Sackville goes ahead with Lorne St. renewal amid worries about flooding & climate change

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Typical Sackville flood scene

The $5.4 million project to reconstruct Lorne St. will be going ahead next summer now that the federal and provincial governments have agreed to pay 75 per cent of the cost.

Sackville’s town engineer, Dwayne Acton, says phase one will include replacement of water, sewer lines and storm drainage systems as well as sidewalks, curbs, gutters and ditches.

At its meeting last night, Sackville Town Council authorized Acton to seek additional federal-provincial funding for phase two which would include building structures to drain water from the flood-prone street through the dyke, into the Tantramar River and out to the Bay of Fundy.

“It’s been a project that’s been talked about for many, many years, the infrastructure is deteriorated and in bad shape,” Acton says. “Trying to put together a plan to deal with the flooding on Lorne St. is also a huge part of this project and something that we’ve been needing for many years.”

Mayor’s message

At last night’s meeting, council also heard about Mayor John Higham’s presentation to the New Brunswick legislature’s committee on climate change which held hearings in Sackville on August 31st.

The mayor pressed the provincial government for more financial help in coping with the rising tides and severe rain storms that not only threaten Sackville, but also critical links such as the Trans Canada highway, the CN rail line and the electrical transmission grid between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

In an interview later, Higham quoted a scientific study commissioned by the Atlantic provinces and the federal government which estimates that if the rail and highway links were flooded by dyke failures, the Canadian economy would lose at least $50 million a day because of the interruption in commercial traffic.

A slide from Mayor Higham's presentation

A slide from Mayor Higham’s presentation

“We’re making the argument, at least I’m making the argument,” Higham says, “that it is a national issue, it’s not a local one and that we shouldn’t be expecting a small town like ours to be putting out millions and millions of dollars to protect national, critical infrastructure like that.”

Higham also argues that the province needs to give municipalities access to more sources of revenue to help pay for measures to offset the effects of climate change. He says, for example, municipalities could benefit from revenues generated by alternative energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines.

“It’s happening in Nova Scotia where they have alternative energy licences, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening in New Brunswick,” he says, except at the landfill in Moncton where they’re installing a turbine to generate electricity by burning methane gas emissions.

Meantime, in its letter to the legislature’s committee on climate change, EOS Eco-Energy also promotes the environmental and economic benefits of alternative, renewable energy.

Among other things, the Sackville environmental group says New Brunswick could promote itself as the sunniest province in winter and the solar energy capital of Canada.

To view Mayor Higham’s presentation, click here.

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Fishermen launch legal action to block turbines this fall

Lawyer David Coles (L) and fisherman's association spokesman Colin Sproul

Lawyer David Coles (L) and fisherman’s association spokesman Colin Sproul leaving the Halifax law courts yesterday

The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association plans to ask a Nova Scotia Supreme Court judge to block deployment of tidal turbines in the Minas Passage this fall.

During a court hearing yesterday in Halifax, Madame Justice Denise Boudreau set October 20th as the date for hearing the fishermen’s application.

Their lawyer David Coles told the judge the case must be heard as soon as possible in light of a media report that Cape Sharp Tidal Inc. is planning to deploy its first tidal turbine sometime between Nov. 6 and Nov. 8.

The respected online business news site, allnovascotia.com, reported on Wednesday that turbine developer OpenHydro has applied to the Canadian Transportation Agency for permission to use a foreign-registered, heavy-lift cargo vessel called the BBC Pearl for turbine deployment during neap tides in early November.

OpenHydro’s application explains that deployment was delayed, in part, after the discovery of weak fastening components that must be replaced.

The report caught the fisherman’s association by surprise. Their spokesman, Colin Sproul says that during their private discussions with Cape Sharp, the fishermen were assured that turbine deployment had been postponed indefinitely while the talks continue.

“Cape Sharp has related to us that they still intend to negotiate in good faith,” Sproul told reporters outside the courtroom, “but it’s hard for the association to accept that when investigative journalism reveals that they’ve been deceiving us and all the fishermen of Nova Scotia.”

During yesterday’s hearing, David Coles told the judge he would proceed with his application to block the turbines on Oct. 20 if he doesn’t get assurances from the company by the end of September that deployments will not go ahead this fall.

Financial crunch

Wark Times has obtained a letter to the federal transportation agency from Jacques Chatelet, the chief operations officer for turbine developer, OpenHydro. (Cape Sharp Tidal Inc. is a partnership between OpenHydro and Emera Inc., the parent company of Nova Scotia Power.)

Chatelet’s letter warns that if the first of two turbines can’t be deployed in November, the company could face disastrous financial consequences threatening its very existence. (To read the letter click here.)

Meantime, at yesterday’s court hearing, Madame Justice Boudreau also set February 1st and 2nd to hear the fishermen’s application to overturn the Nova Scotia government’s decision in June to allow turbine deployment.

The fisherman’s association argues that the provincial environment minister should not have authorized deployment until baseline scientific studies are conducted to measure the presence of sea life including fish, marine mammals and lobster at the turbine testing sites in the Minas Passage. The association says such studies would take at least a year.

“It’s a sad day for Nova Scotia,” Sproul told reporters, “that the fishermen of this province are being forced to spend their hard-earned money to fight the province on environmental responsibility.”

He added that last year, the lobster industry alone generated $2.2 billion in exports from Atlantic Canada and that the fishing industry in Nova Scotia is the largest single employer outside the public sector.

“That economic benefit to the province also needs to be weighed and that’s something that has never been undertaken by the province or the federal government,” Sproul said.

To read the OpenHydro application to the Canadian Transportation Agency, click here.

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3rd Sackville coffee drive-thru uncertain as Town Council weighs options

Tantramar Gas Bar co-owner Wendy Alder

Tantramar Gas Bar co-owner Wendy Alder

Sackville’s mayor says town councillors will get together as soon as possible to consider options for a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru near Exit 506 off the TransCanada highway.

John Higham made the comment after Council received a report from staff planner Lori Bickford at its meeting Monday night.

The report outlined five possible options ranging from amending the town’s zoning bylaw, creating new zones specifically for Exit 506, or simply maintaining the 15-year ban on new drive-thrus in Sackville.

Bickford’s report says amending bylaws or creating new zones would take anywhere from four to 10 months and would require Town Council to pass a resolution to consider the amendment, hold a public hearing, receive the advice of the planning review committee and provide opportunity for full council debate.

According to the report, the town might also need to conduct studies to analyze potential traffic problems and determine if the land is suitable for a drive-thru. The report says that one option, creating a new development zone, would require Wendy and Kelly Alder, owners of the Ultramar gas station, to submit an engineering plan demonstrating that the site could safely accommodate a drive-thru.

Councillors seem sympathetic

Judging from their comments, a majority of councillors appear to favour changing the rules to allow the Alders to go ahead with a Robin’s Donuts restaurant and drive-thru at their Tantramar Gas Bar.

But in July, a majority on council voted against a motion to permit more drive-thrus because it appeared that changing the bylaw banning them could clear the way for several more at Exit 504 where Tim Hortons and McDonald’s already operate drive-thru windows.

Council then asked town planners to come up with ways of permitting a drive-thru at Exit 506 without having to follow a rule that says it must wait a full year before re-opening the issue.

When pressed at last night’s meeting to say if it’s fair to allow drive-thrus at one highway exit and not the other, most councillors seemed to agree that fairness was an issue given that the Alders’s Ultramar is a locally owned business while the gas stations and fast-food drive-thru franchises at Exit 504 are not locally owned.

Alders hoping for decision soon

Council is expected to discuss the drive-thru issue again at its meetings in September.

Wendy Alder says she’s hoping for a decision on changing the bylaw banning drive-thrus by the end of the year. That would give her enough time to commission an engineering study and order equipment in time for opening the Robin’s Donuts by May 1, 2017.

She says something has to be done to ensure that her business stays profitable.

“Our fuel volumes are down 25 to 30 per cent just in the month of July this year over last year,” she says adding that the July 1st increase in the New Brunswick sales tax has stopped Nova Scotians from driving across the marshes to take advantage of lower gas prices here.

She says if that continues, her business would be forced to eliminate the equivalent of one-and-a-half jobs to remain profitable.

“There’s always options of somebody buying it (the business), but that’s not where we want to go right now,” she says. “What we want to do is pursue this option with Robin’s Donuts and try and get that in.”

Excerpts from planning report

On changing the bylaw banning further drive-thrus:

“As drive-thrus have been prohibited in Town for 15-years, this would be considered a significant change in direction of the Town and therefore should not be considered lightly.”

On creating a new zone to permit more drive-thrus only at Exit 506 (Cattail Ridge Exit):

“A key principle of planning is that all properties which share a common zoning are treated the same and will be permitted to operate the same uses, provided they are capable of meeting all other requirements such as setbacks, parking, etc. Both exits have been designated under the Municipal Plan and zoned under the Zoning By-law as Highway Commercial. This was done as a recognition that both these entrances have direct access to the TransCanada Highway and the Town should take advantage of the economic opportunities that this creates for businesses and for providing commercial services in general.

“To create and apply a new zone at one of the exits would require the introduction of policy in the Municipal Plan to distinguish between the two exits. This would be challenging as Council would need to justify why it has determined that a higher level of usage would be acceptable at exit 506 and not at exit 504 (Main St. exit). In fact, the Cattail Ridge exit contains less public infrastructure to deal with future issues of congestion, whereas the Main St. exit has seen a number of public infrastructure investments to deal with this issue including traffic lights and additional turning lanes…Before introducing a new zone to the By-law, and to ensure the zone is developed appropriately a traffic study at this exit should be conducted to analyze any potential traffic issues and to determine land use suitability. This would be a cost born by the Town.”

On creating a new integrated development zone to permit a combination of uses and buildings on the same site:

“During initial discussions with the applicant, Staff identified a number of issues and concerns with the suitability of this property [Tantramar Gas Bar] for a drive thru, mainly the proximity to the propane tanks, proximity to underground and above ground gas tanks, potential traffic conflicts on site with traffic entering and exiting drive thru and those using the gas pumps and convenience store on the property. The applicant was also informed that in order to fully assess the site a professionally prepared engineered plan would be required.”

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Report shows how Sackville ended up with fast food, gasoline alley on the edge of town

Nathan Ayer

Nathan Ayer

In light of the latest proposal for a Robin’s Donuts and drive-thru at the Ultramar gas bar near Trans Canada Exit 506, it may be worth reviewing the history outlined in a 13-year-old report entitled, Things Don’t Always Turn Out as Planned: Commercial Development along the Highway in Sackville, New Brunswick (1990-2002).

The report was written by Nathan Ayer in the fall of 2002 when he was enrolled in an environmental studies class overseen by Professor Brad Walters at Mount Allison University.

“I was one of eight or nine other students in that class who, for the whole fall semester, we were examining the highway commercial zone where the McDonald’s and Irving etc. are,” Ayer says during a telephone interview with Warktimes from Halifax where he is earning a PhD in environmental management at Dalhousie University.

“As a Sackville resident who had been around when a number of those developments occurred, I wanted to do a piece on the chronology of how each development that was there had come to be and see if I could find out what was happening at the time in terms of the politics and the decision-making,” Ayer adds.

Crosswinds Hotel

Ayer’s 22-page report is based largely on news stories published by the Sackville Tribune-Post.

The stories begin in April 1990 when a company called Douglas Group Holdings, headed by Sackville resident Scott Johnson, announced plans to build a $3 million, 51-room hotel on the former Baughan’s Trucking property beside the Waterfowl Park where Home Hardware stands today.

When Sackville residents learned that the project would include an adjacent office complex and shopping mall of up to 90,000 square feet, they formed the Preserve Sackville Concerned Citizens Committee, took out a full-page newspaper ad, wrote letters opposing the development and turned out to speak against it at town council meetings.

According to Ayer’s report, members of the concerned citizens committee worried that the development would hurt tourism and local businesses.

In spite of the opposition and a recommendation against the development from the Tantramar Planning District Commission, a majority on town council consistently backed the project as a way of creating jobs and generating municipal tax revenues.

“You have to recall that at that time, they were on the verge of twinning the Trans Canada,” Ayer says, adding that plans were also underway for building the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island. “I think there was a sense there was an opportunity for Sackville to become an important point on the map for people travelling the highway,” he says with convenience stores, fast food outlets and gas bars close to the highway to attract travellers who could get back on the road quickly.

In the end, the developer abandoned his plans and the Crosswinds Hotel complex was never built, but Ayer believes town council’s decision to approve it literally paved the way for later developments — ones that make the Exit 504 entrance to Sackville look just like the congested, brightly-lit, gasoline, food and shopping alleys that dot the outskirts of so many other North American cities and towns.

In Sackville’s case, Ayer’s report shows that although the town tried to pass guidelines to preserve the natural look of the area and protect its environment, councillors softened or weakened the guidelines whenever developers objected.

Opposition dwindles

Ayer says he also found that public opposition faded with time as developments such as Tim Hortons/Wendy’s received approvals in 1992-93 followed in 1994 by the Irving, McDonald’s and Esso outlets.

“I guess it just became more accepted that the town was moving in this direction and perhaps it was felt that the opposition would go unheard or not make any difference,” he says.

“That’s human nature when you stand up opposed to certain things and they happen and they become part of the town, then you maybe tend to have less energy or motivation to oppose the next one.”

Besides, he says, people get used to things that pop up gradually over time. The original proposal for a hotel complex and mall was on such a large scale and so out of character with Sackville that it naturally prompted opposition.

“Personally, when I visit Sackville now, I don’t like that highway development zone, but admittedly it has become such a normal thing to experience it that I don’t think I feel as strongly as I did 10 or 15 years ago.”

Ayer added an afterthought in an e-mail he sent Warktimes after our telephone interview:

“Thirteen years on from my undergraduate report on the highway zone, I also recognize that many Sackville residents have found employment with those businesses and made use of the services provided. Given the initial opposition to these types of developments in the highway zone in the early 1990s, it would be interesting to find out how residents view the area in the present day.”

To read Nathan Ayer’s full 2003 report click here.

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Fundy fishermen file court challenge on tidal turbines

NS Environment Minister Margaret Miller

NS Environment Minister Margaret Miller

The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association is challenging the provincial government’s decision to allow deployment of two tidal turbines in the Minas Passage near Parrsboro, N.S.

The Association filed a formal application with the Nova Scotia Supreme Court yesterday requesting a judicial order to set aside or quash last month’s decision by Margaret Miller, the provincial environment minister, authorizing installation of the turbines.

On June 20, Miller’s department issued a news release in which she is quoted as saying: “If we are to advance our collective knowledge of the turbines’ impact on our fish and marine mammals, demonstration turbines need to be in the water.”

However, in its court application, the fisherman’s association says Miller failed to consider evidence that the turbines may harm ocean wildlife species. It also makes a number of other claims including:

  • there is no adequate monitoring program in place to assess the cumulative effects of the turbines
  • the minister failed to consider historical data as well as data from fishermen and weir operators about species located at or near the test site
  • she disregarded environmental concerns expressed by the public, aboriginal people as well as the fishermen themselves and,
  • the minister failed to follow the Nova Scotia Environment Act’s requirement to apply the precautionary principle and to maintain environmental protection as essential to the integrity of ecosystems.

David Coles, the Dartmouth lawyer who filed the application on behalf of the fishermen, says the association has met with Cape Sharp Tidal, the company that plans to install two, 2MW turbines sometime this year.

Coles adds the fishermen are hoping to reach agreement with the company on environmental and economic issues without having to go to court, but had to file their application now to meet the required deadline for challenging the minister’s decision.

If the court application does go forward, the next step will happen on August 25th when a judge is expected to sort out procedural matters and set a date for a hearing.

Sarah Dawson, who speaks for Cape Sharp Tidal, said in an e-mail that the company does not comment on legal matters. She added that Cape Sharp is continuing to consult with people concerned about the turbines and has no timeline on when the first turbine might be going into the water.

The five-storey, 1,000 tonne machine is at a pier in Halifax Harbour as preparations continue for its deployment in the Minas Passage.

To read the Fisherman’s Association NS Supreme Court application and the environmental monitoring conditions imposed on the Cape Sharp Tidal project click, Amended Notice of Application.

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Sackville councillors do U-Turn on controversial drive-thru

Tantramar Gas Bar, Exit 506

Tantramar Gas Bar, Exit 506

There may be another drive-thru coffee window in Sackville after all.

Sackville Town Council has agreed to take another look at how it could allow a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru at the Ultramar gas station near Exit 506 off the Trans Canada highway.

“I think the lesson for Council is that there was limited debate,” Mayor John Higham said at council’s regular meeting on July 11. He spoke after citizens and business owners grilled councillors for more than 40 minutes about Council’s vote on July 4 not to allow any more than the two existing drive-thrus near the highway.

“Are you aware of the ripple effect you have sent to the hardworking business people of this town?” asked Anna Zappia Mann, owner of Joey’s Pizza and Pasta. “John, are you aware? I’m irate,” she added to sustained applause.

She also referred to Kelly and Wendy Alder who say that without a drive-thru at their Ultramar location, they might have to close their doors. (To read the Alders’ proposal to Council for a Robin’s Donuts and drive-thru, click here.)

“There is no future if there’s no employment today and there is no future if people like Wendy and her husband and her family are not supported,” Zappia Mann said, adding, “these people are suffering and the spirit in our town is suffering.” (To read a transcript of Anna Zappia Mann’s comments, click here.)

New councillors on hot seat

Earlier, Kerry Simpson asked Council’s newest members, Megan Mitton, Allison Butcher and Andrew Black why they voted against amending the bylaw that bans additional drive-thrus. Simpson read newspaper quotes in which all three said they were running for council partly to support business and economic development.

Mitton responded that she voted no because she was trying to strike a balance between environmental concerns over car idling, exhaust emissions and air quality on the one hand, and sustainable development on the other.

“I do support, obviously, economic development, business development. In this specific case, I decided that we shouldn’t, or I voted not to amend the bylaw,” Mitton said. “However, I’m very open to ideas around business development.”

Allison Butcher said she voted no because amending the bylaw would have allowed an unlimited number of drive-thrus in the zone near the highway.

“It was to lift the entire ban off of all the commercial districts, which would mean it would also lift the ban off of our already terribly congested Exit 504 where the high school is, where there’s so many students walking, there’s traffic congestion and there’s land for sale up there, and I couldn’t support lifting the bylaw off of that section.”

Butcher added she would vote to change the bylaw if it meant allowing only one additional drive-thru at the Ultramar.

Andrew Black seemed to agree saying that ethically he could not support several more drive-thrus but “would be more inclined to say yes” to the Alders’ specific proposal at Exit 506. (To read a transcript of Kerry Simpson’s questions and the three councillors’ answers, click here.)

What about existing drive-thrus?

Kelly Alder also polled councillors on whether they favoured closing the existing drive-thrus at McDonald’s and Tim Hortons. He referred to Councillor Bill Evans’s seven-minute statement opposing more drive-thrus at the July 4th council meeting.

Evans had ended his statement with this question: “If you want to talk about changing the legislation, how about talking about the phasing out of the two existing grandfathered drive-thrus? Otherwise, let’s leave well enough alone.” (To read excerpts from Bill Evans’s statement, click here.)

None of the councillors spoke in favour of phasing out the existing drive-thrus at Exit 504.

Bruce Phinney

Councillor Bruce Phinney

“I would never think about trying to close those other two,” said Councillor Bruce Phinney.

“First of all, you’ve got two giants that you turn around and have to take on, and I don’t think we have enough money in our budget to turn around and do so,” he said.

“And the other thing is as I said last Monday, I would support and will support and continue to support the opening of a drive-thru, Robin’s drive-thru, out at the Ultramar.”

Environmental concerns

There were few environmental concerns expressed on Monday night in contrast to the July 4 meeting a week earlier where several people spoke about such issues as the air pollution generated by idling vehicles in drive-thru lanes and the threat of climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayor Higham read a letter from Janet Hammock asking council not to change the law to allow more drive-thrus.

“We’re trying hard here in Sackville to set an example for those who visit, showing ourselves as a place where people care about the environment and quality of the air,” Hammock wrote.

“As a long-time resident, I care about the health of our elderly and our youth and I’m glad that we have a bylaw in place now that prevents further drive-ins from being built.” (To read Janet Hammock’s letter click here.)

The mayor also read a letter from the group, EOS Eco-Energy pointing out that council has taken several steps aimed at reducing car emissions including endorsing an emissions reduction action plan in February. The letter also mentioned that last year, council passed a municipal declaration about people’s right to live in a healthy environment with a stable climate.

“There are also concerns about the impacts of a drive-thru on the neighbouring daycare’s outdoor playground and their children’s environmental health,” the letter added. (To read the EOS letter, click here.)

Planning staff to study possible steps

It became clear during the July 11 meeting that up to six of the eight councillors favoured the Alders’ application to set up a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru on their Ultramar site. But it was far less clear whether council could overturn its vote on July 4 to uphold the ban on any additional drive-thrus.

Under municipal rules, councillors may have to wait a year to take another vote unless another proposal comes forward that is substantially different from the one on July 4. At that meeting, planners recommended amending the bylaw so that any business could apply for a drive-thru near the Trans Canada.

In the end, council has decided to ask planning staff to report on other possible options, if any, at its meeting in August.

Meantime, Wendy Alder is keeping up the pressure with a petition addressed to the mayor and council on display at her Ultramar gas bar. It reads:

“On Monday, July 4th, Town Council voted against amending bylaw 244 to include drive thrus as a permitted use in highway commercial zoning areas.

“We the undersigned, citizens of Sackville, N.B. and surrounding area, feel the addition of a drive thru will aid in economic development, create jobs and sustain current jobs. We petition Council to change bylaw 244 to include drive thrus as a permitted use in the highway commercial zoning areas located at EXIT 506 only or grant an exemption for Tantramar Gas Bar (2012) Ltd.”

Alder says that so far, more than 700 people have signed.

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Sackville says no to drive-thru at Ultramar on Cattail Ridge

Kelly and Wendy Alder

Kelly and Wendy Alder

There will be no car drive-thru window and no Robin’s Donuts franchise next to the Ultramar gas station on Cattail Ridge.

Wendy Alder, who operates the Tantramar Gas Bar with her husband Kelly, failed to persuade a majority of Sackville Town Councillors at a public hearing tonight to allow the drive-thru near Exit 506 on the TransCanada Highway.

Councillors Bruce Phinney and Joyce O’Neil moved and seconded first reading of a bylaw amendment that would have permitted more drive-thrus in the highway commercial zone along the TransCanada. But Councillors Bill Evans, Allison Butcher, Andrew Black, Michael Tower and Megan Mitton voted against the motion effectively killing further consideration of the proposal.

Drive-thru jobs

Earlier during the public hearing, Wendy Alder told councillors that a Robin’s Donut franchise would create up to five jobs in addition to the six full-time and three part-time ones already at the Ultramar. She added that her business was seeking the doughnut franchise to avoid the possibility of having to close its doors.

She also said that another drive-thru would shorten the line-ups at the Tim Hortons and McDonald’s drive-thrus at Exit 504 and therefore, would not mean longer idling times and more greenhouse gas emissions.

But a letter to council from the conservation group EOS Eco-Energy called idling in drive-thrus a significant source of pollution adding that people have the right to live in a healthy environment including children who use the outdoor playground at the nearby day care centre on Bridge St.

Before the vote, Councillor Bill Evans said he saw no reason to overturn council’s original decision made 15 years ago not to allow more drive-thrus — a position council reaffirmed unanimously in January.

For his part, Terry Smith from Robin’s Maritime head office warned council that the company would not approve a donut franchise at the Ultramar gas station without a drive-thru because 78 per cent of all coffee business is transacted through such windows.

After the meeting, the Alders voiced their disappointment at council’s decision.

Kelly Alder said that in today’s competitive climate, gas stations need to diversify to survive. He added a gas station with a convenience store isn’t enough anymore and he expressed frustration at council’s opposition to another drive-thru when the ones at McDonald’s and Tim Hortons are going full tilt.

“Let’s see them close those drive-thrus,” he said bitterly.

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