Veteran Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc unable to campaign in Beauséjour after cancer surgery

Photo from Dominic LeBlanc’s Facebook page

Dominic LeBlanc underwent a bone marrow transplant on Wednesday at a Montreal hospital and will not be able campaign for the Liberals in the local New Brunswick riding of Beauséjour anytime soon.

LeBlanc, who has represented Beauséjour as a Member of Parliament for 19 years, was suffering from non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

His campaign manager, Victor Boudreau, said the bone marrow transplant was supposed to have happened a month ago, but the anonymous donor required more time and the operation couldn’t be performed until Wednesday.

“It will take a few weeks for him to regain his strength and rebuild his immune system,” Boudreau said in a telephone interview.

“It’s really difficult to say when he might be able to join the campaign,” he added, “but we’re hoping for some limited participation before it ends.”

Boudreau said LeBlanc will rely on volunteers to carry his message to voters.

“The doctors still consider him a healthy young man and he’s getting back to his fighting form,” Boudreau said. “He still has fire in his belly.”

LeBlanc had been serving  as minister of intergovernmental affairs and northern affairs before resigning his cabinet posts last April to continue chemotherapy treatments in Moncton.

According to a CBC report last month, LeBlanc was criticized for taking a flight to Montreal earlier this year on a private aircraft owned by the big forestry company J.D. Irving. He apparently needed a private flight because his compromised immune system could have made him vulnerable to infections acquired on a commercial aircraft.

LeBlanc was diagnosed with lymphocytic lymphoma in 2017, when he was federal fisheries minister, but last fall he said that cancer was in remission.

“He has a pretty impressive record and he’s looking forward to continuing the work he has done in the riding for the last 19 years,” campaign manager Boudreau said today.

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Phil Handrahan resigns as Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer

CAO Phil Handrahan chastises critics at Monday’s council meeting

After more than six years on the job, Phil Handrahan has submitted his resignation as the Town of Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

Mayor John Higham informed councillors in an e-mail yesterday that Handrahan’s resignation will take effect at the end of February.

Handrahan became Sackville’s CAO in May 2013 after a 30-year career with the city of Charlottetown where he had been serving as director of fiscal and development services.

Neither the mayor nor Handrahan himself have returned phone calls so the reasons for the CAO’s resignation are not clear.

Councillor Bill Evans, who serves on the town’s personnel committee, said that he’s personally not surprised at Handrahan’s departure.

“When he came here,” Evans said, “his plan was to be here for a term,” he added. “My understanding is that his intention was to be here for five years.”

Evans said he’s grateful that Handrahan, whom he described as “an experienced administrator,” actually stayed a bit longer.

“I’ve been really pleased with his professionalism and the professionalism he’s brought to the town,” Evans said, adding that Handrahan clarified the roles of town staff and council.

Evans said the personnel committee knew about Handrahan’s decision to resign well before Monday night’s council meeting when the CAO uncharacteristically chastised a member of the public and Councillor Shawn Mesheau for raising questions about how the town evaluates the events it sponsors.

Shelley Chase, owner of Garrison Hill Entertainment

During the public question period, Shelley Chase, owner of an entertainment booking agency, asked what measurement system the town uses to calculate benefits to residents versus expenditures.

She pointed out, for example, that the town spent $9,035.50 to stage a Joel Plaskett concert that attracted 180 people. Chase said revenues amounted to only $5,750 producing what she called a “net financial loss of $3,385.”

Mayor Higham objected to her use of the word “loss.”

“It’s not a loss of money, it’s an investment by the community to deliver a service that doesn’t make a profit,” Higham said. “It’s not a loss as you described it,” the mayor added. “We’ll describe that there’s a difference between the revenue and the amount of cost attached to it.”

Higham said that similar questions arise over the town’s subsidies for the rink at the Civic Centre.

CAO Handrahan then said that it’s up to council to decide on town spending for events and besides, the town is not a profit-making organization.

“It’s not whether or not we’re making money,” Handrahan said. “We don’t charge for roads, we don’t charge 100% for the arena, we don’t charge for sidewalks, we’re not trying to make a dollar on events.”

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

After Handrahan accused Chase of not understanding what the town does, Councillor Shawn Mesheau said it’s important to evaluate municipal services.

“As  a  councillor, I would hope to get the information so that when budget time comes, that an evaluation could be done to help a determination be made in regards to a line item in the budget,” Mesheau said.

Handrahan replied that all information is supplied during budget deliberations. “And you as a former member of council know that,” he said referring to Mesheau’s previous years on council.

Handrahan added that council votes on all expenditures. “So, you’re the evaluator. You ask us what to do. We’re doing what you’ve asked us to do,” he said, adding, “You ask more questions than anybody. We answer them as best as we can to try and give you the information. To make that statement suggests that we’re just going off willy nilly spending money without a care,” the CAO said to Mesheau. “That’s unfair.”

Mesheau replied that he hadn’t said that.

“You said ‘needs to be evaluated,’ you should listen to what you just said,” Handrahan replied. “You’re implying that we’re just spending money and we don’t care.”

“Wow,” Mesheau said.

“Wow is right,” Handrahan answered as their testy exchange ended.

Posted in Town of Sackville | 3 Comments

Laffords planning big Sackville housing development for an ‘aging population’

Dwelling units on Waterfowl Lane similar to the ones JN Lafford Realty Inc. is planning for its new project on Wright St. and Fawcett Ave.

Sackville Town Council has passed a resolution that could clear the way for a big housing project on 22-acres of land at the ends of Wright Street and Fawcett Avenue.

Council passed the resolution during its meeting on Monday in response to an application from JN Lafford Realty Inc. for changes to the town’s zoning bylaws.

The Laffords want to build a series of single-level, multi-unit dwellings for older people as well as a nursing care or assisted living facility.

John Lafford says that in the first phase of the project, he’s aiming for 24 to 30 mainly two-bedroom apartments similar to the ones his company has already built on Waterfowl Lane and at 32 King Street.

“Those are the exact buildings that we’re going to replicate because that’s what the demand is,” he said during a telephone interview with Warktimes. “We’re not trying to step outside the box here and do something different, we’re doing what is working,” he added.

“It’s basically a village within a village, it’s just a retirement community,” Lafford said. “On those sites, you’ll have one-level living, barrier-free units for the aging population.”

Large-scale project

John Lafford addressing town council in 2018

Lafford says he’s hoping to have phase one completed next summer, although he says it may not be ready until the summer of 2021.

After that, his company is planning to build the assisted care facility that may be two storeys and then a second phase of 24-30 single-level dwelling units.

“It’s definitely a volume project,” Lafford says. “Maybe there’ll be another phase,” he adds, “and maybe we’ll get 100 units over seven to 10 years. Maybe it will only be 80.”

He acknowledges that planning is in the early stages.

“It’s very early, but very real, we’re going to be doing it,” he says. “It’s just a matter of how long it takes and when we start.”

Rezoning process

Before the Lafford project could start, however, town council would need to make several changes to its Municipal Plan, Bylaw 243 as well as the Town of Sackville Zoning Bylaw 244:

    • The Highway Commercial zone area which abuts Wright Street would need to be re-zoned as Urban Residential to allow for a combination of multi-unit dwellings and a nursing home or assisted living facility. In addition, the land for the senior/nursing care facility would need to be re-designated as Urban Residential 3 (R3) to allow for higher residential density.
    • The property located at the end of Fawcett Avenue would need to be re-zoned from Urban Residential 1 (R1) to Urban Residential 2 (R2) to permit single-level, multi-units ranging from four to six unit buildings.
    • The zoning bylaw which allows senior/nursing care facilities in an Institutional zone would need to be amended to allow such facilities in the Urban Residential 3 (R3) zone.

To read the two-page Preliminary Staff Report that was presented to town council on the Lafford application for re-zoning, click here.

Council resolution

In a unanimous vote, town council passed a resolution agreeing to consider the Lafford application; referring it to the Southeast Planning Review and Adjustment Committee for its views; setting the council meeting of October 15 for a public presentation on council’s intentions to amend the Municipal Plan Bylaw and setting November 12 at 7 p.m. for a public hearing to consider any objections.

New Lafford building nearing completion

Lafford building in the heart of downtown

Meantime, John Lafford says the controversial, upscale building for older tenants that his company is building on the old United Church property could be finished in about two weeks.

He adds that about 80% of its 35 apartments are already rented.

“Things are going just fine there,” he said.

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

Sackville Town Council leans toward appointing citizens’ committee to decide on possible pay raises

Treasurer Michael Beal

Several Sackville councillors advocate asking a citizens’ committee to recommend whether there should be any increase in salaries for those who are elected to serve on town council.

The idea of appointing a citizens’ committee came up several times last week during a 30 minute discussion of a detailed report on salaries that council had asked Treasurer Micheal Beal to compile.

Beal’s report traces the history of pay levels in Sackville and compares them to other New Brunswick and Nova Scotia municipalities with populations between four and nine thousand.

The treasurer pointed out that this year, Mayor Higham’s pay is $14,656.72; Deputy Mayor Aiken’s is $8,676.20 while each of the seven councillors is receiving $7,698.6 for a total of $77,223.12, a figure that represents less than one per cent of the town’s operating budget.

Beal pointed out that council’s salaries were frozen between 1996 and 2005 when a citizens’ committee recommended an increase of 17.01% plus a cost-of-living adjustment amounting to 90% of each year’s consumer price index (CPI).

To view Beal’s report on the evolution of Sackville Town Council salaries since 1996, click here.

Pay cut

Beal pointed out that this year, the mayor and councillors actually took a pay cut when the federal government started taxing their full salaries instead of treating one third of their pay as a tax-free expense allowance. For full details, click here.

Beal added that all who serve on council qualify for full life, health and dental insurance although not all claim the benefit. He said Kentville, N.S. also provides such insurance for councillors, although its plan provides only partial benefits.

Beal did not say what the insurance benefits cost the town, nor did he release salary figures for other municipalities, although he said that Nova Scotia municipalities tend to have higher rates of pay for their mayors and councillors.

To view the Shediac bylaw setting municipal salaries, click here. For Woodstock, click here  and for pay levels in Amherst, N.S., click here.

Beal did give numbers for the total cost of municipal salaries and benefits for each citizen.

“The cost per capita in New Brunswick municipalities range from $10.82 per capita to $30.39 per capita with Sackville being at $26.08,” he said. “In Nova Scotia, it ranges from $18.85 per capita up to a little over $40 per capita.”

Councillors weigh in

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said Beal’s breakdowns did not include additional perks that councillors in other municipalities may receive. “For example, everybody up here is working off their own computer right now,” he said. “Most other councillors I know or councils that have computers, they’re supplied by the municipality,” he added.

Aiken suggested enlisting a committee of citizens to recommend how much councillors should be paid and then “apply it to the next council.”

Councillor Bill Evans said that when pay levels are added to insurance benefits, Sackville councillors are the best compensated of any in comparably sized municipalities. “I knew what the compensation package was when I ran for office and I’m happy with it and I’m not interested in pursuing it further.”

Evans also spoke against appointing an external committee. “I’m not in favour of pursuing this at all, so I don’t really want to get into saying, ‘well let’s get this other group to make a decision for us.’ I don’t want to do that,” he said. “So, I’m not interested in starting down a road that will end up in, almost without a doubt, an increase to our pay.”

Councillor Andrew Black said that one option he has talked about would be reducing the number of councillors. “If you look at the 16, counting Sackville, towns that were looked at,  only four of them have eight councillors,” he added. “I think that we could potentially do our jobs effectively and efficiently with a couple less councillors.”

Black said he also agreed with setting up a citizens’ advisory committee to recommend salary levels.

Councillor Joyce O’Neil said she has served on council for 16 years. “The last raise I got was back in 2005,” she added, also pointing out that for two years in 2010-11, council refused to accept an increase based on the cost of living. O’Neil added that now that she’s being taxed on her full salary, she is moving into a higher income tax bracket while actually earning less.

“Do I want a raise?” she asked. “You bet!”

Councillor Allison Butcher said it’s a weird position to be in to be voting on your own salary. “It is not a position that we should be deciding,” she added. “I really like the idea of [appointing]  a citizens’ advisory council about it and I also like the concept that if this is something that we move ahead with…that if there was a raise to be put in place, then it could be for after the next election because then it potentially affects none of us or maybe all of us. Who knows?”

Councillor Shawn Mesheau referred to a previous recommendation that councillors get a raise, but that they also reduce their numbers. He said that at the time, council took the raise but kept the same number on council. “If it’s a raise and the reduction, it’s that picking and choosing that I have an issue over,” he said.

Later, Mesheau said that the value of council work needs to be assessed adding that it’s not just about whether this councillor or that is happy with the salary.

“It’s not just about ourselves, it’s about the next council and the next council and the people that are considering this role [and] what value we place on the role.”

Councillor Bruce Phinney suggested that town staff should recommend any raises, just as the municipal staff did in Amherst. “If we haven’t had a raise as Councillor O’Neil said since 2005, if it’s going to be left up to me to turn around and vote on a raise, yeah, I want one too,” he said. “You know, there comes a time when actually a raise is only fair.”

Phinney also expressed support for appointing a citizens’ committee to examine the pay issue.

Councillor Michael Tower said that, like Councillor Evans, he’s happy with his council salary. “And even though the federal government decides they want to take more from me, it doesn’t mean the Town of Sackville should pay me extra for that,” he added.

“When it comes to a percentage increase, we do get the cost of living, or 90% of it, and some of those increases we got over the years is higher than I got as an increase as a manager of a liquor store,” Tower said, adding that even though he doesn’t think council should revisit the issue, if there is a pay increase, it should apply to the next council.

Further discussion?

Mayor Higham summed up by saying that he hadn’t heard a consensus on what council wants to do about pay.

“Unless there’s someone who wants to bring a resolution in the next meeting, I think we’ve had our discussion at this point and if someone wishes to bring a resolution to what you feel is the next step, that will come from council,” the mayor said.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 1 Comment

ATV club seeks Sackville’s support to ride the Trans Canada Trail

Paul Branscombe

ATV riders want Town Council’s help in getting the right to ride their all-terrain vehicles legally on the Trans Canada Trail that runs to Sackville from Cape Tormentine and the Cape Jourimain National Wildlife Area.

“We want to work with you not against you,” Paul Branscombe, President of the Tantramar ATV Club told town council Tuesday night. “Our goal is to get the shortest way from Cape Tormentine to the town of Sackville.”

Branscombe referred to a letter he wrote to council in July asking for a formal letter of support to help persuade provincial officials to lift restrictions on ATV use of the old rail bed that forms the Trans Canada Trail.

He pointed out that getting the right to use the Trail would enable ATV riders to link up with Mallard Drive and Wright Street, the two downtown roads that council voted to allow them access to earlier this year. ATV riders began using these roads in July after the provincial minister of public safety granted his approval.

“We want to let you know that we are open to implementing reasonable restrictions such as speed limits and dust control measurements etc.,” Branscombe told council. “It’s also an economical boost to the community,” he said, adding that ATVs would bring more tourists.

A gate designed to block ATVs at a bridge on the Trans Canada Trail in Middle Sackville

Branscombe said that Vance Johnson, the New Brunswick ATV Federation’s trail co-ordinator has been making progress in persuading provincial officials to lift restrictions on ATV use on the Trans Canada Trail and that a letter of support from Sackville Town Council would be very helpful.

He admitted there would be other hurdles to overcome including either securing the right to cross the TransCanada Highway to get access to Mallard Drive or else using the Main Street overpass near the high school.

At the same time, he anticipated likely opposition from town council.

“When we met with the mayor prior to this, I had a discussion with him and he said there would be zero support from the council,” Branscombe said, adding that while that didn’t surprise him, he knew the RCMP would support using the old rail bed trail as a safe route into town.

He also pointed to something that many who now hike, cycle, walk their dogs, snowshoe or ski on the trail may not know. Every year from December 1st to April 15th, the trail belongs exclusively to snowmobilers.

“They (snowmobilers) are the only ones legally allowed to travel the rail bed at that time,” Branscombe said. “That means people cannot walk on it, cannot ski on it, cannot truss a snowshoe or anything,” he added, because snowmobilers have the “sole right” to use the trail during the winter months.

“We’re not looking for sole right, we want to share with you,” he said.

Poul Jorgensen, executive director of the NB Trails Council that oversees the Trans Canada Trail confirmed that snowmobilers hold a provincial lease that stretches back many years granting them exclusive rights to the trail.

But as for ATVers using the Trans Canada, Jorgensen said “we’re dead set against it,” adding that ATVs pose a safety hazard for everyone including hikers and horseback riders.

“They also tear up the surface of a trail that we’ve invested a lot of money in,” he said.

Meantime, at the conclusion of Branscombe’s presentation on Tuesday, Mayor Higham said he would canvass councillors by e-mail to see if anyone wanted to put the ATV Club’s request for a letter of support on the agenda for next week’s meeting.

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Strategic Plan spawns more plans, strategies and proposals

Image on cover page of latest five-year Strategic Plan

The vote was four Sackville councillors in favour with four against, but when Mayor John Higham broke the tie in favour of adopting a $26,000, five-year strategic plan in February 2017, it meant the town was committing itself to developing several more plans and strategies.

And so in August 2017, town council approved spending $15,000 + HST to hire consultants to draft a business development strategy that had been recommended in the strategic plan.

In April 2019, council approved a five-year recreation master plan developed by town staff that was also called for in the strategic plan.

And on September 9, 2019, council is scheduled to vote on whether to adopt a $15,000 proposal for a marketing plan from a Moncton firm called Portfolio Marketing — which, again, would fulfill one of the strategic plan’s main recommendations. Confidentiality of the proposal is protected under provincial procurement legislation.

Jamie Burke, senior manager of corporate projects who is recommending adoption of the Portfolio proposal, sent Warktimes a copy of the document the town issued when it requested proposals from marketing firms.

The document, called a Request for Proposals (RFP), outlines the town’s goals in professional marketing terms such as “positioning” and “branding” aimed at making Sackville a desirable place to live, work, invest and visit.

“The goal of this project is to identify the Town’s positioning, and provide guidance for marketing initiatives and other public facing communication activities, including tourism promotion, events, corporate branding, etc.,” the RFP says.

“Furthermore, this project will be expected to determine whether the current branding material is appropriate or not, and if necessary, to establish what the Town’s new branding should be,” the RFP adds.

(The Oxford Dictionary of English defines brand in this sense as “a particular identity or image regarded as an asset.”)Among other things, the town’s RFP says the marketing plan’s objectives include determining whether new branding is necessary and if so, what it should be; confirming or creating a universal logo and various target market tag-lines for the town; creating marketing and advertising materials for target markets and consulting with the community.

According to the RFP, the consultants will be required to produce a “realistic and achievable” marketing plan within four months. (Sometime in the future, town staff will develop a separate communications plan, although it’s not clear how it would differ from the marketing one.)

When the Portfolio marketing proposal first came up for approval in August, councillors voted to defer their decision until their Regular Meeting on September 9th to give them more time to study it. (Regular Meetings are generally held on the second Monday of each month, with Special Meetings on the first one.)

Meantime, for a look at how Portfolio Marketing says it was able to fix the Town of Riverview’s “lack of identity,” click here.

Coming soon

At their next Special Meeting on September 3rd, a public briefing from the RCMP is at the top of council’s agenda at 6:30 p.m. RCMP briefings are usually conducted behind closed doors.

The change suggests council is heeding criticism that the public hears little about what the RCMP are doing even though the town is spending nearly $1.9 million on policing this year.

Councillors will also be discussing their own procedures.

At their last meeting, I called on them to provide printed background information to members of the public who attend Special Meetings so the audience can follow their discussions more easily. Others have called for members of the public to be allowed to ask questions before and after Special Council meetings.

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Roadkill: A sad story and a solution worth fighting for

River otters photographed July 15 in Sackville Waterfowl Park

Conservation biologist Sabine Dietz e-mailed Warktimes this month to tell a sad story about a family of river otters that were sighted and photographed several times this summer in the Sackville Waterfowl Park.

Dietz, who is also a environmental consultant, reported that on her way to the Farmer’s Market on August 10th, she found two of the otters (an adult and a pup) dead on the side of the TransCanada Highway.

They had been trying to cross from the Waterfowl Park to the Tantramar Wetlands Centre behind the regional high school.

Body of adult otter on the TransCanada Highway, August 10

“This isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last that animals on their way from one habitat to the other get killed,” Dietz wrote.

The otters were killed near signs erected on either side of the TransCanada that caution trail users not to cross the highway, but to detour around it using local roads.

As the well-worn pathways beside the signs show, however, people, who ignore the signs, and animals, who can’t read them, do try to cross the highway where 14,000 vehicles speed by every day.

Photo taken Aug. 26 showing squashed raccoon near the caution sign on the Waterfowl Park side of the highway

“It’s a sad story,” Dietz wrote in her e-mail, “with a relatively simple, albeit expensive solution: a culvert so that any creatures wanting to go from one human-created habitat to the other, can safely pass.”

She points out that wildlife culverts and highway overpasses have already been built in many places including in Banff National Park where such crossings have reduced the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions by about 80 per cent.

Using Banff as a model, Parks Canada also built wildlife crossings on a 15 kilometre stretch of highway in Kootenay National Park.

A culvert underpass in Kootenay National Park. The fencing directs wildlife to the underpass

Dietz acknowledges that building a culvert under the TransCanada is not something the town can do, but the provincial and federal governments could build a passageway between the two wetland habitats.

“The Town can certainly push, and has a responsibility to do so, since we are the ones that supported the creation of those systems,” she writes. “It’s something our town and our citizens can advocate for.”

Roadkill studies

Meantime, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is embarking on the next stage of its project to measure and ultimately reduce roadkill within the Chignecto Isthmus.

During a 15-week research project last summer, the Nature Conservancy’s summer intern and Dalhousie masters student, Amelia Barnes, recorded high rates of roadkill on highways 134 and 15 between Moncton and Shediac in New Brunswick as well as on highway 6 between Amherst and Pugwash in Nova Scotia.

“The most common animals killed by cars were porcupine (116) and raccoon (113), followed by skunk (28) snowshoe hare (25), white-tailed deer (8), red fox (4), beaver (4) and black bear (3),” its recent news release states. “There were also many types of songbirds and amphibians killed.”

“We’ve really just started to collect the information on wildlife getting hit,” says Paula Noel, the Nature Conservancy’s program director for New Brunswick.

“Over time, we’re hoping that knowing where on these highways there are a lot of wildlife getting hit, we can work with the Department of Transportation,” she adds, “so that they can look at ways that over time they can improve the roads so that they keep the wildlife off of them.”

She says that while hitting large animals such as moose and deer is an obvious safety hazard, swerving to avoid smaller animals can also lead to serious accidents.

Noel says installing wildlife culverts would be one possible solution as roads are repaired and upgraded including when modifications may be needed to protect the TransCanada Highway from rising sea levels.

Volunteers needed

Noel says, the Nature Conservancy is looking for volunteers in the Sackville and Amherst areas to monitor secondary roads for roadkill using an iNaturalist app on their smartphones.

“The volunteers that we’re looking for are people who are going to commit to kind of adopting a section of one of those secondary roads and having a regular survey of it,” Noel says. “So, maybe once a week or a couple of times a month just going out and doing a survey up and down that road and recording what they see.”

Anyone wishing to volunteer can call the Nature Conservancy of Canada at 1-506-450-6010 ext. 3209.

To read the full news release on the Conservancy’s Wildpaths Maritime Project, click here.

Posted in Environment, Hunting and wildlife, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments