Author calls for a freer press amid concerns over reported cost cuts at Irving papers

Julian Walker

The author of a new book on the concentration of media ownership in New Brunswick is calling on the federal government to support a free press here before it’s too late.

“The feds have been looking at this problem for an awfully long time, it’s 50-plus years, and they’ve really not done a lot to get at the root causes,” says Julian H. Walker, author of Wires Crossed: Memoir of a Citizen & Reporter in the Irving Press.

Walker, whose career spans 50 years as a journalist, political aide, deputy minister and university professor, was referring to the three federal studies of the Canadian news media that have been conducted since 1970.

He points out that the co-author of the most recent Senate report in 2006 concluded that investigators couldn’t find anywhere else in the developed world to compare with New Brunswick.

Irving-owned companies not only dominate the provincial economy, but also publish all of its English-language newspapers except for one small, independently owned weekly.

Walker argues in his book this creates a “wires-crossed” relationship in which the Irving media monopoly covers the Irving industrial empire sowing cynicism and disillusionment among New Brunswickers.

“If the feds really wanted to get a solution, they could have a [trust] fund that even the Irvings could contribute to,” Walker says.

He adds that the fund could be used to help finance a new, independent daily newspaper that could serve New Brunswick and perhaps all three Maritime provinces either in print or online similar, for example, to Florida’s Tampa Bay Times.

Reported cost cuts

Walker was commenting on a CBC report that the Irving-owned Brunswick News is planning to trim costs by no longer printing the Monday editions of its three dailies and by distributing two of its community papers free inside its weekly flyer bundles.

He argues that contributing to an independent newspaper could be a way for the Irvings to get out of a financially troubled news business.

“They definitely don’t want to be in this business much anymore and it’s not profitable, certainly at the community level,” he says.

Walker adds that the Brunswick News decision to close all of its community news offices in May 2020 and to have local reporters work from their homes, sounded a seeming death knell for the weekly papers themselves.

“If they want a way out of this, then assisting the federal government in setting up a trust fund would be a significant, good news story for them,” he says.

Future uncertain

Meantime, Jackson Doughart, editor-in-chief at Brunswick News declined to comment on the apparent decision to stop printing Monday editions of the Times & TranscriptTelegraph-Journal and Daily Gleaner or the plan to include free copies of the Bugle-Observer based in Woodstock and the Miramichi Leader in weekly bundles of advertising flyers.

At the moment, both community papers have paid subscribers and both publish three times a week.

In an e-mail to Warktimes, Doughart said he would “pass on an interview right now because we’re still in the middle of implementation. But we’ll be communicating to readers directly in print and online with the details so you’ll be able to get more information there.”

Meantime, a journalism professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton says it’s always sad when communities lose the “voice” that their local newspapers provide.

STU Journalism Professor Philip Lee

“The Irvings have jealously guarded their monopoly in these small towns because they wanted to have the advertising market for themselves,” says Philip Lee, who served as editor-in-chief at the Telegraph-Journal in the late 1990s before joining the faculty at St. Thomas.

“I do think maybe there comes with that some form of social responsibility, that there’s a greater purpose here than simply measuring the level of your profits that you’re able to extract from a certain advertising market,” Lee adds.

“There’s a public good to journalism and small-town newspapers and this is one of the wealthiest business families in North America and maybe they can afford to extract fewer profits and still keep doing a kind of public service in those communities.”

Lee says he doesn’t know how the Irving papers are performing financially, but suspects they’re suffering the same sharp declines in advertising revenues that other papers are facing.

“I wouldn’t take the position that they should be operating them [only] as a kind of public service, but I think that you could ask yourself, how much of a profit margin do you need to make and at the same time, be able to be giving something back to the community through hiring journalists and putting out good-quality news publications.”

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New maps show Sackville faces worsening flood risks

Map showing present-day Sackville flooding in one-in-20-year storm (click to enlarge)

The New Brunswick government released maps today confirming that large parts of downtown Sackville are at severe risk of flooding.

The provincial maps show that, unless action is taken, the effects of climate change will increase the threat between now and the year 2100 both in the size of the areas flooded and the increasing depth of water.

Map showing 2100 Sackville flooding in one-in-20 year storm (click to enlarge)

The interactive maps, which allow viewers to make comparisons and even to check the risk to their own homes and businesses, show the effects of a much rarer, one-in-100 year storm both now and by 2100.

Map compares one-in-100 year storm in Sackville now (purple) and by 2100 (pink) (click to enlarge)

The maps also show there is risk of extensive flooding in Middle and Upper Sackville.

Sabine Dietz

Biologist and climate change expert Sabine Dietz says that although much of the information about flood risk was already known, the newly-released maps allow people to visualize the threat.

“It is scary,” she says.”I think the one thing that I’m just waiting for the Sackville community to come up in arms on this flood-risk map and say, ‘Why are you not doing anything for us?'”

Dietz, who serves as executive director of CLIMAtlantic Inc., a new research institute focusing on climate change in Atlantic Canada, is quick to add, however, that there’s no reason for panic because the maps will be a useful tool in deciding how to mitigate the threat over the next several decades.

“We’ve got to evaluate and assess the current risk,” she explains, “but this is for future planning…[and] what do we need to do in order to ensure that in 2100…that the decisions we make today as a province, as a community, that we are not putting people more at risk than they currently are.”

Dietz points out that Sackville faces what she calls a “double whammy” from inland, freshwater flooding as well as rising seas.

She notes that the province has yet to release a study on recommendations for protecting transportation, power and communications links on the Chignecto Isthmus.

To view the provincial, interactive flood risk maps, click here.

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

Rotary panel ponders local news drought and Irving media empire

Concerns about the disappearance of local news and the dominance of the Irving media empire bubbled up Monday when the Sussex Rotary Club held an online panel discussion entitled: “New Brunswick, News Deserts and Democracy.”

“Our aim in this conversation is to take a reading on the health of the local news business across the province and to connect that, in turn, to the health of local democracy,” said moderator Michael Depp.

“Does New Brunswick have enough local news?” he asked a panel of four journalists participating online via Zoom.

“Are people across its communities getting sufficient news to honestly stay informed of what’s happening?”

Photo from Sussex Rotary Club poster

“The short answer is no, we don’t have a lot of news and we do need more, especially independent,” answered Vicki Hogarth, news director at CHCO TV, a non-profit, community television station in St. Andrews.

Hogarth explained that on the one hand, some would argue that New Brunswickers are lucky to have the Irving papers to provide local journalism while others would see the dominance of the Irving-owned company, Brunswick News, as a problem.

“You have one major owner who is in charge of most of the news in New Brunswick, so there aren’t a lot of diverse perspectives,” she added.

Brunswick News, which publishes three dailies and about a dozen weeklies, owns every English-language newspaper in the province except for the Saint Croix Courier. Its publications include two French-language weeklies.

Two other panellists echoed Hogarth’s concern about the lack of media diversity.

Photo from Sussex Rotary Club poster

“I think Vicki hit the nail on the head,” said Erik Gingles, founder of the online video news magazine based in Moncton.

He acknowledged that there are other provincial news sources such as the CBC, but suggested there aren’t enough points of view.

“The slippery slope is that if you only get one side, then you just believe that’s the way it is,” Gingles said.

He added there are many rural areas in the province that rely on social media because they aren’t getting any local news coverage at all.

“We are certainly in a bit of a media desert,” he said.

Tracy Glynn, co-ordinating editor of the non-profit New Brunswick Media Co-op, argued that the province does not have “a healthy media landscape” partly because stories about injustice, inequality and oppression aren’t being covered.

Photo from Sussex Rotary Club poster

“At the N.B. Media Co-op, we are embedded in a variety of social movements,” she said.

“We work with groups of people who experience poverty, the housing crisis, temporary foreign workers and such, and we know that their stories are not being told,” she added.

In an apparent reference to the Irving media empire, Glynn referred to coverage of climate change.

“I don’t think we can trust that the billionaires — billionaires that are especially implicated in the climate crisis — can deliver a story about the climate crisis,” she said.

Moderator Michael Depp picked up on Glynn’s comment as he directed a question to Jackson Doughart, editor-in-chief of Brunswick News.

“Jackson, Brunswick News is owned by Irvings, speaking of billionaires, the province’s largest employer, an absolute powerhouse in the province across multiple industries.

“What is your editorial policy about covering Irvings’ businesses and political interests?”

Photo from Sussex Rotary Club poster

“When there’s a matter that we think journalistically is of public interest, we cover it the best we can,” Doughart replied.

“It’s really a judgment of what information you can get and when you think it’s of public interest.”

“Does Irving ever intercede in coverage?” Depp asked.

“I’ve been editor-in-chief for almost two years and I’ve never been told what to write,” Doughart answered.

When asked if Irving economic interests coloured the coverage of environmental issues as Glynn had suggested, Doughart said Brunswick News tells both sides of the story.

“If you look at something like glyphosate, which is a big issue, I mean, we covered the public hearings about it,” he said.

“We include voices from environmental activists and experts who are against spraying and Indigenous groups as well,” he added.

“We also cover the group that is pro-spraying as well. A lot of these big public debates deserve to be told from both sides and I think that we do a pretty good job of doing so.”

Financing local journalism

When the Rotary panel was asked how their outfits pay for local journalism, their  answers were mixed.

Vicki Hogarth said CHCO’s main source of revenue is TV bingo, although the station is starting to receive small donations. She explained that her own salary is paid through a federal local journalism initiative grant.

Erik Gingles said his local digital TV operation doesn’t qualify for government grants. Instead, it depends on advertising, but he said it’s a struggle to woo advertisers away from bigger media outlets.

Tracy Glynn said the N.B. Media Co-op is financed by donations from its members as well as from unions that represent a variety of workers including bus drivers, postal workers and health-care workers.

Jackson Doughart said Brunswick News is mainly financed by advertisers and subscribers. He said the company does not allow readers any free access to online news and that its tight paywall has been in place for about 10 years.

“In order to fund our operations in the long term, we need to continue to grow the digital subscription business and that starts with making it that people have to pay in order to read it,” he explained.

He also said that coverage of local news would depend on people’s willingness to pay.

Doughart added that the outbreak of COVID-19 accelerated the Brunswick News online business and that now, about half of newspaper readers are online and the other half subscribe to the print editions.

Local news in decline

Figures published last month by the Local News Research Project at Ryerson University show that between 2008 and December 1, 2021, a total of 450 news operations have closed in 324 communities across Canada.

Those closings have been offset somewhat by the launch of 177 new local news outlets in 125 communities.

The figures also show that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 64 local news outlets have permanently closed including one online/digital news source, one TV station, 10 radio stations and 52 community newspapers.

One of those community papers was the Sackville Tribune-Post.

With the help of a local journalism initiative grant administered through the Community Radio Fund of Canada as well as donations from its listeners, CHMA, 106.9 FM, has launched its Tantramar community news service overseen by Erica Butler.

Note: Mount Allison Sociology Professor Erin Steuter has been studying the Irving media empire for more than 30 years. To read her review of the book Irving vs. Irving by Jacques Poitras, click here.

Posted in CHMA-FM, Sackville Tribune-Post | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Controversial abattoir up & running in Sackville Industrial Park

Jason Pennoyer (L) and Chris Pierce in front of the meat coolers at their butcher shop in the Sackville Industrial Park

A controversial abattoir has been operating in the Sackville Industrial Park for nearly two months and a growing number of customers have been buying local meat in the butcher shop there.

“A lot of people, on Thursday, Friday nights, they want to come pick up a fresh steak for the barbecue,” says Jason Pennoyer who co-owns East Meats West Butchers, Inc. with Chris Pierce.

He adds that the meat they sell in their shop at 72 Crescent Street is raised by local farmers.

“It gives customers the option, instead of just taking what’s available at the grocery store, they can come in here and they can say, ‘Can you make me up four, one-inch, prime-rib steaks’ and we’ll go back in the cooler and we’ll cut it fresh right off the animal,” he says.

“We’re not looking at going large scale and supplying huge warehouses. We’re simply looking at how we best can serve the locals here in Sackville and the surrounding area.”

Pennoyer says the abattoir is licensed and inspected by the province and also operates under permits from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

So far, he says, it’s been slaughtering an average of about seven to eight beef cattle per week, but hopes to increase that number to two per day for a total of 10 each week.

The abattoir has also slaughtered pigs and can do lamb on request, he says.

It currently employs three workers besides Pennoyer and Pierce.

Controversial project

Pennoyer acknowledges the many concerns over the potential for smells and noise when local farmer and town employee Chris Pierce first applied for the municipal re-zoning needed for an abattoir in September 2020.

Sackville Town Council received 32 letters expressing strong opposition to the project and none in support.

But Pennoyer says he’s hoping people will support it now when they see how the business is run.

“We’ve been up and running for two months,” he says, “and there’s no smell and I would say that even in the summertime, there’s going to be no smell because we have to keep the internal temperature cool enough to keep the meat fresh and to keep bacteria from forming.”

He also explains that animal waste products are removed daily from the premises and sent off-site to their licensed disposal facility.

“It’s well away from any residential buildings or anybody who might possibly be concerned about odour or it leaching into waterways or wells.”

Pennoyer says people should feel free to visit the butcher shop and abattoir to see it for themselves.

“I’m more than happy to answer any questions anybody has and if we can, we can show them the facility,” he adds.

“I take pride in how clean we keep everything and it might put people at ease just coming in if they’re skeptical and taking a look.”

‘East meats West’

Sign on the outside of the building at 72 Crescent Street

When asked how he and his business partner chose the name for their abattoir and butcher shop, Pennoyer replies that he grew up out west in B.C. while Pierce hails from the east.

“So we decided to go with east meats west.”

Pennoyer explains that he also worked in Alberta where he joined the RCMP in 2006.

His wife Sarah worked for the Mounties there too, but they decided to transfer to the Maritimes where Sarah is from for family support after the death of their six-year-old son in a traffic accident.

The Pennoyers work with the RCMP based in Amherst, although Jason, who holds the rank of sergeant, is temporarily on leave.

“My dad was a butcher, my grandfather was a butcher and they had butcher shops when I was growing up,” Pennoyer says.

“I grew up on a farm and we basically did everything from ostrich to pigs to cows to wild game and when I moved here, I tried to get a beef cut up for myself and found that it was anywhere from six to eight weeks before we could even get an animal in and then you’ve got to hang it for another 10 to 14 days, so you’re looking at well over two months and we just saw that there was a need,” he says.

He adds that it’s also good to support locally produced food.

“We take our time,” he says. “We want to do things right and make people happy.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Sackville awards Grandpa Higgs ‘Scrooge-of-Year’ plaque in secret ceremony

Ah George, thou shouldst be living at this hour, Sackville hath need of thee

Dear Warktimes Editor,

If the bronze-tanned George Stanley were still alive & kicking, I fear he’d be roiling in his grave at the news that his beloved Sackville has been swallowed up in “Entity 40” alongside Dorchester, Pointe de Bute and points in between.

Perhaps the inventor of our Maple Leaf flag would be heartened, however, to learn that town council has swiftly struck back by saddling Grandpa Higgs with its first (and last, I’m afraid) annual Ebenezer Scrooge award.

‘Twas done by way of a wink and a nod instead of a formal motion at one of those secret conclaves that council loves to convene.

Alas, a proposal — discussed at the same closed-door meeting — to open the Wildfowl Park to vehicular traffic with a Robin’s drive-thru at one end and a DQ at the other, got tossed in the trash can after certain councillors (I’m sure you’ve guessed which) bellowed in protest.

O where is the vision? Where is the vision?

But I digress.

Aside from imposing Sackville’s shotgun nuptials, councillors castigated Higgs for turning his back on the poor in typical Scrooge-like fashion.

A report last month from Statistics Canada revealed that New Brunswick came dead last among the provinces in 2020 for “social protection spending” — a category that includes support for people with disabilities, help for families and children as well as money for housing.

And, this while projecting an $89 million surplus.

Several councillors mentioned too that Sackville’s hospital has been put on life support and that Higgs is doing squat to resuscitate it.

One even quoted what was said of Scrooge before he repented and turned over a new leaf.

“Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”

OK, so maybe that went a bit far, but ’twas felt keenly by council that Grandpa should learn kinder and gentler ways.

And “Entity 40” ain’t one of ’em, they opined.

The elegant verse they inscribed on Higgs’s Scrooge plaque makes that clear:

Mister Stanley’s beloved and beautiful town
On the banks of the Tantramar muddy and brown
Has by Scrooge & his Tories been flushed clean away
Down the Entity 40 crapper & into the bay.

Yours faithfully,

Posted in Commentary, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 3 Comments

Expert says New Brunswick is following its tradition of ‘heavy-handed’ municipal reform

Dalhousie Professor Jack Novack

A professor of  local government at Dalhousie University says New Brunswick’s latest municipal reforms are in keeping with past ones including the sweeping changes imposed in 1967 as part of the Equal Opportunity program.

“There tends to be a top-down, heavy-handed approach,” says Jack Novack.

He was commenting on the latest provincial plan to force the amalgamations of local governments such as Sackville, Dorchester and their surrounding communities into one municipal entity — a process that will be overseen by provincially appointed transition teams, not locally elected representatives.

Although Novack says he hasn’t studied New Brunswick’s reform plan closely, he suggests the province should probably be considering a more flexible approach.

“The heavy-handed, top-down approach tends to be less successful because you can’t start off a new marriage based upon resentment,” he says.

“What I think you need to have is something which is much more inherently flexible than simply moving boundaries or incorporating other communities or amalgamations.”

Novack says New Brunswick could model its reforms on the 27 regional districts in British Columbia that were first established in the mid-1960s.

That system, he says, allows local governments to opt-in or opt-out of shared services based on their needs.

The regional districts are governed by representatives from each municipal council as well as locally elected ones giving them accountability to voters.

The B.C. government website explains that the system allows local governments to achieve regional economies of scale while residents pay only for the services they receive.

“Regional districts are a unique form of regional government in Canada, as the member municipalities ‘lend’ authority to the regional-scale government, rather than being ‘under’ its authority,” the government website says.

Novack says he also likes the model that Alberta is implementing known as an ICF or Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework that preserves a municipality’s local autonomy while providing for regional co-operation.

“I’m always happier to see things which are inherently flexible, that are adaptive,” he says, “as opposed to a more heavy-handed approach which simply thinks that by moving boundaries that you are going to solve the issues that ought to be addressed within those boundaries by the participating [municipal] units.”

Grassroots democracy

Book that Jack Novack co-authored with Kell Antoft in 1998

Novack says provincial governments often treat municipalities as mere service providers and not political bodies where people can come together.

“To me the real virtue of local government is not so much the fact that it delivers water and sewer and police and fire and streets and roads and sidewalks and lights and recreation and local economic development,” he says.

“The virtue lies in the fact that it’s a place where people can participate and learn about the democratic process; where people can learn to be good citizens and where you can build strong and healthy communities.”

Novack says local government can also help people understand different perspectives, engage in compromise and practise the peaceful resolution of conflict.

He says that, in the end, New Brunswick’s municipal reforms should be judged in that light.

“Does reform strengthen the political role of local government or does it weaken it?” he asks.

“I have often said that if you want to be a virtuoso violinist, you’ve got to practise; if you want to be an accomplished gymnast, you’ve got to practise; if you want to be a mathematician, you’ve got to study hard and practise,” Novack says.

“Well, if you want to be a good citizen, why do we think that happens automatically?

“You’ve got to practise and local government’s the place where people can do that.”

Posted in New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sackville to province: Leave our boundaries alone

Mayor Shawn Mesheau at yesterday’s special council session

Sackville Town Council is urging the Higgs government to abandon its plan to amalgamate the town with the Village of Dorchester and their surrounding local service districts (LSDs).

In a letter sent to Local Government Minister Daniel Allain, Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau writes:

“We are recommending that the boundaries for the Town of Sackville remain as is. Under the present geographical boundary, the Town would continue to have a population of 5,331 and a tax base of $662,069,250.”

Mesheau’s letter, formally approved yesterday by Sackville Town Council, says those tax base and population numbers meet the criteria first outlined in the 2008 Finn Report which suggested municipalities need a minimum of 4,000 people or a $200 million tax base.

The letter goes on to recommend that the province create a second municipality in the Tantramar region consisting of the Villages of Port Elgin and Dorchester with surrounding LSDs that include places such as Westcock, Wood Point, Pointe de Bute, Baie-Verte, Cape Tormentine and Murray Corner.

The letter says that second municipality would have a population of 4,824 and a tax base of $423,776,700.

Sackville’s letter to the minister contains this map showing the Town of Sackville (municipal entity 40 in dark green) and the second municipality (municipal entity 39) in a lighter shade

Sackville’s letter says the creation of that second municipality would give the town “a partner to co-ordinate with on regional projects or developments.”

It reiterates town council’s opposition to the forced amalgamation of Sackville with other communities.

It also says the province would need to consult with the communities that would be merged in that second, Tantramar municipality.

In a passing reference, the letter does seem to acknowledge the possibility of Sackville merging with nearby LSDs.

“It is important to note,” the letter says, “that the Town is not opposed to regional collaboration or expanding our boundaries where it makes sense fiscally, and we are open to further discussions with your department and regional stakeholders as you embark on the restructuring process.”

Special closed-door meeting

The letter outlining Sackville’s proposals was discussed during an hour-long meeting on Wednesday afternoon that was closed to the public.

Town council formally voted to authorize Mayor Mesheau to sign and submit the letter to the minister afterwards during a public session that lasted about 90 seconds.

Councillor Matt Estabrooks, who favours the province’s plan to amalgamate Sackville with Dorchester and their surrounding LSDs, was not present.

Councillors Allison Butcher and Bruce Phinney were also absent.

When it became known on Monday that council was planning to discuss its alternative proposal in a closed-door session later in the week, CHMA reporter Erica Butler wondered why the meeting would not be held in public and she raised the matter during council’s public question period.

CAO Jamie Burke explaining why meeting would be held behind closed doors

“Quite frankly, the discussion is going to be very informal,” CAO Jamie Burke answered.

“We’re kind of looking down the barrel of an unknown gun,” he said.

“We’re going to be talking about things and saying things that are going to impact our legal, HR, land, all of those issues allow us to go in-camera,” Burke added.

“It’s just an opportunity for us as a group to go into the meeting informally and kind of hash this out.”

For her part, Butler remained unconvinced.

“It doesn’t sound to me like there’s justification for going in camera,” she said.

“Being able to feel that you can speak informally is not a justification for going in-camera and really that should be on the public record, that meeting,” she added.

“It’s a very important discussion…it should be a public meeting.”

To read the town’s letter to Minister Allain, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 10 Comments

Closing the Sackville hospital’s ER at 4 p.m. sends Dorchester woman on a medical odyssey

Helen Dyer

A 69-year-old Dorchester woman says she had quite an ordeal this fall after fracturing her right wrist in Sackville’s Waterfowl Park just as the town hospital’s emergency room was closing.

Helen Dyer says she slipped on a patch of ice on November 24th in a section of the park near the TransCanada highway.

“I fell and I felt my arm crack and I’ve got osteoporosis so I’m pretty much used to knowing when I’ve broken a bone,” she says.

Her husband helped her up and by the time they got back to their car in the Thrift Store parking lot, it was about five minutes to four.

“So, I said, ‘Dave, there’s no point going to the Sackville hospital because the emergency room will be closed,’ but he said, ‘I’m going to go try anyway,'” Dyer says.

But when they arrived at the hospital a few minutes later, the emergency room had closed for the day in keeping with Horizon’s policy of operating it only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., a practice that started on November 19th.

Since then, there have been no evening or overnight emergency services in Sackville.

On to Amherst

“Rather than drive to Moncton because I was in quite a bit of pain, we drove to Amherst,” Dyer says.

After a half-hour wait in the Amherst ER, Dyer was given pain killers and then anesthetized so that a doctor could straighten her arm.

“When I woke up, my arm was in a cast,” she says, adding that when the Amherst hospital phoned Steven Massoeurs, an orthopaedic surgeon in Moncton for advice on how to fit the cast, he asked to see her the next morning.

Dyer says she received excellent treatment for a torn knee a few years ago from Dr. Massoeurs at a day surgery clinic in Sackville, but he no longer practises here.

On to Moncton

Dyer says that she was kept waiting the next day in the Moncton ER for about 45 minutes until Dr. Massoeurs phoned down to ask where she was.

“He was clearly keeping an eye on me, which I was really thankful for, so I went up and again they put me out and changed the cast and put a firmer one on because it’s a fairly complicated fracture,” Dyer says.

Dr. Massoeurs booked her another appointment for the following week, but by the next morning, her fingers were so badly swollen that she went to the Sackville ER around noon where a doctor cut off the cast and with advice from another orthopaedic surgeon in Moncton, fitted a new one.

She says that when she kept her appointment with Dr. Massoeurs in Moncton the following week, he decided to fit another cast, her fourth, and now it’s a matter of waiting for her wrist fracture to heal.

Medical saga

“It’s been a bit of a saga,” Dyer says of her medical odyssey.

She believes that if the Sackville ER had been open on the day of her accident, she probably would have been given painkillers and sent directly to Moncton although there’s no certainty she would have been seen by an orthopaedic surgeon on the same day that she fractured her wrist.

She does find it troubling though that the Sackville ER is open for only eight hours a day with no emergency services in late afternoon, during the evening or overnight.

“I’m probably one of many people,” she says, “who are concerned about the fact that they have an ongoing condition like osteoporosis and need to feel safe and that if something happens, there’s good health care nearby.”

Dyer adds that government cost-cutting measures such as under-paying nurses and eliminating medical services will have long-term consequences in a town full of elderly people and university students who depend on Sackville’s hospital.

“I think it’s just a foolish way to chip away at the hospital service, a foolish way to save money,” she says.

Posted in Health care, Town of Sackville | Tagged | Leave a comment

Open letter to Horizon CEO on Sackville’s hospital: ‘Where is the much-needed urgency?’

Kathy Hamer Edwards wrote this letter to Horizon CEO

Sackville, December 13, 2021
Dr. John Dornan, Acting CEO
Horizon Health

Dear Dr. Dornan,

I write as a resident of Sackville to protest against the steady decline of services at our local hospital, especially those affecting the emergency room and acute-care beds. You have indicated for months that Sackville Memorial Hospital remains a high priority for Horizon Health and indeed, for the Department of Health. Yet your earnest claims of commitment to the hospital seem invariably to be followed in short order by yet another announcement of yet another reduction in service.

At this point, you have removed even the small number of acute-care beds. ER services have been steadily eroded, from closure on weekends to “temporary” closure for all but eight hours a day. Will we next see a “temporary” complete shutdown of the ER?

My question is this: how long is “temporary”? What credibility can we give to your definition of “priority”?

What is Horizon Health doing to rebuild services at a hospital that serves not only the residents of this large rural region, but also the more than 2,000 students of Mount Allison University?

What specific recruitment activities (not plans, not words) are underway?

What are your target numbers for nurses?

How many nurses have been recruited in the past six months?

What barriers have been identified to successful recruitment? What are you doing to address them?

As you well know, the Rural Health Action Group has met several times with Horizon representatives to discuss recruitment challenges and propose ways in which the community can provide support through marketing and communications. Our efforts have met with a positive verbal response, though to this point, we have seen no evidence of urgent action. What do your words mean?

We know of applicants for nursing positions in Sackville whose applications did not even receive the courtesy of an acknowledgement, or who were told that no positions were available. What are we to believe? Are we to take on faith your claims of a priority focus on our hospital and its staffing needs?

In sum, where is the much-needed urgency?

This community built its hospital, and over many years has supported it financially and through countless hours of volunteer work. We know its value to the region.

We ask that your actions match your words, to ensure that Tantramar has its fair measure of equitable  access to health care, as enshrined in the Canada Health Act.

Kathryn Hamer Edwards

cc. Hon. Dorothy Shephard, Minister of Health
Hon. Blaine Higgs, Premier, Province of New Brunswick

Kathy Hamer Edwards is a volunteer with the Rural Health Action Group. She came to New Brunswick in 1971 and worked as a Professor of French at Mount Allison University. She held various administrative posts at Mt. A before spending five years as Vice-President at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John. With the exception of those five years, she has called Sackville home. She and her husband Peter Edwards are now retired here. She is a member of the boards of the NB Youth Orchestra, Symphony NB and the NB Museum and is a past president of ArtsLink NB.

Posted in Town of Sackville | 9 Comments

$1 million donation for pedway project, but no commitment from Sackville Town Council

Ross Thomas speaks to Sackville Town Council

An anonymous donor has put up $1 million to revive a people-powered project that has been talked about in Sackville since the 1990s.

Ross Thomas of the Sackville Footbridge Working Group says he’s hoping the town will lend its support to a pedestrian/bicycle crossing over the TransCanada Highway.

In a presentation to town council last Monday, Thomas again made the case for what he called “this never-say-die” pedway project that would link the hiking trail in the Sackville Waterfowl Park to the trail on the other side of the highway that stretches all the way across Canada.

“We believe this funding is more than enough to restart the initiative, assist with necessary preliminary studies and help leverage provincial, federal and private funding,” Thomas said.

“It’ll help the TransCanada trail become a viable and safe way to actively travel between Middle and Upper Sackville and downtown Sackville in an environment free of hydrocarbons and the congestion of the Main Street corridor.”

He added that it would also link to well-developed trails in PEI and Southeastern New Brunswick.

“Tourists, who presently drive by our town to go to these destinations, may well stop here to begin and end their journey,” Thomas said.

“Sackville could become the eco-tourist centre that it already is for people who live here.”

He said the town could help by financing a cost-shared feasibility study and by facilitating discussions with the province which would own and maintain the pedway.

Half way there

Jeff MacKinnon

Engineer Jeff MacKinnon told council he’s been working with the AIL group of companies and their subsidiary the Algonquin group on bridge design.

He said the AIL contribution of about $25,000 in in-kind services has brought the cost of the pedway project down to about $2 million.

“With the announcement tonight that we have a funding partner who is putting forward $1 million, we’re about 50% of the way there to making this project a reality,” he added.

MacKinnon referred to past presentations to council when proponents of the pedway project received town support.

In February 2015, the Tribune-Post reported that council did support the project, but councillors warned then that the town would not put any money into it.

“We are not changing our priorities,” Councillor Bill Evans is quoted as saying. “I just want to reiterate that we are not making any kind of commitment here.”

On Monday, Evans sounded a similar note.

He said that while he’s always loved the idea, the seven-figure cost of the project has always been a big stumbling block.

“Writing a letter of support absolutely, the fact you have a significant amount of funding makes it that much more attractive, but it’s still a huge commitment,” Evans said.

“We have all kinds of things that are in the works that are big bucks, so you’re not hearing any kind of commitment except enthusiasm,” he added.

CAO Jamie Burke promised that town staff would try to arrange meetings with provincial officials to discuss the project further including financing for a feasibility study.

To read previous coverage of the pedway proposal, click here and here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Higgs government gives another big push to municipal reform bill

Minister of Local Government Reform Daniel Allain answering questions in the NB legislature

The comprehensive bill that would drastically restructure local government in New Brunswick could become law as early as next week.

The provincial legislature voted 26 to 18 today to limit the remaining time to consider Bill 82 making it all but certain that it will pass before the House adjourns for Christmas.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, the French-language arm of the CBC, Minister of Local Government Reform Daniel Allain suggested he is still open to suggestions for changing his municipal reform plan if they are received before December 17th.

That could be important news for Sackville which strongly opposes the government’s plan to amalgamate the town with the Village of Dorchester and the local service districts that surround them.

“It may well be that the minister has all the power and can force his will on us, but we don’t have to sit back, smiling passively and say thank you,” Councillor Bill Evans said during last Monday’s town council meeting.

He spoke after Council voted 7 to 1 to send a strongly worded letter to Allain opposing forced amalgamation.

To read the town’s letter, click here.

Councillor Matt Estabrooks reads a statement on his support for municipal amalgamation. To read his full statement, click here

Councillor Matt Estabrooks was the lone dissenter arguing that amalgamation makes economic and geographical sense.

“I have watched our business community slowly fade over the years and the last two extremely hard years have become the end of the line for many of them,” Estabrooks said.

“It is not my vision to see Sackville left as a town with only one major employer and a few small local businesses that surround it. This reform is an opportunity to enact some positive change to ensure this does not happen,” he added.

However, his council colleagues said there were too many unanswered questions about what amalgamation would mean for municipal financing, taxes and services.

Councillor Sabine Dietz pointed out that Bill 82 would give the minister the power to decide everything from bylaws to budgets with no requirement for him to consult with local residents or their elected representatives.

“Sackville is culturally and economically healthy, a vibrant community with excellent finances and a small town identity,” she said.

“So why force us to take on areas that are less sustainable in this excessive manner?” she asked.

Council unanimously approved Dietz’s motion to establish a local municipal reform governance committee that will meet at least once a week to investigate the many implications of forced amalgamation and to make recommendations to council.

Committee membership will be open to all members of council.

To listen to Monday’s 32-minute council discussion on municipal amalgamation, click on the media player below.

Posted in New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 6 Comments