NB government moves to limit debate on municipal reform bill

Green MLA Megan Mitton

In a move that some opposition MLAs called a “gag order,” the Higgs government is seeking to restrict the time for debate so that it can pass its municipal reform bill by Christmas.

Bill Hogan, chair of the PC caucus, served notice in the legislature today that the government will move to impose a 56-hour time limit on debate and committee study of eight bills including the one on municipal reform.

The legislature is expected to debate his motion next week.

Local Green MLA Megan Mitton accused the government of rushing the municipal reform bill through.

“This is what’s so frustrating about our system in terms of majority governments being able to do whatever they want and to not have to listen to amendments, to not have to properly debate, to not allow the time that this type of municipal reform deserves,” Mitton told the legislature.

“It’s really unfortunate to have debate shut down in this way,” she said.

Mitton, who represents the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar, countered with a proposal to send the bill to the legislature’s law amendments committee.

That would allow members of the public, municipal representatives, academic experts and others to appear before the committee to comment on the bill and suggest changes.

Greens & Liberals disagree

“It seems to me that the only way to move forward on this is to hear from people,” said Green leader David Coon who spoke in favour of Mitton’s proposal.

“This is all about trying to come up with appropriate amendments to improve the bill,” Coon added.

“I don’t know why the minister would be reluctant to see the bill improved.”

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson

It soon became clear, however, that the Liberals would not support sending the municipal reform bill to the law amendments committee.

Keith Chiasson, the member for Tracadie-Sheila, said Liberals want to debate the bill in the legislature and not delay that debate for six months by sending it to committee.

“We’re legislators, we should be debating,” he said, “and we’ve got the other side [the Conservatives] who don’t want to debate at all.”

Chiasson said it appears the Liberals are alone in wanting to do the work of legislators.

“We’re the only ones that are actually ready to get up and debate, especially on this debate, the most important one in the last 50 years.”

Tantramar concerns

Earlier during her remarks on Bill 82, Mitton expressed support for giving democratic representation to residents of local service districts in her riding where quarry blasting cracks house foundations, damages wells and creates dust and noise.

But she criticized the government’s plan to create 12 huge rural districts across the province where 61,000 residents would be denied the democratic representation she said is needed to protect themselves from the environmental effects of resource extraction and industrial development.

Mitton said the reforms are vague about the powers of the Regional Service Commissions and people are worried about the effect on their tax rates.

“There’s concern in my hometown of Sackville, there’s concern because people in the municipality were under the impression that there wouldn’t be forced amalgamation,” Mitton said.

“This was not what they thought was going to happen,” she added.

She said that Sackville remains opposed to amalgamation and that she hoped the government would be willing to listen and make changes.

“Maybe the wrong boundaries were drawn, maybe the wrong decision was made,” she said.

Posted in New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | Leave a comment

NB opposition parties question rush on municipal reform

Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson

New Brunswick’s opposition parties are questioning why the Higgs government is moving so fast to enact sweeping legislation on municipal reform.

“We feel as though this is a rushed reform and it’s imposed on people,” Liberal MLA Keith Chiasson said today during debate in the provincial legislature.

He added that New Brunswickers haven’t had a chance to understand all of the changes that the province is trying to make.

Chiasson, who represents the riding of Tracadie-Sheila, was referring to the 128-page bill that the government introduced yesterday with the aim of getting it passed before Christmas.

Among other things, the legislation would impose forced municipal amalgamations such as one merging the town of Sackville with the village of Dorchester and their surrounding local service districts.

The bill would also set November 28, 2022 as the date for the election of a new council and would give Daniel Allain, minister of local government reform the power to:

  • decide where and when the new council would meet after it takes office on January 1, 2023
  • make or amend the bylaws of the amalgamated municipality
  • prepare its first budget
  • appoint municipal staff and decide their rates of pay, reassigning staff where necessary, overseeing retirements or terminations with proper notice and implementing a pension plan for permanent employees

Chiasson said municipal reform is long overdue and all parties support it, but added that more consultation with community leaders,  municipal representatives and members of the public is essential.

He also described the government’s three-and-a-half week timetable for passing the bill as “completely unreasonable.”

Democratic voice

People’s Alliance leader Kris Austin

Kris Austin, leader of the People’s Alliance, said he felt torn because, on the one hand, municipal reform could help smaller communities pay for local services especially if they become part of a municipality with a minimum $200 million tax base.

But, he said, he could not ignore the deficiencies in the government’s reform plan.

“I certainly can’t support forced amalgamation on communities that have proven and shown that on their own, they can hit the $200 million tax base,” Austin said.

“How can the provincial government push on these local areas ‘you’re going to do this?'” he asked. “Where’s the democracy in that?”

Austin noted that the government reforms would give democratic representation to people in local service districts, but ironically would take it away from others through forced amalgamations.

“Don’t rush these boundaries. Look at them, be reasonable about them,” he urged, adding that the government should leave municipalities alone if they have a healthy tax base.

“Why force something that doesn’t need to be forced?”

Kevin Arseneau of the Green Party also called for more consultation and urged the province to ensure that local communities have the resources they need to govern themselves.

After debate on second reading, the government’s legislation will go before an all-party committee for further study.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

LSD association president condemns NB municipal reform plan as undemocratic

Jules Bosse, president of the Association of Local Service Districts of N.B.

The Higgs government’s plan for municipal reform is coming under fire from a group that represents nearly a third of the province’s population and more than 80% of its land area.

Jules Bosse, president of the Association of Local Service Districts of New Brunswick, says the province ignored the recommendations of his members when it decided to amalgamate some LSDs with existing municipalities and group the rest into 12 rural districts.

“We recognize that we need a reform plan,” Bosse said Wednesday during a telephone interview. “This is a must.”

But, he added, the province is trying to rush its reforms through without talking to the people who would be affected most.

“We feel right now that because of the negligence of governments in the last 50 years, they’re pushing it fast,” he says, “and without enough consultation.”

He adds that the government has completely ignored the association’s recommendations submitted to the minister of local government in September.

Democratic rights

In its 15-page Blueprint for Suburban and Rural Local Governance Reform, the association calls for the “right to democracy” denied to LSD residents since the 1970s.

Under the government’s plan, for example, LSD residents in the areas surrounding Sackville and Dorchester would have the right to elect municipal representatives.

But Bosse worries that the new municipality would swallow up the LSDs and not adequately reflect their unique concerns.

He condemns the government plan to group other LSDs into big rural districts that would elect advisory councils while the provincial government continues to run their affairs from Fredericton.

“This is nonsense. When you do a reform, you don’t do one like this,” he says. “We can’t wait another 50 years to bring democracy to the LSDs.”

Regional co-operation

In a separate report, submitted to the minister this month, the association outlines a plan for 16 LSDs in northwestern New Brunswick that it says could serve as a template for the whole province.

It calls for grouping those LSDs into what it calls a “regional co-operative community” with a population of nearly 13,000 and a tax base of almost $900 million.

“The new entity would be more populous than most of the current cities in New Brunswick and would have a tax base at least three times larger than the majority of the current largest villages and even larger than the smallest city, Campbellton,” the report says.

It adds that the regional community could be divided into four wards of about 3,000 residents each with one or two councillors elected in each ward and a mayor for the whole territory.

Way of life

Jules Bosse

Bosse says the small-scale local economies of LSDs aren’t valued highly enough in the government’s municipal reform plan.

“We’re going to lose our way of life,” he says pointing to the contributions of rural residents to what the association’s brief calls “stewardship of ecosystem services and nature-based recreation.”

It also calls for more provincial investment in rural areas:

There is every indication that the lack of democratic governance of the LSDs, coupled with the centralization of power and services, has contributed to a decline in food self-sufficiency, the virtual disappearance of the cooperative movement, and an economy that is less diversified and accessible to LSD residents – in short, a general impoverishment of the province.

The association’s brief also asks whether it’s fair that the 33% of New Brunswickers who live in LSDs receive less than 20% of the federal gas tax fund and only 7% of provincial equalization payments.

Vote needed

Bosse says that since the province ignored the latest recommendations for re-organizing LSDs and giving them full democratic rights, residents should be given the chance to choose between the government’s plan and the association’s proposal for regional co-operative communities.

“OK, what we’re saying right now is we’ve got two proposals on the table,” Bosse says, “well, let’s have a plebiscite on both and let the people decide.”

To read the Blueprint for Suburban and Rural Local Governance Reformclick here.

To read the association’s proposal for a Regional Co-operative Community in Northwestern New Brunswick, click here.

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Mt. A. prof questions provincial motives for municipal reform

Mount Allison Politics Professor Geoff Martin

A Mount Allison politics professor says he wonders about some of the reasons behind the Higgs government’s plans for municipal reform.

Geoff Martin, who specializes in the study of local governments, explains that the province may be seeking to transfer some of its own costs to larger amalgamated municipal units such as the one that includes Sackville, the surrounding local service districts (LSDs) and the Village of Dorchester.

“People are right to think that the provincial government may use this in both the present and the near future to download yet more on the municipal sector,” Martin said Wednesday during a telephone interview.

“It will be the municipal sector that would be forced to raise taxes or cut services and not the provincial government.”

Although Martin says he’s glad that the reforms would finally give residents of many LSDs the right to elect their own municipal representatives, he notes that such democratic rights would still be denied to 61 thousand people in 12 rural districts stretched across about 70% of New Brunswick’s land mass.

Government map shows the combined size of the yellowed-coloured rural districts

Martin points out that under the government’s reform plan, residents of the 12 rural districts would elect members of advisory councils, but the provincial government would continue to be responsible for the delivery of local services.

He says it appears that the province wants to ensure that there are no elected local governments in the sparsely settled rural districts so that resource extraction and industrial development could proceed unhindered.

“One of their overriding principles is to encourage economic development and in rural New Brunswick, that means economic development that is more or less unfettered from local concerns,” Martin adds, referring to the proposed Sisson open-pit tungsten mine and the since-closed Metz hog farm in Kent County.

“The province wants to facilitate things like new industrial developments in these 12 rural districts and they don’t want the interference of an incorporated municipal government,” Martin says.

He adds that he would like to see all residents of New Brunswick under the jurisdiction of democratically elected local governments that could defend them against the negative consequences of lax provincial regulations and official passivity when it comes to industrial development and resource extraction.

“I think this is the moment to do it because assuming the government follows through on this whole reform proposal, I doubt there will be any similar changes in the next 20 or 30 years.”

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Experts urge ‘go-slow’ approach on municipal reform in New Brunswick

Professor Zachary Taylor

Researchers at Western University in Ontario say New Brunswick could achieve municipal reform without resorting to forced amalgamations such as requiring Sackville to merge with surrounding local service districts and the village of Dorchester.

In a paper published last May, Professor Zachary Taylor and graduate student Jon Taylor argue that New Brunswick should reform its 12 Regional Service Commissions instead of resorting to what they term forced municipalization.

“You don’t have to have forced municipalization for the system to work in order to have regional resource sharing, regional planning and all these kinds of things,” Professor Taylor said Monday in a telephone interview.

“You can take more of a go-slow approach to all this if you adopt a British Columbia-style model,” he added, referring to the regional districts that have been in place in B.C. since the 1960s.

Taylor, who is director of the Centre for Urban Policy and Local Governance at Western, said amalgamations and annexations can generate the kind of  intense political controversy and strife that can defeat attempts at municipal reform.

“What experience has shown across the continent over the past 100 years is that very rarely do places volunteer to be annexed or amalgamated into larger units,” he said.

Provincial plan

Last week, Local Government Minister Daniel Allain announced a series of amalgamations and other changes that would reduce the number of local government entities in the province from 340 to 90, with a new total of 78 municipalities and 12 rural districts.

Local Government Minister Daniel Allain

Under his plan, the Town of Sackville would merge with the Village of Dorchester and the surrounding local service districts including the communities of British Settlement, Westcock and Wood Point to form one of  the 78 municipalities.

When asked during a news conference why he was resorting to amalgamations when he had previously said he would not force people to do anything they didn’t want to, Allain stressed the need to reform what he called an “antiquated structure.”

“People have been asking for change,” he said, referring to e-mails and briefs he received during public consultations, but he did not say directly why he was abandoning his promise not to force amalgamations.

His plan also removes the legal requirement to hold a vote before an amalgamation can take place.

B.C. Model

In their paper on local government reform in New Brunswick, Zachary Taylor and Jon Taylor argue that strengthening the province’s 12 Regional Service Commissions (RSCs) along the lines of longstanding regional districts in B.C. would be “much less disruptive than other potential options such as forced municipal incorporation and amalgamation.”

It would also allow residents in unincorporated areas or local service districts (LSDs) to elect representatives to serve on the Regional Service Commissions.

In a newspaper article last May, they wrote:

Our proposal requires three key changes: First, the province’s existing Local Service Districts would be replaced by democratically accountable representatives. Residents of unincorporated areas would directly elect members to RSC boards in proportion to their share of the population. These board members would sit alongside representatives of cities, towns and villages as they make regional planning and servicing decisions. Second, unincorporated areas would be divided into “electoral areas” defined by communities of interest and participation in regional services. Third, RSCs would gain the authority to decide what services to provide, where they are offered, and the tax rates levied to pay for them.

During our telephone interview on Monday, Professor Taylor noted that municipal amalgamations can be costly and disruptive, especially during transition periods.

“I hope New Brunswickers pay close attention to this because they’re going to have to live with it for decades to come,” he said with a chuckle.

To read the full paper on the proposal for municipal reform in New Brunswick without forced amalgamations, click here.

Posted in New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sackville to merge with Dorchester & LSDs in sweeping municipal reform plan

Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain announcing sweeping municipal reforms

The New Brunswick government has announced municipal reform plans that would drastically reduce the number of local government entities in the province from 340 to 90, with a new total of 78 municipalities and 12 rural districts.

Under the plan, the Town of Sackville would merge with the Village of Dorchester and the surrounding local service districts, that include the communities of British Settlement, Westcock and Wood Point, to form one of  the 78 municipalities with an estimated population of 8,352 and an estimated tax base of $869.8 million:

The reforms, announced today by Local Government Reform Minister Daniel Allain, would also merge Port Elgin with its surrounding areas:

The province is planning to expand the mandate of the 12 regional service commissions from their current role of collecting garbage and overseeing municipal land-use planning to co-ordinating economic development, tourism promotion, community development, regional transportation (community transit) and recreational infrastructure cost-sharing.

In addition, the regional service commissions would have a mandate to establish Public Safety Committees on policing and fire protection:

“We’re here for the next generation and this is why we’re moving today with this bold reform,” Allain said today during an online news conference.

He added that reform is badly needed since the province has changed so much since the major municipal reforms of the 1960s.

“Change is long overdue in our province,” Allain said referring to the 65-page government white paper he released today. He said the white paper outlines the changes that will be enshrined in provincial legislation the government plans to introduce next month.

Municipal elections

In combined municipalities such as Sackville and Dorchester, plans call for an election next November so that the new council could take office on January 1, 2023.

The province says it will appoint transition teams to come up with structuring the new councils and drawing ward boundaries as well as naming the new municipality. The teams will also oversee the hiring of a clerk and a chief administrative officer who would be in place by September 1, 2022.

On the thorny question of municipal tax increases, especially for LSD residents, Allain insisted people will pay only for the municipal services they receive.

He said the province is considering options such as reducing provincial property tax rates, revisiting the cost of roads that the province maintains in rural areas and giving municipalities more ways of raising revenues.

Mesheau responds

Mayor Shawn Mesheau

Sackville’s mayor said today’s provincial announcement that the town would be merged with the Village of Dorchester and surrounding local service districts came as something of a surprise.

“We anticipated some changes,” Shawn Mesheau told CHMA reporter Erica Butler in a telephone interview. “We probably weren’t aware of the aggressiveness in regards to those changes,” he added.

“Changes were anticipated, but maybe not to this extent.”

Mesheau said town staff are analyzing the provincial white paper so that council can be properly briefed on it before deciding what, if any steps, need to be taken.

In July, Mesheau sent a letter to Daniel Allain that firmly opposed merging Sackville with surrounding areas.

“Sackville does not feel amalgamation is a realistic solution,” the letter said, “and would object to any forced amalgamation.”

However, in his CHMA interview, the mayor seemed more conciliatory.

“We’re just pleased to see that the province is moving forward on the local governance reform,” he said.

“Like I said, it’s a very detailed document and it’s one that we’ll have to get a better understanding on.”

Mesheau said an expanded co-ordinating role for the Southeast Regional Service Commission, especially on economic development and tourism, is “a step in the right direction” and he suggested he’d be interested in running for mayor in a larger municipality if there’s another election next fall.

Politically risky

A professor at Mount Allison University, who specializes in municipal politics, says that if it does press ahead with municipal reform, the Higgs government risks short-term unpopularity and the likelihood of defeat in the next provincial election.

“I thought that this government would either make major changes in health care or they would make major changes in municipal government and not both,” Geoff Martin said today in a telephone interview.

“And, I think they chose municipal government, I’m assuming because there’s less allegiance to the current municipal system in New Brunswick,” he added.

“This is more than I expected,” Martin said. “It is a transformation on the scale of the Equal Opportunity Program and the changes in the mid 1960s.”

He said that as the Finn report on municipal reform showed in 2008, there’s a recognition, at least among elites in New Brunswick, that changes are needed.

“This is highly ambitious and politically possibly foolhardy for the government to be committed to this, but on the other hand, maybe with Mr. Higgs…maybe there’s something he wants to say, ‘Well, I made a political sacrifice, but it was for something that had to be done.'”

Posted in New Brunswick politics, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 3 Comments

New provincial health plan promises to keep local hospital services, but critics are skeptical

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard

New Brunswick’s health minister announced a two-year plan today that includes measures to improve access to family doctors and mental health services, reduce wait times for hip and knee surgeries and help elderly people remain in their own homes.

“I’m really optimistic about the changes that we’ll see and New Brunswickers will see over the next 24-months that are really going to have an impact,” said Dorothy Shephard during an online news conference.

She said there will be no reduction in services at six rural hospitals such as the elimination of acute care beds, cancellation of day surgeries and the overnight closure of  emergency rooms that the Higgs government announced in February 2020.

“We’re going to be working with communities, one on one,” Shephard said. “Nothing’s going to be done to communities, it’s going to be done with them,” she added.

“Every single hospital has a role to play in this network, we can create a network of excellence and by doing it together, we’re hopefully going to avoid those hurdles where communities think they’re losing things.”

After a storm of protest in 2020, the Higgs government withdrew the cuts to services that would have affected hospitals in Sackville, Sussex, Sainte-Anne-de Kent, Caraquet, Grand Falls and Perth Andover.

Staff shortages

The new two-year plan says little about the chronic shortages of medical staff that have been blamed for sharp reductions in emergency room services at rural hospitals.

In Sackville, for example, the emergency room has been closed overnight on weekends since last June and starting on Friday, the local ER will be open only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays. Anyone who needs overnight emergency care in Sackville will be forced to go to another hospital. The Horizon Health Network says these closures are temporary, but will remain in effect indefinitely.

When asked about this reduction in ER services, Shephard pointed to her new plan to give New Brunswicker’s greater access to primary caregivers:

Citizens without a family doctor or nurse practitioner who need access to primary care services will be able to register to a new Primary Care Network and receive services. This provincial clinic will become their temporary home for primary care until they are matched with a permanent provider. It will offer both in-person and virtual appointments as well as a single electronic medical record for everyone.

Shephard said this Primary Care Network is designed to alleviate the pressure on emergency rooms, but her new plan gives few details about recruiting and retaining the medical staff needed to keep the ERs open.

In a news release, Shephard is quoted as saying that communities and health-care providers will become official recruitment partners for a variety of roles, from physicians and nurses to psychologists and mental health counsellors.

“Community recruitment teams will be supported with a new grant program to help develop promotional materials, in particular for rural communities,” the release says.

Rural concerns

MLA Megan Mitton during online news conference

Megan Mitton, the MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar says people in her riding are understandably concerned about the indefinite reductions in ER services.

“I’m not seeing the bold action that we need to address the nursing shortage, for example.”

Mitton says that although the new health plan says rural hospital services won’t be cut, they are already being cut.

“By underfunding training, by not hiring staff full-time when people apply, by not offering competitive wages and even by threatening our hospital, all of these things contribute to the situation that we have today,” she says.

“What I really would like to see is an action plan for how they’re going to re-open the hospital and I don’t see that.”

Mitton adds that there needs to be “a ramping up of recruitment efforts and training efforts to make sure that there’s sustainability in the long term.”

She also points to vague wording in the government’s promises to consult local people and adds she would like to see formal consultation with local working groups and opportunities for more local decision making.

Serious doubts

The chair of the Sackville Memorial Hospital Foundation says she is skeptical about the new provincial health plan.

Pat Estabrooks, who also co-chairs a task force and rural action group fighting to preserve hospital services, says recruiting more medical staff should have been a number one priority.

“How long will this plan take?” she asks. “We’re in a crisis now.”

Estabrooks, who emphasizes she is speaking for herself, says a succession of provincial governments have centralized health-care planning and local people should have more direct control over the decisions that affect them.

“The new plan is marvellous, wonderful, but I don’t believe it,” she says.

“It’s difficult to be a believer because they (provincial governments) haven’t done anything they said they would do.”

To read the new provincial health plan, click here.

To read a news release from the Green Party caucus, click here.

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Dozens join CUPE strikers in Sackville to show solidarity & support

Young Keaton Harper poses in his shark costume at Main and York

Students, faculty and staff from Mount Allison University joined residents from Sackville today at Main and York Streets to support CUPE public-sector workers on the 15th day of their strike.

“I thought it was important for as many people in the community as possible to come out and show their support for the striking CUPE workers,” said Politics and International Relations Professor David Thomas who organized today’s rally.

“We want to show them that we’re behind them 100 per cent,” he added.

Professor David Thomas organized rally

“We applaud them in fact, for their very difficult and courageous stance in terms of standing up to the Higgs government here and fighting for a fair contract.”

Thomas said it’s clear from polling and general observation that the CUPE workers have strong public support partly because there are 22,000 of them and all have friends and family.

“In a small place like New Brunswick, almost everyone is somehow involved,” Thomas said.

“Many other things over the past several months have led to a credibility crisis for the Higgs government, whether it’s the handling of COVID or it’s the refusal to talk about unceded territory and on and on and on, his popularity rating has been declining so much, I think there’s a general lack of trust in the Higgs government,” he added.

Anti-worker bias

Hannah Wickham and John Dale

Hannah Wickham, a religious studies student at Mt. A., said it’s important for people at the university to support the CUPE workers.

“I think it’s probably one of the most obvious instances where the employer so deliberately is being under-handed and back-handed towards workers that it’s impossible for anybody to look at the situation and not come away feeling just total support for the workers,” she added.

John Dale, a recent Mt. A. graduate, said he also feels the Higgs government is biased against workers.

He said last year’s faculty strike showed that Sackville has a strong, union-organizing culture, and so it’s important to support CUPE strikers who are friends and neighbours.

“We live in an under-developed region, so I think a lot of the concerns of the folks in this union are quite valid indeed,” he said. “Wage increases, for example, have not matched that of inflation, so there’s a lot of reasons for folks to be unhappy.”

Re-open schools

TRHS student Quinn MacAskill

Two students from Tantramar Regional High School said they joined today’s rally to show support for CUPE workers and to send a message to the Higgs government to settle the strike so that their school can re-open.

“Everyone that I’ve spoken with, all of my friends and the teachers as well, we all hate online learning,” said Quinn MacAskill, who was named Sackville’s Youth Citizen of the Year at Monday’s town council meeting.

She added that online learning means hours spent sitting in front of a computer screen and not interacting directly with teachers and other students.

“It’s so much more difficult to learn and to teach and just understand things,” she said. “It’s really hard on everybody.”

Theodor  Michaelis-Law said he supports CUPE workers at his high school because their work is so important.

As he spoke, several passing drivers on Main Street blew their horns.

Prof. Stephen Law (L) and Theodor Michaelis-Law

“The people on strike are Sackville citizens and I think Sackville citizens have a lot of solidarity with each other, Sackville’s a pretty close-knit community,” he said.

“When someone in Sackville is in need of support, then other citizens will support them and if that’s honking horns, then yes.”

His father Stephen Law, who is a professor of economics at Mt. A., said that Sackville is a strong union town.

He pointed to the three unions on campus, town employees who belong to a CUPE local and unionized CN workers.

“If you start going through all the locations, schools, hospitals, the university, there’s a lot of union support in Sackville,” Law said.

Sara Harper with sons Keaton (L sans shark suit) and Carson with his horn

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Sackville Town Council passes 2022 budget with no property tax cut

Councillor Bruce Phinney

In a 5-1 vote Monday night, Sackville Town Council approved next year’s $12.1 million operating budget that would maintain town services and cover increased expenses without additional borrowing.

A majority of councillors rejected Bruce Phinney’s motion for a three-cent cut in property taxes and voted to maintain the current residential property tax rate of $1.56 per $100 of assessment.

Phinney argued that the town will receive what he called a $716,000 “windfall” because of an average 9.7%  increase in residential property assessments and he called on council to return just over $212,000 of that money to taxpayers.

“I just think it’s time that we gave back to the people instead of continually charging them all the time,” Phinney said, adding that a tax cut would help poor people.

“A friend of mine mentioned that there is a couple he knows, that they count their pennies every month worrying about how they’re going to make ends meet and if that’s just one, how many others are there?” he asked.

“I think this is probably in the best interests of the people and we would be showing them that we are a council that does care.”

‘Grandstanding’

“This is grandstanding that doesn’t benefit the people that he claims to be benefitting,” Councillor Bill Evans responded.

“We have to cut services to do this,” he added. “This is going to cost over $200,000 this year [and] it’s going to cost at least that much next year if we lower the tax rate.”

Evans pointed out that a three-cent tax cut would give someone who owns a home assessed at $100,000 the equivalent of a cup of coffee a month.

Councillor Sabine Dietz agreed.

She said the assessment on her own home had increased by just over 7% and that Phinney’s proposed tax cut would generate a saving of only $4 per month.

Dietz pointed to a recent news report showing that a tax cut would provide significant benefits to wealthy property owners as well as the province itself which pays municipal taxes on schools, hospitals and universities.

“I’m more pissed at the province for pushing municipalities to make these kinds of decisions that will in the long-term affect our bottom line,” she said, a comment that brought Dietz a reminder from Mayor Mesheau that she should be “leery of her choice of words.”

Councillor Michael Tower

Councillor Michael Tower pointed to increased costs next year such as higher salaries for the RCMP that will add $115,000 to the 2022 budget along with an additional allocation of $120,000 for backpay.

“I think that it would be a dangerous thing for us to lower tax rates,” he said.

“To give money back is nice, but to put us in a place where we would have to dig into our reserves more to cover it, would be wrong,” Tower added.

He noted that council is supporting the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in asking the federal government to cover the RCMP backpay because local governments weren’t consulted when Ottawa negotiated a first-contract with the union that represents RCMP officers.

Tower said he hopes that if the town does receive a rebate from the federal government, that council would then consider lowering the tax rate.

To read a two-page, FCM background document on the backpay issue, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sackville considers new bylaw to restrict flyer delivery

Sign that residents could post if they don’t want flyers delivered. It would have to be at least 11 cm (4.5 in) wide by 12.5 cm (5 in) high and be “reasonably visible to a distributor”

Sackville Town Council is considering a bylaw that would require bundles of advertising flyers to be left in mailboxes, in a mail slot or on doorsteps instead of being tossed onto driveways or lawns.

The bylaw would prohibit delivery of flyers to homes where residents have posted clearly visible signs indicating they don’t want them.

Distributors would also be forbidden to leave flyers at a home where previously delivered ones have not been picked up for two consecutive weeks.

The bylaw would not apply to apartment buildings with six or more units.

During town council’s meeting last week, Assistant Clerk Becky Goodwin said the Sackville bylaw would be modelled on one in Riverview and would require residents who don’t want flyers to opt out by posting a sign.

She said the town also encourages residents to call the distributor to cancel flyer delivery.

Goodwin said town staff decided to follow the Riverview model because it would allow residents to decide whether they want to receive flyers.

“We do have several residents who do appreciate the flyer service,” she said.

“A resident would have three options: one, they could continue the service; two, they could call the distributor directly and cease the service…or they can display the [no-flyer] poster in their window.”

Goodwin said apartment buildings would be excluded because flyers are typically delivered inside them.

‘Test drive’ bylaw to see if it works

Deputy Mayor Andrew Black

Deputy Mayor Andrew Black said time will tell if the bylaw will work, but he noted that at homes like his, a no-flyer window sign would not be visible from the street.

“I guess if it doesn’t work, then we can always bring it back and look at it again,” he said.

Mayor Mesheau suggested distributors will see window signs because they’ll be required to deposit the flyers in a mail receptacle or on a doorstep.

Councillor Bill Evans noted that most residents do not want advertising flyers, but he acknowledged that some people do.

“Like Deputy Mayor Black says, let’s test drive it and if it works, great, if it doesn’t work, we can fix it,” Evans said.

Councillor Bruce Phinney said that flyers are delivered inside his apartment building in a place where residents can pick them up.

“They must be well wanted because sometimes I’ve missed out,” he added. “I personally enjoy them.”

Councillor Bruce Phinney

Phinney also said he visited Riverview recently where Bylaw Officer Brian Bell said the new rules are working well.

“He said sometimes, of course, there’s people who are still receiving [flyers] but what’s happened actually is it may be a new deliverer who has not been informed,” Phinney added.

He said Riverview has a good working relationship with Brunswick News, the Irving-owned company that distributes the flyers and he suggested Sackville’s bylaw officer make that connection too.

Deputy Mayor Black said he’s tried to cancel flyer delivery repeatedly without any success and he knows others who haven’t had much luck either.

He suggested the town post information about who residents can call to cancel the flyers.

Meantime, Sackville Town Council is expected to give the first of three readings to the new flyer bylaw at its meeting on November 8th.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Labour leaders support CUPE strikers in Sackville; province imposes emergency order to end health-care strike

L-R: Linda Silas, CFNU, Pat Lekas, local CUPE strike leader, Danny Légère, President NBFL, George Leaman, BCTGM

Three visiting labour leaders joined the CUPE picket line today in Sackville to show support for the 22,000 public sector workers across New Brunswick who went on strike last Friday.

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union (CFNU), said it was important to show support because CUPE is striking to protect public services and the right to free collective bargaining at a time when nurses themselves are facing a crisis because of chronic staffing shortages.

“We’re seeing an anger, a frustration with over 60% of nurses wanting to change jobs, 25% wanting to leave nursing,” she said, “and this crisis has built up in New Brunswick with two tentative agreements being overwhelmingly rejected by the members,” Silas added.

Danny Légère, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL), said public sector workers have been neglected for too long by a series of provincial governments.

“Wages in the public sector, not just CUPE but all the public sector in New Brunswick, haven’t kept up with inflation, so workers have been falling further and further behind,” he said.

“Workers are tired, they’re burnt out, in some instances they’re working two and three jobs, using the food banks and they’re just saying, ‘Enough’s enough’ and this CUPE strike is about that neglect of the public sector,” Légère added.

George Leaman of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union (BCTGM) said no one wants to be on strike, but CUPE has to stand up just as workers did in 1992 when the McKenna government tried to impose wage freezes on public sector workers.

“This goes back to McKenna and back to ’92 and I don’t mind saying this,” Leaman added, “governments haven’t done anything for the working class as much as they have for the Irvings and the big companies.”

Danny Légère pointed to the five-cent increase in the minimum wage last April as part of a deliberate Higgs government policy.

“I think there’s an attempt to keep a low-wage economy in order for businesses and corporations to maximize profits when they come set up shop in New Brunswick,” he said.

Province uses emergency powers

Premier Higgs discusses mandatory order forcing CUPE health-care workers back on the job as of midnight

The three labour leaders spoke hours before the New Brunswick government announced it is using its emergency COVID-19 powers to force all striking CUPE health-care workers to return to their regular shifts beginning at midnight.

Premier Higgs told a news conference in Fredericton that the mandatory order would apply only to health-care workers and not to other striking CUPE workers such as school staff and prison guards.

Higgs said the measure was necessary to protect the health and safety of hospital patients.

He spoke after the the CEOs of the Horizon and Vitalité Health Networks told reporters that the health system is in crisis partly because the CUPE strike has forced the cancellation of hundreds of surgeries as well as thousands of tests and medical procedures.

To read the latest government news release announcing the mandatory order, click here.

Posted in New Brunswick government, New Brunswick politics, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment