No money for climate change co-ordinator in 2021 Sackville budget

Town CAO Jamie Burke at an earlier council meeting

It appears that the Mayor’s Rountable on Climate Change will not be getting the $25,000 next year that it requested from Sackville Town Council to help hire a full-time, professional co-ordinator.

During Monday’s council meeting, CAO Jamie Burke explained why that money is not included in the 2021 draft budget.

“We’re not quite ready to do that yet,” Burke said referring to the town’s overall economic position.

He added, however, that the budget does fulfill other Roundtable requests including the allocation of money for climate change projects as well as funds for another full-time summer student position similar to the one the town funded this year.

“We think that’s a reasonable way to approach a new initiative,” Burke said. “That still gives us the money in our operational budget where we can also…go out and look for additional money through other federal-provincial programs.”

The draft 2021 budget allocates $25,000 for climate change projects that Burke said could include an additional electric vehicle charger in the downtown core, the development of climate change training materials for new councillors, a youth town council similar to the one in Amherst and a “dark sky” initiative to eliminate excessive, night-time light pollution.

All of those ideas were discussed at a climate change forum that the Mayor’s Roundtable held in February.

Next year’s draft budget allocates $10,000 for a full-time, 18 week student summer position to co-ordinate climate change projects with town staff and outside agencies such as EOS Eco-Energy.

Roundtable spokesman Richard Elliot addressing council in August

During an online council meeting in August, Roundtable spokesman Richard Elliot asked for about $25,000 as seed money to hire a full-time co-ordinator.

He said the Roundtable planned to raise additional funds for the position from other sources such as the federal departments of environment and natural resources, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the New Brunswick Environmental Trust Fund.

Elliot explained that the Roundtable needs professional help to review existing municipal climate change plans, develop links with other municipalities and revise the climate change “lens” it uses to advise the town on its spending.

However, barring an unforeseen change in direction, town council appears set to approve the draft budget — without money for a climate change co-ordinator — at its regular monthly meeting on November 9th.

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

Sackville Facebook news site taken over by advocacy group

Dave Mantin, director of the Sexual Abuse Network of Canada

The Sackville Facebook group that has been a main source for local news and information has been taken over by the director of the Sexual Abuse Network of Canada, an advocacy organization that publishes the names of people convicted of sexual offences against children.

The Facebook group’s former name, Sackville NB Community Concerns, was suddenly changed on September 27th to Sackville NB Daily News Group and is now part of an organization that runs scores of Facebook groups across Canada under the business name Dave Mantin’s Daily News Groups.

“I was surprised at how fast it happened,” says Sackville resident Sharon Hicks who had served as a moderator of the Community Concerns group since 2016.

“I was on the page the night before and everything was normal and got up in the morning and it had totally changed,” Hicks says, adding that she and several other local residents have been dropped as moderators.

During a telephone interview on Saturday, Mantin who lives in Saint John, said he started the Daily News Groups to warn communities when high-risk sex offenders were being released from prison.

He explained that the Groups also report on investigations into perpetrators with a history of offences against multiple victims.

Mantin says that using a Facebook local news group is a more effective way to communicate than setting up a group more narrowly focused on sexual abuse.

“People would lose interest quick because Sackville doesn’t have a sex offender problem every day,” he said.

“So then we said, ‘oh well, let’s make them news groups’,” he added. “Then if there’s a (sexual offender) case, we get to use the network and we know people are following it because they’re getting their local daily news from there.”

Logo for Dave Mantin’s Daily News Groups

Mantin estimates that the Daily News Groups have 160,000 members in New Brunswick including about 30,000 in Fredericton, more than 10,000 in Moncton, 5,000 in Saint John and just over 4,000 in Sackville. He also operates a second local Facebook group called Sackville NB Daily News with about 1,000 members.

He says he took over the Sackville NB Community Concerns group from Micheal Landry who started it under the name Sackville Community Concerns in 2013.

Landry, who lives in Atholville near Campbellton, set up a network of similar Community Concerns Facebook groups across the province that Mantin has also acquired as Daily News Groups.

He says he sells enough advertising on his news groups to generate an income as well as to support the Sexual Abuse Network.

Meantime, Sharon Hicks says she had been spending up to an hour a day as a Community Concerns moderator helping to build the group’s membership because she believed Sackville needed a place to discuss local issues and exchange news and information.

“I was duped basically into believing that this was a local page; I was a moderator, I was helping to further local information. This is a big disappointment,” she adds.

“After this change happened, for a couple of weeks there was a lot of questions posted on the page from local people asking what’s going on, what’s happened here?” Hicks says.

“Last night when I was looking through the site again, I went back to try to find some of those comments and they’ve all been deleted, so there’s no record on the page now of any dissent or questions that were being asked when the change occurred.”

For his part, Mantin, who is 45, says he was abused as a child himself and has been campaigning for more than 20 years to get justice for young victims.

“What we try to do as an organization is push a victim’s story or a sex offender’s story,” he says.

“The fight to get justice is never ending.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Update: Sackville responds to speeding concerns on Pond Shore Rd.

Radar sign installed on Pond Shore Rd. where the speed limit is 60 km/h

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton says technical problems have been hampering Sackville’s efforts to reduce speeds on Pond Shore Road between Uphill Drive and Mountview Road.

In response to a series of questions from Warktimes, Acton e-mailed to say that the town has been unable to get access to data recorded by the radar speed sign it installed several months ago near retired teacher Don Gouthro’s home at 81 Pond Shore.

Gouthro has been complaining for more than a decade about excessive speeding on Pond Shore, a busy road used by school buses, cyclists, and runners.

Acton writes that radar speed signs can register the number of cars travelling on a road along with their speeds.

“However, when we transferred the sign from the King Street location to Pond Shore Road, we lost the ability to communicate with the sign to adjust settings, (and) set the ability to register the number of cars, speed etc.,” Acton writes.

“We have tried several times and are not able to connect to the sign to allow us to make these changes. Therefore, we are not able to obtain any data from this speed sign at this time,” he says, adding that the sign may have to be sent back to the manufacturer for repairs.

Don Gouthro gestures toward blind hill on Pond Shore Rd. where a high-speed collision occurred on Dec. 23rd sending a neighbour to hospital

Gouthro says he was hoping to get access to the speed data so that he can prove to the RCMP that excessive speeding is a chronic problem in his neighbourhood, where he says drivers regularly travel more than 80 km/h in a 60 km/h zone.

“If I’m down alongside the road waiting for the school bus, I notice that some cars do actually slow down when they see their speed is over the limit, but for the most part, I don’t think it has much effect on most drivers,” Gouthro says.

He adds that the sign shows speeds to drivers who are travelling out of town toward Midgic and not to those who are heading inbound where, he says, their speeds are frequently even higher because they’re coming out of an 80 km/h zone.

When asked why the town has not installed speed signs on both sides of the road, Acton replied that the town follows advice from the RCMP on where to place the signs.

“To date, we have never placed two speed signs in one area in both directions,” he writes, suggesting that while it could be done if the RCMP recommended it, the town doesn’t have enough signs because one of its three signs was stolen a couple of years ago, a second has stopped working and is being sent back to the manufacturer for repairs, while the third is on Pond Shore Road.

Acton writes that after Gouthro appeared before town council last January, CAO Phil Handrahan asked the RCMP to step up their patrols in the area. Mayor Higham also wrote to the New Brunswick Department of Transportation asking for posted speed limits to be reduced to 50 km/h.

Gouthro said that last winter the RCMP did set up a couple of speed traps in the area and that’s when he noticed drivers began slowing down.

However, he says the Mounties are now doing drive-by patrols that don’t have much effect.

“I see the RCMP driving by and then two minutes later I see a car going like 83 or 84 kilometres (per hour) up the road behind them.”

Gouthro says he asked the police for more speed traps as recently as two weeks ago when he called to report a car travelling at 93 km/h.

“I asked them at that time if they would come up and set up a speed trap and they just simply told me that school is back in session and that they have other priorities, school zones and things that they had to look after, and they just didn’t have time do it.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sackville planning bigger-than-ever Fall Fair next year to celebrate 20th anniversary

Sackville is planning to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Fall Fair next year with a full week of events that would stretch over two weekends.

Treasurer Michael Beal has allocated $75,000 in the draft of his 2021 budget, up from the $65,000 that the town had been planning to spend on this year’s Fall Fair which had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We looked at…what’s taken place with everybody, the mental well-being, the fact that we didn’t have the event this year, the fact that we looked at potentially running this over a full one week next year, versus just one weekend,” Beal told town council last night as he presented his draft budget.

He explained that town staff wanted to improve things by doing something “bigger and better” for the town.

“(We are) hoping that by next September, we are out of COVID times, there is potentially a vaccine and that we are able to operate our Fall Fair,” Beal said.

The extra $10,000 for the Fall Fair was one of the highlights of what the treasurer described as a “status-quo budget.”

The $11.4 million budget would keep the residential property tax rate at $1.56 per $100 of assessment while maintaining town programs and services.

And, for the second consecutive year, there would be no requirement for borrowing to pay for $1.6 million in general capital spending.

Budget summary

Beal explained that the $65,000 allocated for “council initiatives/priorities” could be used to subsidize arena user fees or for a study of improvements to the skateboard park.

The treasurer noted that the public had requested major spending of up to $500,ooo on the skate park, but town managers decided a smaller amount of money should be spent conducting a study first.

“Is it in the right place? Is it the right size?” Beal asked. “And what is the cost of it?”

He said a study would provide answers that council would need before deciding how much to invest in major improvements.

He also explained that the $35,111 allocated for climate change initiatives would include  a $10,000 summer student position.

As for public requests for about $100,000 in upgrades near Exit 506, Beal noted that the town has spent considerable amounts of money on sidewalks and improvements to the Cattail Ridge designated highway.

“So, we are not recommending a significant capital upgrade out there,” he said, although he added that the draft budget contains operational money for such items as flower pots and bike racks to beautify the area.

Beal said that town managers recommend delaying allocating significant capital money for the Exit 506 area until 2022 when more is known about potential private developments on Cattail Ridge across from the Ultramar.

Other budget highlights

Treasurer Michael Beal at an earlier council meeting

Beal said the town is planning to spend $83,000 next year on crosswalk upgrades, most of it for installation of a new traffic light controller at Sackville’s main downtown intersection.

He added that the rest would be spent on new LED signals at other crosswalks including the ones on Main Street at the booster pump and at the corner of Salem and Main.

The draft budget also allocates $90,000 for the extension of Wright Street — a project needed to facilitate construction of a seniors’ home and nursing care complex by JN Lafford Realty.

Beal said water and sewer rates will rise again next year to a minimum of $470 for the largest, single group of users. Council approved those rates in 2017 to help pay for upgrades to the town’s sewage lagoons.

The treasurer warned, however, that council will have to consider increasing rates again next year as the cost of upgrading the two lagoons on Crescent Street is now estimated at around $10 million while upgrading the one in Middle Sackville will likely cost about $4 million.

The upgrades will have to be completed sometime over the next 20 years.

In concluding his two-hour presentation, Beal said that COVID-19 was a constraint because lack of construction activity limited the growth of the town’s tax base.

“We’ve looked at creating a budget that meets within the realities of the pandemic, that does something for all areas and that does some expansion,” he added.

Town council will have a week to study the draft budget before it meets again on October 26th to discuss the proposals and ask questions about them.

Beal said he’s hoping council will be ready to approve the budget at its regular meeting on November 9th so that it can be submitted to the province by the November 15th deadline.

To read the draft budget, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Sackville residents worry about their children as speeding continues on Pond Shore Rd.

Radar speed sign the town installed at the foot of Don Gouthro’s driveway at 81 Pond Shore Rd. The blind hill in the distance was the scene of a serious, hit-and-run collision last December

Nearly 10 months after a high speed, hit-and-run collision sent 69-year-old Charles Bourque to hospital with serious injuries, drivers are still travelling well over the 60 kmh speed limit on Pond Shore Road, according to a retired teacher who lives there.

“I was out at the bus stop with my grandkids this morning and there was a truck that went by, I’m sure he was doing over 90k,” Don Gouthro said during a telephone interview last week.

Gouthro, who has been complaining about excessive speeds for more than a decade, says that after he raised the issue during a council meeting in January, the town installed a radar sign that shows drivers heading toward Midgic how fast they’re going, but it hasn’t made much difference.

“If I’m down alongside the road waiting for the school bus, I notice that some cars do actually slow down when they see their speed is over the limit, but for the most part, I don’t think it has much effect on most drivers; they just continue at whatever speed they were travelling at before the sign displayed it,” Gouthro says.

Don Gouthro addresses town council in January

He tried to raise his concerns during last Tuesday’s online town council meeting, but was unable to be heard during the question period because of technical problems. Journalists and other members of the public weren’t able to ask questions either, but the town has promised to respond as quickly as it can to questions I submitted on Thursday.

Meantime, Gouthro says he’s especially worried about the safety of the children who live in the area.

“We have at least a dozen kids in the neighbourhood who would be middle school aged and elementary age,” he says.

“My grandkids live on the opposite side of the road. They cross over to come to our house and other kids as well use the road, so it’s not just the school bus pickup that’s a concern, it’s just the general concern of the kids in the neighbourhood with the speeding cars.”

Gouthro points out that Mount Allison University students regularly jog along Pond Shore Road and it’s also a route that bicycle riders travel.

Town sends letter

Former Mayor John Higham responded to Gouthro’s concerns in January by sending a letter to the New Brunswick Department of Transportation (DTI) asking the province to lower the speed limit to 50 km/h on Pond Shore Road, which is part of Rte. 940, a provincial highway. He also asked DTI to install better road signs such as ones alerting drivers to school bus zones.

Then-DTI Minister Bill Oliver replied that he had forwarded the town’s request for a speed reduction to DTI’s Operations Branch for review.

“It is important to note that speed limit evaluations are completed under ideal road conditions; therefore, it will likely be spring/summer before an evaluation can be completed,” Oliver’s letter added.

To read the letters, click here. To read provincial guidelines on setting speed limits, click here.

RCMP patrols

Sign beside the inbound lane heading south on Pond Shore Rd toward the bridge at Silver Lake

Gouthro says that after he appeared before town council in January, the RCMP set up a couple of speed traps in the area and that’s when he noticed drivers began slowing down.

However, he says the Mounties have returned to drive-by patrols that don’t have much effect.

“I see the RCMP driving by and then two minutes later I see a car going like 83 or 84 kilometres (per hour) up the road behind them.”

Gouthro says he asked the police for more speed traps as recently as two weeks ago when he called to report a car travelling at 93 km/h.

“I asked them at that time if they would come up and set up a speed trap and they just simply told me that school is back in session and that they have other priorities, school zones and things that they had to look after, and they just didn’t have time do it.”

High speed, hit and run

Charles Bourque’s wrecked car as seen on Facebook in December

Meantime, Charles Bourque, who lives nearby, says he’s still suffering from arm, back and neck injuries as a result of a collision last December 23rd.

He says he was turning left into his driveway at the crest of a blind hill when he was hit from behind by a pick-up that sent his car careening off the road into a wooded area as the truck driver sped away.

The RCMP say the collision is still under investigation and no one has been arrested in connection with it.

Bourque says he’s still getting medical treatment for whiplash as well as pain in his arm and back. He’s also seeing a neurologist partly because he sometimes has difficulty picking things up or even holding a cup.

“I’m retired now,” he says, “so I just tinker around the house, but when things start bothering me, I just stop that’s all there is to it.”

To read previous coverage, click here.

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

‘Political theatre’ as Sackville Town Council debates the ban on more drive-thrus

Sackville Town Councillors played out a mini-drama last night over a perennial issue: the ban on allowing more drive-thru restaurants near the TransCanada highway.

Council ended up defeating a motion to re-evaluate the ban when the town’s Municipal Plan comes up for review next year.

“This motion is unnecessary, it’s inappropriate and it’s effectively meaningless except perhaps as political theatre,” said Councillor Bill Evans.

“We know who’s all about political theatre and who’s not,” Councillor Shawn Mesheau shot back.

The two were debating Mesheau’s motion (seconded by Councillor Bruce Phinney) to re-evaluate the ban on more coffee drive-thrus as part of the Municipal Plan review process in 2021.

Evans said that when council re-evaluates the Municipal Plan next year, it will consider all its parts including the ban on more drive-thrus that was first adopted in 2001.

He argued that Mesheau’s motion was also misleading.

“It doesn’t commit council to changing the Municipal Plan’s prohibition of drive-thrus, but it gives that impression,” he said.

Mesheau responded that by supporting a review of the ban on drive-thrus, council would be sending a signal that the town is open for business.

“I think it’s important to recognize that this component of the Plan needs to be reviewed, as every component does, but specifically where it…could affect future development and future business in certain areas of our community,” he added.

Councillor Bruce Phinney noted that a lot of people have questioned why council rejected a proposal in 2016 for a Robin’s Donuts restaurant and drive-thru at the Ultramar gas station near highway exit 506.

“Now that we’re moving forward with economic development, I think we need to put this forward now so that we can actually give people some time to think about it,” Phinney said, adding that it would also give council a chance to think about whether it made a mistake in 2016.

“I think we did make a mistake and the thing is, we should turn around and re-evaluate and make sure that we don’t make the same mistake again,” he added.

Councillor Michael Tower said that passing the motion would send a positive message about economic development, while Councillor Allison Butcher argued that the review of the Municipal Plan will be conducted by a new council after the next municipal election.

“We can’t presume to tell them what to do,” she said.

Councillor Andrew Black agreed, adding that opposing the motion would not indicate a lack of support for business.

“I will admit right now that I am still in a position that I don’t support drive-thrus,” he said, suggesting that if he’s re-elected, something might convince him to change his mind when the Municipal Plan comes up for review next year.

“Maybe, just maybe, something might convince me otherwise when the time comes to consider that,” he said. “But this is not that time.”

In the end, the vote on the motion was tied with Councillors Mesheau, Phinney and Tower in favour, while Councillors Evans, Butcher and Black voted against, leaving Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken to cast the deciding vote.

“By my count, it’s three for, three against, is that correct Ms. Beal?” Aiken asked the town clerk.

“I have three and three,” Donna Beal responded.

“In that case, the Chair votes against the motion, so it’s defeated,” Aiken declared bringing the curtain down for now on a long-running drama.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Lise Babineau is the new Community Program Officer with the Sackville RCMP

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken says he’s pleased that Sackville has a new Community Program Officer (CPO) to work with local young people in fostering good relations with police and in preventing crime.

Lise Babineau, who served as CPO in Moncton and Southeastern New Brunswick for nearly nine years from 2009 to 2018, took up her duties in Sackville on October 5th.

“I think a lot of other communities in New Brunswick envy Sackville for having a Community Program Officer,” Aiken said, adding that most CPOs serve whole regions not just single towns.

The town had almost no warning when Jean-Francois LeBlanc, who served as CPO for more than three years, left the job in December apparently because his position under Sackville’s Municipal Police Services Agreement would not be protected in a unionized RCMP.

Although LeBlanc was an RCMP employee, the town paid for his salary under an arrangement that began in 2013 when Amélie Jarvis-Lavoie was hired as Sackville’s first CPO after the federal government agreed to cover 30% of the town’s policing costs.

“The first CPO we had started working with younger people that were sort of on the track to get into trouble and she managed to divert them away from what they were doing and get on to some more reasonable behaviour,” Aiken says, adding that all of the CPOs have been very good.

“We’ve been quite lucky with the quality of people we got.”

So far, Sackville’s new CPO has not responded to e-mail and phone messages, but her profile on Linked In says that she holds a degree in Community Studies from Cape Breton University.

After leaving her post as CPO for Moncton and the Southeast, Babineau worked in community economic development for Opportunities New Brunswick and as a community development consultant for the Vitalité Health Network.

She also describes herself as a singer and song writer.

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MASU says Elections NB will investigate after Mt. A. students were turned away at the polls

Students line up to vote on election day, but many faced hostile questions and some were repeatedly turned away

The Mount Allison Students Union (MASU) says that Elections NB has agreed to launch an official investigation after dozens of eligible student voters were repeatedly turned away from the polls at the Sackville Civic Centre on September 14th, the day of the provincial election.

In an e-mail today to students, President Jonathan Ferguson says that Elections NB informed MASU on Thursday that it would conduct a formal investigation.

“We are pleased to see that Elections New Brunswick is treating this event with the seriousness it merits,” Ferguson writes.

He says an investigator has already been hired and will be visiting Sackville to conduct interviews next Friday and Saturday.

Ferguson’s e-mail encourages students who had trouble voting to get in touch with him so that they can submit their comments to the investigator.

On election day, many students who were qualified to vote reported that they faced hostile questioning and were warned by poll workers and a Liberal scrutineer that they would be committing voter fraud if they tried to cast a ballot.

Some students were turned away altogether. New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer intervened to clarify the rules, but even after that, students were still being told they weren’t qualified to vote.

For an in-depth report from CHMA journalist Erica Butler, click here.

In a comment sent to Warktimes the day after the election, Sabine Dietz, who helped manage the Green campaign, wrote that during nearly five hours at the Civic Centre, she witnessed many students being turned away.

“It was an absolutely appalling situation. I saw students continuously turned away, coming out without having been allowed to vote DESPITE there having been clear instructions by about 4 pm.,” Dietz wrote.

To read her full comment, click here.

Meantime, in his e-mail, the MASU president thanks students for their commitment to democracy.

“September 14th should not have unfolded the way it did – this investigation is part of series of steps that are being taken to make sure this does not happen again,” Ferguson concludes.

For previous coverage, click here.

Posted in CHMA-FM, New Brunswick election 2020, New Brunswick politics | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Last shoe set to drop in Sackville’s bitter heritage saga

Sackville CAO Jamie Burke

When Sackville Town Council meets again next week, it’s expected to repeal the heritage grant policy it adopted in 2017.

The policy provided renovation grants up to a maximum of $5,000 to the owners of heritage buildings in two downtown conservation areas that council eliminated more than two years ago when it repealed its heritage bylaw and dissolved the Heritage Board.

Repeal of the bylaw — passed in 2010 — gave property owners in the designated conservation areas free rein to demolish or alter the look of downtown buildings without having to apply for a permit.

It also eased the way for JN Lafford Realty Inc. to build upscale seniors’ apartments with underground parking.

At last night’s council meeting, CAO Jamie Burke acknowledged that there is no program in place to encourage the conservation of downtown heritage buildings even though council allocated $12,500 for one in this year’s budget.

“As you know, we’ve been focused on other things since March,” Burke said, adding that he expected the money would be carried forward in next year’s budget if council approves.

Sackville’s now-demolished United Church

When, as is likely, council repeals the heritage grant policy next week, it will be the final chapter in a saga that began in August 2014 when JN Lafford Realty applied for a permit to demolish the Sackville United Church that stood for 140-years in the heart of downtown.

The application led to months of controversy as a citizen’s group continued its efforts to save the church while volunteer members of the Heritage Board clashed with the mayor, town councillors and town staff as the Board sought ways to preserve church artifacts including its massive Casavant pipe organ dating from 1928 and its four, four-metre stained-glass “rose” windows installed when the church was expanded in 1898.

(The organ ended up in Chicago while three of the big windows fell with the church in September 2015.)

The controversy spilled over into the courts as lawyer Louis Béliveau challenged his dismissal from the Heritage Board in a case the town finally settled to avoid a potential fight in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Stark divisions were also apparent during a public hearing in 2018 over the town’s proposal to repeal its heritage bylaw.

Former Mayor Bob Berry

Former Mayor Bob Berry described the bylaw as “a pain in the butt” and urged town council to scrap it, adding that he had received death threats over demolition of the United Church.

“If you guys ever got threatened and received letters that you were going to have your house burnt, your family and my wife burnt and threatened my life, then you would be emotional too,” Berry said.

Sackville resident Sharon Hicks spoke for the other side when she said scrapping the bylaw would leave property owners free to do as they liked.

“If everything is just dumped for now, thinking you might replace it with something later,” Hicks said, “[then] in the meantime, there is no heritage protection whatsoever for anything in town.”

Read Warktimes coverage of the once top-secret Lordon Report that chronicles what happened behind closed doors as the Heritage Board, the mayor, town councillors and municipal staff wrangled over demolition of the Sackville United Church.

Posted in Sackville United Church, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Frank McKenna’s $1m gift to Mt. A. stirs excitement and joy, but also concerns about secrecy

Frank McKenna speaking last Friday at Mt. A. Photo: Mount Allison University

Mount Allison University held its first formal gathering in more than six months last Friday to announce the establishment of the new Frank McKenna School of Philosophy, Politics & Economics.

The School, which should be up and running next year, was made possible by $5 million in private donations including $1 million from McKenna himself.

In a brief speech, the former New Brunswick premier and current deputy chair of the TD Bank referred to a question he gets asked about such donations.

“Why would you donate a million dollars?  Just think of all the wine you could drink with a million dollars, all the steaks you could buy,” McKenna said as his Mt. A. audience laughed.

“It’s so simple,” he added. “I had the greatest gift you could ever have in life from New Brunswick, the gift of opportunity, and I vowed that I would spend the rest of my life trying to respect that gift and paying it forward.”

Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau thanked McKenna, adding that the multi-disciplinary school would train students for a wide range of careers partly through internships in the public and private sectors.

“McKenna students, as they will be known, will become university and provincial ambassadors,” Boudreau said. “The province, the country and the world need culturally sensitive, global citizens with experience in applying theory to practice in real-world settings.”

List of inaugural founders who contributed a total of $5 million

Boudreau also thanked the inaugural founders, adding that fundraising would continue.

“We will continue to grow the McKenna School for years to come,” he said.

In an e-mail to Warktimes, Mount Allison Students Union President Jonathan Ferguson welcomed creation of the new school saying it would benefit the existing philosophy, politics and economics program as well as other academic departments at the university.

“We are excited that this project is going forward and being worked on – it’s incredibly positive news!” Ferguson wrote.

Secrecy concerns

Jamie Brownlee, author of the 2015 book Academia Inc., How Corporatization is Transforming Canadian Universities, says that over the past several decades universities have increasingly turned to private donations to make up for shortfalls in public funding.

Brownlee, who teaches at Carleton University in Ottawa, says it’s one way that wealthy people like Frank McKenna and the inaugural founders of his school can assert their influence over higher education.

“I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable that in exchange for monetary donations, corporations or wealthy individuals receive something from the university,” he said during a telephone interview.

“They like to get their names emblazoned on university buildings and have academic programs named after them,” Brownlee added. “It’s not really transforming the university in any fundamental way.”

But, he warned that donors are increasingly demanding more say in university teaching, budgetary decisions, hiring and research.

“Does this donor funding have strings attached and if so, what are they?” he asked.

Brownlee says those details are spelled out in donors’ agreements and it’s crucial that universities make them public.

However, in response to an e-mail from Warktimes, Mount Allison communications officer Laura Dillman wrote: “Gift agreements are considered private documents between the University and the donor(s) at Mount Allison.”

Brownlee says Mt. A. should be pressed to release the donors’ agreement especially in light of Frank McKenna’s past pronouncements supporting higher student tuition fees, legislating striking professors back to work and viewing universities as “profit centres.”

James Turk. Photo: Ryerson University

James Turk, Director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, is also a strong advocate for making university donors’ agreements public.

“I think it’s totally inappropriate for Mount Allison University to fail to disclose to the university community and the public the terms of a donor agreement that could have an impact on the academic program and nature of the university,” he said during a telephone interview.

“Mount Allison is a public university and needs to be transparent in these matters as many other universities are,” Turk added.

He said, for example, that the University of Toronto has agreed to make the terms of agreements on donations over $250,000 available to the public for the last 20 years.

“I want to make clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a university, especially when it’s being underfunded by the provincial government, to accept donations from corporations or donors,” Turk says.

Bu he adds that it’s only OK if the university doesn’t give the donor any say over the academic program or research that the donation is funding.

“The only way to know whether a donation is acceptable or not, is to read the fine print in the contract with the donor,” he says, “and if the university is not prepared to make that donor agreement available, it makes me, for one, immediately suspicious that there’s something in the agreement that the university doesn’t want the public to know.”

Note: When James Turk was serving as executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) in 2013, he compiled a comprehensive report on university collaborations with donors called Open for Business: On What Terms?

In 2014, Jamie Brownlee submitted a PhD thesis entitled: Irreconcilable Differences: The Corporatization of Canadian Universities.

To read the Mount Allison news release announcing the Frank McKenna School of Philosophy, Politics & Economics, click here.

Posted in Mount Allison University | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Mitton wins re-election in Memramcook-Tantramar after tense election day for many students at Mt. A.

Megan Mitton shows the Green heart locket with a photo of her daughter Quinn inside that she carried on election day

Megan Mitton will be returning to the New Brunswick legislature with her two Green Party colleagues after being re-elected Monday night in Memramcook-Tantramar.

“I’m still feeling overwhelmed by all the support from everyone,” she declared in her online victory speech.

“Politics can be done differently. I’ve been working to do it differently the last two years and we’re going to continue to do it differently,” she added.

Official results from Elections NB

Mitton won 523 more votes than her nearest rival, Liberal Maxime Bourgeois and more than twice as many as Progressive Conservative candidate Carole Duguay.

During a telephone interview, Mitton acknowledged that she and her Green Party colleagues, David Coon and Kevin Arseneau, will no longer hold as much bargaining power after the Conservatives won 27 seats, a clear majority in the 49 seat legislature.

“It will be a bit of a different make up,” she said.

“One thing that is an advantage is that I’ve had the chance over the last couple of years to get to know some of the MLAs from the PC Party and some of the ministers and build relationships and be able to work with them across party lines,” she said.

“I’m really hoping to see the all-party cabinet committee that was addressing COVID meet as soon as possible so we can get back to the work of making sure that everyone gets through this pandemic, not just surviving, but living with dignity.”

Tense election day

During her victory speech, Mitton said she was proud that people had worked together on election day to protect each other’s right to vote.

She was referring to the dozens of Mount Allison students who were qualified to vote, but who faced hostile questioning and were warned by poll workers and a Liberal scrutineer that they would be committing voter fraud if they tried to cast a ballot.

Some students were turned away altogether. New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer intervened to clarify the rules, but even after that some students were told they weren’t qualified to vote.

The Mount Allison Students Union (MASU) issued a notice to students advising those who were “wrongfully turned away” to return to the Civic Centre “and try to vote again.”

Sydney Thorburn, a Vice President at MASU who was helping with the get-out-the-vote campaign, told CHMA news that a Liberal scrutineer told her to tell students living in the Mount Allison residences to stop coming to the polls because they weren’t qualified to vote.

“My biggest concern is that students coming out telling me that they felt uncomfortable and that they felt unwelcome and they felt intimated by staff here, that they’re going to avoid elections in the future,” she said, adding that her goal was to educate students on the importance of voting to make their voices heard.

“I’m really worried that it’s going to discourage them from voting in the future,” Thorburn said.

For an-depth report on the problems Mt. A. students faced in trying to vote, click here.

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020, New Brunswick politics | Tagged , | 2 Comments