Local councillor regrets temporary shutdown of Sackville’s weekly paper

Councillor Mesheau’s mother Cavell with Tribune colleagues circa 1941. (Cavell is the woman furthest right standing in front of the man wearing a hat)

Sackville Town Councillor Shawn Mesheau says he was sorry to hear that the Sackville Tribune-Post has suspended publication for three months.

“My thoughts go out to the employees affected in our community as they adjust to this,” he wrote in an e-mail to Warktimes.

The Halifax-based Saltwire Network, which owns the Tribune-Postannounced on March 24th that it was temporarily closing all of its weekly papers until June 15 because of a drastic drop in advertising revenues, especially from local businesses shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Councillor Mesheau was the only member of town council to respond to my e-mail request for comment.

He wrote that he’s hoping to see the paper back on the newsstands in 12 weeks, adding that he has a family connection to the Tribune-Post.

“My mother worked at the Tribune after high school and then again later in life with a young family,” he wrote. “She was a Linotype operator and would type out the very important articles to help keep our community informed.”

Mesheau’s mother, who was born in August 1918 during the First World War, was named after Edith Cavell, the heroic British nurse executed by a German firing squad for helping 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium.

Known as Cavell Phinney, she joined the Tribune at age 16 before moving to Moncton and marrying Harvey Mesheau in 1943.

They returned to Sackville in 1951, where they raised five children. In 1973/74, when their youngest, Shawn, was 11 or 12, Cavell returned to the Tribune, which had merged in 1946 with its bitter rival the Sackville Post.

“I remember visiting her at work one time,” Councillor Mesheau wrote in his e-mail.

“She actually typed out my name and gave me the blocks of metal type. I held onto it for years but somehow it went missing after moving out of our family home on Main Street.”

Mesheau says his father, Harvey died in 1998 while Cavell died in 2004.

He adds that both experienced the hardships of the Great Depression and the Second World War.

“I wish she and my Dad were still here now to help provide some guidance and reassurance.”

Posted in Sackville Tribune-Post, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sackville Town Council says no to electronic attendance at meetings just days before COVID-19 crisis hits NB

Councillor Bill Evans arguing in favour of electronic attendance

Two days before the World Health Organization officially declared the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and 10 days before the New Brunswick government declared a state of emergency, Sackville Town Council voted against allowing its members to attend meetings electronically.

“Let’s just say, for example, that there was a pandemic, hypothetically speaking, and somebody was quarantined, they would be able to participate with their phone,” Councillor Bill Evans told his council colleagues during their meeting on March 9th before public health authorities began warning people to stay home.

Council was debating whether to include electronic attendance in the bylaw that governs its procedures and it soon became clear that Evans was in the minority when he suggested allowing members, who couldn’t attend a meeting, to participate via speaker phone.

“Why would we go out of our way to not provide means for someone to do that if they wanted to? I just don’t get it,” Evans added.

He also pointed out that the provincial Local Governance Act enables councils to allow electronic attendance.

But Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken expressed strong opposition.

“I guess my sort of hard-line comment is, you’re elected to do a job and part of the job is being here for meetings,” he said. “If you can’t be [here], you can’t be. It’s not like we’re voting on world peace every time,” Aiken said as he argued that it would cost $6,000 to hook up a video conferencing system.

“If you’re away sick, I can’t see the desirability, I guess, of having your ill face at that height on that screen,” Aiken said, adding that electronic conferencing systems are often unreliable.

Councillors Shawn Mesheau, Michael Tower and Bruce Phinney also argued against allowing electronic attendance.

“If you’re elected, you should be here, not connected by electronic means,” Phinney said, while Mesheau argued that council had not fully considered it as a matter of policy.

“I don’t think we should be wasting any money,” Tower said. “If you’re not here, you’re not here, too bad,” he added.

When the vote was called, only Councillors Evans and Black supported allowing electronic attendance at council meetings while six other members of council voted against it.

Saturday parking restrictions lifted

At its March 9th meeting, council also voted to change the bylaw that governs downtown parking to eliminate the two-hour time limit on Saturdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

The change means that time limits will apply Monday to Friday, but not on weekends or statutory holidays.

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Sackville Tribune-Post suspends publication as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on advertising revenues

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

The Sackville Tribune-Post is suspending publication for the next 12 weeks and laying off its staff because of a sharp decline in advertising revenues especially from businesses that have been forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter to readers yesterday, the Halifax-based Saltwire Network, which owns the weekly paper, announced that all of its other weeklies in Nova Scotia as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador will close until June 15. The three-month shutdown affects the weekly Amherst News.

Saltwire will continue to publish its four daily papers in Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown and St. John’s.

“With many of our advertising customers temporarily stopping operations, nearly two-thirds of our revenue has disappeared overnight,” the Saltwire letter says.

“It is not an exaggeration to say if we continue with the same business model we have today there will not be a company to come back to once this crisis has passed.        ”

In total, Saltwire says it is temporarily laying off 40 per cent of its staff.

CBC Nova Scotia reports that Willy Palov, president of the CWA Canada local that represents Saltwire’s unionized workers at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, is among the laid-off staff.

“The hope of the company’s is all of us will come back, but of course no one can really project how long the coronavirus is going to be active or when it’s going to be under control,” Palov told the CBC.

Newspaper troubles

For the Tribune-Post, the temporary shutdown and layoffs come as newspaper revenues continue to decline with hundreds of smaller ones in Canada shutting down altogether since the economic crisis of 2008.

The Sackville weekly closed its offices at 80 Main Street and cut one part-time employee in May 2018 in an effort to save money.

In a piece about her 20 years at the paper published the month before, reporter Katie Tower noted that, in that time, about seven full and part-time staff had been reduced to three.

The Tribune-Post is one of two English-language weeklies in New Brunswick that is not owned by Brunswick News, the J.D. Irving media company. The other is the Saint Croix Courier.

In February, Saltwire Network joined with other newspaper publishers and the CBC in an umbrella group called News Media Canada to call on Parliament to take more steps to protect the news industry.

Among other things, their letter called for new taxes on foreign-owned media giants such as Facebook and Google that do not pay for the news they aggregate from other sources while collecting millions in advertising revenues.

This week, News Media Canada called on members of the public to pressure governments at all levels to increase their advertising in Canadian news outlets.

Hopeful sign in Sackville

Meantime, CHMA-FM, Sackville’s campus/community radio station is in the process of hiring a professional journalist to cover local news while helping students and community volunteers learn journalism skills.

CHMA, which broadcasts on 106.9 FM as well as online, received a one-year grant to pay for the local journalist partly through the Community Radio Fund, which re-directs money it gets from private broadcasters to campus/community stations. The position is also being supported by the federal government’s Local Journalism Initiative.

The local journalist’s reporting will also be heard on CFTA, 107.9 FM in Amherst and will be made available to other media outlets.

Note: In February, I joined the CHMA Board of Directors and have been involved in the local journalist hiring process which is now in its final stages.

Posted in CHMA-FM, Sackville Tribune-Post | 1 Comment

No gifts under Sackville’s new municipal Code of Conduct, but unlimited campaign donations are OK

Mayor Higham explains why new municipal Code of Conduct does not apply to re-election campaigns

Sackville is prohibiting members of town council from accepting “fees, gifts, gratuities or other benefits,” but the new Code of Conduct bylaw, passed at the council meeting on March 9, does not apply to municipal campaign donations.

Mayor John Higham says that’s because there’s no law in New Brunswick governing such donations.

“You can accept donations and you don’t have to report them,” he said during the public question period. “I can’t see our Code [of Conduct] applying to the election period because it wouldn’t apply to non-councillors.”

The Gallant Liberals brought in legislation to limit municipal campaign spending and require disclosure of contributors, but did not implement the regulations necessary to put the new rules into effect and so far, the Higgs government has not done so either.

Now that the municipal elections have been postponed for up to a year because of the COVID-19 virus, it remains to be seen whether the provincial government will use the extra time to regulate campaign donations.

After the legislature voted to postpone the elections, Local Government Minister Jeff Carr appealed to retiring municipal politicians to stay on, but so far, Mayor Higham has not responded to my e-mail of March 17 asking if he plans to do so.

Higham announced in January he would not be seeking a second term as Sackville’s mayor.

Code governs ‘private affairs’

Councillor Andrew Black

Meantime, the new Code of Conduct requires members of council to “observe the highest standards of ethical conduct and perform their duties in office, and arrange their private affairs in a manner which promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny.”

Councillor Shawn Mesheau suggested eliminating the reference to arranging private affairs because it “seems to be kind of grey,” but Councillor Andrew Black, who moved the motion to adopt the new Code, argued that councillors cannot separate their public from their private conduct.

“As a councillor, I can never take that hat off,” Black said. “So, for me to be held accountable for my actions in office and outside of this room, I think is important.”

Communication and social media

The new Code, which is similar to one adopted by Moncton City Council, warns members of council that their electronic communications through e-mail or the Internet can be retrieved and read under the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The Code prohibits councillors from using “text messaging, email, internet services or any other electronic communication device, if the use could be considered offensive, inappropriate, or otherwise contrary to this Code.”

The new Code also warns about the use of social media such as Facebook.

“As public figures and representatives of the Town, Members [of council] should act with discretion and be judicious in what material they post on social media,” the Code says.

“As with any other communication, Members are accountable for content and confidentiality. Care should be exercised in debates or comments on contentious matters, as feelings and emotions can become inflamed very quickly.”

To read the section of the bylaw governing communications and social media, click here.

Relations with town staff

Councillor Bruce Phinney

When the mayor called the vote on the new Code, only Councillor Bruce Phinney voted against it after objecting to provisions that prohibit elected officials from giving direction to town staff or involving “themselves in matters of administration, which fall within the jurisdiction of the Chief Administrative Officer.”

“The Code of Conduct that we’re putting in place, to me and this is my personal opinion, is to kind of keep everybody quiet,” Phinney said. “We already know exactly, we can’t tell the staff what to do, we can’t tell the CAO what to do, but we can bring to their attention our concerns.”

Councillors Michael Tower, Allison Butcher and Bill Evans responded that the new Code does not prevent elected officials from raising their concerns with staff, but does provide guidelines to prevent councillors from interfering in town administration.

To read the section of the bylaw governing conduct toward town staff, click here.

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Laffords could benefit from Sackville’s new tax rebate scheme

Town manager Jamie Burke developed the new tax incentive similar to ones in Moncton and Riverview

Sackville Town Council has adopted an economic development incentive program that could save developers, including JN Lafford Realty Inc., hundreds of thousands of dollars in municipal property taxes over periods of five and 10 years.

Although the aim of the plan is to attract new projects, town staff acknowledge that it could also apply to ones that have already received zoning approval.

That would include the Lafford plan, announced last summer, to build a large seniors’ complex and a nursing-care or assisted-living facility on 22-acres between Hesler Drive, Wright Street and Fawcett Avenue.

“Yes, it can absolutely apply to that development,” town manager Jamie Burke said during the question period after council had approved the new incentive program.

“The whole program is based on town council approving an application from a developer before a building development permit is issued,” he said, adding that since a building permit has not yet been issued, the Laffords are free to apply for the partial tax rebates.

Councillor Bill Evans, who voted in favour of the incentive program, expressed misgivings about it at an earlier council meeting on March 2nd.

“The risk that we are exposing ourselves to is that a developer who would normally build a multi-million dollar project, [who] would do it anyway, is now going to pay less tax,” he said, adding, “What we’re hoping is that we’re going to get a developer [to] do something he or she wouldn’t otherwise do.”

Evans noted at the time that council would have to approve the partial tax rebates, but wondered if it would be legally possible to say no if a developer qualified for them under the new program which requires projects to be in areas zoned for mixed commercial/residential use (MU); dense urban residential use (R3); highway commercial (HC) or industrial use (IND).

“My mind is spinning here trying to think of a reason why you would turn someone down,” Burke answered.

He added that as long as the development was planned for one of the targeted zones, “I’m not sure we’re in a position to say no.”

In January, council gave final approval to zoning much of the Lafford land as urban residential (R3).

Aside from potential municipal tax rebates, JN Lafford Realty will also benefit from the town’s $90,000 plan to extend Wright Street for 90 metres from where the pavement ends opposite the United Church Maritime Conference building to the end of the town-owned section.

The project, scheduled for later this year, will include the extension of the storm sewer system as well as the sidewalk. Water and sewer lines have already been installed.

John Lafford told Katie Tower of the Sackville Tribune-Post in January that he needs the road before his project can get underway.

“The starting point is when the road gets built,” he said. “Before we do anything, we need a road to it.”

To read my previous coverage of the latest Lafford project, click here.

For details of the town’s new economic development incentive program, click here.

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Sackville Farmers Market asks for town’s help in seeking permanent location

L-R: Kent Coates, Peter Hess, Michael Freeman

The Sackville Farmers Market is asking for the town’s help in finding a permanent home somewhere downtown.

“The market needs about 7,000 square feet of indoor space,” said Kent Coates, chair of the market’s board of directors during a presentation to town council on Monday.

“The market has a lot to offer the town and the town has a lot to offer the market,” he said, adding that Sackville could draw people from the crowded farmers markets in Moncton and Dieppe.

“People take a day trip on Saturday to come to Sackville, they do some shopping, they buy some things at the hardware store, the restaurants. I really feel Sackville could be a destination place on Saturday and I think that the market could play a really big role in that,” Coates told council.

He was joined by board member Peter Hess and market manager Michael Freeman as they pitched the idea of a new, town-owned building that would be managed by the Farmers Market and shared during the week with other groups such as Live Bait Theatre and Perpetual Motion Dance Studio.

Coates said that ideally, the new building would have an adjoining, roofed outdoor space for use during the summer.

He added that although the present Saturday market has lots of space in Bill Johnstone park during the summers, the winter market in the Sackville Commons is pretty small.

“Through our…customer surveys and our vendor surveys, we’ve really determined that Sackville needs an all-year market and to do that, we feel that a permanent location that provided some indoor space would be a huge asset to the town and to the market,” Coates said.

Slide showing potential funding sources

Market manager Michael Freeman showed a slide listing several sources of potential funding including the market itself, a grant from MASU, the Mt. A. students’ union, the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, the Regional Development Commission, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) and Sackville’s Rotary Club.

He said money could also be raised by selling shares in a Community Development Corporation that would generate tax credits for investors.

Board member Peter Hess told council that having to move around from place to place limits the market’s ability to grow.

“Looking at it from a business perspective, our biggest threat is not having a permanent location,” he said.

The three market spokesmen said they haven’t determined where a new downtown Farmers Market building could be located, but mentioned a number of possibilities including land around the new Lorne Street water retention pond, the tennis courts adjoining Bill Johnstone park, the Irving Oil property on Main Street and the Quonset hut area near the Painted Pony restaurant.

Market buildings in other small towns

Kent Coates said permanent farmers market buildings already exist in places such as WolfvillePugwash and Bouctouche.

“The Farmers Market is an obvious asset for the town and the town in the past has supported the Farmers Market in many different ways,” said Councillor Bill Evans.

He added that it would be crucial to work out a sharing arrangement with other groups to make the project work.

“I would love to find a way that we could legitimately support this because this is good for the town, but we have to be responsible,” Evans said, adding, “I don’t want to use that term ‘pipe-dream’ because I want this to be realized, but we have to be careful.”

“I just want to make it very clear that the market as a whole is not set on any particular location or idea,” Board Chair Kent Coates said in closing. “We’re very much open to developing this together. I think it’s necessary to come to this with an open mind and figure out what’s best suited for everyone’s needs.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sackville councillor presses RCMP again to do more to protect the town’s water supply

One of four no-parking signs along the TCH on-ramp next to Sackville’s water supply

Sackville Councillor Michael Tower says he’s still worried that illegally parked tanker trucks are endangering the town’s water supply.

During Monday’s town council meeting, he said he’s noticed an increase in the number of trucks parked in the last month along the Walker Road on-ramp on the south side of the TransCanada Highway.

Tower raised the issue during the police briefing at Monday’s council meeting after Sgt. Paul Gagné reported that the RCMP had just switched to a new electronic system of issuing traffic tickets.

Gagné explained that officers can now scan a driver’s licence through an electronic card reader to obtain up-to-date information including past offences before issuing an e-Ticket from a printer in the police vehicle.

“Before, when you wrote somebody a ticket, they may have been stopped two days ago for speeding already [and] we didn’t necessarily know about it,” Gagné said. “It helps with better decision-making about discretion and that kind of thing on the roadside because you can see if somebody got three tickets in the last three months.”

Coun. Michael Tower

Councillor Tower asked if the new system would keep better track of police warnings to truck drivers who park illegally next to the town’s water supply.

He also wondered if the RCMP were still issuing such warnings after noticing an increase in the number of parked trucks along the highway on-ramp in the last month.

Gagné responded that warnings would not necessarily show up in the new system. He also said the illegal parking has not been “part of our briefings of late” adding that if it’s becoming more visible maybe he and Tower could discuss it privately.

When Tower first raised the issue publicly last October, he said he had done so repeatedly during RCMP council briefings that used to be held behind closed doors.

“It’s a broken record for me, you’re probably tired of hearing it,” Tower told Gagné then, “[but] if anything ever happened for this town, that’s our water supply.”

He also said during the October meeting that he had noticed an Irving truck hauling two oil tankers parked along the Walker Road highway on-ramp in spite of the four no parking signs that the province has installed there and he added that it would have been disastrous if those tankers had leaked.

Mayor Higham said at Monday’s meeting that when the town talked to the provincial department of transportation and infrastructure (DTI) about the problem, officials had dispatched staff for several consecutive days to move the truckers along.

“I’ll get in touch with DTI who did that last time,” Higham promised, adding that perhaps town staff could call the province more regularly if the illegal parking becomes more noticeable.

“It only takes that one to have the spill go and then, we’ve got a bigger problem,” Tower warned.

To read my report about what happened when Tower raised the issue in October, click here.

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