Sackville’s mayor cleared of conflict of interest

Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau has been cleared of two separate conflict of interest complaints — one filed by Warktimes —  in connection with the development of the AIL plastic pipe plant on Walker Road.

In a letter e-mailed to Warktimes yesterday, Deputy Mayor Andrew Black outlined the reasons why an outside investigator concluded the mayor had not violated conflict of interest rules when he presided over three council meetings that discussed and voted on zoning bylaw changes that cleared the way for the plant.

The mayor’s brother, Peter Mesheau, is a senior advisor, marketing and communications at Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL).

During its meeting on October 11th, town council voted to dismiss the complaints against the mayor after accepting findings of the investigator, a lawyer who is a partner in the consulting firm Resonance Inc. and who was paid $6,000 for her investigation and another $2,000 for presenting her findings to Sackville town council.

Here’s a key paragraph in Black’s letter that refers to the conflict of interest provisions in Part 8 of New Brunswick’s Local Governance Act:

The deputy mayor’s letter also notes that the zoning bylaw amendment now permits any developer to build on industrial lots that are not connected to town water and sewer services and so, the investigator found it had a “much broader economic benefit for the Town in the form of economic development. In this way, Mayor Mesheau’s interest in the amendment can be seen as an ‘interest in common with voters generally’ within the meaning of subsection 90(j) of the Act.”

Councillor comments

Coun. Bill Evans

During October’s meeting, Councillor Bill Evans said that while he agreed with the investigator’s findings, he felt the mayor should have declared a conflict and left the council chamber.

“We had a very clearly established practice — where there’s any doubt of a potential or a perceived conflict — of declaring that in advance which has, so far in my 10 years on council, avoided anything like this ever happening,” Evans said.

Bruce Phinney, the only councillor to vote against accepting the investigator’s findings, said he didn’t agree with them and that another lawyer might interpret the evidence differently.

Phinney added that the findings did not coincide with what he was taught about conflict of interest when he was first elected to council in 2004.

The other complaint

Councillor Sabine Dietz, who did not attend the October meeting because of illness, has revealed that she also filed a conflict of interest complaint against the mayor.

“There was a lot of public concern and conflict of interest to me is both a real conflict or when there’s a perceived conflict,” she said in a telephone interview.

Coun. Sabine Dietz

“If there is so much public concern, then we as council have an obligation to respond to that in some form or way,” she added.

Dietz says that since she was elected a year and a half ago, several councillors have declared potential conflicts following the rule that ‘when in doubt, step out.’

“It’s much, much better erring on the side of caution doing it than not doing it and then perceptions and the population looking at this and thinking that it smells bad,” she says.

Wishy washy rules

Mount Allison Professor Geoff Martin, who specializes in municipal politics and who served as a Sackville town councillor from 1998 to 2004, says the investigator’s findings reflect New Brunswick’s culture of “inadequate, weak and wishy washy rules” when it comes to things like conflict of interest.

Professor Geoff Martin

“It’s fairly easy for an investigator to not find anything to be concerned about,” Martin said today in a telephone interview.

“Based on the New Brunswick policy on conflict of interest, you’ve got to have a smoking gun that there was a definite conflict of interest or even that there was some definite wrongdoing,” Martin says.

“There’s no allowance for a potential conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest or perceived conflict of interest,” he adds. “Those things don’t seem to come into play at all.”

Martin points, for example, to the rules governing Nova Scotia’s public service:

“If a town truck comes and dumps a load of fill on a relative of the mayor or a relative of the director of public works property, then I guess that’s like the smoking gun,” Martin says.

“Things kind of have to be blatant and I don’t think, to be honest, that these provisions were ever only to be used when there was something really blatant because it becomes a matter of a bit of a pall, a bit of a cloud that is hanging now that will lead some people to conclude that things were not done in an appropriate fashion,” he concludes.

To read Deputy Mayor Black’s letter to Warktimes, click here.

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5 Responses to Sackville’s mayor cleared of conflict of interest

  1. Marika says:

    This is entirely unsurprising.
    Conslutants always find in favor of whomever pays their bill.

  2. Alice Cotton says:

    If Peter Mesheau is a senior advisor, that means he gets a salary from AIL, no? Why is that not a conflict of interest? And why does this province not care about the appearance of conflict of interest? I would propose different municipal guidelines.

    • Marika says:


      Contrast to how Council messes up Bruce Phinney on the basis of “consultant” reports because they don’t like his opinions.

      In the end, “Code of Conduct” and “Conflict of Interest” are tools with which to create problems for those on the “wrong side” and to whitewash the “right people”. It’s just a power game.

      Anyone who votes for Meshau again after a stunt like this knows what they’re getting – and deserves it.

  3. Virgil Hammock says:

    It’s all about appearances. This appears to be a conflict of interest and should have been enough for the mayor to step aside. Several councillors both past and present seem to agree. As someone who sat on council for 13 years I agree with them.

    • Susan says:

      I agree and that declaration would have saved the taxpayers money. Legal consultants got paid a lot of money to investigate this.

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