Sackville Roundtable on Climate Change seeking $125K annual budget

Roundtable spokesman Richard Elliot addressing online meeting of town council

The Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change has outlined its plan to seek an annual budget of $125,000 that would include money to hire a full-time co-ordinator.

During Monday’s Sackville Town Council meeting, retired wildlife biologist Richard Elliot said the Roundtable has already benefited from the work of a summer student.

But he said it now needs professional help to pursue priority projects such as reviewing existing municipal climate change plans, developing links with other municipalities, revising the climate change “lens” it uses to advise the town on its spending and developing training for new councillors.

“We’d like to hire a dedicated staff person who’s an expert on climate change to enable us to keep on moving in this direction,” Elliot said.

He asked the town to contribute seed money to help the Roundtable raise most of its funds from other sources such as the federal departments of environment and natural resources, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund.

Elliot, who serves on the Mayor’s Roundtable with about 30 other members, said the group hasn’t come up with a definite figure, but suggested the town’s annual contribution could be about $25,000.

“We’re asking town council to confirm its current commitment to support for the Roundtable. We feel that we’ve demonstrated that our activities are relevant and useful and kind of unique,” he said, adding that other communities have not been able to do as much.

Aside from advising the town on its capital budget, the Roundtable organized a public forum in February that attracted about 70 participants and has continued promoting a variety of projects including installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

Councillor Bill Evans thanked Elliot and fellow Roundtable presenters Quinn MacAskill and Barb Clayton.

“We’re now being asked to put our money where our mouth is,” Evans said. “I think this is our number one priority other than continuing to operate and so, I just want to say thank you and you are receiving a positive response from me.”

Councillor Allison Butcher agreed.

“I’ve always been in support of this and I look forward to Sackville continuing to be a leader in this respect,” she said.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment

Local historian celebrates revival of Sackville’s historic monument

Sackville Centennial Monument commemorates the town’s incorporation in 1903. The five stone blocks in the foreground — topped with black polished marble — name the town’s five founding peoples. The twin pillars in the distance bear bronze plaques containing historical information about the monument and what it commemorates.      — Photo by Charles Scobie

Local historian Charles Scobie is celebrating the renewal of one of the town’s most historic sites: the Sackville Centennial Monument at 120 Main Street in front of the new Lafford apartment building where he lives and next to the Mount Allison University Swan Pond.

In a news release, Scobie says new paths built this summer by the Sackville Rotary Club and JN Lafford Realty have made the monument more accessible so that visitors can learn about the town’s five founding peoples, the Mi’kmaq, Acadians, New England planters, Yorkshire settlers and American loyalists.

“It is a reminder that the town has a very long and distinguished history and I’m not sure that there’s anything else in town at the moment that would remind people or inform people of that,” he said today during a telephone interview.

Scobie notes that when the Laffords began construction of their 35-unit apartment building on the former United Church property in 2018, they cut down a grove of birch trees making the nearby Centennial Monument more visible and now, the new paths added this summer, give visitors easier access to it.

View from above showing new path built by JN Lafford Realty. — Photo by Charles Scobie

He reports that he’s been witnessing a revival of interest in the monument from his apartment balcony.

“We’re just delighted to see so many people going in to have a look at it and we’ve seen families with kids running around and climbing up on top of the monument, which is fine, it’s very sturdy and it won’t do it any harm at all,” he says with a chuckle.

Scobie notes that the Sackville Centennial Monument was commissioned to mark the town’s incorporation in 1903, but the Tantramar Historic Sites Committee decided to include plaques on two stone pillars with historical information stretching all the way back to the Mi’kmaq who inhabited the area before the arrival of the Acadians in the early 1700s.

Other plaques commemorate the New England planters who replaced the Acadians after their expulsion in 1755; the English settlers from Yorkshire who arrived in the 1770s and loyalists from the United States who fled the American Revolution in the 1780s.

“That’s my main delight that so many people are noticing it. I wouldn’t say they all stand at the pillars and read all the plaques,” Scobie adds, “but they do come and walk between the pillars and walk up and look at the monument.”

For additional information about the Sackville Centennial Monument, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Sackville’s new $25K sculpture could show which way the winds are blowing on climate change

If council approves it, the new sculpture could be installed by December (click to enlarge)

Sackville Town Council will be asked to approve a public art installation next week that would depict a 15-foot-high metal cattail with a working weathervane on top and a compass at its base.

The stainless steel and chrome sculpture, called The Chignecto Balance, was designed by Slipper Liu Studio of Vancouver to create awareness of climate change.

Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer Jamie Burke told council tonight that the Slipper Liu proposal fell within the $25,000 the town had budgeted this year for public art.

The project was chosen unanimously by judges, including members of the Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change, because it related specifically to the Tantramar region’s balance between “being a transportation corridor, but also rich in wildlife,” Burke said referring to the automobile and the big bird atop the weathervane.

“We felt this was the strongest and most appropriate work for the community and given its size and design elements, we really felt that it would be a strong symbol of raising awareness for climate change,” he added.

He said the sculpture would also feature troughs to gather and disperse rain water during storms.

According to Burke, the cattail sculpture could be located in one of five locations:

  1. Behind the Arts Wall near the entrance to the Waterfowl Park
  2. On the Lund property within the park
  3. At the Civic Centre
  4. At the Visitor Information Centre on Mallard Drive
  5. Beside the new Lorne Street flood control retention pond

“Because it is a weathervane, ideally it would be in an area that is obviously windy,” Burke said. “That was one of the reasons why some members of the Roundtable felt that the retention pond that is open and clear may be a better spot to capture the wind.”

For his part, Mayor John Higham stressed the educational aspect of the sculpture.

“The Roundtable people who looked at the design spoke about it needing to be seen by people because it would be an educational tool where you would learn to see which way the winds were blowing and what that meant when it moved in other directions,” Higham said.

“It was quite interesting, their view of it having a different benefit than perhaps just a nice lookin’ thing,” he added.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Mt. A. prof warns that closure of Sackville’s weekly paper could have dire effects

Erin Steuter speaking during a panel discussion sponsored by the N.B. Green Party in 2016

Mount Allison University Professor Erin Steuter says the Tantramar area needs a strong local newspaper so that people can understand the many issues they’re facing rather than depending on unreliable social media posts that can sow division, intolerance and even hatred.

“People need information, they need local, specific information and when they don’t have it, they go looking and what they find then is not created by professional journalists, it’s not verified, there are unnamed sources and it could even be created by malicious bots.”

She referred to an example in Bathurst where it appears that somebody with no connection to the community deliberately spread false information to disrupt local news groups on Facebook.

Steuter, who is the head of Mount Allison’s Sociology Department, is the author of the recent book Won’t Get Fooled Again: A Graphic Guide to Fake News.  She has also written extensively about news media issues in New Brunswick including the Irving family’s use of its newspaper monopoly to promote its business empire while suppressing information it doesn’t like.

Steuter’s warning about the possibly dire effects of losing the local newspaper came during a telephone interview three days after Sackville Mayor John Higham told town council that the future of the Sackville Tribune-Post doesn’t look promising.

“I want to let you know that I had some discussions with SaltWire Communications about the future of the Tribune, not at very high levels, but the discussion wasn’t promising,” Higham said, adding that in a recent e-mail to subscribers, the company said it would need a minimum of 5,000 paid subscriptions and a strong advertising base before it could bring the weekly paper back.

In March, Saltwire, which owns 19 other weekly papers in Atlantic Canada, announced it was closing the Tribune-Post for at least 12 weeks because local businesses forced to shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic were no longer buying ads. Then last month, after announcing the permanent layoff of 109 employees, the company said it was assessing the future of all of its weekly papers including the ones in Sackville and Amherst.

During Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Higham suggested that if anyone wants to help SaltWire sign up thousands of subscribers and recruit local advertisers, he would put them in touch with company officials.

“It’s a big challenge and there’s going to have to be a lot of work if somebody wants to pursue this,” Higham said.

Online publication?

During her telephone interview with Warktimes, Erin Steuter noted that in the last few years, the Tribune-Post suffered from cutbacks in local reporting.

“There’s been a pretty dramatic decline in the quality of the local news coverage and I think a lot of people have been frustrated with that,” she said.

“We definitely were getting a lot of what I would consider filler opinion pieces from the larger region that was not what I was looking for and what many people were looking for in a local newspaper,” she said, adding the paper also published long travel features on faraway places.

“It was just generic stuff that you could easily find on the Internet and not about what’s important and happening in your communities.”

Steuter says online publications such as the Halifax Examiner have successfully attracted online subscribers with investigative reporting and vigorous coverage of local and provincial issues such as the recent mass shootings in Nova Scotia.

She said various models exist for generating revenues online including paywalls or getting access to additional material for higher subscriber rates, but SaltWire hadn’t tried any of those.

Steuter agreed that it might be possible to establish an online newspaper serving communities in Westmorland County in southeastern New Brunswick and Cumberland County in northern Nova Scotia in partnership with the community radio stations in Sackville and Amherst.

“I think that’s a really good idea to combine the communities because lots of people are living and working back and forth between them and we face similar environmental and economic issues that are being ignored by the more centralized parts of our own provinces,” she said.

“We’ve got important issues in terms of the border crossings between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick or around environmental issues like the dikes and the tidelands,” she added.

“We have all sorts of unique local issues here and we need to have local reporters covering them.”

To listen to a CHMA-FM interview with Erin Steuter about her new book on fake news, click here.

Posted in CHMA-FM, Mount Allison University, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

In 5-2 vote, Sackville Town Council donates $12K in cash to for-profit concerts

Sackville Town Council debated the pros and cons of supporting a “for-profit”entertainment business Monday night before deciding in a split 5-2 vote to contribute $12,000 to sponsor three, free concerts this summer on the shores of Silver Lake.

The concerts, called Levee on the Lake, are being organized by Garrison Hill Entertainment, a privately owned company that has recruited several other sponsors including the Royal Bank, the Atlantic Lottery Corporation and New Country, a radio station in Moncton.

The first concert is scheduled from noon to five p.m. on July 18 with others to follow in August and September.

‘Hungry for events’

Councillor Bill Evans

“I know that the community is hungry for events,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “We’re all dealing with frustration about the pandemic and I understand there’s a desire for things like this to happen.”

Evans was referring to plans for staging the five-hour concerts from a property on the Mount View Rd. shore of Silver Lake to audiences gathered in boats and other craft at safe distances on the water.

“It’s going to create some buzz for our community,” said Councillor Shawn Mesheau. “I challenge our downtown business community and our hotels and B and Bs to kind of step up at this point in time and be a part of this. Here’s your opportunity.”

Mesheau noted that the town would be committing itself to providing $3,000 as an “in-kind” contribution for the use of town boat ramps, snow fencing and other services plus $4,000 in cash for each of the three concerts, but only after proper expense receipts have been submitted.

“If things are cancelled, there’s really no cost to the municipality other than the in-kind services,” Mesheau said.

‘Can of worms’

Councillor Joyce O’Neil at an earlier council meeting

Councillor Joyce O’Neil said that while she would be willing to provide the in-kind contribution, she opposed supporting a private venture with public money.

“I feel we will be opening a can of worms if we provide financial funding to an organization that’s other than a not-for-profit one,” O’Neil said.

Councillor Andrew Black also opposed the cash contribution to Levee on the Lake.

“This request is asking for public funds to support a business that will be putting on an event for Sackvillians, which would be great for people to attend,” Black said. “But I’ve heard from a few constituents and it’s my belief that using public funds to support a business like this is not a good idea.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken argued that supporting the concerts would not set a precedent because the town already contributes money to such organizations as Sappyfest and Live Bait Theatre.

“Those, although they don’t generally make a profit, are not technically not-for-profit organizations,” Aiken said, adding that last year the town paid for entertainers to come — “those are essentially one-person businesses that make a profit.”

Aiken said the free concerts could help local restaurants and hotels.

When Mayor Higham called the vote, Deputy Mayor Aiken along with Councillors Evans, Mesheau, Tower and Butcher voted in favour of the contribution to Levee on the Lake while Councillors O’Neil and Black voted against. (Councillor Bruce Phinney was apparently unable to attend the online meeting because of password issues with his laptop computer.)

Sappyfest chair expresses dismay

2020 Sappyfest’s flying cat

Jeska Grue, chair of Sappyfest says she was “angry and disheartened” last night when she learned that town council had decided to support a series of for-profit concerts with three times the amount it contributes each year to Sappyfest.

During a telephone interview and also on Facebook, Grue pointed out that Sappyfest has been a registered, non-profit organization since 2009. (According to its website, Live Bait Theatre is also a registered non-profit.)

“Sappyfest receives $4,000 a year after we apply for a town grant,” she says, adding the festival’s total budget is about $120,000.

“So our funding from the town is just 3% of our overall expenses,” she adds. “It is the largest visitor draw to Sackville each year for well over 10 years,” she says, adding that Sappyfest has never accepted corporate sponsorship, partly because of its mandate.

“I’m firm in my conviction that for-profit, corporate sponsor-driven festivals serve an entirely different mandate than not-for-profit festivals. And last night, town council voted to approve funding towards one with a dollar amount local non-profit orgs couldn’t even dream of,” Grue wrote in her Facebook post.

To those living here, what the hell!” she added.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 17 Comments

Consultants call for big changes in Sackville’s marketing strategy

How would you describe Sackville?

That question appeared to be a crucial one for Mike Randall and Jennifer Scott Harris as they presented an overview of a $15,000 strategic marketing plan to Sackville Town Council on Monday.

The two consultants work for Portfolio, the marketing firm in Moncton that town council hired last fall to recommend how Sackville could attract new residents, visitors and businesses.

Portfolio consultants Jennifer Scott Harris and Mike Randall addressing town council

Harris told council on Monday that in the course of their research, the consultants found that people had trouble answering that key question.

“The difficulty in answering the question, ‘How would you describe Sackville?’ was interesting,” Harris said, adding that it pointed to the fact that the town needs a clearer statement or ‘elevator pitch’ to use in attracting people.

“The ‘New Kind of Small Town’ experience slogan was viewed as a bit too abstract,” Harris added. “It means different things to different people, but it makes it hard to really answer that question, ‘How would you describe Sackville?'”

Marketing materials lack focus

The Portfolio report shows examples of Sackville’s marketing efforts over the past decade

The wide-ranging Portfolio report, more than 50 pages in length, points out that in the last eight years, the town has used nine different tags or slogans:

Cultural Crossroads – Taste of Sackville – Sweet Little Sackville – Cultural Capital – Where You Belong – Simple Be Yourself – Culturally Inspired, Naturally Beautiful – LOVE – A New Kind of Small Town

The report adds that town marketing materials have focused on a number of different community elements including culture and arts, Sackville’s marsh, young people and seniors as well as food.

“To date, Sackville has used a generic marketing approach, hoping to catch people with generic advertisements and marketing efforts as opposed to specific and targeted marketing,” the report notes.

Successful marketing

The Portfolio report highlights the “Nice Matters!” slogan on the website of Emerald Isle, North Carolina

Mike Randall told council on Monday that the consultants reviewed marketing materials and slogans from other towns in North America that were successfully attracting new residents, visitors and investors.

“Successful marketing communities have identified those key things that people you’re hoping to attract can’t get or view closer to where they live or where they’re located now,” he said.

“What does Sackville offer those target audiences that they can’t get closer to them than we are?”

Randall advised the town to highlight things that would make a trip, visit or move to the town special and worthwhile.

“Trying to be something to everybody, trying to be generic enough that we attract everybody is actually attracting no one and we need to be more targeted and be very specific and very targeted in terms of what the town of Sackville can offer,” he said.

Among other things, the consultants suggested setting up targeted websites such as VisitSackville.com, InvestinSackville.com and MovetoSackville.com to reach specific audiences.

‘Positioning statement’

The Portfolio report mentions “The Middle of Everywhere” slogan used by St. Stephen, N.B

“Don’t get too hung up on logos and slogans. A brand is a perception, it lives in the minds of all of your target audiences and it’s what they think of Sackville,” Randall told town council.

“Successful brands, though, in all the municipalities we looked at across North America, really had a narrow focus, they don’t try to be everything to everybody, they’re very specific.”

The Portfolio report lists suggestions for what the consultants call “positioning statements” that answer the question, What do we want the town to be known for? and that tie all of the town’s assets together:

• Life’s Better in Sackville • Sackville: Canada’s Perfect University Town • Sackville: Where life begins again • Sackville: Canada’s smartest little town • Sackville: The perfect place to grow… (a business, a family, your mind, a garden, an idea) • Sackville: Small town. Big conscience. • Sackville: Socialize, Arts, Culture, Knowledge • Sackville: home of Mount Allison University and a very cool lifestyle • Sackville: that university town lifestyle, for life

The report cautions, however, that a positioning statement needs to be widely supported by town residents who should be consulted before one is drafted.

After the consultants’ 16-minute presentation, Mayor Higham said he appreciated their recommendation that Sackville come up with a focussed message or what he called a “playbook” to use when prospective new residents or visitors ask about the town.

“I met a guy who came through here, 3 a.m. after the borders opened, because he was thinking of retiring here, but he couldn’t put his finger on why,” the mayor said, adding that he tried to list all of the town’s attractions as he talked to the man for 20 to 40 minutes outside of Tim Hortons.

“It reflects my experience in terms of trying to market [the town] and that would be great to have more of a playbook that we could put it together with.”

Meantime, members of town council will be reviewing the Portfolio marketing plan over the next month before deciding whether to adopt it, probably in August.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Marketing plan tells Sackville to sell itself to its residents before appealing to outsiders

Cover page of new plan from Portfolio Marketing of Moncton. A summary of the plan was presented during town council’s meeting this week, but it has not yet been adopted

A comprehensive, draft marketing plan, more than 50 pages long, suggests that in spite of its many strengths, the town of Sackville has high hurdles to overcome in selling itself as a desirable place to visit, live and invest.

According to Portfolio,  a marketing firm in Moncton, one of the biggest hurdles involves resolving what the consulting firm sees as differences among three distinct groups of residents: “rural/agricultural; urban/Educated/hipster; and, Mount Allison students/faculty.”

Town Council awarded a $15,000 contract to Portfolio last fall to come up with a marketing strategy.

In the course of their research, the consultants conducted one-on-one interviews with 12 “key stakeholders” including business owners; members of the Mount Allison University marketing team; investors; and, representatives of community organizations.

Portfolio conducted a World Café-style community consultation that attracted about 25 people.

The consultants also talked to members of town council and the town’s senior management staff.

In their report, the consultants say they found that the three groups of rural, urban and university-affiliated residents have differing views about what Sackville stands for and how they want it to evolve.

The report goes on to say that the differences manifest themselves in feelings like:

—From page 13 of the Portfolio Draft Marketing Plan

Overcoming disunity

The consultants’ report says that before the town develops strategies to attract new residents, businesses and tourists, it needs to overcome disunity among its three distinct groups of existing residents.

It suggests developing an internal marketing and communications plan to bring resident groups together using social media, a monthly e-mail newsletter or an online site such as Moncton’s Pickle Planet to promote town events, share its successes and give reasons why “residents are so lucky to call Sackville home.”

The consultants also recommend that the town involve Mt. A. and local businesses in developing plans to deal with the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic so that all can “emerge from this global crisis even stronger and more sustainable than before.”

Other recommendations include:

Part of table from pages 40-41 of the draft marketing plan

The draft plan also outlines ideas for making Mount Allison students feel welcome, giving businesses more of a voice and attracting visitors. To read this section of the report click here then scroll down to the heading “Make students feel at home in Sackville.”

Sackville Town Council listened to Portfolio’s summary of the draft marketing plan, but there wasn’t much discussion of it because councillors hadn’t had a chance to read the whole report.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau seemed to speak for many of his colleagues when he said he would need to consider the plan before coming up with questions.

“I’m really looking forward to getting into the meat of it,” he said. “There’s some important work that was done here.”

This is the first in a series of reports on Portfolio’s draft marketing plan. To read the entire 50+ page plan posted on the town’s website, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sappyfest seeks town’s help in using Sackville’s tallest building as a giant video screen

Plans call for the 1,800 sq. metre east side of the Terra Beata food freezer to become a giant projection screen during Sappyfest in August

The Sappyfest arts and music festival is planning an “onside the box” event on August 1st using Sackville’s tallest building as a giant, outdoor projection screen from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Sappyfest Treasurer Jeff MacKinnon says that COVID-19 restrictions have forced the festival to present virtual and online performances this year including a plan to project images onto the 1,800 square metre, east-facing side of the Terra Beata freezer plant in the Sackville Industrial Park.

MacKinnon told Sackville Town Council Monday night that other groups have also thought about using the giant freezer as a theatre screen — one that would be more than three times larger than the biggest, currently operational, outdoor screen in North America.

“We’re not the first organization to think of this idea, but hopefully we’ll be the first organization along with Struts Gallery and Owens Art Gallery to pull something off,” he said.

He explained that the projected images would include art installations, an independent film screening and a pre-recorded performance by an artist already booked to appear at Sappyfest, but who cannot come here because of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

MacKinnon said the name of the artist would be announced later.

Jeff MacKinnon addressing town council

He added that although the parking lot at Terra Beata and the space in front of the nearby Sackville Public Works building could hold up to 500 spectators with proper physical distancing rules in place, the plan is not to attract a large crowd.

“The project itself is to project an image on the side of this freezer building that can be documented and recorded,” he said, adding that it could then be shown later during the festival.

MacKinnon said the town could help by closing part of Crescent Street, providing space in front of the Public Works building as well as a connection to the building’s power supply. He also asked town council to waive the provisions of its noise bylaw for the evening event.

Judging from the enthusiastic reaction of several councillors, it appears MacKinnon’s wishes will be granted when town council meets again next week.

Councillor Bill Evans thanked MacKinnon for his presentation.

“I was grinning like a fool the whole time,” Evans said. “This is something that I and a number of people have thought about, that great big space, we should project something on it. So I’m delighted that you have this idea. I’m really tickled and I’m keen.”

When Evans asked if Sappyfest was also asking for money to help with the event, MacKinnon assured him that he was not seeking more financial support. The town has already contributed a $4,000 special events grant to Sappyfest this year.

Councillors Michael Tower, Allison Butcher and Shawn Mesheau also expressed enthusiasm for the screening project.

“This is fabulous,” Mesheau said. “For what we’re up against right now and what we’re dealing with, very exciting,” he added.

MacKinnon said that COVID-19 restrictions could work to the benefit of Sappyfest in the longer term.

“This year does give us an opportunity to explore new methods that can possibly reshape the way that we do things,” he said.

“Maybe this, if successful this year, becomes a regular part of Sappyfest programming.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Sackville councillors say no to $80k dog park

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken at an earlier council meeting

Sackville Town Council has scrapped plans for an $80,000 dog park in Beech Hill Park.

At their meeting tonight, councillors came to a consensus that the project should be put off for at least year if not longer.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken appeared to speak for the majority when he said he thought Beech Hill Park was the wrong place for a fenced-in dog park.

“It’s too much money, a ridiculous amount of money for this,” Aiken said, suggesting that there may be better uses for the money given the potential financial stresses caused by the COVID-19 pandemic

“This is just not the right time to do it,” he said. “This is one we can put on hold for a year, two, three years whatever, if we really want it in the future some time.”

Aiken said that as someone who has three dogs himself, he knows there are lots of places to exercise them.

Councillor Joyce O’Neil repeated comments she made last fall when she said spending $80,000 for a dog park makes no sense.

“Not when we have miles of streets and sidewalks here in town where people can put their dogs on a leash and walk their dogs for exercise,” she said at tonight’s meeting.

Letting dogs run

Councillor Bill Evans

Only Councillor Bill Evans spoke in favour of a dog park.

“I’m not so dumb that I can’t read the writing on the wall here, but I just wanted to point out that the point of a dog park is the off-leash part,” he said.

“The fact that there are lots of places in town that you can walk a dog on a leash is not being disputed by anyone,” he added.

“There are very few places in town where you’re allowed to turn your dog loose and let them run.”

Town council initially allocated $25,000 for a dog park in last year’s budget after the town released a survey last summer showing strong support for one.

But councillors decided last fall to put the project off after learning that building two fenced-in areas in Beech Hill Park, one for smaller dogs and the other for larger ones, would cost $80,000.

The Beech Hill Park location, in a field beside the TransCanada Highway six-and-a-half kilometres from downtown Sackville, lost even more of its appeal in December when the Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change recommended that the dog park should be “as close as possible to the town centre to minimize the amount of driving and thus fossil fuel consumption undertaken by dog owners to get to the park.”

At tonight’s meeting, Councillor Andrew Black seemed to summarize the feelings of most councillors when he said he favoured maintaining the status quo — no dog park for Sackville.

“Like other councillors I was initially comfortable with the dog park — the $80,000 price point was a little high — but things change and my mind has been changed over time,” Black said.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 13 Comments

Sackville mayor calls for health summit as Horizon CEO says rural hospital cuts are still needed

Karen McGrath, president and CEO Horizon Health Network in the atrium at Sackville Memorial Hospital

Sackville Mayor John Higham is speaking out again after Horizon Health CEO Karen McGrath said cuts to services at six rural hospitals, including Sackville’s, are still needed.

During the regional health authority’s board meeting last week, McGrath seemed determined to implement the changes.

“We believed, and I have said we still believe, these were reasonable measures that would help make our health-care system more sustainable,” newspaper and radio reports quote her as saying.

She was referring to plans announced in February to close acute-care beds, eliminate day surgeries and shut down emergency rooms overnight at rural hospitals.

“The problems those measures were intended to fix haven’t gone away,” McGrath said. “Doing nothing isn’t an option.”

During an interview this week with CHMA, Sackville’s campus/community radio station, Mayor Higham seemed exasperated by McGrath’s comments.

“I absolutely disagree with her conclusions that this is a reasonable decision,” he said, adding the premier’s office has ignored requests for data that would justify the proposed cuts and the Horizon Health Network has refused to disclose that information.

“It’s a typical case of, ‘well, I’ve got a really, really good argument, but I can’t tell you why,'” Higham said. “Sounds like a kid in elementary school to me, quite frankly.”

Mayor John Higham

The mayor suggested that lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic show that it’s now more important than ever to maintain rural hospitals and he called on Premier Higgs to keep his promise to hold a summit meeting to discuss health-care needs.

“The world has changed in the last three or four months and the health system has changed and we’ve learned a lot through the COVID measures about what works and doesn’t work,” Higham said.

“We’re increasingly saying what we really need now is a real, true health summit about public services in the province,” the mayor added.

In February, Higgs cancelled implementation of the hospital cuts five days after they were announced in response to intense criticism from concerned residents and the resignation of Deputy Premier Robert Gauvin, his only Francophone cabinet minister.

The premier promised he would consult residents in the affected communities in April and May before convening a summit meeting in June to discuss the future of rural health care, but the COVID-19 emergency derailed those plans.

Now, Higham says that Higgs appears to be backing away from holding a summit.

The mayor adds that maintaining hospital services is crucial in attracting new residents and businesses.

“One of the big attractions of Sackville is that there is a hospital within minutes away…doctors with admitting privileges, doctors who can visit you in your own hospital,” he says.

Under the Horizon Health Network plan, Sackville’s acute-care beds would be re-allocated for chronic-care use meaning patients here who need short-term hospital treatment would go to Moncton.

Higham says the COVID-19 crisis in Italy showed that it’s unwise to concentrate hospital services in large regional centres instead of maintaining smaller, community ones.

“It’s the worst possible thing because everybody came to one spot and created a huge, snowball effect.”

He says New Brunswick’s population is evenly split between rural areas and the cities and both have to be treated equally.

“The tone of some of this debate has been is that, we have to have cities, that’s it,” he says.

“I find it distasteful and I don’t want that to continue. I don’t think we should be pitting ourselves against each other like that.”

To listen to and read a transcript of CHMA’s coverage, click here.

To read coverage of Karen McGrath’s visit to Sackville in February and how she justified cuts to hospital beds and services, click here.

In March, Sackville Town Council called for the removal of Karen McGrath as CEO of Horizon Health Network. For coverage, click here.

Posted in Health care, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment

Mt. A. lays off workers anticipating millions in losses because of COVID-19

Mt. A. President Jean-Boudreau addressing town council

Mount Allison President Jean-Paul Boudreau says the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including an anticipated drop in student enrollment, will result in a substantial shortfall in university revenues.

“It will be in the millions, it will be less than $10 million, but it will be a high number,” Boudreau told an online meeting of Sackville Town Council last week.

“Some difficult decisions will have to be made and some have been made,” he added after noting that wages and salaries account for 75% of the university’s expenses.

Although Boudreau gave no details during the council meeting, the university announced a series of measures last week that it said had affected 52 employees in one of three ways:

  • 16 employees had their hours reduced for the summer, most with a specific date for when they will return to full-time hours
  • 25 employees received temporary layoff notices, but some have since been recalled
  • 11 employees received layoff notices with no recall date

Many of the affected employees are members of CUPE, the union that represents clerical staff as well as custodial, maintenance, trades and groundskeeping workers.

A CUPE news release called the layoffs “unnecessary and unfair” quoting Lori MacKay, the union’s national servicing representative as saying they would generate savings of only 0.006% of last year’s $46 million operating budget.

“Mount A’s administration has not shared with us adequate student enrollment projections for fall 2020,” MacKay says in the release.

During last week’s town council meeting, Boudreau said it’s too early to estimate student enrollment for the coming year, but he did say that enrollment drops at all universities in Atlantic Canada could range from a low of 10% to “upwards of 40%.”

According to the Association of Atlantic Universities, a preliminary survey of full-time enrollment at Mt. A. on October 1 last year came up with the figure 2,180. And, according to Mt. A. budget figures, last year’s enrollment generated revenues from regular tuition and student fees of almost $19.9 million.

But according to Boudreau, this year will be different.

“If you look at the potential deficit impact, it ranges from $100 to $200 million dollars in one year in Atlantic Canada alone,” he warned.

“It’s going to be a bumpy road ahead,” he said. “I’m going to keep my CEO of Optimism hat on and hope that we will weather the storm.”

Posted in COVID-19, Mount Allison University | Tagged | 1 Comment