Sackville audience hears about giving local schools more power to make decisions

About 85 parents, students, teachers, school support workers and community members spent more than two hours Thursday night discussing the future of public education at Sackville Town Hall.

In response to their ideas and concerns, the participants heard about the provincial government’s latest proposals for reform from George Daley, the deputy minister of education for anglophone schools who was appointed in mid-November, just over two months ago.

Daley, a veteran teacher and vice-principal, who served a two-year term as head of the teachers’ union, was a last-minute substitute for Education Minister Dominic Cardy who was ill.

Daley noted that the province’s 25-page discussion paper on education released last fall calls for a complete review of the system every 10 years and agreed with participants who said that was a good idea.

“We’re also going through a new planning model with districts and schools because our intention is to try to actually turn the system upside down so the planning starts in the schools and the teachers and the administrators will determine what the needs of the schools are,” he said.

“It is a new way of thinking,” he added, referring to what he called the previous “top-down” model of decision making.

“We’re going to try to flip that. I hope it’s going to work,” he said. “When we get to the point about how do we involve communities and how do we engage,” he added, “we have to put decision-making and some authority in our communities.”

George Daley, deputy minister of education for anglophone schools

Daley’s comments appeared to support the efforts of Sackville 20/20, the non-profit group that is lobbying for local, community-based learning involving partnerships that would integrate all of the schools and the university in a “community learning campus.”

Daley said later during an interview that while he’s familiar with Sackville 20/20, he hasn’t followed what the group has been doing in the past year.

“I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of it, but I know they’re here and their references pop up quite a lot,” he added.

Hunger in schools

On other issues, Daley repeated the position outlined in the discussion paper that ways have to be found to improve French immersion so that anglophone students can speak the language by the time they graduate from high school.

He also said he recognized the need for better mental health services in schools as well as the crucial importance of food programs to eliminate hunger.

“Our students have got to be in school first, they’ve got to be fed, they’ve got to be safe, we have to build relationships with them,” he said, “after that’s done, then we can start teaching.”

Daley added he was hired as deputy minister to do things differently.

“One of the things I said is, ‘that what we’re measuring, we’re going to change’ because I don’t think we’re measuring the right things and I do believe one of the things we need to measure is the breakfast program,” he said, adding that, at present, food security programs are not funded by the province.

Daley said he couldn’t promise that he could get funding for every school food program.

“But I do think that is one of those conversations we’ve got to have.”

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

Sackville could be first in North America to get UN recognition for preserving wetlands

Sackville is seeking international recognition as the kind of small town that protects, creates and restores wetlands within its boundaries including its 75-acre Waterfowl Park.

“The Waterfowl Park is, for sure, the anchor in this and is a real jewel in a community anywhere in North America,” says Garry Donaldson, the manager of wildlife assessment and protected areas for the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS).

Donaldson quickly adds, however, that Sackville’s application for formal accreditation as a United Nations Ramsar City Wetland Site will include other assets such as Silver Lake and the habitat created by the new 40,000 cubic metre pond that is part of the Lorne Street flood control project.

He explains that Ramsar is a convention under the United Nations that formally recognizes the conservation of wetlands of national and international significance.

The convention or treaty was first signed in the city of Ramsar, Iran in 1971. It took effect in Canada 10 years later, on May 15, 1981.

New Lorne St. flood control pond will be part of the application to get Sackville recognized as a Ramsar City Wetland Site

“It’s really a tool that Sackville can use to indicate to the world that it values wetlands and is going to be managing the area for the ongoing protection of those wetlands,” Donaldson said during a telephone interview from the CWS regional office on Waterfowl Lane.

“Considering that Sackville could become the first accredited city in North America, it gives a real power to the accreditation,” he added. “It puts Sackville sort of above the bar in terms of municipalities that are managing natural habitat.”

At its meeting last week, Sackville Town Council authorized Mayor Higham to sign the application form seeking Ramsar accreditation before the submission deadline of January 31.

Donaldson says accreditation would not create additional legal obligations for the town.

“From the town’s perspective, I see that as a bit of a win-win,” he adds.

“They gain the recognition for what work they’re already doing, but don’t have to sign onto anything that commits them to any liabilities down the road.”

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

Sackville resident appeals to town council for help in preventing tragedy on Pond Shore Rd.

Don Gouthro gestures toward a blind hill on Pond Shore Rd., the site of a high-speed, hit-and-run collision on Dec. 23rd that sent a neighbour to hospital with serious injuries

A retired teacher warned Sackville Town Council last night that people’s lives are in danger because of excessive speeding on Pond Shore Road near Silver Lake.

“We fear that it’s going to be a tragic accident that occurs if something is not done,” Don Gouthro said.

He appealed to council for help in persuading the province, which is responsible for the road that is part of Rte. 940, to reduce the speed limit from 60 kmh to 50 and to install signs warning of hidden driveways and school bus zones.

He also asked council to push the RCMP for more frequent patrols as well as radar speed traps on the stretch of road between Uphill Drive and Mount View Road.

“There’s a lot of young children who stand here in the morning and afternoon to get on and off the school bus,” Gouthro said during an interview outside his home at 81 Pond Shore Road.

He pointed out that the neighbourhood is home to 18 children ranging in age from about three to 13.

“Our biggest concern is the safety of those kids right now,” he said.

“It’s scary. It’s a scary area.”

High-speed, hit and run

Charles Bourque’s wrecked car in a photo posted on Facebook

Gouthro pointed to a high-speed collision on December 23rd that sent a 69-year-old neighbour to hospital suffering from severe shoulder and back injuries, cracked ribs and whiplash.

The victim, Charles Bourque, says he was turning into his driveway at the crest of the blind hill when he was hit from behind by a pick-up that sent his car careening off the road as the truck driver sped away.

“I just passed out,” Bourque adds. He woke up with his car wedged between trees and a power pole.

“When a fireman come to the car and tapped on the window, he said, ‘Do you know who you are?’ I said ‘yeah I know that.’ ‘Do you know how you got here?’ I said, ‘no,'” Bourque told Warktimes.

“Next thing I remember is them putting me in an ambulance.”

Narrow road, heavy traffic

Meantime, Don Gouthro is circulating a petition among his neighbours calling for change.

In the draft of a letter he may send to town council, Gouthro writes that fully loaded, tandem logging trucks travel Pond Shore Road during times of the year when there are no weight restrictions while at least one construction company uses it to get access to a gravel pit.

Don Gouthro addresses town council

His letter points out that a guardrail runs alongside the road for 800 metres beside Silver Lake in an area frequently used by university students who jog and bike there.

“The width of the shoulder of the road from the guardrail to the pavement’s edge is barely able to accommodate the width of an average baby stroller,” the letter says, adding that foot traffic is often forced to use the paved roadway because the shoulder is at times overgrown with weeds or clogged with snow while sections of the opposite shoulder are either washed away, strewn with rocks or overgrown with weeds.

Gouthro told town council last night that when he complained about road safety 10 years ago, the province removed the blind hill warning sign apparently because it wasn’t politically correct, but did nothing else.

Council response

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken said that when town council called on the province to change the speed limit about 10 years ago, provincial officials said no.

“It’s a provincial road and it’s their jurisdiction,” he said.

At his suggestion, council passed the following two resolutions:

Moved by Councillor Michael Tower and seconded by Councillor Andrew Black that council prepare a letter to the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) and the Member of the Legislature (MLA) requesting that the speed limit on Route 940 Pond Shore Road be reduced from 60KM to 50KM to the town limit and that DTI install proper signage in the area.

Moved by Councillor Michael Tower and seconded by Councillor Bruce Phinney that council make a request to the RCMP to increase patrols on Route 940.

RCMP response

Meantime, Sgt. Paul Gagné says the RCMP is aware of speeding in various parts of Sackville including Rte. 940.

“We do make patrols there quite a lot already,” he said during a telephone interview, adding that the police are especially vigilant during times when children and other vulnerable people are present.

Gagné adds that it’s always good when people report speeding issues so that police can follow up.

“We go to areas where we’re asked to,” he says.

He also encourages people to report habitual speeders and identify their vehicles so that the RCMP can visit them.

“People don’t necessarily recognize that they’re going over the limit,” he says.

Charles Bourque says Rte. 940 is “just like a raceway”

He also says the RCMP have launched a criminal investigation into the hit-and-run collision on December 23rd, but so far, no one has been charged in connection with the crash.

For his part, Charles Bourque says that over the years, he’s signed several petitions calling on the province to change speed limits and install warning signs, but nothing ever happens and he’s afraid nothing will.

“It’s just like a raceway all the way from the bridge at the lake to Midgic,” he says.

“They have to do something or somebody’s going to get killed.”

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

Green MLA calls for proportional representation, not a smaller legislature

Green MLA Megan Mitton

Local Green MLA Megan Mitton is calling on Premier Higgs to implement far-reaching electoral reform instead of musing about cutting the number of seats in the New Brunswick legislature.

“Frankly, I’m disappointed to hear that type of discussion happen as if democracy is the problem here,” Mitton said during a year-end interview in Sackville last week.

The member for Memramcook-Tantramar was commenting on a recent report in the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal in which Higgs is quoted as suggesting that since MLAs can be “barriers” to economic prosperity, it might be a good idea to reduce their numbers in the legislature.

The newspaper adds that although Higgs isn’t seriously considering chopping the number of MLAs from the current 49, the issue concerns him because it’s a “struggle” to persuade politicians to support economic development initiatives if they don’t garner votes in local constituencies.

Mitton suggested that having less representation in the legislature would do nothing to solve the province’s real economic problems.

“Some of the major problems we have in New Brunswick have to do with the monopoly we have around the press, around industries, and it’s not about the people working in those industries, it’s about how the power and wealth is distributed in our province,” Mitton said.

“Frankly, if we’re going to look at electoral reform, I’d like to see proportional representation,” she added.

Mitton pointed out that a Progressive Conservative government led by Bernard Lord established a commission to study legislative democracy in 2004 and when it recommended a system of proportional representation, the premier promised to hold a referendum on it during the municipal elections of 2008.

However, when Lord lost power in the 2006 provincial election, the Liberals scrapped the idea. (To read Professor Paul Howe’s study of proportional representation in New Brunswick, click here.)

“The idea for proportional representation has been around for a long time,” Mitton said, “so I’d like to see Higgs do that.”

Posted in New Brunswick politics | Tagged , | 6 Comments

MLA Megan Mitton calls on province to summon political will for big changes

MLA Megan Mitton and Sackville Mayor John Higham at 2020 New Year’s levee

Megan Mitton says one of the things she learned during her first year in the New Brunswick legislature is that there isn’t much political will to make changes.

“There’s really a lot that needs to be done,” the MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar said during an interview at the mayor’s New Year’s Day levee last week at Sackville Town Hall.

“There’s all kinds of things that need to happen,” she emphasized, “everything from making sure that the extremely rich are paying their fair share, to making sure that we are properly funding nursing seats in our province to help address the nursing shortage, to passing a ban on conversion therapy.”

Mitton explained that conversion therapy is the “disproven and harmful practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity usually through psychological means.”

She says she raised the issue in the legislature a couple of times, but after meeting with people in the LGBTQ community, is now drafting her own bill and plans to work with members of the other political parties to get it passed.

“This is something that wouldn’t even cost the government money, but is about protecting human rights,” she said, adding that other provinces, including Nova Scotia, have already banned conversion therapy.

Clinic 554

Mitton questions Premier Higgs in December about provincial funding for Clinic 554

Mitton has also been pushing the provincial government — so far, without success — to pay for abortions and other medical services, such as care for HIV patients, at Clinic 554, a privately run facility in Fredericton that has announced it may have to close if it can’t get provincial funding.

Successive New Brunswick governments have maintained the policy of funding abortions at three public hospitals, one in Bathurst and two in Moncton.

“The best practice is to provide this service in a community-care setting,” Mitton says.

She argues the province’s refusal to fund abortions outside of hospitals violates the Canada Health Act and forces many women to travel long distances.

“Transportation to get to medical services is a challenge anyway for a lot of people,” she says. “There’s also the timeliness factor for being able to access surgical abortions.”

Green bills

The NB Green caucus. Party leader David Coon (centre) with Kevin Arseneau and Megan Mitton

Mitton referred specifically to a couple of bills the three-member Green caucus introduced during the fall sitting of the legislature.

One, to amend the Crown Lands and Forests Act, would ban spraying the herbicide glyphosate on Crown forests while also requiring mills to buy more wood from private woodlot owners.

Another, to amend the Family Income Security Act, would allow the provincial minister of social development to work with the federal government to ensure a basic income guarantee for all New Brunswickers.

“Poverty is really such a huge issue in New Brunswick especially for seniors, especially for children,” Mitton says, “and if we aren’t willing to figure out ways to take care of everyone, to make sure they have what they need, then we’re really failing as a society and as a government.”

Mitton explains that the Green bill would replace social assistance rates with income guarantees and require the government to review them regularly.

She points out that current social assistance rates haven’t increased since 2014.

“It’s not enough to live on,” she says. “It’s $537 a month for a single person and it’s very hard to imagine how to find housing and food and heat with that amount and there are strict rules around not being able to even share your residence,” she adds.

“It’s not designed to really lift people out of poverty.”

Sackville & climate change

Earlier, Mitton told about 60 people at the mayor’s New Year’s Day levee she’s proud to represent Sackville and its surrounding communities in the provincial legislature.

“Sackville is always a leader,” she said.

“One thing I want to really highlight is the mayor and council’s leadership bringing together a round table on climate change,” Mitton added.

“That’s one of the defining issues and challenges that we face and I’m very proud that our town is innovating and finding ways to address that.”

Posted in New Brunswick politics | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

John Higham won’t seek re-election after one term as Sackville’s mayor

Mayor Higham addresses New Year’s Day levee

John Higham has announced he will not seek re-election as the mayor of Sackville.

“I had made a commitment that I would do one term as mayor and I’m going to keep that commitment,” Higham said during a brief speech today at the mayor’s New Year’s Day levee at Sackville’s Town Hall.

He added that while he won’t be running as mayor in the 2020 municipal election on May 11, the community will need to decide where it wants to go from here.

“I think it’s really important for you to consider what you want this community to look like in 10 years from now,” Higham said.

The mayor appealed to about 60 people at the levee to get involved as volunteers in such efforts as making Sackville a fully, age-friendly community, contributing ideas to the mayor’s roundtable on climate change or helping start a local chapter of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Moncton.

“There is a wide variety of things outside of regular town business that may attract you,” Higham said, “and I would encourage you to get involved and consider how you want to help build this town for the future.”

‘Fresh approach’

Earlier, Higham noted that when he campaigned for mayor in 2016, he called for a fresh approach to municipal issues.

“I think that if we look at much of the town activities over the last little while, we probably have hit on most of those themes that we talked about at the time,” he said.

He added, for example, that the town has established a leadership position in community-supported education through Sackville Schools 2020 and along with Amherst, has pushed for federal/provincial action to deal with the threat of flooding on the Chignecto Isthmus.

Higham said he’s been told that a contract has been signed for a $700,000 study of ways to reduce flood threats caused by rising seas and more frequent storms.

“The solutions for the saltwater threats are to be seriously reviewed in the next year or two,” he added. “We’re really happy about that because that threat is a constant and current danger to us here.”

The mayor said that the Lorne Street project has reduced the threat of freshwater flooding while transforming part of downtown Sackville through the creation of more wetland habitat.

Higham also mentioned new activity in the industrial park and the town’s strong financial position.

“So yes, things have gone pretty well in the last year and we’re well situated for this coming year,” he said, “and things have been pretty successful in my view.”

He added though that Sackville still faces challenges.

“You have to decide as a community whether you wish to continue on this path or whether you wish to take another path,” he said.

The mayor didn’t speak to Warktimes about why he decided not to seek re-election, but a report in the Moncton Times & Transcript says he promised his family that he would serve only one term. The newspaper quotes him as saying that his mother is in a care home on the west coast and another family member is ill making it hard to manage his personal responsibilities along with his role as mayor.

Higham is a partner in Chignecto Consulting Group, a firm that specializes in issues and projects affecting indigenous people.

To listen to the mayor’s seven-minute speech at his New Year’s Day levee, click on the media player below.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Province appoints mediator to help break deadlock in contract talks at Mt. A.

It looks like Mount Allison University and the union that represents 196 full and part-time professors and librarians will be heading back to the bargaining table in January.

The provincial minister of post-secondary education has appointed a mediator to help get negotiations going again after talks overseen by a provincially appointed conciliator broke down late last month.

Both sides say they’re willing to meet early in the new year with exact dates depending on the availability of the mediator.

Meantime, the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) has scheduled a strike vote for January 21 and 22 unless a tentative agreement is reached before then.

According to MAFA, the university’s refusal to fully replace faculty and librarians who retire or go on leave is a key issue in the contract talks that began in June. A related issue concerns what the union calls the “precarious” position of part-time professors who earn an average of just over $12,000 a year.

A MAFA news release issued earlier this week suggests there can be no agreement unless the university addresses these issues of “understaffing.”

“Mount Allison University is in the enviable position of having no debt and many years of an excess of revenues over expenditures,” the MAFA release says. “Its excellent reputation is held aloft by the steadfast efforts of its academic staff – both full-time and precarious – but this reputation is threatened by understaffing and the slow hollowing-out of the resources necessary to support its academic mission.”

For its part, the university says it considers the full and part-time contracts being negotiated to be longstanding, “mature collective agreements that require minimal change.”

In an update posted online on October 24, the university says MAFA’s bargaining team has proposed many significant changes with 100 still outstanding.

“Of these, there are more than 50 monetary items that the University estimates will cost in excess of $10 million over the life of the contract, which is an amount equivalent to an increase in salary and benefits of over 50 per cent,” the update adds.

To read the university’s bargaining updates, click here.

To read recent posts from the union, click here.

Posted in Mount Allison University | Tagged , | 1 Comment