Tantramar Council is following a provincially drafted bylaw that makes it harder for members of the public to make detailed presentations during regular town council meetings.
The bylaw, imposed on the town of Tantramar as part of municipal reform, also does not include public question periods as part of council’s agenda even though the municipality of Sackville included such question periods both at the beginning and end of its regular council meetings for more than two decades.
The restrictions stood out last night as former Sackville Councillor Sabine Dietz rushed through a presentation introducing Climatlantic, a new organization set up by the four Atlantic provinces and the federal government, to help people understand and deal with the effects of climate change.
“I know I’ve got five minutes,” she said, “I was told that, to be fairly quick.”
Dietz, who is executive director of Climatlantic, quickly explained that the organization’s specialists are there to help people with such climate effects as flooding, heat, drought and sea-level rise.
“That’s why we were created, to help people make better decisions,” she told council.
“We moderate meetings, webinars, training, we are spread out all across Atlantic Canada, my team has a specialist in each of the provinces…and we’ve got a core team that really is well trained in understanding the climate impacts and the projections and helping identify what you really need to think about when you make decisions.”
As her words tumbled out, Dietz referred to a set of graphs she had distributed to councillors showing that Sackville will probably have more of what she called “growing degree days” and a longer “frost-free season” meaning that farmers and residents will be able to grow more on the one hand, but on the other, another graph showing “cooling degree days” suggests they will face higher heating costs that will cause hardship, especially for those on low incomes.
Dietz then quickly referred to “days with T-max” when temperatures rise above 30 degrees, days that can kill people during heat waves — a trend that she said is increasing in Sackville.
“So, I would really recommend to council to not put climate change action on the back burner; this needs to remain a high priority for council.”
She also warned that when Tantramar applies for federal infrastructure money, it will be required to report on its efforts to adapt to climate change.
Five minute blitz
“Was that more than five minutes?” Dietz asked as she finished her presentation.
“It was,” Mayor Black answered. “Maybe about a minute-and-a-half over but, being on council with you in the past, I remember you speaking very quickly.”
“Sorry about that, but I knew I had five minutes,” Dietz said.
“Lots of information in a small amount of time,” Black answered.
“Are there any questions on the presentation for Ms. Dietz?” he asked council.
“I was really hoping for questions,” Dietz said to general laughter.
“Maybe people are just scared and reeling about the information you give,” Black answered with a smile.
In an e-mail to Warktimes today, Dietz writes that she feels the five-minute time limit shows disengagement from the public as does the lack of a public question period.
“I left early because I didn’t see any option to ask questions, which I would have,” she adds.
“For example, when are they re-forming the climate change committee and when are they hiring personnel, etc.?”
Note: When the municipality of Tantramar came into being on January 1, 2023, it inherited a set of standardized bylaws imposed by the province. Bylaw No. 3 is entitled: A BYLAW RESPECTING THE PROCEEDINGS OF TANTRAMAR MUNICIPAL COUNCIL AND COMMITTEE MEETINGS. Here is the link in the bylaws sections of the Tantramar website: https://sackville.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/By-law-No.-3-Procedural-REV-FINAL-FOR-SIGNATURE.pdf
The bylaw contains a standard agenda with no public question periods and here is the section on presentations at regular council meetings:
The exchange between Dietz and Black sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit…
The Municipal Act is a permissive and broad reaching document for improved local government. Recognizing that local government is a responsible and accountable level of government, the powers of local government under this or any act shall be interpreted broadly in order to provide broad authority to the COUNCIL to enable it to govern the affairs of local government as it considers appropriate and to enhance the council’s ability to respond to issues in local government. Failure to exercise “duty of care” to the public “to participate in decision-making will lead inevitably to a breakdown in the whole system of justice, freedom, and democracy. It will make it easy for some un-wanted “-ism” to take over without the firing of a single shot or the launching of a single drone .” Murray D. Lincoln. Please show council in the act, or communications from the Fredericton Ayatollah “data my ass” bureaucrats, where the Act instructs council to block with the tyranny of time citizens from participating fully in the decision-making process. I wouldn’t say this. but you could call “code of Conduct on the Mayor”. Council took an oath under Municipal purposes (a) to provide good government, (d) to foster the economic, social environmental well-being of its community. Former councillor Bill Evans pointed out that the activities and movements of the government was “stupidity” If that is true, and it seems to be, “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of good than malice” – Dietrich Bonhoffer. Poor management, crazy short time lines foisted on you should not be in turn visited on citizens .Shocked by the governments autocratic methods is no example for a deliberative body to copy. Make a time for presentations. It’s time for Council to set up for the future standing committee’s; financial oversight, etc… otherwise your terms may be assaulted by egregious executives, dubious transactions, elusive files, collusion, besmirch, and peculiar negotiable instruments. Be it Resolved that the Town of Tantramar ask the Department of Municipalities for the most recent figures of savings and expenses in administration’s costs from amalgamation, when travel and communication costs of administrators and commissioners , councillor , and office staff are included as well as rental and expected building, rental and revocations costs to harmonize,letterheads, signs,,,, You add what ever you wish …….and then Be it further Resolved that these findings be made available to the public for your preparation of a presentation to the public portion of introducing “your Charter’ I cannot say that any complaint you file for a citizen or yourselves will have merit, but even if such a resolution fails to have a seconder, history will show you were at least trying to do “Your fiduciary Duty” .
Wonderful article Bruce. Thanks!
As for Sabine Dietz and her endless funded efforts in the lucrative land of NGOs and non-profits she has no idea how out of touch she is with the general public just trying to make their money and live their lives… why is she so convinced that co2 is a pollutant when plants benefit from co2? Her efforts to re-draw maps and put people in flood plains has probably devalued more property around here than anyone realizes at this point… she is like a terminator machine… just relentless, and borglike.
I hope you’re being sarcastic here.
Of the 44 years I’ve lived in Sackville, the climate has changed greatly – and relatively quickly – to the point that denying any sort of change to not be ‘real’ is a denial of reality.
IMO, of course.
“…why is she so convinced that co2 is a pollutant when plants benefit from co2?” Sally, why are you so convinced that you can comment in an informed manner on a subject that you obviously know nothing about? In line with your question about CO2, you could also ask why Oxygen is considered harmful when we benefit from it when breathing? The answer : “Too much oxygen can lead to oxygen toxicity or oxygen poisoning. This can happen if you accidentally take in too much supplemental oxygen or use oxygen therapy when you don’t need it.” You present a perfect example of why a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.
I see no reason for public council meetings. In fact, I see no reason for town council. No questions? Five minute presentations? Just issue information on line and do that from Fredricton. The current format is a joke and that’s not funny.
Here again we see more evidence of the continuing destruction of democracy in our municipal governmental system.
When we were forced to become the new amalgamated Town of Tantramar, with the ‘rules & regulations’ compiled by Provincial representatives and handed to municipalities as a ‘fait accompli’, there were a good many of us who sadly predicted exactly what we now see unrolling – and unravelling.
The Province is continuing to tighten its grip on local governments, with these ‘new rules’ we are told must be followed. However, we have seen in some other municipalities that the Mayor and Councilors have ‘tailored’ those rules, to make the processes work better for them.
It’s time for our local elected officials to take a really good look at just how they might make changes of their own. To just accept such ‘provided rules’ implies agreement.
Rather than ‘more collaboration with the public’, which is what our local candidates purported to support in their election campaigns, we find that these ‘new rules’ simply do not allow for that to actually happen. The elimination of productive question periods, and the severe time limitations for public presentations, both serve to remove any opportunity for involvement by residents of our new municipality.
Gone are the question periods at the Regular Council meetings, where residents could ask questions at the beginning of the meeting – about anything they were concerned about, and also at the end of the meeting – to clarify points raised during the meeting. What’s happening is that some topics are quickly rushed through with just a bare minimum of discussion by Council and no input at all from the public.
The only benefit I can see to removing these question periods is to shorten the length of the Town Council meetings. This ‘gain in efficiency’ might look good on a corporate business report, but managing our Town is not the same as managing a business. Even though a municipality is ‘Incorporated’, it does not mean that we have become a ‘Corporation’ in the business sense. Those are two very different things, but it seems the meanings have become confused.
Our elected officials are there to look after the best interests of all citizens in our Town. In a democracy, every one of those citizens has a voice, and an interest in everything that goes on in the municipality. Under the current guidance of the Province, the direction in which our new council seems to be headed is anything but “Democratic”.
While this is not a ‘new’ problem, we had all hoped to see some improvements as a result of this major overhaul of the Municipal Government process. We were led to believe by Minister Daniel Allain that the system would improve. Those running for Municipal office agreed that positive changes needed to be made. We had therefore looked forward to more transparency in government, as well as wider opportunities for citizens to be involved in the governing process.
Sadly, we seem to be heading in the wrong direction.
Well said, Sharon.
The council works for us, the people of Tantramar, NOT for the Province. If the province wants to limit what happens in our town, well… it can’t. The more this ‘change’ keeps being forced on us, the more it looks like those who were elected to represent US have rolled over to the Bullies in Fredericton.
Well said, Virgil and Sharon. This Council is acting more like a “service providing corporation” than a democratic government. This has long been a tension in Canada and we are seeing the wrong model adopted here.
Very good analysis of the situation Sharon. As you said, greater transparency and accountability (not less) was the promise of many of the candidates running for Tantramar Town Council. In particular, Andrew Black, in a telephone conversation during the election campaign, promised that he took those issues very seriously. He also stated that he had made a mistake when he supported CAO Burke’s attempt at silencing the press (in particular Bruce Wark) and that in future he would fight for more engagement with the residents of Tantramar. I was impressed that he was able to admit to past mistakes on his part and that he understood the importance of these issues. Bruce’s article on the latest attempts at secrecy in our town government and lack of engagement with members of the public now seems to bring to question the sincerity of Andrew’s statements during the election campaign.
In fairness to our mayor and council though, they are operating under regulations imposed on them by our provincial government, so the man from Irving (Mr. Higgs) bears the majority of the blame for this attack on the democratic process. Perhaps if Andrew is indeed sincere about the need for more transparency and accountability, he can, in his role as President of the UMNB, encourage other municipalities to fight against the provincial government’s policies that weaken our democracy.
You said it better citizen Hicks than I an old fading activist could put together.
I’ve never seen anything described as a “provincial bylaw” before. I’d always understood bylaws to be municipal, passed by councils. Is this actually a regulation or amendment to the Local Governance Act, or is there another type of provincial rule called a “provincial bylaw”? Is there a URL with the official wording of this 5 minutes rule?
Comment from Bruce Wark: Thanks for this comment Jon. I’ve added a more detailed explanation at both the beginning and end of my story.
Thanks, Bruce. It’s indicative of this government’s hostility to public participation and transparency. We should remember that they backtracked on French immersion after public outrage. If the public applies similar pressure to unshackle local government, maybe we’ll see changes before the next election. Or after.
Comment from Bruce Wark: I see things a bit differently. I think the province was providing a standardized set of bylaws to facilitate municipal reform. Local councils are free to pass their own bylaws and amend their agendas to allow more public participation. So far, Tantramar seems to be going along with the restrictive provincial rules.
If the town is free to change any of the minister’s imposed bylaws then you’re right, it isn’t a problem. Or at least the problem is in our council rather than in Fredericton.
Very pertinent observations on how the Council is not working for us, the people. All of us are aware of the insidious global rise of authoritarianism and the shrinking of democracy. To see the muzzling of individuals at the municipal level is very scary. The Council belongs to us. Let’s take it back!
I agree Susan! Way to try and muzzle us!
I am kind of with Virgil, let’s shut it all down. Let the regional district manage it all from Fredericton as it is basically what is happening anyway. The wards can have their reps can report to them directly. That way we can turn the municipal building into an affordable housing complex, which would prove more useful to the public at this point.:-)
Thank you Bruce for the clarification on how the province instituted guidelines versus the choices on how Mayor and Council can bring forth change for Tantramar. Perhaps the Mayor’s Chief of Staff can bring this along? And his voting bloc?