Councillor derails appointments to Tantramar Climate Change Advisory Committee

Councillor Matt Estabrooks reads statement objecting to appointment of replacement members to the CCAC

Citing his concerns over potential conflicts of interest, Tantramar Councillor Matt Estabrooks blocked the appointment of his Ward 4 election opponent Sabine Dietz last night to the town’s Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC).

“I would suggest that appointed members of the CCAC not be individuals who make a living working in the areas of climate change adaptation and mitigation for their own protection as well as ours,” Estabrooks told council.

He was speaking against a motion that would have appointed Dietz to the advisory committee, along with Mt. A. environmental studies student Mikko McGregor Corson and retired meteorologist Dan Matthews of Dorchester.

They had been recommended to replace three members of the CCAC who recently resigned.

Estabrooks objected that the three were being appointed to full terms on the committee — McGregor Corson for two years, Dietz and Matthews for three — while the bylaw governing the CCAC says appointees replacing a member who resigns should serve the remainder of the term of the member they’re replacing.

“I feel this motion must be rewritten to identify the correct appointment dates and term lengths for the proposed replacement members,” Estabrooks said.

No public call for committee replacements

Estabrooks said that he’d been approached “by some very environmentally conscious and concerned constituents” who were disappointed that the three replacements had been chosen without any public call for expressions of interest.

“While researching this for them, I discovered that there is not a recruitment process in our current CCAC terms of reference, but I would recommend that one be added upon the next review,” Estabrooks added.

“I am asking to have the process that was used to identify these current recommended committee members — replacement members — documented in writing to council so that we have transparency with the current process and for our record going forward,” he said.

Conflict of interest

Estabrooks’ concerns over potential conflicts of interest seemed to be aimed directly at Dietz, the former Sackville councillor who ran against him unsuccessfully last fall in Tantramar’s Ward 4.

Dietz holds a PhD in biology and has worked for 30 years in the environmental field as a scientist for Parks Canada, a climate change consultant and for a variety of non-governmental organizations on conservation issues, endangered species and climate change adaptation.

She is currently executive director of ClimAtlantic, a regional organization that provides information to help people deal with the effects of climate change. It started in 2021 with funding from the federal government.

Estabrooks told council he believes anyone earning a pay cheque in the “environmental and climate change adaptation and mitigation sector” should not be appointed to the advisory committee because of potential or perceived conflicts of interest:

What if Tantramar had a council-appointed Road Paving Advisory Committee and accepted recommendations from them while some of those council-approved committee members were employees of either Costin Paving or Miller Industries or somebody? Would that be an OK situation or would that be a potential conflict of interest?

I realize it seems a blatantly simple example, but it effectively illustrates just where my concern lies with some of the current CCAC members and some of the new recommended members. Yes, in my example, both companies are private corporations, which is different from non-profit groups, but the fact remains that the individuals still draw pay cheques from the organization they work for, non-profit based or not. Conflict of interest policy does apply to non-profit employees and organizations.

If council appoints people to this committee and any of their recommendations to council are accepted ending up benefiting their partner businesses or the organizations they directly work for, meaning we approve spending taxpayers’ money for their projects, I do not see how that would be not considered a conflict of interest situation.

In a split 6-2 vote, with Councillors Michael Tower and Josh Goguen voting no, council approved sending the recommended appointments back to staff “for additional research and recommendations.”

CCAC chair responds

CCAC Chair Richard Elliot reporting to council on May 23rd

Richard Elliot, who recommended the three replacement appointees to council at its meeting on May 23rd, said today that the advisory committee follows the same conflict of interest rules that apply to members of Tantramar Town Council.

He said that as committee chair, he begins each meeting by asking for any declarations of conflict, just as Mayor Black does at the start of each council meeting.

The official terms of reference governing the advisory committee state that it should have a maximum of 12 members including a liaison councillor (currently Josh Goguen).

“In addition, up to ten (10) members may be appointed to represent the community at large, and interested community-based organizations such as local conservation and environmental groups, community stakeholders, business community [and] a minimum of one (1) student.”

To read the full text of Councillor Estabrooks’ statement including his motion and who voted for and against it, click here.

To read a report on the clash between Estabrooks and Dietz last fall over an EV charger in downtown Sackville, click here.

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6 Responses to Councillor derails appointments to Tantramar Climate Change Advisory Committee

  1. Dustin Chandler says:

    Thank you Matt Estabrooks! Finally! It is so refreshing to see a Councillor actually call out when the town is not following proper process and/or when there is a potential conflict of interest. Can you imagine how much more this town would have prospered by now if it were led by something other than favoritism, off the record agreements, conflicts of interest, ignorance of proper process and being insular? Great job Matt. But, we should have expected this from the Mayor as the leader. Hopefully we see better work done by the current council compared to previous ones.

  2. Chris Harborne says:

    Reading the recommended composition in the terms of references leads me to believe that Matt didn’t actually read them before making this move. It states straight up that these are candidates it wants in the group. The group only makes recommendations and has no ability to disperse funds, which he seems to claim it can in his statement. I think he’s right it should have gone to open submission for candidates, but other pieces of the statement seem like it might be reaching…

  3. Geoff Martin says:

    Good points, Chris. I find myself with numerous reactions to this. I can see where the Town should call for interested volunteers, as the provincial government does. However, this transpired in a way that reflects poorly on both staff and council. With a new council, didn’t town staff inform the council of the process for appointment some time ago? If so, did no one raise this issue then? Second, Councillor Estabrooks is presenting a ludicrous definition of conflict of interest, especially for a non-decision-making body. If you are interested and informed you are inherently in a conflict? What, only the ignorant and uninterested are qualified? A council can’t advocate weak conflict of interest rules for itself and strong ones for volunteers. Finally, it seems like Tantramar has inherited Sackville’s disrespect for its volunteers (thinking about the Heritage Board fiasco). Why let your name stand if you are going to be dragged over the coals in public?

  4. IndieMediaEastcoast Canada says:

    I’d recommend they get off the electric car sideshow..
    its a really ill informed stance this town has taken.
    But then again.. there’s not much the management does that I DO APPROVE of ..
    I’d be the last voice they’d want on their committee or roundtables or councils.. thanks for the reporting Bruce, much appreciate your hard work getting the details out.
    If you see the Bruce Wark little signs dotted around town, they’re mine

    • Percy Best says:

      I hope Bruce has lots of funds available for the By-Law infraction fines. Please Sally, don’t keep putting those stickers on our town crosswalk signs anymore.

      • IndieMediaEastcoast Canada says:

        Aww. Percy… you really have no clue.. do you?
        They are not STICKERS they are notes for my friends around town.. do you have any friends around town?

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