NS Election: Liberal Bill Casey promises to fight for Cumberland’s special needs

Cumberland North Liberal candidate Bill Casey outside his campaign office in Amherst

Former federal Member of Parliament Bill Casey says he’s running for the provincial Liberals in the August 17th Nova Scotia election mainly because officials in Halifax do not recognize the special needs of an area that borders on a neighbouring province.

“People in Cumberland County feel like we’re not part of the province and I believe that I can help fix that,” Casey said on Tuesday during an interview in his Amherst campaign office.

“There’s 18 counties in Nova Scotia and it just seems to me that 17 have one set of rules and there’s a separate set of rules for Cumberland and I’d like to change that.”

Casey explains that Cumberland in the only county in Nova Scotia that borders on another province with a wide-range of differing tax policies and rules for everything from the sale of gasoline, alcohol and tobacco to regulations that govern trucking.

“When the gas prices go down in New Brunswick, Cumberland County residents will flock to New Brunswick and then when Nova Scotia prices are down, New Brunswick customers will flock to Nova Scotia,” he says.

“Other counties in Nova Scotia do not have to experience that and don’t feel it, but we do every day.”

Casey says the population of the three Maritime provinces is only the size of a big city so it makes sense to share services with perhaps, one department of transportation, one registry of motor vehicles and one liquor commission.

“It would save a lot of money and that way we would have similar regulations between the provinces so we wouldn’t have this difference.”

He points to the Atlantic Lottery Corporation as an example of inter-provincial co-operation that he says works well and benefits everyone.

“There’s not three different overheads and head offices and staff and different regulations,” he adds. “If you buy a ticket in Nova Scotia, it’s exactly the same as a ticket in New Brunswick and I believe that we should explore all avenues of government services to see how we could share.”

Highway tolls

Casey points to the Cobequid Pass highway tolls as another example that separates Cumberland County from the rest of Nova Scotia.

“To me, it’s a matter of fairness and this is one county that’s had to pay tolls for 25 years,” he says.

Liberal campaign ad showing Bill Casey watching as Iain Rankin promises to lift some highway tolls during a campaign stop in Amherst on July 20

“A student in Amherst who wanted to go to any university in Nova Scotia has to pay an $8 toll,” he adds.

“My daughter has to take her daughter to the IWK in Halifax, she has to pay an $8 toll and nobody else in Nova Scotia has to do that.”

Casey says Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin’s campaign promise to remove tolls on passenger vehicles with Nova Scotia licence plates is a step toward eliminating all the tolls.

“It’s the first time in 25 years that we’ve had any reduction in the tolls for anybody, so it’s a start and it’s again one way Cumberland County was treated differently than everybody else.”

When asked why voters should believe Rankin’s promise to remove tolls when Liberals made the same pledge in 2017 but never acted on it, Casey replies that now, there’s a definite date.

“They [the Liberals in 2017] had a vague time frame, but we have October the 1st as the date and I believe it’s going to happen. If it doesn’t, I’m going to be upset,” he says with a chuckle.

Historic sites

Casey says he’ll also fight to end provincial discrimination against Cumberland County for recognition of its history.

During his seven terms as a federal Member of Parliament for the Nova Scotia riding of Cumberland-Colchester, Casey succeeded in getting Beaubassin designated a National Historic Site.

Parks Canada installed a kiosk and panels outlining the history of the Acadian village that was burned in 1750 as England and France were battling for control of the Chignecto Isthmus.

When Iain Rankin visited Amherst earlier this month, the Liberal leader promised to explore ways of recognizing the nearby Chignecto Ship Railway.

Casey says the never-completed railway, designed to carry ships over the Isthmus between the Northumberland Strait and the Bay of Fundy, is one of two nationally historic civil engineering sites in Nova Scotia, both equal in historic value. The other is the Shubenacadie Canal.

“Talk about differences between Cumberland County and other counties,” Casey says.

“Shubenacadie Canal gets hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into it; Chignecto Ship Railway doesn’t get a cent,” he adds.

“I really believe in preserving our history.”

This is the first in a series of reports on the Liberal campaign in Cumberland North. We will also be providing additional coverage of Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin who is running as an Independent; Lauren Skabar’s campaign for the NDP and David Wightman’s candidacy for the Progressive Conservatives.

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NS Election: Independent candidate pledges to keep fighting for the people of Cumberland North

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin outside her Amherst campaign office

Political observers across the Maritime provinces are watching the riding of Cumberland North as Nova Scotians head to the polls in a provincial election on August 17th.

Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin is running for re-election in the riding as an independent candidate after being dumped last month by the Progressive Conservatives over her support for protests against provincial border restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smith-McCrossin says she decided to run after receiving hundreds of messages on Facebook, by e-mail and phone asking her to continue to fight for her constituents.

“What people were sharing with me is that they were finally happy to see someone stand up for them and try to share their voices and their frustrations from being ignored by the provincial government for 16 months,” Smith-McCrossin said on Friday during an interview at her busy campaign office in downtown Amherst.

“Decisions were being made that impacted the lives of the people here, they were never consulted, neither Premier McNeil or Rankin ever came here to our border community to sit down and understand the needs of the people,” she added.

Smith-McCrossin says that after months of separation from their families in New Brunswick, people in Cumberland North were extremely upset on June 22nd when the Nova Scotia Premier suddenly announced the provincial border would not be re-opening as planned the next day.

Smith-McCrossin issuing Facebook ultimatum to NS Premier on June 22nd

That’s when she issued an ultimatum to Iain Rankin on Facebook warning that if the premier didn’t change his mind by 4 p.m., the TransCanada highway would be shut down in protest, not at the provincial border, but as it turned out, at Exit 7 about 30 minutes away.

Smith-McCrossin joined the protesters there at around 4:30 p.m.

She says the RCMP were re-routing traffic at Exit 7 and that as angry as they were, protesters were letting some cars through if they were carrying elderly people, children or those with medical conditions.

“The RCMP also assured me as MLA that it was a legal, peaceful protest because they were able to ensure that people could get around,” Smith-McCrossin adds.

She says that as darkness fell, she urged people to go home, promising that she would drive to Halifax the next day to speak with Rankin directly.

However, when Smith-McCrossin reached Halifax on June 23rd, the premier was out of town and as she continued to wait for him, protesters closed the provincial border blocking medical supplies and giving a platform to anti-vaxxers campaigning against COVID vaccines.

Smith-McCrossin says she issued statements calling for the protesters to stop their blockade, but can understand why they continued it anyway.

“Before the June 23rd border blockade, the people that had set that up, they had been protesting every Sunday there for eight weeks before that and had shut down the border, the highway, on three different occasions trying to get Rankin to listen to them, trying to get someone from the government to pay attention,” she adds.

“It’s been very frustrating for people here; nobody shuts down a highway unless they’re at a point of frustration,” Smith-McCrossin says. “Why would you have grandmothers and business owners standing on a highway protesting?”

As she campaigns for re-election, Smith-McCrossin is clearly hoping that her call for the highway shut down on June 22nd and her refusal to condemn the border blockade the next day will continue to win her voter support.

She won the riding for the Progressive Conservatives in 2017 with 51.7% of the vote.

But this time, as she campaigns for re-election without PC support, she’s up against two opponents with name recognition in Cumberland North.

Veteran Member of Parliament Bill Casey is the candidate for the provincial Liberals, while Lauren Skabar, daughter of former MLA Brian Skabar, is running for the NDP.

So far, no one else is listed by Elections Nova Scotia as an official candidate. Nominations close in two days on July 28 at 2 p.m.

This is the first in a series on the Smith-McCrossin campaign. Warktimes will also be covering the other candidates’ campaigns.

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Sackville seeks to maintain independence, rejects municipal amalgamation in letter to province

The Town of Sackville has formally rejected municipal amalgamation with nearby communities in the Tantramar region.

In a letter to Daniel Allain, the provincial minister responsible for municipal reform, Sackville recommends retaining its independent status as “a new kind of small town.”

The letter states bluntly: “Sackville does not feel amalgamation is a realistic solution and would object to any forced amalgamation.”

Instead, it suggests that surrounding communities be incorporated into a regional government overseen by a county council similar to ones in Nova Scotia.1

“This model would allow incorporated municipalities such as Sackville to deal with an equivalent government on any form of shared services,” the letter adds.

It notes that the recent provincial Green Paper on municipal reform focuses on the lack of democratic representation in local service districts (LSDs), which do not elect a mayor and council, but are governed by provincial officials in Fredericton.

“The governance structure of unincorporated areas [LSDs] is presented as a major problem in the Green Paper,” Sackville’s letter points out.

“We strongly agree with this position and would suggest that some form of regional government be explored so that local representation can be established within these currently unincorporated areas.”

Although the letter does not name specific communities, there are nine local service districts in the Tantramar region that include places such as Midgic, Westcock, British Settlement and Wood Point.

In a comprehensive report on municipal reform in 2008, Commissioner Jean-Guy Finn suggested that Sackville join with the nine LSDs along with the villages of Port Elgin and Dorchester to form one municipality within a regional service district.

However, in its letter to the the minister, Sackville portrays itself as an independent regional centre with a hospital, university and a variety of cultural assets such as museums, galleries and creative artists.

The letter also mentions the town’s “innovative employers in the industrial sector.”

It adds: “We are a hub for the surrounding region and residents, who visit Sackville for groceries, banking, medical appointments and access to government services such as the Post Office, Service New Brunswick and the Southeast Regional Service Commission.”

At a special meeting last night, Sackville Town Council discussed a draft of the letter and authorized Mayor Mesheau to sign a final version that will include councillors’ suggestions for stronger language on the urgent need to take action on climate change and to respect the rights and status of First Nations peoples.

UPDATE: At the urging of Councillor Sabine Dietz, the final letter includes this reference to climate change under the heading Land Use Planning:

New Brunswick needs a provincial planning framework that addresses the most important issue facing our province, climate change. How we plan for climate change will impact other issues such as urban sprawl, coastal development, floodplains, health and built environment, infrastructure investments and transportation planning, resource developments and agriculture. All of these areas have a provincial interest.

The final letter also contains a sentence under the heading Other Observations that was suggested by Councillor Andrew Black:

We strongly recommend that the Province consider the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action as they move forward with Local Governance Reform.

To read the letter, posted on the town’s website, click here.

This is the first in a two-part series about Sackville’s latest position on municipal reform.

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Sackville Town Council approves fireworks display during Fall Fair

Spider-shaped firework. Wikipedia photo: Dainan Kaplan

In a 7-1 vote, Sackville Town Council has approved a fireworks display during this year’s Fall Fair in spite of concerns about potentially adverse environmental effects.

“It’s nearly impossible to assign a numerical value to the impact that the fireworks could have on our environment,” Recreation Manager Matt Pryde told council on Monday.

He said most of the research relates to large-scale events in the U.S., India or Australia.

“That said, fireworks are technically an explosion and when an explosion goes off, there’s smoke and when there’s smoke, there’s the potential for particles and toxins and chemicals to get into the air,” Pryde said, adding that chemicals can stay airborne for days before falling to the ground where they can get into the soil harming wildlife and plants.

Pryde said town staff also received information from the Mayor’s Roundtable on Climate Change about the potentially damaging effects of loud explosions on wildlife and domestic animals.

He said that in future, the town could consider replacing fireworks displays with light shows using lasers and drones.

Pryde’s report came in response to concerns raised at an earlier meeting by Councillor Sabine Dietz who thanked staff for conducting this latest research.

Councillor Sabine Dietz

She said she would be voting against holding a fireworks display during the Fall Fair, but acknowledged that more conclusive evidence would be needed to make a fully informed decision.

“I know our town needs to do a lot of stuff and the expense for fireworks based on my knowledge that it is an environmental problem, fireworks in general, I will vote against the motion,” Dietz said.

“I’m going to vote in favour,” said Councillor Bill Evans, “but that doesn’t mean there aren’t arguments against it.”

He added that he was glad council was discussing the issue.

“It’s not just the environmental concerns; I know people have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] and I know people who have dogs who leave town when we have fireworks, so there are things to consider,” Evans said.

The Fall Fair fireworks display will be held at the Lorne Street soccer field on Friday, September 24th with a rain date scheduled for Saturday, September 25th.

For a detailed 2019 CBC report on how fireworks can affect human health and the eco-system, click here.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

Local business owner questions Sackville’s $1.8 million RCMP contract

Kevin Read, owner of Sackville’s Glowing Embers heating store, addressing Sackville town council

Sackville businessman Kevin Read is questioning whether the town is getting good value for the more than $1.8 million it spends every year on the RCMP.

“My main question is if we’re paying this kind of money, why everybody in town doesn’t feel safe right now,” Read said Monday during town council’s public question period.

He referred to recent fires that destroyed three houses just outside town limits in Upper Sackville threatening the lives of Brian and Marlene Doncaster who were asleep in their home on Pond Shore Road when it went up in flames in the early morning hours of June 5th.

“When you have something in a line of arson, attempted murder,” Read said, “and it takes an hour for RCMP to respond to something like that when the office is right here,” he added, pointing downward to indicate the RCMP offices on the main floor of the town hall.

“There is many, many nights in this town, there’s nobody on duty,” he said, adding that he’d like to know why the RCMP detachment is not staffed at all times.

Read said that when he had an accident some years ago in downtown Sackville, he waited 25 minutes for the RCMP to come from Memramcook.

Response times

Mayor Mesheau responds to Read

Mayor Mesheau and CAO Jamie Burke responded that under Sackville’s Municipal Policing Service Agreement with the RCMP, up to 10 officers are assigned to the town’s detachment.

Burke said he would have to check with Sgt. Paul Gagné on whether there is any data on how long it takes the detachment to respond to specific calls.

“I’m just assuming here, which we probably shouldn’t be doing, but it all depends on the circumstances of the day and where their resources need to be mobilized,” Burke said.

“We can check with Sgt. Gagné and see if there’s any details with respect to those individual response times within the municipal boundary,” he added.

“Thank you for your answer, but I don’t accept that answer,” Read replied.

“We are paying for protection and response times,” he added. “Three hundred and sixty days of this year at least, there should be one person on call and we should have a response within 15 minutes to anything because that’s what a taxpayer is paying for.”

Mesheau repeated that the town needs to check with the RCMP.

“You’ve indicated that there’s no response time, there’s no coverage at certain times,” the mayor said.

“That’s not information that necessarily has been made available to this council or to staff,” he added. “We need the opportunity to ask the sergeant in charge to provide that information in order to get clarification.”

Read said later that although he’s concerned about the fires in Upper Sackville, his main point is that the RCMP should be available in town at all times to serve and protect vulnerable people here.

Praise for RCMP

One of two burned houses on Upper Aboujagane Road. Power lines in the background mark Sackville town limits

Meantime, a resident who lives in the area where the three houses burned, says he has nothing but praise for the RCMP even though they did arrive after the fire department when the Doncaster house burned.

“I was worrying about people getting burnt in the house and not worrying about when the police were coming, it was quite hectic here, five o’clock in the morning,” the resident said in a telephone interview.

Warktimes has decided not to use the person’s name because of ongoing threats and safety concerns.

“A lot of people got a hate on for the RCMP, but we don’t,” the resident said. “We’ve dealt with them a lot between the fires and all this stuff going on.”

The resident says the RCMP presence in the area, which is outside town limits, has been constant even though their resources are stretched thin.

“You get into the middle of what we’ve been through in the last year, you gain a little more respect for them, they’re doing their best, I know they are.”

The resident had a brick thrown through a window in April and since then has installed shatterproof glass along with cameras, emergency lights and burglar alarms.

“For awhile, I’d go to bed at eight and get up at midnight,” the resident said while another person in the house would go to bed at midnight so that someone would always be awake.

“What they’ve been doing is throwing a cocktail through the window and when it hits the floor, the gas and fire just go everywhere,” the resident  says.

“The police stayed out here for 10 or 12 days every night watching our house and they’ve been giving 110% most of the time, I can’t say anything bad about them.”

The RCMP did not return a call from Warktimes seeking more information about police staffing levels and response times.

For the latest CHMA story on the fires in Upper Sackville, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sackville resident disputes police claim that Pond Shore speeding is not as bad as people think

Sgt. Paul Gagné answering questions about speeding on Pond Shore Rd.

A 26-year resident of Pond Shore Road is disputing claims by the head of the local RCMP detachment that speeding in her neighbourhood isn’t as bad as it seems.

Laurie Ann Wesselby was responding to statements by Sgt. Paul Gagné during Monday’s Sackville town council meeting.

“Visually I think it sometimes looks like people are going faster than they are,” Gagné said in response to a question about speeding on Pond Shore.

“I’m not saying there’s no speeding, I’m just saying that if somebody is going 10 over the speed limit there, it may look like to somebody there that they’re going like 20 or more.”

He added that RCMP members who patrol the area tell him, in his words, “there isn’t as much speeding as people may suggest.”

Wesselby, whose home office overlooks Pond Shore Road, strongly disagrees.

“I understand that our perception of a car driving by may appear faster,” she says.

“However, when you see cars and motorcycles literally going so fast that you can just barely see them; I sit here in my office and watch motorcyles come off the road, he’s going that fast, he’s scaling and just flies,” she adds.

Wesselby says the RCMP drive by occasionally, but rarely set up radar traps to enforce the 60 km/h speed limit or even monitor what’s happening on the road.

“I’m not saying every single car that goes by here speeds, but there is a concern, otherwise the citizens would not be bringing it up.”

No data

Pond Shore speed sign showing approaching car travelling 75 km/h in 60 zone. Blind hill appears in the distance

Wesselby and two other residents voiced their concerns to town council in April during a meeting at which Town Engineer Dwayne Acton recommended that the town install a second radar device to tell motorists how fast they’re going and to record speed data that could be shared with the RCMP.

In an e-mail to Warktimes, Acton writes that the town hasn’t been able to install that second speed sign yet because it needs replacement parts, but once the sign is repaired, it will be placed beside the southbound lane heading into town.

More than a year ago, the town installed the first sign beside the northbound lane, but wasn’t able to retrieve speed data from it for many months.

Acton writes that after working with the manufacturer, the town can now download the information.

“However, we have not been able to evaluate the data at this time and we have not shared this information with RCMP yet, but plan to the first opportunity we get,” he adds.

High speed, hit and run

Charles Bourque’s wrecked car in Facebook photo from December, 2019

Laurie Ann Wesselby says she lives directly across Pond Shore from Charles Bourque, the victim of a high-speed collision in December 2019 that sent the elderly man to hospital suffering from severe shoulder and back injuries, cracked ribs and whiplash.

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

Wesselby says her neighbour is still suffering from the effects of the crash.

“Even today you go out and walk and there’s still little pieces of debris around where the accident was on the road, sometimes you’ll see a little piece here and there and it shows you how hard he was hit.”

Wesselby says she was involved in a collision herself in 2000 as she came out of her driveway at the crest of the blind hill.

During Monday’s council meeting, Sgt. Gagné seemed to suggest the main problem may lie with motorists coming into town on what he called a “feeder road,” but Wesselby says excessive speeding is equally apparent in both directions.

“When you come around Silver Lake by the bridge and you’re heading up Pond Shore,” she says, “as soon as they hit that corner in this straightaway, you can hear them revving up, especially motorcycles and the cars that have the loud mufflers and you can hear the same in my office on the other side; there’s the two straightaways on either side of the blind hill.”

Wesselby suggests it’s as though some drivers are playing a game.

“It seems like it’s a straightaway and it’s like, ‘let’s rev up and we’re going to speed up and see how fast we can scale that hill.'”

Lower speed, safer road

Sign beside the inbound lane on Pond Shore Rd.

Wesselby says the speed limit on this narrow section of Pond Shore should be lowered to 50 km/h and the RCMP should enforce it more.

She also says something needs to be done to make the road safer for pedestrians because in some places the shoulder is so narrow that people are forced to walk on the pavement beside speeding vehicles.

“You drive around town and you start looking at sidewalks,” she says “and upgrades that have happened, there’s not a whole lot past Silver Lake.”

Pond Shore Rd. resident Laurie Ann Wesselby

She acknowledges that residents have the nearby TransCanada walking and bicycle trail.

“Yes, we have the bike trail, but to get to that bike trail, we still have to walk on the road,” she says, “and if you have a stroller with small kids in it, it’s pretty hard to feel safe.”

Near the end of the 18-minute phone interview, Wesselby reports on an incident she has just witnessed from her office window.

“I just watched four bicycles literally went by the house here right now and a car was passing them and one cyclist pulled right over and stopped,” she says, suggesting that the car was uncomfortably close to him.

“He pulled over and stopped and got off his bike, the others were just in front of him and I didn’t see what they did because there’s a tree,” she adds.

“That right there is a prime example,” Wesselby says.”I wish I had got a picture of it.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 8 Comments

Sackville firefighter calls on town council to get involved in fixing troubled fire service

Sackville Firefighter Laura Thurston addressing town council

Sackville Town Council has been asked to take a more direct role in solving persistent personnel problems within the town’s fire department.

During a presentation to council last night, volunteer firefighter Laura Thurston requested that council ask to see the final report from the consulting firm that is assessing allegations of bullying, harassment, favouritism and discrimination against women within the fire service.

“To help avoid a potential conflict of interest and ensure the integrity of the information, I’m asking council to consider meeting, discussing and approving obtaining the full, detailed workplace assessment report and recommendations directly from Montana Consulting for both Sackville Fire & Rescue and the employees of the town,” Thurston said.

She also said that when she asked the consulting firm who would receive their final report and recommendations, she was told they would be provided to CAO Jamie Burke.

“As an official within our direct chain of command, this potentially could create a conflict of interest,” Thurston added, especially if council relied on a summary of the report prepared by the CAO.

Thurston told Warktimes in April, that both Burke and former CAO Phil Handrahan declined several times to meet when she tried to bring problems within the fire department to their attention.

“They wouldn’t even sit with me; they wouldn’t listen to what I had to say,” she said.

Action plan

During later interviews last night with Warktimes and CHMA News, Thurston elaborated on her calls for everyone, including members of town council, to work together to solve the fire department’s problems.

“I expect to see an action plan coming out of this report,” she said.

“We’re all in this for a common goal, to make the fire department better, to make it the place that we all know that it can be because the work that we do there is something that we’re all very proud of,” Thurston told CHMA’s Erica Butler.

Mayor’s response

Mayor Shawn Mesheau

Mayor Mesheau responded to Thurston’s request by saying that council will wait until the workplace assessment is complete before it decides on any next steps.

“Council will determine at that point in time if anything further needs to take place based on what comes through the CAO,” the Mayor said later during the public question period.

“I think we’re getting ourselves ahead of things here,” Mesheau added.

“Ultimately, we have to let this process see itself through and council has indicated in the past that they’re committed to seeing this process through and we’ll eagerly await to see what comes from it.”

Thurston says that while she didn’t expect an answer from council last night, she was disappointed that the mayor said council would wait to see what comes from the CAO after the workplace assessment is complete.

“To me, I feel that’s unacceptable,” she told CHMA.

“I think that my request to get that report independently themselves is there and I would simply expect an answer as to why they don’t feel that they can do that.”

To listen to Erica Butler’s radio interview with Laura Thurston, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 8 Comments

Premier’s Task Force calls for improving status & economic security of New Brunswick artists

Graphic novelist Patrick Allaby at work in his Sackville studio lettering a page for an upcoming project. Photo submitted

Writers and artists in Sackville are welcoming newly-released recommendations for improving the economic security and professional status of New Brunswick’s creators.

After seven years of work, the Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist issued a comprehensive report last Friday calling for a wide range of measures.

They include more government financial support for the arts such as increased funding for arts programs in schools.

The task force, appointed by Conservative Premier David Alward in 2014, also recommends legislative changes that would give artists better EI coverage, increase their Canada Pension Plan benefits, provide stronger copyright protections, make written contracts for their services mandatory and establish minimum fee scales.

One of the report’s 24-recommendations calls on the province to explore implementing a guaranteed annual income that would benefit all low-income and economically insecure workers including artists.

“If these recommendations were implemented, it could really change things and make it a lot easier for artists to live in New Brunswick,” says Sackville graphic novelist Patrick Allaby.

As a writer who has just published The Water Lover, a book about being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes while he was studying in the fine arts program at Mount Allison, Allaby strongly supports the task force recommendation that the province explore ways of allowing workers to carry the benefits of employment health plans from paid jobs to self-employment.

“For someone like myself who works for awhile and then pursues art in between jobs, I essentially end up trying to stock up on as much insulin as I can when I have a job,” he says.

“It gets me through the lean months of not having really good health insurance because employer-based insurance is so much more comprehensive than anything that could be privately offered.”

The task force calls this a “portable benefits system” with health and pension benefits that are “connected to an individual, rather than a particular employer, and so they can be taken from job to job without interruption in coverage or loss of funding.”

Taxing tech giants

Writer and retired Mt. A. professor Virgil Hammock

Virgil Hammock, retired Mt. A. professor of fine arts, also welcomes the task force report.

“I’m delighted,” he says. “It’s been a long time coming, the arts are an important part of our economy.”

Hammock, who is past president of the Canada section of the International Association of Art Critics, says that while he likes the way the report reads, its words won’t mean much without provincial government backing, including more money for artists’ grants through the New Brunswick Arts Board (artsnb) and for exhibitions at public art galleries.

He says he supports the task force recommendation for increasing taxes on technology giants such as Facebook, Amazon and Netflix as long as the added revenues go to support the arts.

And Hammock also favours the recommendation that visual artists receive 5% of the sale price of their work whenever it is resold.

“Artists that I know, we’ve had long conversations about this,” he says. “Once their work is out of their hands, that’s it, the art work can re-sell several times over and they never see a penny of it.”

Transition committee

A news release issued on Friday said the provincial government has agreed to establish a transition committee to analyze the task force report’s recommendations.

It will include representatives from ArtsLink NB, artsnb and the Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick as well as staff from several government departments.

“Our artists contribute significantly to our province’s economy, rich culture and quality of life,” the release quotes Premier Higgs as saying.

“I thank the representatives on the task force for their significant work on this initiative.”

To read the Report of the Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist, click here.

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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.”

 

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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