s echo-chambering and amplification of controversy) have eroded trust and the good-faith assumption that we are for the most part, well-intentioned in our motives even if we disagree about specific issues or values.
These trends are troubling, but unlike some of my colleagues I retain confidence that our students are not only capable of, but also welcome engagement with, controversial topics and thrive within a learning environment that is sometimes edgy and uncomfortable. Anyway, that is my experience.
I have taught topics like climate change and environmental politics for 25 years. These subjects include content that is unsettling, complex, and morally and politically controversial. I often speak frankly and provocatively to my students because it engages their attention and makes them think outside their comfort zones. I have always approached teaching with the assumption that universities are places where one confronts difficult topics of public interest head-on.
Twitter distractions aside, the wider public generally expects this of us; it is perplexing that universities like Mount Allison are losing the confidence to do so.
Land cleared recently on Walker Rd. to make way for plastic pipe factory
Thirty-five Sackville residents, who live in the Walker Road area, are expressing alarm about secrecy surrounding a proposed plastic pipe factory and storage facility that is planned for an 18.5 acre lot near the TransCanada Highway.
“The industrial manufacturing development being proposed takes up a significant area and resides next to numerous homes and a public park that all rely on well water,” the residents write in their May 16th letter to Mayor Shawn Mesheau, town councillors and CAO Jamie Burke.
“The major concern around this development is the lack of public disclosure, as none of these residential stakeholders were ever contacted directly,” the letter adds.
“There were no information sessions offered to residents on this potential development and there were no consultations where citizens could ask questions.”
The letter says the pipe factory would be operated by Atlantic Industries Ltd. and it could use high-density polyethylene (HDPE) with potentially harmful environmental and health effects.
“The citizens are worried about how such a large manufacturing development will impact residents in this area, their health, their groundwater wells, and the environment.”
The letter also questions why the site was cleared during the period when migratory birds are nesting and it asks the town for confirmation that the clearing did not violate the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Finally, the letter calls on the town to organize an open house “where questions can be asked about the potential development and the permitting processes involved.”
Signatories include experts
Bonnie Swift, who helped write the letter, says she compiled questions and concerns from other residents as well as a number of professionals who live in the Walker Road area — people with expertise in such fields as environmental planning, biology, geology and engineering.
She herself is a retired civil environmental engineer who has worked on industrial projects throughout western Canada. She also served as an economic development officer for the town of Sackville from 2010 to 2012.
Swift says she now realizes that town council cleared the way for the new factory when it changed its zoning bylaw to allow industrial development in an area where there are no town water or sewer services.
Town Planner Lori Bickford answers councillors’ questions during March 14 public hearing
While council held a number of discussions on amending the bylaw, there was little information disclosed publicly about why Andrew Fraser of Can-Tech Construction and Mike Wilson of Atlantic Industries Ltd. were seeking the change.
In her February 14 staff report, town planner Lori Bickford described the proposed development as a manufacturing and processing facility along with product storage on the property.
“The manufacturing facility is a nonintrusive use which has minimal waste due to recycling of materials and minimal water usage,” her report said.
Bickford assured councillors that if the applicants did need large amounts of water, that would be one of several factors that could trigger an Environmental Impact Assessment.
The town held a public hearing on the bylaw change on March 14 after posting a notice on its website, but no one showed up to ask questions.
Swift says that was because no one knew what was happening until residents saw the land being cleared on Walker Road.
Last week, when Erica Butler of CHMA reported on the bylaw change and the proposed pipe factory, she quoted Peter Mesheau of Atlantic Industries Ltd. (AIL Group) as saying the company has a good environmental track record and also plans to incorporate things like solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations on the site.
She also quoted him as saying AIL’s manufacturing process does not use a lot of water and does not produce a significant amount of waste.
Mesheau did not respond to a telephone message from Warktimes.
To read the Concerned Citizens letter, click here.