“Free public Wi Fi downtown,” was the answer town council candidate Dylan Wooley-Berry gave last week during an all-candidates forum at the Tantramar Civic Centre.
He was responding to Sackville resident Chris Eaton who asked all five candidates running in the by-election for the vacant council seat about their dreams for the town and “the one thing that when you come to council, you’re going to champion and it will be your pet project.”
Wooley-Berry answered that establishing free wireless Internet access is something that could be done in the months before the next municipal election in 2020.
He added that it’s already in place in more than 100 communities across Ontario.
“They use that public Wi Fi zone to collect data on the people downtown using it, so they can tell how many people are in the zone,” he said, “and how many people are choosing to shop and search in the zone for a certain thing. They collect that data, they aggregate it and then they give it free of charge to local businesses.”
Wooley-Berry said since there’s no longer a Sackville Chamber of Commerce, free Wi Fi would be an innovative way to support local businesses.
“I want people to not have to drive somewhere to go to work,” said candidate Shawn Mesheau.
“I want people to be able to work here.”
He added that he remembered his father standing in the window of their home looking out at Atlantic Wholesalers on the day it shut down. He said his father had worked there for 35 years.
“He looked at me and and he said, ‘All I wanted was my kids to be able to work in town and raise a family here.’ That’s what my vision is,” Mesheau said.
“It’s for us not to have to rely on development happening elsewhere for us to be able to have employment here in our home,” he added.
“I would love to see Sackville be the centre of a solution economy,” said candidate Julia Feltham.
She suggested that with Alberta’s oil economy in recession, it’s getting cheaper to develop renewable energy and train more workers, including young people, for jobs in that field.
“Every problem is actually a job opportunity; every problem is actually a way that we can put ourselves on the map and tell our story,” Feltham said, adding that the latest economic projections show that every year New Brunswick needs to increase its labour force by 7,500.
“Why can’t we be the landing pad for creating those new jobs, the new economy, re-skilling blue collar workers so that they work in the green economy?” she asked.
“I don’t have a pet project,” said Sabine Dietz, suggesting that when people in other parts of the province ask why she lives in Sackville, she tells them the town already has everything.
“Sackville has all the nurturing, all the creativity, all the innovation that you need for a community to be a real leader and to be seen as a leader,” she said, adding that the Sackville Commons, which provides shared work spaces, is a good example of using local resources to solve problems and create community.
She said economic development should be carefully considered based on the reality of town assets such as the university and its many small businesses.
“Sackville is a wonderful community,” Dietz said.
“My dream is that we can — like Julia said — show it off more and grow it, that’s all we need, we just need to grow the things that are already there.”
“My pet project, dream scenario,” said candidate Brian Neilson, “is what I have been working on for the last three or four years with several other community members, something called Sackville Schools 2020.”
Neilson said this “visionary project” would, among other things, create a performing space that could be used by students as well as local theatre groups and music festivals as well as a community kitchen where people could come together.
“It is an opportunity for students,” Neilson said, “to fall in love with this community, so that people stay in this community and then are drawn to this community because of its innovative education.”
He added that as more people are attracted to Sackville, they create a tax base to support the hospital and care for the elderly.
“It’s a question of whether we want to grow and take a stand,” Neilson said, “or just keep our head in the sand and hope no one bugs us too much.”