Dead dog? Better notify town hall to avoid $100 fine

Warktimes mascot Lexi’s sudden death in July 2020 brought a stern, warning letter from the town

A retired public relations professor says the town of Sackville could show a little more empathy when it sends warning letters to pet owners who have not renewed their dog tags.

Trudie Richards, who taught in the communications department at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax for 18 years, was commenting on a stern letter the town sent dated May 21st.

“Dear Resident,” it begins. “Please be advised that dog tags in the Town of Sackville are now past due, effective April 1, 2021.”

The letter warns residents, who had a dog registered with the town in 2020, to purchase this year’s tag by June 21 to avoid a minimum $100 fine.

“If you no longer own a dog(s), just give us a call…and we will quickly update our records,” the letter says.

PR expert Trudie Richards, who does not live in Sackville, says the town needs to recognize that dog owners grieving the death of their pet would not be thinking about tags.

“We are not talking about tax evasion here,” she says.

“If someone’s pet has died, advising the authorities that a dog tag will no longer be necessary would be about the last thing on their minds. It is fine to issue a reminder, but a stern tone has no place in such correspondence.”

During last week’s town council meeting, Treasurer Michael Beal said those who fail to respond to the May 21st letter will receive another one in July with a $100 ticket from the bylaw control officer.

He suggested, however, that residents who receive the ticket could get it voided if they visit town hall within 14 days to report the death of their dog.

“Our ultimate goal is to ensure that all animals are registered, that rabies vaccinations have taken place for the safety and welfare of our citizens,” Beal said. “It’s not about issuing tickets, but if need be, that is the last step.”

 

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

Shephard & McGrath suggest Sackville ER closures may be only temporary, but that will depend on recruiting more nurses

Horizon’s Karen McGrath honoured in May as one of the Atlantic region’s top CEOs by Atlantic Business Magazine. Photo: Horizon

The CEO of the Horizon Health Network and the provincial minister of health seem to be sending mixed messages about whether the overnight, hospital emergency room closures in Sackville will be only temporary.

“I received assurances from the minister that these closures are temporary,” Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau told CHMA news after he talked with Health Minister Dorothy Shephard on Thursday.

“That statement was made several times through the conversation,” he added. “When you walk away from a meeting and you’re being told and given assurances by the minister that the closures are temporary, then I will have to take the minister at her word.”

Mesheau was referring to Horizon’s decision to close the Sackville ER during the summer from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays because three full-time nursing positions are vacant leaving only six nurses to cover all shifts.

However, a letter earlier in the week from Horizon CEO Karen McGrath, said restoring full ER services in Sackville would depend on the successful recruitment of more nurses.

“We will continue our efforts to recruit, but until we are able to fill these vacancies, the service reduction will continue,” McGrath wrote in a letter to MLA Megan Mitton that was copied to municipal leaders in Sackville, Memramcook, Port Elgin and Dorchester as well as to Fort Folly First Nation Chief Rebecca Knockwood.

“We will organize a meeting with community stakeholders in the coming weeks to explore opportunities for the community to support our recruitment efforts,” McGrath added.

A spokesman for Horizon Health said yesterday that details of that meeting are still being worked out.

McGrath, who has announced she is retiring from her $300,000-$325,000 CEO position next January, was responding to a letter in which MLA Mitton questioned the apparent lack of consultation before Horizon announced the ER closures on June 10th, the day before they were set to begin.

MLA Megan Mitton speaking in the NB legislature last year

“Putting lives at risk in the Memramcook-Tantramar riding due to a province-wide nursing shortage is an unacceptable solution to a problem that touches all of New Brunswick,” Mitton wrote to both Health Minister Shephard and CEO McGrath.

“Port Elgin is over 70 km away from Moncton; not having an Emergency Room open at night may be a matter of life and death for the people living in the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar,” Mitton added. “There is also no clinic in the region open during those times for non-emergency issues.”

Rockport emergency

The MLA’s concerns appeared to be borne out at 6:30 last Monday morning when Rockport resident Laura Christie, unaware of the weekend ER closures, drove her 71-year-old mother, who was having trouble breathing, to the Sackville emergency room.

“She was in rough shape,” Christie told the Moncton Times & Transcript.

She said that on the way to the hospital her mother, Marlene, was turning red and fanning herself, but when they arrived, they were told the ER was closed and nursing staff could not assess her mother’s condition or record her vital signs.

The newspaper reported that after Christie called 911, her mother was rushed by ambulance to the Moncton hospital where medical staff found she had fluid building up on her heart and lungs along with an irregular heartbeat.

Christie, who also told her story on Facebook, says her mother was kept in the emergency room and later admitted to hospital for treatment.

Recruitment

Meantime, Mayor Mesheau told CHMA that he and Health Minister Shephard discussed the possibility that Sackville might participate in recruiting nursing staff so the ER could return to full-time hours.

“The minister was glad to hear that we, as a municipality, want to participate in help solving recruitment issues,” Mesheau told reporter Erica Butler.

“And there’s definitely interest on her part and her department’s part in seeing that happen,” he added.

“So how it goes from there, within their structure, I guess that’s up to the minister to work through with Horizon.”

To read Megan Mitton’s letter to the health minister and Horizon CEO, click here.

To read Karen McGrath’s reply, click here.

Posted in Health care, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sackville councillors overrule rookie mayor; endorse leadership role in hospital fight

Councillor Sabine Dietz pushed for council leadership on ER closings

Sackville Town Council is getting involved in the fight to maintain 24-hour emergency services at the town’s hospital.

After a 49-minute debate last night at town hall, councillors voted to appoint Mayor Shawn Mesheau and one councillor to participate in the eight-member working group that has been trying to persuade the province to enhance the hospital’s services.

The working group, including former mayors John Higham, Pat Estabrooks and former Acting Mayor Ron Aiken, is now fighting against the weekend evening and overnight closing of the hospital emergency room (ER) at least until September.

“I very, very strongly believe that we as council have a gigantic role to play here and we need to take it by the horns,” Councillor Sabine Dietz said.

She argued that town council should play a prominent role in defending the hospital’s services.

“We need to play a leadership role in this, not just a participating role and that’s really my point,” Dietz said.

Mayor urges caution

Dietz was responding to suggestions from Mesheau that town council support the working group, but not make it a formal municipal committee or get directly involved in its plan to organize a public rally.

“I had somebody the other day approach me at work and felt that it was up to council to organize a protest,” Mesheau said.

“That’s not a municipality’s role to organize protests. The municipality needs to be working with all levels of government,” he added.

“We may not agree with government, but a municipality needs to build on those relationships.”

Mayor Shawn Mesheau urged caution

The mayor noted that he’ll be meeting this Thursday with provincial health minister Dorothy Shephard and local government minister Daniel Allain to discuss the summer ER closings.

So far, both Shephard and Horizon Health officials have said that closing the Sackville ER from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays will end when three additional nurses are hired, possibly by September, but that will depend on successful recruitment efforts.

CAO Jamie Burke said he shared Mesheau’s  concerns about direct town involvement.

“We’re not in the health-care business,” he said. “We pave roads, we build parks, we provide services to people’s property; the provincial government is responsible for providing health-care services.”

Burke acknowledged that maintaining hospital services is crucial for attracting new residents, for retaining those already here and for recruiting Mount Allison students, but said his preference would be to let the high-powered, community working group lead the campaign against ER cuts.

“They’re very successful,” he said. “They mobilize quickly, they’re not government, so they’re able to be more agile and quick on their feet [and] they’ve got a powerhouse of representatives sitting around the table to strategize about how best to move this.”

Council sides with Dietz

Councillor Michael Tower seconded Dietz’s motion directing the mayor and one unspecified councillor to participate in the community-led working group.

“I think it is our job to show leadership,” he said.

Councillor Michael Tower

“I think it’s our job to get involved. We have the podium we can use to talk to either Higgs or anybody up there because the operation and health of this town is still part of our mandate and I think we have to find ways to make that work,” Tower added.

“The bottom line is we need more control here locally and so we have to find a way to take action to get the government to wake up, talk to us and work with us and that way we’d get back to what Higgs wanted, a collaboration with all the municipalities and make this health care work.”

Despite the mayor’s and CAO’s calls for caution, council approved this motion unanimously:

Moved by Councillor Sabine Dietz and seconded by Councillor Michael Tower that in light of current threats to our hospital and the current summer closures to the Emergency Room Department, we direct mayor and one (1) councillor to take part in the health committee and regularly report back to council, working towards ensuring our hospital remains at full services.

After the vote, Councillor Dietz laughed as she apologized for prolonging the new council’s very first session.

“That’s OK,” Mayor Mesheau replied.

“The Chair is really enjoying this because, first out of the gate and wow,” he said.

“But that’s good, discussion is good.”

To see who is currently serving on the eight-member, health-care working group, click here.

For a report on the origins of the community working group in February, 2020, click here.

Posted in Health care, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 3 Comments

Critics lambaste Horizon Health and province for weekend ER closures at Sackville hospital

Former Mayor Pat Estabrooks addressing Town Council in 2017

The Horizon Health Network and the provincial government are facing a barrage of criticism for closing weekend evening and overnight emergency services at Sackville Memorial Hospital without any consultations.

“I’m disappointed that we were not approached until the last minute,” says former Mayor Pat Estabrooks, who now serves as chair of the Hospital Foundation. “I don’t think there’s a lot of details on why [this is happening] other than nursing shortages.”

Estabrooks said she has serious doubts about the decision to close the Sackville emergency room (ER) weekend evenings and overnights starting yesterday.

The indefinite closures will continue at least until September, meaning that the Sackville ER will be shut down from 4 p.m. until 8 a.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Horizon VP Clinical Geri Geldart explains weekend closures of Sackville ER

During an online news conference on Friday, Horizon Vice President Geri Geldart said that the closings are necessary because three of the nine nursing positions in the local ER are vacant.

“The Sackville Memorial Hospital staff have held this service together for quite some time,” she told reporters.

“They’ve worked extra hours, they’ve worked overtime, they’ve changed their schedules with really very limited notice and they’ve done it all so that they could maintain the coverage of the service in the emergency department,” Geldart said.

“We have to balance our responsibilities to provide health care with the need to provide our staff with a reasonable amount of vacation time and given the past year with all of the pressures that everybody’s experienced with respect to COVID, it’s even more important that we give our staff the opportunity of having a small break.”

Geldart said Horizon is working on recruiting more nurses and is in touch with a small number who have expressed interest in working at the Sackville hospital, but she could not give a definite date when the weekend closures might end.

‘Thin edge of wedge’?

Dr. Ross Thomas addressing rally against cuts to Sackville hospital services in Feb. 2020

“The concern I would have with all this is that there’s no very clear plan about re-instituting the service and there’s no commitment to that,” says retired Sackville doctor Ross Thomas.

He notes that in February 2020, Horizon and the province announced that all overnight emergency services in Sackville and at five other rural hospitals would be shut down, before protest rallies forced the Higgs minority government to cancel its plan.

“Knowing the Horizon administration wished previously to curtail services in hospitals and now this is a good excuse to say, ‘Well, you know we tried, but we can’t staff it so therefore we’re going to do what we were going to do anyway,” Thomas adds.

He says Horizon may be doing a trial run to see how the public reacts.

“If this is an essential service, it needs to be staffed,” he says, “and obviously, they’re taking the attitude that this is not an essential service…The concern is that this is just the thin edge of the wedge, it’s death by a thousand cuts.”

‘It’s big and it’s bad’

Newly elected Sackville Town Councillor Sabine Dietz says full emergency room services are essential in Sackville for economic development and attracting new residents, businesses and doctors as well as for students at Mount Allison University.

“I think personally we can’t let this go quietly, we can’t just accept this because it is part of the steps of reducing the services that we have,” Dietz says, while emphasizing that she is speaking for herself and not on behalf of  town council.

“I think it’s big and it’s bad.”

Sackville Councillor Sabine Dietz

She says that while the provincial health minister talks about welcoming new nurses, they are currently working without a new contract. (Their previous one expired in 2018 and according to union president Paula Doucet, they are the lowest paid registered nurses in Canada).

“Are we surprised, all of a sudden at having (nursing) shortages?” Dietz asks, adding that the health authorities are now using them to justify cuts.

“Of course, it had to happen,” she says. “The way it’s lined up with the intent of closing some of Sackville’s services, with the lack of training of nurses in the province, with the lack of recruitment in the province, all of that, it was just a matter of time in my opinion.”

Higgs broke promise?

Local Green MLA Megan Mitton, who is currently on maternity leave, issued a statement on Facebook that said cutting Sackville ER services to deal with a province-wide nursing shortage isn’t an acceptable solution.

“I have requested that the Minister of Health and CEO of Horizon take immediate steps to consult with local stakeholders to create a new plan that will ensure that emergency health needs are met even as we navigate a difficult time,” Mitton wrote.

“I have faith that the creativity and commitment of local health professionals and engaged community members are up to the challenge.”

Meantime, in the legislature yesterday, Green Party leader David Coon asked Premier Higgs why he had broken the promise he made last year to maintain full ER services at rural hospitals including Sackville Memorial.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard speaking in the NB legislature

Answering on Higgs’s behalf, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard called the Sackville ER closures temporary.

“The issue is, Mr. Speaker, if you do not have doctors, if you do not have nurses to have in those emergency rooms, you risk the safety of every patient and staff member by keeping them open,” she added.

“This is not a permanent closure, Mr. Speaker. This is an action taken to support the summer staffing shortages that are certainly going to happen.”

For her part, former Mayor Estabrooks says Sackville can’t accept nursing shortages as a reason for cutting ER services.

“I realize that both nurses and doctors have had a rough year,” she says. “A lot of them are very tired and they need vacations and I understand all of those things, but I think they’ve had sufficient time to look at the situation here at our hospital and do the replacements that are needed.”

Estabrooks says the ad-hoc committee that has been fighting for the hospital will be sending a letter to Horizon questioning the ER closures.

“Also, I think it’s time to have a public reaction to this too in person. I think we need a rally  again and just say, ‘We’re not going to stand for this.'”

Posted in Health care, New Brunswick politics | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Mt. A. Professor Rima Azar banned from university campus during 7-month suspension

Rima Azar during YouTube interview with Jordan Peterson

A Mount Allison psychology professor says she’s been banned from the university campus until December 1st when her seven-month suspension without pay is scheduled to end.

Rima Azar made the disclosure during a lengthy YouTube interview with Jordan Peterson, the former University of Toronto psychology professor who became internationally famous for his denunciations of political correctness and identity politics along with his defences of assertive masculinity and unfettered free speech.

“What are the grounds for not allowing you to be on the campus?” Peterson asked.

“I guess I’m toxic maybe,” Azar responded before Peterson interrupted.

“It’s because you present a danger,” he said ironically.

“Danger, unsafe, see…” Azar answered before Peterson interrupted again.

“Right, right, so that, that makes sense. So, now you’re an unsafe person and so you can’t go on the campus because of the threat that you might pose to students,” he said.

“Yes,” Azar replied.

Azar suspended in May

In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff on May 4th, the university said its decision to suspend Azar was based on the report of an independent investigator who “reviewed complaints from students alleging discriminatory conduct, stemming from blog posts and student interactions,” but gave no further details.

“Students, faculty, and staff deserve to have a safe place to learn and work, and should not have to avoid any class, activity or person because of their race, gender identity or gender expression,” the e-mail added.

Mount Allison launched its investigation in February after students complained that among other things, posts on Azar’s private blog denied the existence of systemic racism or systemic discrimination in Canada, accused the group Black Lives Matter of peddling communist propaganda and questioned concerns about climate change.

Faculty union challenging suspension

Jordan Peterson talking with Rima Azar on YouTube

Azar told Peterson she’s grateful for the support of the Mount Allison Faculty Association, suggesting that the union will take a formal grievance against her suspension to arbitration.

She added, however, that she could not give further details for fear of harming the process.

Azar agreed with Peterson that she has been hit with a suspension simply for exercising her right to free speech.

“If it happened to me, it may and it could and it would happen to anyone, not just at my institution,” she said. “No one should be going through that, not you, not me, not anyone.”

‘Witch-hunt charade’

Peterson criticized Azar’s university colleagues for not speaking up in her defence.

“I’m absolutely appalled at their silence on this issue,” he said.

“If they had an ounce of courage, they would unite together and they would tell the [university] administration to back the hell off right now, or else,” Peterson added.

“If they banded together behind you, this would be over right away. The university would buckle and the people who sanctioned you would be fired,” he said.

“It’s absolutely appalling that one of Canada’s finest undergraduate institutions should be participating in this bloody awful, witch-hunt charade.”

“I do understand that people are afraid sometimes because they may have kids,” Azar said before Peterson interrupted her.

“They should be afraid, I agree with you Rima, I agree with you, but the issue is what should you be afraid of?” he asked.

“Should you be afraid of defending your colleague, or should you be afraid of the arbitrary power handed to half-wit student mobs, hell-bent on bullying and destruction who are presenting themselves in the guise of moral avatars?” Peterson asked.

“Those are the people you should be afraid of and cowardly administrators who kow-tow instantly to any complaint no matter how groundless,” he added.

“Those are the things to be afraid of.”

For previous coverage of this story, click here.

Posted in Mount Allison University | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Canadians pay highest property taxes among industrial countries, but other taxes are lower

Olivier Jacques is a post-doctoral fellow at Queen’s University where he is doing research on public finance including taxation

A researcher at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario says Canada has the highest level of property taxes among the 38 industrialized countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“There is a decision that has been made in Canada to have higher property taxes than elsewhere,” Olivier Jacques said during a telephone interview on Thursday.

“It’s actually the only tax where Canada is actually taxing much more, using that tax much more than other countries,” he added. “For pretty much all the other taxes, they tend to be lower in Canada.”

Jacques was commenting on an academic essay he wrote last year in which he pointed out that municipal property taxes account for 12% of total tax revenues in Canada, while in other OECD countries, they represent an average of 6%.

He explains that other countries rely more heavily on wealth and inheritance taxes as well as taxes on financial transactions that the OECD lists in the same category as the taxes on “immovable property” that Canadian homeowners pay to municipalities.

Jacques also points out that property taxes are the main source of revenue for Canadian municipalities (in Sackville, they account for just over 90%) and so, local governments depend heavily on them to provide services.

“The fact that municipalities are totally reliant on property taxes means that they’re going to be higher,” he says, adding that financially-strapped provincial governments have little incentive to share other sources of revenue, such as sales taxes for example, with cities, towns and villages.

(Provincial figures show that Sackville’s residential property tax rate of $1.56 per $100 of assessed value is slightly higher than the provincial average of $1.5486.)

Lower tax country

In spite of its higher property taxes, Jacques writes that overall, taxes in Canada are lower than the OECD average when measured in relation to the total size of its economy or gross domestic product (GDP):

Canada is at the lower end of OECD countries in levels of taxes in proportion to GDP, with total tax revenues around 32% of GDP in recent decades. Canada’s revenue levels are very similar to those of the United Kingdom (32.5%), higher than the United States (26.2%), but much lower than most western European countries. France, for example, maintains a tax burden of 45.2% of GDP, while the OECD tax revenue average is 36% of GDP.

Jacques notes, however, that there are significant differences in taxation among Canadian provinces. In 2016, tax revenues in Quebec, for example, amounted to just over 38% of its provincial GDP while in Manitoba, with a similar GDP per capita, tax revenues amounted to just under 32%.

Nova Scotia’s 2016 tax revenues were 36% of provincial GDP while in New Brunswick, they were close to 33%, only slightly higher than Ontario’s tax revenues as a proportion of its provincial GDP.

Finally, it is worth noting that tax levels are lower in oil-producing provinces, simply because they can afford to fund expenditures with oil royalties instead of taxes. Indeed, since 1980, natural resource revenues represent an average of 25% of total revenues of the government of Alberta and 19% of Saskatchewan’s government revenues. Since oil production boomed in Newfoundland in 2007, 29% of the provincial government’s total revenues came from natural resources. This is much higher than natural resource revenues in non-oil producing provinces, which have to compensate with higher taxes.

Less generous social programs

Jacques writes that countries, such as France, with higher tax revenues, provide more generous social programs than lower-tax countries such as Canada where public spending on social programs is among the lowest in the OECD.

He writes that, as a result, “income inequality and poverty remain relatively high in Canada.”

The case of Quebec in comparison to other provinces is revealing: Quebec taxes much more, spends even more and, in consequence, redistributes income more than any other province. If taxes in Canada were higher, income inequality and poverty would quite possibly be lower.

**Olivier Jacques’ essay “Funding the State: Taxation in Canada from a Comparative Political Economy Perspective” can be found in Who Pays for Canada? Taxes and Fairness edited by E.A. Heaman and David Tough pubished in 2020 by McGill-Queen’s University Press.

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Sackville re-elects incumbent councillors, delivers mayoralty victory to Shawn Mesheau

Sackville voters have given overwhelming support to incumbent town councillors and a fairly narrow 209 vote mayoralty victory to Councillor Shawn Mesheau over Acting Mayor Ron Aiken.

The re-election of Councillors Andrew Black, Allison Butcher, Mike Tower, Bruce Phinney and Bill Evans suggests that a majority of voters were satisfied with the work of the outgoing council in spite of controversies over drive-thrus, flood control, an abattoir in the industrial park and turmoil in the fire department.

The three remaining council seats were won by Mt. A. building maintenance manager Matt Estabrooks, who scored an impressive, third-place finish, while motor vehicle officer Ken Hicks and environmental consultant Sabine Dietz came 7th and 8th respectively.

Flood control

The results of the 2021 municipal election could be interpreted as solid support for the previous council’s major project, the $8.3 million flood control project that saw reconstruction of Lorne Street and the digging of a 40,000 cubic metre pond south of St. James.

The town has already applied for a $5.2 million third phase that would include two additional freshwater retention ponds, one in the old quarry near Mount Allison and another behind the community gardens.

Once again, the town’s share of Phase III would be 25% or about $1.3 million with the federal and provincial governments paying the rest.

Phinney’s role

However, the discovery of contaminated soil on the site of the first flood control pond with associated clean-up costs totalling more than $500,000 led to noisy dissent from Councillor Bruce Phinney.

Judging from Phinney’s showing in the 2021 election, slightly ahead of his arch rival Bill Evans, a majority of voters want him to continue in his role of maverick speaking truth to the powers-that-be at town hall.

District Education Council results

Horizon Health Authority results

Posted in Sackville Town Council election 2021, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment

N.B. health minister urged to upgrade Sackville hospital to community health-care hub

Sackville Memorial Hospital

A local committee, which includes Acting Mayor Ron Aiken and former Mayors John Higham and Pat Estabrooks, is calling on the provincial minister of health to turn the Sackville Memorial Hospital  into a “community hub” for health care and wellness.

“It is often said that crisis can lead to transformative change,” the committee says in the nine-page brief it sent to Dorothy Shephard on May 4th.

“New Brunswick is currently in the midst of a crisis. And we are committed to change that will, in the long term, produce better health outcomes at lower cost.”

The eight-member committee was responding to Shephard’s request for further comment following her online consultation with Tantramar residents in March.

Enhanced services

The committee’s brief calls on the health minister to extend services at Sackville Memorial partly by increasing day surgeries to alleviate backlogs at the Moncton hospital and partly by turning the hospital into “a convalescent and rehabilitation centre for patients from larger hospitals.”

It also suggests that the hospital could serve the needs of an aging population with a new unit to assess cognitive or mental abilities and provide speech therapy for stroke patients.

The brief calls for extending palliative care for the dying as well as mental health services that it says would especially benefit high school and university students.

“Other existing services, such as diabetic counselling, diet counselling, and occupational and physiotherapy could become the nucleus of a community wellness centre,” the brief says, adding that collaboration between community leaders and medical professionals could promote healthier lifestyles to combat obesity, heart disease, alcoholism and smoking.

Rural ambulances

The committee notes that federal legislation stipulates people in rural areas should receive a comparable level of health care to those who live in cities.

“Equitable access to ambulance services in rural areas is a critically important goal,” it adds, “along with an increase in the number of paramedics with advanced training.

“In order to reflect the reality, response-time statistics for rural ambulance service need to be reported separately from those in urban centres, and Medavie-Blue Cross must be held accountable for results.”

The brief also calls for a review of ambulance fees, especially for people on low incomes.

It concludes that based on existing resources such as its miles of hiking and skiing trails, sports organizations, its arena, curling rink, swimming pool and other fitness facilities, the Tantramar region could “serve as a pilot venture in community health reform.”

To read Acting Mayor Aiken’s covering letter to the health minister, click here.

To read the committee’s full brief, click here.

Posted in Health care, New Brunswick politics, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Free speech advocates question seven month suspension of Mt. A. professor

Mt. A. Psychology Professor Rima Azar. Photo: Mount Allison University

Two prominent advocates for freedom of expression are questioning why a Mount Allison psychology professor has been suspended without pay for seven months.

James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University and Toby Mendel of the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy were commenting on Mt. A’s announcement that Professor Rima Azar would not be teaching in the 2021 fall term.

In an e-mail to students, faculty and staff on May 4th, the university said its decision to suspend her was based on the report of an independent investigator who “reviewed complaints from students alleging discriminatory conduct, stemming from blog posts and student interactions,” but gave no further details.

“Unless there’s some deep, dark secret hidden in the university’s confidential report, it’s hard to imagine what this professor could have done that would warrant…suspension without pay,” Turk said during an interview broadcast on Thursday by CHMA, Sackville’s campus/community radio station.

“The university investigation would have had to have revealed some serious, unprofessional mistreatment of students in her class to warrant this,” he added. “If it’s marginally the result that she has ideas that are unpopular, then what the university has done is a very serious problem.”

Mount Allison launched its investigation in February after students complained that among other things, posts on Azar’s private blog denied the existence of systemic racism or systemic discrimination in Canada, labelled Black Lives Matter a radical group and questioned concerns about climate change.

CHMA reported that the Mount Allison Black Students’ Union issued a statement calling for Azar’s dismissal while a student activist criticized her blog post opposing calls for Mt. A. to withdraw its investments from big fossil fuel companies.

Another student told CHMA that Azar had refused a request to use they/them, gender-neutral pronouns when referring to the student in the classroom.

In its e-mail to students, faculty and staff, the university says it supports the investigator’s recommendation that Azar undergo “equity, diversity and inclusion training” and that Mt. A. has offered to pay for it.

“Students, faculty, and staff deserve to have a safe place to learn and work, and should not have to avoid any class, activity or person because of their race, gender identity or gender expression,” the e-mail adds.

Free expression

Toby Mendel of the Centre for Law and Democracy. Photo: CLD

Free speech advocate Toby Mendel says freedom of expression and free debate are crucial at universities even though they may make students uncomfortable.

“It’s very easy for students to say, ‘I felt uncomfortable’ and it’s very difficult to assess the actual validity of that versus they just didn’t like what the professor said.”

Mendel acknowledges, however, that universities must listen to their students.

“If students genuinely felt that they were not comfortable due to their race or even their ideas in a classroom, I think that would be an issue that a university would have to take seriously,” he says.

“This is what we don’t know about this case, we don’t know what happened in the classroom,” Mendell adds.

“What a professor writes on his or her blog, her output outside the classroom, I think that we need to give quite a lot of space for that if we’re not going to become a society where independent thinking, the essence of what universities represent, is stifled.”

James Turk of the Centre for Free Expression. Photo: Ryerson University

James Turk agrees, arguing that universities should not suppress ideas because some might find them offensive or harmful.

“The university, if it’s going to fulfil its mission, cannot get rid of people because some other people, whether it be colleagues or the president of the university or their students, don’t like their ideas,” he says.

“We debate ideas in the university, we don’t censor and silence them.”

Azar herself is not commenting directly on her case, but does say that her seven-month suspension without pay is based on “false allegations.”

She has launched a GoFundMe page, which so far, has raised more than half of its $100,000 goal for a legal defence fund to clear her name and reputation.

Azar emigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1990 at age 17 and writes on her fundraising page: “I precisely chose to move to Canada for democracy/freedom of expression.  Why are we doing this to ourselves?”

She also thanks the Mount Allison Faculty Association (MAFA) for its support.

In an e-mailed statement, MAFA President Erin Steuter confirmed the union is working to ensure Azar’s rights are upheld.

“It is the role of the union to defend our collective agreements and to ensure that the rights of a member under the collective agreement are not being infringed, and MAFA will continue to work with this member,” Steuter writes.

NOTES

  1. To read Rima Azar’s academic biography, click here.
  2. To listen to the CHMA program that includes the full interview with James Turk, click here (then scroll down to CHMA Talks).
Posted in Mount Allison University | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Former Sackville firefighter seeks chance to tell consultants about bullying, harassment & sexism in fire dept.

Former Sackville firefighter Kevin Scott

Former Sackville firefighter Kevin Scott says he needs to speak to the consultants conducting a workplace assessment of the town’s fire department, but has yet to receive an invitation to an interview.

“I think they need to know that the issues have been going on for several years with no resolution during our time with Sackville Fire and Rescue,” Scott says in a message to Warktimes.

“They need to know how frustrating it’s been to deal with favouritism and bullying and getting nowhere with the chief and CAO.”

The town hired Montana Consulting Group of Moncton last month to conduct the workplace assessment after Warktimes published stories about what one former firefighter called the “toxic work environment” in the fire department.

Scott, who resigned in December and who now volunteers with the Point de Bute fire department, says he has counted 17 Sackville firefighters who have resigned in the last five years.

Not an investigation

Last week, Montana Consulting Group e-mailed letters to current Sackville firefighters inviting them to face-to-face, 30 minute interviews with the consultants from May 11 to May 13 or, if they prefer to meet online because of COVID-19, they can book an interview during the week of May 17.

The consultants’ letter tells the firefighters there are certain things worth noting about the workplace assessment.

“First, it is not an investigation: we are not investigating specific allegations and there is no respondent identified,” the letter says.

“A workplace assessment is a proven way to determine what the underlying issues and challenges are within a workplace to make proper recommendations and improvements.”

Confidential information

The letter promises firefighters that any information they give during interviews will remain confidential and they will not be identified in the report the consultants write.

“The only exception for the assessment is that we may have to refer to a specific position to address some concerns, usually positions of leadership, or if we were made aware of severe behaviors or comments contrary to the Town of Sackville’s Workplace Harassment and Violence Policy,” the letter says.

“Should the latter be the case, we may have to inform the Town of Sackville to determine the proper course of action,” it adds.

“Your participation in this initiative is voluntary, but we do hope that you will agree to participate to help us get a clear understanding of the current reality.”

To read the letter, click here.

Ongoing problems

Kevin Scott says that so far, neither he nor other former firefighters quoted in Warktimes articles have received invitations for an interview with the Montana consultants.

In April, CAO Jamie Burke said it would be up to the consultants to decide whom they will interview. The company itself did not respond to a phone message from Warktimes.

Scott, who served for more than 11 years in the Sackville fire department, says it’s crucial that former firefighters be included in the review if the consultants want to get a full picture of the bullying, harassment, favouritism and discrimination that has been happening in Sackville Fire & Rescue.

“This isn’t something that just started, and has been ongoing for several years,” he says.

For previous coverage, click here and here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sackville mayoralty candidates disagree on disclosing campaign contributions

Ron Aiken campaign photo

Sackville mayoralty candidates Ron Aiken and Shawn Mesheau differed today on whether to disclose the names of campaign contributors and how much each gave.

“I’ve challenged the other candidates to come forward with details on the financing of their campaigns,” Aiken said during a CBC Radio interview.

“Who’s funding them, how much did you get and where was it spent,” he added.

Last month on his Facebook campaign page, Aiken declared that he is not accepting any contributions and will finance the $1,120 he is spending — mainly on signs and flyers — from his pay as deputy mayor.

“I just don’t want to be beholden to anyone if I am elected,” Aiken wrote in his online post on April 20.

When CBC interviewer Jonna Brewer asked Mesheau how he feels about disclosure of campaign donations, he responded that he is not accepting any from corporations or unions and that a member of his team is handling personal contributions.

Shawn Mesheau campaign photo

“During the process, my campaign member asked if the person making the contribution was interested in…having their name released and I would say a good majority of them, I’ve been told, have said ‘no,'” Mesheau answered.

“It is a small town and people’s politics is personal,” he said, adding that he is following municipal election regulations which do not require disclosure of campaign contributions.

“What I’ll be given at the end of the campaign is a list of the folks who have either volunteered their time or volunteered some funding to help with the campaign, and I’ll be thanking them accordingly,” Mesheau concluded.

Fire department questions

During the CBC interview, both mayoralty candidates were questioned about allegations of harassment and bullying in the Sackville Fire Department.

Aiken acknowledged that although the town may have been slow to act, its response should be put in context.

“A lot of this stuff came up during the pandemic, so there’s all sorts of stresses imposed by that,” he said, adding that the town had just hired a new CAO, that the mayor had resigned and that it took him awhile to learn the acting mayor’s job.

Meantime, he said, a few complaints were coming in.

“I’ll stress, a formal complaint has never been filed,” Aiken added.

“So, there were a few complaints you hear about,” he said, “you say, ‘it’s something to keep my eye on, but it’s only a couple right now,’ but as the number of instances started to grow, then we started to deal with it more.”

Aiken pointed out that the town has hired an outside consulting firm to conduct an independent review of the fire department as well as the rest of the town administration.

“The consultant just started work last week [and] we expect this report to be finished sometime during the summer,” he said.

Grievance procedures

Both candidates seemed to agree that stronger complaints or grievance procedures are needed.

“I think the biggest challenge is ensuring that our managers and staff have the training they need to work through issues of this nature,” Mesheau said.

He added that personnel issues have to be handled differently when dealing with volunteers in the fire department.

“I think that’s the key here,” he added as he pointed to his own 10 years of service as a volunteer firefighter.

“People direct their grievances directly to council and yes, the buck stops with council,” he said.

“However, as Ron has said, we’re not trained HR personnel and I think these folks have to have a mechanism that will help them work through the challenge that they have.”

To read earlier coverage, click here.

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