Sackville town councillors debated Wednesday whether they should co-operate with provincial representative Chad Peters in the forced amalgamation of Sackville, Dorchester and three local service districts.
“If we don’t participate, the government will do whatever they want,” said Deputy Mayor Andrew Black, who was chairing an online council committee meeting on municipal reform.
“If we don’t do anything, then, they’ll just roll in and do whatever they want,” he added.
Black and Mayor Shawn Mesheau have been designated as Sackville’s representatives on an advisory committee that will be meeting with Peters next Tuesday behind closed doors.
The committee will be discussing the make-up of the new amalgamated council that is scheduled to be elected in November before taking office on January 1, 2023.
Black reported that he had consulted with Mario Levesque, a politics professor at Mount Allison on the optimal size for the new council.
He said that although he couldn’t speak for Levesque, the professor had definite opinions.
“He has felt that Sackville Town Council currently is too big, that eight representatives for a town the size of Sackville is too much,” Black said.
He added that Levesque feels a maximum of seven representatives on the new council would be plenty if they are elected at large to represent their areas with three from Sackville, one from Dorchester and three from the local service districts.
He explained that the professor feels the number of councillors would need to increase if the five areas were each represented by two ward councillors.
‘Rep by pop’
Councillor Bruce Phinney suggested that providing elected representation to the local service districts is one of the benefits of municipal reform.
He said he’d been talking to a couple of Sackville residents and a councillor from Dorchester who advocated dividing the amalgamated municipality into five wards with two representatives from each, for a total of 10 councillors and the mayor.
“That’s what they told me,” Phinney said. “It seems pretty fair.”
“Rep by pop was a founding principle of Canada,” Councillor Bill Evans replied.
“Representation by population; the idea of having [an] equal number of people from an unincorporated area with fewer than a thousand people and the same as the Town of Sackville and the Village of Dorchester is not democratic,” he added.
Evans said a ward set-up like that would give some citizens more electoral clout than others.
It became clear as the discussion unfolded during Wednesday’s meeting that Sackville councillors are still divided on whether to co-operate with Peters and his two provincial advisory committees.
Councillor Sabine Dietz reiterated her concerns that Peters — who is being paid $1,200 a day for overseeing amalgamation — will be making decisions without consulting area residents.
“This is the biggest problem with all of this,” she said.
“How many councillors there will be and how they’re being represented and what the system is, it’s so crucial for how we as citizens of this region, of Entity 40, will elect our future council,” she added.
“We can’t ask the questions that we need to ask.”
Councillor Matt Estabrooks, who has spoken in favour of amalgamation, argued that councillors should be sending a positive message.
“We need to change the focus on municipal reform away from the negative tone,” he said.
“We’re negatively impacting the future of relationships and outcomes with all involved communities and the provincial government,” he added.
“We must all put our personal ideals aside and do our job for the people who we are here to represent,” Estabrooks said.
“It is time to step back and see the larger, longer-term picture.”
For his part, Councillor Evans repeated his position that the process of amalgamation is “a sham” because of its undemocratic nature.
H said he’ll be bringing a motion forward at next week’s town council meeting directing council and staff not to participate in the provincial advisory committees.
Councillor Phinney said he will work with the government to get the best possible outcome for Sackville, but predicted that the rushed timeline for implementing amalgamation will come back to haunt the province.
“This timeline thing is scary,” he said. “Because of what’s happening and the short timeline that we have, I really feel that some of it is going to come crashing down around the government’s head.”
Councillor Michael Tower agreed.
He said he too would work to get what’s best for Sackville, but warned the province that it will face a day of reckoning when people realize what “this dictator government has done [to] take away our democratic rights.”
Tower suggested the province is implementing municipal reform in order to download costs on local governments.
“This community’s going to be stuck trying to tax people to pay for the problems that they’re creating,” he said.
“The government’s doing it because it’s going to be good for them, not for us.”