Members of Sackville Town Council exchanged sharp words last night over the forced amalgamation of the town with Dorchester and the surrounding local service districts.
It began as Mayor Mesheau read a statement clarifying his position on the issue.
“Although some may believe I’m totally sold on forced amalgamation for my community because I haven’t spoken out aggressively against the minister and the government of New Brunswick, that is not the case,” Mesheau began.
He then sought to distance himself from councillors who have spoken out.
“I’m not going to rehash what has already been spoken about time and time again by members of this council,” Mesheau said.
“As mayor it is not my role to put down people, to call them liars and to question someone’s background to smear them in an effort to put down a process they have been asked to do.”
Mesheau was referring to comments made by members of council during a committee meeting last week.
Councillor Bill Evans called the provincial minister of local government reform a liar at that meeting for having assured town council that amalgamation would not be forced on any municipality.
Evans also called out Mesheau himself, saying the council committee on municipal reform was set up because of the mayor’s lack of leadership in upholding Sackville’s stand against amalgamation.
“The response from the mayor originally was rather accepting and passive and in fact, in the interview that he did on CHMA about it, instead of protesting, he said he’d be interested in running for re-election,” Evans said.
‘Be leaders’ Mesheau urges
In his statement last night, Mesheau responded that along with other municipalities, the province has given Sackville very little “wiggle room” and that as mayor, he has been seeking to work for the town’s best interests.
“I’ve been trying to seek a strategic approach in identifying the challenges we can have influence on as a council, understanding the ones we cannot influence and looking for opportunities that will not only benefit Sackville, but also the communities we will join with come January, 2023,” he said.
He added that the town has an obligation to work with the provincial advisory committee.
“We need to be responsive to what we are asked to bring to the advisory committee and we need to be seeking consensus with the other communities of Entity 40 in order to ensure we are part of the solution, not the problem,” Mesheau said.
He was referring to his own membership on the advisory committee which will be meeting next week in closed session to discuss such issues as the number of councillors on the amalgamated municipal council and which areas they will represent.
“If we are not at that table, if we do not provide input, if we do not find consensus, then the province will have even more reason to impose upon us what they feel is best for us,” Mesheau added.
He said that it might be possible to push for a one-year delay to give Sackville more time to prepare for amalgamation and he suggested that members of council recognize his leadership on the issue.
“I ask the council to push aside their anger and frustration,” he said.
“I ask you not to be activists, but to be leaders and I ask that you please, place your energy into tackling the task at hand whether you personally believe in it or not.”
‘Why give up?’
Councillor Sabine Dietz responded that she would continue to voice her strong opposition to forced amalgamation.
“We have very little role to play as councillors in the process,” Dietz said.
“We need to call out undemocratic actions that affect communities directly and so, I will continue to do that whether you appreciate that or not and I really don’t appreciate being chastised for us doing our role in it,” she told Mesheau.
Councillor Bill Evans was even blunter.
“If bad stuff is going to happen for Sackville, then let’s make sure it doesn’t happen with our complicity,” he said.
Evans suggested boycotting provincial advisory committees saying town council could pass motions refusing to co-operate and instructing town staff not to co-operate either.
“We can contact other municipalities and ask them to join the resistance and we can encourage people to protest,” he said.
“This government is cynical and they’ve backed down before in the face of protest; if there were widespread push-back, it might happen again,” Evans added.
“The argument that well, maybe if we co-operate, maybe if we’re nice, that’s the kind of stuff that victims of bullies try and bullies love it,” he said.
“So I say, why not resist? Why give up?”