Sackville mayoralty candidates duck questions about fire department

Ron Aiken campaign photo

So far, Sackville’s two mayoralty candidates are not answering questions about what they would do, if elected, about allegations of discrimination, harassment and bullying in the town’s fire department.

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken did not respond to e-mails and a phone message requesting an interview, but now says he did not receive the e-mails sent to his campaign address, but only the phone message. (I’ve sent them to him again at his town address.) He also says he plans to discuss the fire department on his Facebook campaign page.

For his part, Councillor Shawn Mesheau declined to be interviewed, but sent a statement suggesting that the town needs to hire a qualified human resources manager or consultant.

“Anytime that allegations of this nature are brought forward they need to be taken seriously. I am genuinely concerned which is something I have conveyed,” Mesheau’s statement says.

“As a sitting councillor I am legally obligated to ensure confidentiality in matters of this nature,” it adds.

To read, Mesheau’s full statement, click here.

Shawn Mesheau campaign photo

The questions that were e-mailed to Aiken and Mesheau at 9:47 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14 are similar to ones that CAO Jamie Burke and Fire Chief Craig Bowser declined to answer on Tuesday. Here they are:

1. Firefighters who resigned in 2018 and 2020 say they sent their letters of resignation to the Chief and the CAO with copies to Town Council. The most recent one from Kevin Scott was sent to members of Town Council in December, then re-sent last month when he received no response from members of council.

(a) Were you aware of his letter?

(b) What steps did you take to look into allegations of bullying and favouritism contained in his letter.

(c) What did you do to investigate allegations of discrimination against a female member of Sackville Fire & Rescue?

2. If you are elected Mayor, how would you address these concerns?

3. The new Mayor will appoint the Liaison Councillors for Public Safety. How would you ensure that you and the Liaison Councillors have more contact with volunteer firefighters so that members of council can hear their concerns?

4. A number of firefighters — both current and former — say the Grievance Committee and Appeal procedures outlined in Bylaw 248, which governs the Fire Department, have never been implemented. If you are elected Mayor, will you commit to seeing that these Grievance and Appeal procedures are put in place?

Candidates need to address issues

A Mount Allison University professor who specializes in municipal affairs says candidates seeking election to town council need to be forthright in dealing with problems in Sackville Fire & Rescue.

“I think candidates have to promise that they will get to the bottom of things,” says Geoff Martin, who served on Sackville town council himself from 1998 to 2004.

Martin adds that while candidates may be right to say that the results of an internal investigation would remain private, they should at least be promising to push for one.

“We’re in an election season now and I think that candidates for council and mayor could promise some specific actions that will be taken to provide some assurance to the voters that the voters can vote for them and the situation will be dealt with and not swept under the carpet,” he says.

Posted in Sackville Town Council election 2021, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 2 Comments

‘It’s got to stop’: Firefighters call for an end to bullying, harassment and favouritism in Sackville Fire & Rescue

Firefighters say it’s time for Sackville’s fire chief, the town CAO, and members of town council to end the persistent bullying and intimidation of volunteers that has led to a spate of resignations over the last five years.

“I think we counted 17 since 2016,” said Kevin Scott who resigned effective December 31st after serving more than 11 years as a volunteer firefighter.

“I would bet that at least half of those resignations, if not more, were because of issues going on within the fire department including low morale, bullying and favouritism,” he says.

“I’ve taken a step back in the last two years and watched and listened to the other members,” Scott writes in the resignation letter he sent to Chief Craig Bowser on December 17, 2020.

“The members see inconsistency, favouritism and bullying. I wonder why one firefighter needs to wear bunker gear on a scene when another doesn’t need to. They [the members] see how some firefighters can drive a truck to a scene when others can’t,” he writes.

“No firefighter should ever feel intimidated by another firefighter/leader; that is bullying. It’s been going on at the station for too long, but it seems to be a subject that is avoided.”

Scott e-mailed his letter in December to the fire chief, deputy chiefs, and CAO Jamie Burke with copies to the acting mayor and members of town council, but received no response. After e-mailing it again last month, he received brief acknowledgments from Councillors Bill Evans and Shawn Mesheau. Councillor Mesheau said he had raised Scott’s concerns with the CAO and members of council.

Safety Officer ignored

Scott’s letter refers to former Safety Officer Louise Landry, who resigned on October 4, 2018 after eight years as a volunteer firefighter. Warktimes obtained a copy of Landry’s resignation letter addressed to the chief, deputy chiefs and fellow members of the department. In the letter, she says it was hard to do her job when certain firefighters ignored basic safety instructions such as refusing to wear proper protective equipment when entering burning buildings.

“Certain individuals were persistent in making it difficult for me to perform my duties as a Safety Officer, as they had absolutely no respect for me. I can only conclude that it was because I am a female,” she writes.

“The glaring stares and the silent treatment, ignoring me when I asked them a safety question at a scene, the mockery, the intimidation, the humiliation and last but not least, the countless sleepless nights I encountered week after week,” Landry added.

“It just came to the point that I lost interest in all events, training calls, meeting(s) and opted out of every committee…to avoid being bullied, harassed and discriminated against…

“The last couple of years have left me with very disheartening feelings and unfortunately, I can no longer say that I enjoy or am proud to be a firefighter with this department,” Landry’s letter says.

Treatment of women

Landry’s concern about discrimination against women in the Sackville fire department was echoed in several interviews conducted for this story that were both on and off the record.

Laura Thurston, who has served as a firefighter for four-and-a-half years, recalls helping to rescue a motorcycle accident victim from a ditch and being told to relinquish her side of the stretcher to a male firefighter.

“Even though I was perfectly capable and doing a fine job, I was still asked to hand off to a male firefighter as we were coming up the embankment,” Thurston says.

She adds that she finds it infuriating that she faces resistance whenever she drives the rescue truck even though she passed the qualifying air-brake endorsement course in 2017.

“Officers get in trouble for allowing me to drive; they get pulled into the office,” she says. “It’s not a secret, everyone knows that I am treated differently.”

Thurston adds that over the years she has requested meetings with CAOs Phil Handrahan and Jamie Burke, but both declined to meet.

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

Landry’s letter not read to members

Former Sackville firefighter Kevin Scott says the fire chief did not follow the customary practice of reading Louise Landry’s resignation letter to the members on the grounds that it was a confidential Human Resources matter.

“She distributed her resignation letter to any member who wanted to see it,” he writes, “knowing she left because she felt bullied, and no one did anything about it or acknowledged it is wrong.”

Landry’s letter refers to an incident in which a fellow officer refused to drive the rescue truck to a car fire on the TransCanada because she was sitting in the passenger seat.

“It is alarming that an Officer could be that selfish, immature and defiant, especially when seconds could be the difference between life and death,” she writes.

Toxic work environment’

Another firefighter, who resigned from Sackville Fire & Rescue in 2018 after nine years of service, says the department has a “toxic work environment.”

“I have watched Sackville Fire deteriorate over the last nine years to the point that I myself as well as others do not even want to walk in the door,” he wrote in a letter of resignation that mentions favouritism, double standards, and harassment.

He describes one incident at a departmental lobster party where a captain’s wife angrily threw dirty cutlery at a female officer while her husband and a deputy chief looked on.

“To this day, these two men are still officers and the membership was not made aware of any formal discipline against them,” he writes.

“I have many examples of conduct that was deemed as acceptable for a select few members and officers, but not the remainder of the membership.”

No grievance procedures

The town bylaw that governs the Sackville Fire Department outlines procedures for filing complaints to a Grievance Committee with detailed steps for appealing its decisions to the CAO, the mayor and the liaison councillor for public safety.

But Warktimes has confirmed in a series of interviews, both on and off the record, that a Grievance Committee has never been established, leaving members of the fire department with no choice but to file their complaints to the chief, even if those complaints are against him.

Multiple firefighters say attempts to lodge complaints with CAO Jamie Burke have been rejected, with Burke advising members to go through the fire department’s chain of command.

Kevin Scott, who now volunteers with the Pointe De Bute Fire Department, says that aside from setting up a functioning Grievance Committee, volunteers should be consulted when Chief Bowser receives his annual performance review.

“In my eleven and a half years with the department, no one from the town has ever come to me and asked, ‘Hey, how’s Craig doing as chief?'”

Scott adds he recently discovered that CAO Burke conducts the annual assessment based on a report that the chief submits.

“I’d like to see the town council get more involved in what’s going on within the fire department in Sackville,” he says.

Update: town response

Warktimes e-mailed questions to Fire Chief Craig Bowser with a copy to CAO Jamie Burke at 10:51 Monday night. At 5:06 p.m. today, Burke responded: “Thanks for your note. As these are personnel matters, we will not be providing further comment.”

Here are the questions the CAO declined to answer:

1. What steps did the town take to address allegations contained in letters of resignation over the last six years about low morale, bullying and favouritism?

2. What steps were taken to investigate allegations of discrimination against female members of Sackville Fire & Rescue?

3. Why is there no Fire Dept. Grievance Committee as required under town bylaws?

4. Why has the CAO not responded to complaints over several years?

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 13 Comments

‘The artist and the prince’: Sackville sculptor remembers Prince Philip

Christian Corbet with the plaster cast he created as he worked on a bronze bust of Prince Philip

Middle Sackville artist Christian Corbet says he woke up this morning to about 200 messages from members of the Canadian military as well as friends and distant relations including a couple of Winston Churchill’s grandchildren.

The messages were about the death of Prince Philip whom Corbet met in 2013 when he was commissioned to create a bronze bust of the Duke of Edinburgh for the Royal Canadian Regiment in honour of Philip’s 60 years as its colonel-in-chief.

“I’m sad,” Corbet says. “He told me that he would never make his 100th birthday…I believe that he just knew.”

Big break

Corbet says that getting the commission to create a bust of Prince Philip was a big break for him as a portrait artist.

“I requested a life sitting [but] didn’t know if that was going to happen,” he says.

Buckingham Palace responded by asking for examples of Corbet’s work.

“So, I sent two of my best busts and within 48 hours they approved me.”

When Corbet eventually arrived at the Palace, he was a bit apprehensive.

Corbet’s bronze bust of Prince Philip

“Before you go in, you have a briefing and you sit down with the equerry,” Corbet says.

“The biggest thing I was not warned about, but maybe cautioned about, was that if he doesn’t take well to the sitting, basically if he doesn’t like you, he might just stand up and leave.”

Corbet needn’t have worried.

The Prince shook his hand and turned out to be extremely knowledgeable about art.

“The first room I worked in was his man cave, the worn-out Eames-era furniture and the dusty books on the shelves, pictures of his mom, his dad and his sisters. He offered for me to take a book on an architect home, ‘Return it next week when you see me,’ and how do you say no to that?”

Corbet estimates there were about 1,000 books on the shelves, including art catalogues and many about nature and the environment.

“I pointed out a book by my friend, Jane Goodall and said that I had done her portrait many years before and he said that he had met her and loved her and he said, ‘Well, have you read the book?’ and I said I’d read it several times. And I said, ‘Did you read the book?’ and he smiled and said, ‘I’ve read every book in here.'”

Corbet says Philip was a man who did not waste his life.

“He was the first Royal Family member to have a television series on environment on the BBC, which was way ahead of its time and that was in the 1960s.”

300 photos

One of the many photos Corbet took in the yellow drawing room at Buckingham Palace

Corbet says he directed the then 92-year-old Prince to sit in a chair while he circled around it taking the first of more than 300 photos.

“And he goes, ‘If you keep on going around me like this, you’re going to end up under my desk and then he started to laugh and he goes, ‘Here you sit back down here and let me do this for you.'”

Philip took the chair by its wooden arms and started jumping it around in a full circle as Corbet continued taking photos.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘I think you’re showing off’ and he goes, ‘I don’t have much to show off for anymore, but he said, ‘This is it, now you’ve got it.'” Corbet laughed as he recalled the scene.

“I loved that because it showed his physical prowess.”

A royal invitation

Corbet says Philip said “Sure” when he offered to show him a few of the better photos he had taken.

“He comes over to the table and I opened up my portfolio and I lay out five photographs and I said to him, ‘Sir, would you be so kind as to consider signing this for me?”

Corbet says that he noticed the equerry standing in the doorway shaking his head furiously.

“And Prince Philip says, ‘Do you have a pen?’ and I said, “Well I do,’ and he said, ‘You would, wouldn’t you,'” Corbet says.

“The equerry said to me afterwards, ‘You’re bloody lucky because he usually gets very angry at that, he goes, ‘He must have liked you’ and I said, ‘Well, I liked him.'”

Corbet remembers that as he and the Prince were parting, Philip said he’d be in Toronto in a few months and asked if Corbet would join him for breakfast.

“And I did,” Corbet adds. “What an incredible story really, the artist and the prince. It’s a short novel, isn’t it?”

Posted in Arts, Interesting people | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Pond Shore residents lose another round in their fight to lower the speed limit on their busy road

Diagram in WSP report showing current speed limits as well as coloured pins where the consultant used radar devices to record speeds on Pond Shore Rd. over three days from Tues. Feb. 9 to Thurs. Feb. 11.

Residents of Sackville’s Pond Shore Road have suffered a big setback in their 11-year campaign to get the 60 km/h speed limit in their neighbourhood reduced to 50.

A consultant’s report from WSP Canada, that cost the town between $3,000 and $4,000, says the posted speed between Uphill Drive and Mount View Road should actually be increased to 70 km/h based on an analysis of various factors including road conditions, average speeds and traffic volume.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton told council on Tuesday that as a result, he recommends keeping the speed at 60 and installing radar devices on both sides of the road that show drivers how fast they’re going.

He said that aside from encouraging drivers to slow down, the radar devices would also gather information on speeds that the town could share with the RCMP.

Councillor Michael Tower questioned the consultant’s conclusion and called for a lower speed limit on Pond Shore.

“We want people to get out and get walking and become active,” Tower said, “and if they go out and they’re walking on the side of the road with their kids and we continue to allow the cars to fly by, that’s still going to make life miserable for them and so, the quality of life in Sackville for them is not as high as in other residential areas.”

RCMP presence needed

“We don’t have a speed limit problem, we have a speeding problem,” said Councillor Bill Evans.

“I would urge that this motion also ask that the RCMP to spend a little more time enforcing the speed limit in that area because I think that’s what’s causing the problem, not people going 60, but people speeding,” Evans added.

“That’s what we have to address and I don’t think we’ll address that by changing the speed limit.”

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken, who lives on Uphill Drive, said the consultant’s report did not take the 12 school bus stops on Pond Shore Road into account.

He also questioned where the consultant placed the three radar devices that recorded speeds and traffic volumes.

Aiken noted that the first device, near Church Street, couldn’t capture all the data because of the curve on the lower part of Pond Shore Road.

“There’s no information on the problem area,” he said. “The problem area is after Uphill Drive until you get [to] just before Mount View Road and their two [other] detecting machines are nowhere near there.”

Aiken suggested that one solution could be to install radar camera devices that would photograph speeders’ licence plates so that tickets could be sent to offenders.

But he noted that although the town would have to pay to install the devices, any speeding fine revenues would go to the province.

Residents voice concerns

During the public question period after Tuesday’s meeting, resident Don Gouthro said the consultant should have talked to Pond Shore residents about their own safety concerns as well as the safety of others who jog or cycle in the area.

“We’re very concerned as a neighbourhood that something tragic is going to happen on this road,” he said.

Don Gouthro asks town council to help resolve speeding concerns in January 2020

Gouthro added that before recent spring weight restrictions took effect, dozens of tandem trucks fully loaded with logs were coming over the hill every day.

He also noted that there are no signs indicating school bus stops and that blind hill signs were removed several years ago.

“Instead of hiring an outside firm, why doesn’t the town itself take it upon themselves to do the study of Pond Shore and come to their own conclusions?” he asked.

Laurie Ann Wesselby said she has lived for 26 years on the blind hill across the road from an elderly neighbour who suffered severe injuries in a high-speed, hit-and-run collision in December 2019.

She added that after that crash, the RCMP were very visible in the area, but that visibility ended after a couple of weeks.

“My office window is facing the road and just during this meeting alone, I counted over 100 cars in the last hour and 15 minutes,” she noted and asked whether the town was considering safety improvements such as installing sidewalks and better street lighting.

The town engineer responded that there is no immediate plan for sidewalks on Pond Shore, but that the adequacy of lighting and signage in the area could be evaluated.

Adam Campbell said he had young children when he first moved to the neighbourhood nine years ago.

“At the time, we didn’t feel safe walking the road with a stroller, so we would load the kids and stroller into the truck and drive to a safer spot to walk,” he said.

Now that the children are a little older, they like to bike, Campbell added.

“We do the same thing, we load four bikes and four people into my truck to drive down to the trail at the lake,” he said.

“The reason we do that is because of safety concerns.”

Campbell said he’d feel a lot safer, if council would ask the RCMP to step up enforcement on a stretch of road that has a blind corner at one end and a blind hill at the other.

“I can drop a note to the RCMP and ask them to step up enforcement up there,” Acting Mayor Aiken replied.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sackville managers recommend keeping ban on street skateboarding, but councillors not so sure

Treasurer Michael Beal

A proposal to lift the ban on street skateboarding hit a big pothole last night at Sackville Town Council when staff recommended looking at ways of improving the existing skatepark instead.

In February, council gave first reading or preliminary approval to a change in the traffic bylaw that would allow skateboarders on streets as long as they wear safety helmets and stay off sidewalks.

But Treasurer Michael Beal told council last night that after consulting the town’s insurance company and its lawyers, staff were recommending against lifting the ban.

“If council wished to proceed with second and third reading and allow it, that would be council’s prerogative to do so,” Beal said.

“If they did so, then council would be assuming the additional liability and a potential for claims and the potential for increased risk,” he added.

He acknowledged, however, that lifting the ban would not have an immediate effect on the cost of the town’s existing insurance coverage, but an increase in claims could trigger higher premiums.

Review of streets & sidewalks

Beal said the town’s insurers recommended that before lifting the ban, the town should undertake a review of traffic patterns and conditions on all roads and sidewalks partly to determine whether additional maintenance would be required to make them safe for skateboarding.

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton said that such an extensive review would probably require extra staff.

“There would have to be a substantial amount of record-keeping and we’d have to literally evaluate streets and document that we have evaluated and checked all the streets out,” Acton added.

“If there was a pothole that maybe got missed, it needs to be patched right away, otherwise if somebody hits it, now it becomes our liability because we knew about it and we didn’t fill it on time.”

Acton also said that potholes can’t be filled in spring because of weather and temperature conditions.

“What do I do for all the skateboarders in April and May who want to use the streets [when] I can’t fill those potholes?” he asked.

Skateboards & bicycles

Beal said the town’s lawyers noted the courts have held that skateboards are distinct from bicycles which are required under the Motor Vehicle Act to have headlamps, reflectors and to operate with one hand always on the handle-bars while skateboarders are viewed as similar to pedestrians.

“Allowing skateboards on roadways would be like allowing pedestrians to travel on roadways,” he added.

Councillors respond

Councillor Allison Butcher

Councillor Shawn Mesheau said he would like to see town staff present more options.

“I understand there’s a legal and an insurance obligation,” he said, “but what is being done or has been done in other municipalities?”

Mesheau wondered, for example, if it would be possible to allow skateboarders on less congested streets or require them to travel facing traffic instead of flowing with it.

“I’m curious about that information and I think that’s important information to have before just ultimately saying yes or no,” he added.

Councillor Allison Butcher pointed to positive aspects of skateboarding including the benefits of fresh air, being outside and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

“I’ve heard many times that we are in the business of managing risk, that’s what towns do,” she said.

She wondered, for example, how many insurance claims municipalities like Sackville face because of the risks of open water bodies within their boundaries.

“It’s about balancing risk and I’m still unsure about whether or not we want to just say ‘let’s keep on with the status quo’ because I feel like our ban on skateboards is kind of outdated,” Butcher said.

Councillor Bill Evans agreed.

“I like the idea of finding ways to get along, to celebrate diversity, to find accommodation,” he said.

Evans questioned denying what he called “some small, marginalized group” the ability to enjoy skateboarding on town streets.

“I don’t think we should just abandon this because it’s hard especially at the expense of a group that’s already being penalized,” he said.

Councillor Andrew Black

Councillor Andrew Black, who initially proposed lifting the ban on street skateboarding, pointed out that the information from the insurance company showed the risk of claims and skyrocketing insurance premiums to be quite low, while Councillor Michael Tower called for further research before council makes a decision.

Councillor Bruce Phinney agreed more research would help, but suggested that in the meantime, the town should pay attention to liability questions raised by the town’s insurance company and its lawyers.

“I know what they (skateboarders) want,” Phinney said, “but sometimes, some people need to be protected from themselves and so, I think in the best interests of everyone, it would be (best) to respect exactly what our solicitor and our insurance company have advised us to do at the present time.”

As last night’s discussion ended, Acting Mayor Ron Aiken said that councillors who want additional information should send their requests to CAO Jamie Burke.

He suggested that council could debate passage of the bylaw lifting the street skateboard ban at its meeting on May 3rd seven days before the municipal election.

“I think it would be unfair to have this hang over to another council,” Aiken added.

“It’s something we probably should clean up.”

To read previous coverage of this issue, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 2 Comments

Sackville mayoralty candidates worry about communication and citizen participation

Ron Aiken campaign photo

Both candidates in the running to become Sackville’s next mayor on May 10 have expressed concern about the flow of municipal information now that that the town no longer has a weekly newspaper.

On his mayoralty campaign Facebook page, Ron Aiken writes that town staff do a good job of communicating through the town’s website, but he calls the permanent closing of the Sackville Tribune-Post “very sad news” since the paper used to devote a weekly section to town news.

“This eliminates a major source of communication for those (especially seniors) that may not have ready access to electronic media,” Aiken writes.

“If anyone has any suggestions how our communications could reach a wider audience, I’d love to hear them.”

In a news release, mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau proposes to supplement the town’s website and e-mail communications with a printed newsletter that could be mailed to citizens who request it.

Shawn Mesheau campaign photo

Mesheau says copies of the newsletter — issued three or four times a year — could also be available in local coffee shops and businesses.

“It could be an enhanced version of what’s currently going out electronically,” he says.

“It could include recapping the public meetings and events; rezoning applications that might have happened over the last quarter [and] provide details on upcoming meetings and events.”

Discussion documents

Both Mesheau and Aiken advocate giving the public or media limited access to background documents that are up for discussion at town council’s first monthly meeting usually held on the first Monday.

Councillors receive the documents the preceding week, but neither mayoralty candidate favours releasing them then.

The documents include recommendations from town managers on such matters as town-supported events, proposed bylaw changes and the awarding of tenders for equipment purchases and road repairs.

To see an example of a council background document, click here.

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken

Ron Aiken suggests providing the background documents to reporters as long as they agree not to release them until they are presented to council.

“These documents represent the work product of staff for Council and I think it only fair/reasonable that the first public presentation of this work is from the people that did it,” Aiken wrote on Facebook.

Shawn Mesheau suggests making the documents public at noon on the day of the council meeting to give people a few hours to look them over.

But he emphasizes that since the documents and proposals are drafts that are not final until council approves them, they should not be made public before members of council have had several days to digest them.

Mesheau says that releasing documents too far in advance can cause problems.

“As some information gets out into the public, and we know how social media can work sometimes, it can be misinterpreted,” he says, “and when it’s misinterpreted then information can flow out there that creates some things that aren’t really necessarily what’s transpiring.”

Town Hall meetings

Meantime, both mayoralty candidates are proposing regular town hall meetings where citizens can talk with members of council and staff.

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

Mesheau says quarterly, informal meetings would give people a chance to ask questions.

“I find sometimes a formal environment impedes somebody’s comfort level to come and step up and ask a question,” he adds.

“I think a lot of times if we get into that more one-on-one opportunity and the opportunity for council to hear from people in that environment, it’s more relaxed and people might feel more comfortable coming in and getting involved.”

For his part, Aiken proposes to consult people with expertise such as gardeners and arborists in tree planting or flower-bed planning projects.

“For less specific issues, I would have a regularly scheduled town hall kind of meeting (maybe 3 times each year) to gain input from people on whatever the issues of the day might be,” he writes.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sackville’s ban on new drive-thrus frustrates businessman while both mayoralty candidates agree, it’s time for a re-think

Pierre Barthe

Businessman Pierre Barthe says Sackville’s ban on more coffee drive-thrus is threatening the sale of the vacant Pizza Delight building he owns on Mallard Drive.

“I’m very frustrated,” Barthe said today in a telephone interview.

“I’m a common sense kind of guy and I can’t see any common sense in the bylaw banning drive-thrus.”

He says a Dairy Queen franchisee wants to buy his 3,500 sq. ft. building which is listed at $649,000, but the sale depends on getting approval for another drive-thru in the town’s highway commercial zone.

He adds that there’s ample room in the parking lot and that vehicles using the drive-thru wouldn’t need to line up on Mallard Drive the way they do now for the Tim Hortons coffee window.

Instead of a blanket ban on more drive-thrus, Barthe argues that applications should be judged on a case-by-case basis.

20-year ban

Town council passed the bylaw banning more drive-thrus in 2001.

In 2016, it turned down an application from Wendy and Kelly Alder for a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru at the Ultramar gas station near Exit 506.

At the time, a majority of councillors expressed concerns about added traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions from idling engines.

“Sackville’s a beautiful little town beside the highway and people stop here for coffee and gas, then go on their merry way,” Barthe says.

“Don’t you think the public in Sackville would be happy to get a Dairy Queen here?”

Barthe himself operated the Pizza Delight for three years before selling the franchise in 2017. But he kept the building, renting it to Pizza Delight franchisees.

He says the latest owner went bankrupt and closed the restaurant in April after the COVID-19 pandemic drove business away.

Mayoralty candidates agree on drive-thru issue

Both candidates for mayor in the May municipal elections agree that the town needs to re-think its ban on new drive-thrus.

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken, who was not present at the meeting in 2016 that rejected the Alders’ application, says it makes sense to judge each application on a case-by-case basis.

“I’m not as ardently against drive-thrus as lots of my colleagues are,” he adds, referring to the argument that idling engines contribute to climate change.

“Electric is going to be the thing of the future and lots of newer cars, when you stop, they actually shut off,” Aiken adds.

“I see it as a fairly minor source of pollution and GHGs [green-house gas emissions] given everything else that’s going on.”

Last October, Councillor Shawn Mesheau, who is also running for mayor, moved a motion calling for a reconsideration of the ban on new drive-thrus when the town’s municipal plan comes up for review later this year.

He said that by supporting a review of the ban, council would be sending a signal that the town is open for business.

And when he launched his mayoralty campaign last month, Mesheau said that if the highway commercial zones are built to attract business off the highway, it makes sense to consider the needs of those travellers.

“I think there can be a compromise. I think there can be collaboration in making it work right,” he concluded.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Discovery of crashed plane in Rockport woods leads to flurry of excitement

Single-engine Piper Cherokee in the woods near Rockport. Photo: Walter Read

Sackville resident Walter Read made a surprising discovery Sunday as he drove on a logging road with his daughters near his father’s house in Rockport.

“When I turned the corner after I got in there a little ways, I said to the girls, ‘That looks like an airplane over there, and sure enough it was an airplane,'” Read said in a telephone interview.

“I called my father because I hadn’t heard anything about an airplane crash in Rockport, which would be big news for down there, and I called him and said, ‘Heard anything about an airplane crash in here?’ and he said no, he never heard anything.”

Read told his daughters to stay in the truck and walked over to the downed plane to make sure no one was still inside.

He noticed that the plane had struck a tree on its way down, damaging one wing and driving the other one into the ground.

Read e-mailed a couple of photos of the plane to his partner Alana Best in Sackville.

Best says she wasn’t sure who to call and finally asked her mother what to do.

“She said, ‘Well, I’d call 9-1-1’ because we didn’t know when it happened and there could be somebody in the woods hurt from the night before,” Best said.

She says her 9-1-1 call led the RCMP to dispatch a couple of cruisers along with an ambulance, but before they could arrive on the scene, they received word from the search and rescue centre in Halifax that the crash had been reported in February and that no one had been hurt.

RCMP communications officer Hans Ouellette confirmed today that there were no injuries when the plane went down on February 13.

A report from the Transportation Safety Board says the Piper Cherokee had taken off from the Moncton airport and as it was cruising, “the engine experienced a fuel starvation for undetermined reasons.”

The report adds that the pilot “conducted a forced approach” into a field about 41 nautical miles southeast of the airport.

“The aircraft sustained substantial damage and the pilot reported no injuries.”

To read the full TSB summary, click here.

Aircraft registration

The Canadian Civil Aircraft Register shows that the Piper aircraft was first registered to Sackville resident Wendel Goodrich in 1992 and again in 1999.

Reached by phone today, the retired Mount Allison history professor, who goes by the name Eugene, would say only: “I don’t want to talk to you. Bye,” before he hung up.

In 2006, the Moncton Times & Transcript published a story about Goodrich with the headline: “Pilot walks away from crash; After engine stalls, retired Mount A professor glides single-engine plane into trees to break aircraft’s fall.”

The report, by Craig Babstock, says Goodrich was taking a test flight in a friend’s plane when fuel stopped getting to the engine forcing him to crash land on top of some trees south of Hillsborough.

It says his fascination with flying began in 1983 when he bought an IBM computer that came with a flight simulator program.

Four years later, he paid $25 for an introductory flying lesson and in his own words: “I was hooked like crack cocaine.”

Excitement in Rockport

Meantime, Walter Read says the discovery of the plane yesterday caused excitement in Rockport.

“We know everybody in Rockport and nobody knew about the plane crash,” he says.

He adds that he asked a friend who spends all his time in the woods if he had heard anything about an airplane crash.

“He called me and said, ‘Where do you hear this stuff?’ I said, ‘I didn’t hear it, I actually saw the airplane.’

“He was totally shocked; it just doesn’t happen there.”

Posted in Interesting people, Mount Allison University, RCMP | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Death of a local paper: Saltwire announces closing of Sackville Tribune-Post

The Sackville Tribune-Post closed its downtown offices in 2018 to save money in the face of declining ad revenues

Mark Lever, President and CEO of the Saltwire Network has confirmed that his company has closed the Sackville Tribune-Post.

“Every time a brand goes away, it’s a sad, sad day,” Lever said today during a telephone interview.

He added that subscriptions to the Tribune-Post had fallen below 400 when Saltwire suspended publication of its weeklies a year ago after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lever explained that the paper would need a minimum of 1,000 paid subscriptions or “memberships” to make it a viable business and the Halifax-based Saltwire Network saw no prospect of it reaching that threshold.

“We know what the paper meant to the community,” he said, “but we weren’t making money and there was a lack of public demand.”

He said that while closing the Tribune-Post was a necessary decision, it was also a painful one, partly because Owen Barnhill, Saltwire’s Chief Financial Officer is from Sackville and he grew up reading the paper.

Hope for Amherst News

In the meantime, Lever said Saltwire is hoping to revive the Amherst News once it reaches the 1,000 subscriber threshold, but he’s not sure yet when that might be.

“We’re still hoping to bring it back,” he added. “We feel there’s an opportunity for it to come back.”

At the moment, Saltwire is distributing a weekly publication called the Cumberland Wire as part of its advertising flyer package delivered to 20,000 households in northern Nova Scotia. But Lever says the Cumberland Wire is filled with light features while a revived Amherst News would carry the serious journalism the area needs.

He adds that the Amherst News would carry local advertising, but its main focus would be attracting subscribers who would also have digital access to all of Saltwire’s publications including its daily papers in Halifax, Cape Breton, Charlottetown and St. John’s.

Sackville institution

The Sackville Tribune-Post was born nearly 75 years ago — on June 3, 1946 — when The Sackville Tribune joined with its arch rival The Sackville Post.

In his “Tantramar Flashback” column on September 23, 2009, Sackville historian Bill Hamilton wrote that the older of the two papers, The Sackville Post dated from May 12, 1870 while The Sackville Tribune first appeared in 1902.

Posted in Sackville Tribune-Post, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

Thoughts on the pandemic: David Cayley’s controversial ideas

Textbook stresses that maintaining journalistic credibility is essential

The topic was “Immunization in the 21st Century,” and the organizers of the December 2000 Halifax conference, Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society, had invited me to speak to about 800 doctors, nurses and public health officials.

The medical professionals were worried that the mainstream news media might give sensational publicity to agitators in the anti-vax movement and they hoped that as a journalism professor, I would be able to shed light on whether that might happen.

I reassured conference goers journalists would continue to support the medical consensus that vaccinations are safe and effective in preventing disease.

I explained that mainstream media routinely rely on voices of authority — elected leaders, senior government officials and recognized experts — to give their reporting the credibility they strive to maintain.

“Without credibility, all is dust,” writes Nick Russell in Morals and the Media, a leading Canadian journalism ethics textbook.

And so, the Canadian media have maintained their credibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, daily transmitting voices of authority in the effort to keep the virus from spreading.

As the late scholar Richard Ericson wrote, news media focus on disorder (in this case, the pandemic) to show how order (and normal life) might be restored.1

Questioning authority

But journalism has another role and that is to question authority.

Journalist and author Linda Pannozzo

Linda Pannozzo, a Nova Scotia-based investigative reporter and author, was intrigued by an online article she read by David Cayley, a writer and CBC radio documentary maker who produced a 24-part Ideas series in 2007/08 called “How to Think About Science.”

Cayley’s Ideas documentaries also include interviews with the Canadian philosopher George Grant, literary critic Northrop Frye, German linguist Uwe Poerksen, author of  Plastic Words, as well as Ivan Illich, the Austrian-born social critic who questioned dominant institutions in such books as Deschooling Society and Medical Nemesis.

On his blog, Cayley wrote about the fight against the pandemic from the perspective of Ivan Illich. It’s a controversial view — one rarely, if ever, discussed in mainstream media.

To read Linda Pannozzo’s interview with David Cayley, click here.

Posted in COVID-19 | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Sackville mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau promises he’ll work to establish local hospital committee

Sackville mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau. Photo: Mesheau campaign

Sackville councillor Shawn Mesheau says that if he’s elected mayor in the municipal elections on May 10th, he’ll work to establish a local hospital committee to act as a voice for the Tantramar region’s health care needs.

“It would be a group that would do annual reviews of the services and the effectiveness of the services for the area that are available at the hospital,” Mesheau said today in a telephone interview.

He added that the committee could be made up of various groups including older people, other community members and health-care professionals who would work closely with existing organizations such as the hospital auxiliary and foundation.

“The way I look at this is if the province is hesitant in going back to more localized [health] boards across the province, then maybe what’s happening here in Tantramar-Memramcook and Sackville becomes a pilot,” Mesheau said.

He added that the biggest hurdle would be getting the Horizon Health Network to recognize the committee as being a voice for the region.

Communities forced to react

Mesheau’s proposal for a local hospital committee is included in a news release he issued yesterday as part of his mayoralty campaign.

He says he’s encouraged that Premier Higgs has promised 24-hour hospital emergency room services will be maintained, but feels that under the present system, local communities are always being forced to react when the Horizon Health Network and the provincial government announce changes.

He adds that a regional hospital committee could work with the centralized authorities on behalf of local needs.

“It’s got to start here and we have to have that connection, we have to have the connection through to the Health Authority and the minister of health,” he says, “to ensure that the message is delivered that here’s what we’re doing, here’s where we need to go.”

Mesheau emphasized that while he would work as Sackville’s mayor to establish a local hospital committee, it would include representatives from other communities such as Cape Tormentine, Port Elgin, Memramcook and Dorchester.

He says he learned first-hand about the needs in some of those communities in one of the break-out sessions during the online health-care consultation held last Thursday.

“Transportation became an issue because of folks being able to access health care within their own community, but when they can’t access those specialized services, how do they get from point A to point B,” he adds.

Cancer survivor

Mesheau’s news release praises health professionals after his own brush with kidney cancer about 10 years ago.

“It’s a little emotional for me,” he said today when he was asked what he learned from the experience.

“My specialist was A-1, the staff were supportive, I’d never gone through major surgery before in my life and it was quite an ordeal, but what I learned is that we’re pretty fortunate in our town and in our province to have the health care that we have.”

Mesheau says his doctor discovered a tumour while treating him for kidney stones.

He was able to meet with his specialist at the Sackville hospital where he also received X-rays and blood tests.

He underwent a four-hour operation to remove the tumour in the Moncton Hospital, then spent about four days there recovering.

“Health care was there when I needed it,” Mesheau says.

“People say that kidney stones are very painful, but in this case, it might have saved my life.”

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