Sign wars: Liberals and Greens compete for votes on Sackville hospital issue

Megan Mitton holding up a yellow sign to counter the red Liberal one. Image from

“Save our hospital. Vote Liberal.” “Elect Megan Mitton. WE already did!”

In the final days of the provincial election campaign, the Liberal and Green candidates have launched a sign war near the TransCanada Highway over the future of the Sackville Memorial Hospital.

The red Liberal sign echoes a message that leader Kevin Vickers brought to town earlier in the campaign when he warned voters that re-electing Green candidate Megan Mitton would threaten the hospital’s future.

“I’m telling you, if you vote Green, you are indirectly voting for the Conservative government and you’re voting to lose your hospital,” Vickers said.

Green leader David Coon in Sackville today

During a campaign stop today in Sackville, Green leader David Coon pointed to his party’s success in getting Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs to cancel cuts to hospital services in six rural communities.

“Thanks to the good work of the communities involved and working with their MLAs like Megan Mitton in Memramcook-Tantramar here, they got Higgs to push pause,” Coon said, adding that in discussions about the provincial budget, Green MLAs persuaded the premier to cancel the cuts permanently.

“He came and spoke directly to Megan Mitton and Kevin Arseneau and said ‘you have my word,'” Coon said, “and then he turned around and went into the the legislative assembly and publicly gave his commitment that they would not be bringing back those proposed changes to rural hospitals.”

Don’t take hospital for granted

However, during a telephone interview today, local Liberal candidate Maxime Bourgeois. expressed skepticism about Higgs’s promise.

“I don’t think that we can take the fact that we still have the hospitals for granted,” he said.

“I think the reforms were postponed, but we are still at risk especially if Higgs gets back into office,” Bourgeois said, adding that the only way to remove the premier would be to elect a Liberal government.

Bourgeois used an additional argument on the hospital issue during the candidates’ debate Wednesday night at Sackville Town Hall.

He said that Green leader David Coon accused Higgs of having a hidden agenda on health reform during a leaders debate on Rogers TV, but then was quoted in a recent article in the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal as saying that in their 2018 election platforms, the Greens and Conservatives shared much common ground on health care.

“With the Conservatives there was considerable common ground, quite a wide scope among our platforms around restructuring and reforming health care,” the newspaper quoted Coon as saying.

Maxime Bourgeois in Sackville’s Bill Johnstone Park

However, the article went to say that Coon did not support cuts to rural hospitals — a point that Coon repeated today in Sackville as he made it clear once again that Greens had vigorously opposed the hospital cuts.

Bourgeois suggested during the candidates debate, however, that the Green leader’s conflicting statements showed he couldn’t be trusted to defend health care.

“I think it’s fairly scary to see that David Coon is actually considering working with the Conservative government,” he said. “I truly believe that I am the best choice just because, well, one of the reasons is that we don’t want Higgs to cut our health care.”

Meantime, Green organizers are complaining that the Liberals conveyed a similar message in campaign phone calls to at least three Green supporters including Linda Pearse, a music professor at Mt. A. who voted Green for the first time in 2018.

Pearse says a man who identified himself as working for the Bourgeois campaign phoned her Wednesday evening. When she said she planned to vote Green, he referred to the newspaper article and said Coon was aligning himself with Higgs and would support closing hospitals.

“He said he had voted Green himself, but was now voting Liberal,” Pearse said, adding that the caller told her that Megan Mitton was so taken aback by Coon’s comments that she hadn’t responded to them publicly.

“I was surprised at that,” Pearse said, adding she didn’t believe the caller and still plans to vote Green.

“Megan is good at standing up,” she said. “It’s a real shame to see this kind of thing here; it’s something I would expect to see in the States.”

Dylan Wooley-Berry, who is in charge of voter contact and outreach for the Bourgeois campaign, says volunteers were not told to refer to the article in the Telegraph-Journal.

“To be clear, no volunteers have ever been instructed to bring up that article,” he said during a telephone interview.

“All our volunteers are given a call script; they are told that they can change the script to make themselves more comfortable on the phone, so they can speak in their own voice to voters because it sounds more authentic,” Wooley-Berry said.

“So, if it is true that a volunteer did in fact, bring up the article, it was not by direction of the campaign,” he added.

“When I heard that people within our community were alleging we had some sort of organized effort to lie about what David Coon had said in any article, I felt sick,” he said.

“That’s not the type of campaign we’re running.”

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged | 4 Comments

Sackville town council to consider small-scale slaughterhouse in Industrial Park, but expert doubts the project will work

Photo displayed during online council meeting shows the proposed abattoir would occupy half of the building at 72 Crescent St. in the Sackville Industrial Park

A local expert in the meat processing business has expressed doubts that a slaughterhouse will ever be able to operate in the Sackville Industrial Park.

Jay Boudreau, general manager of Boudreau Meat Market in Memramcook which includes a farm and an abattoir, says strict health and safety regulations would make it almost economically impossible to set up a slaughterhouse there.

“They have a long road ahead, I can guarantee you that,” Boudreau said during a telephone interview.

“I’m going to encourage them,” he added. “I don’t mind having another abattoir down here, but there’s a lot more to this than people think.”

Boudreau says the 4th generation farm and abattoir he manages for his father Guy processes an average of about 50 cattle a week as well as other animals including pigs, lambs and turkeys.

During Monday’s online council meeting, town planner Lori Bickford said someone she didn’t identify has applied to set up a slaughterhouse, which would include a meat processing facility, at 72 Crescent Street.

A document released later shows that the lot on Crescent Street is owned by Richard Baughan and the person proposing to operate the facility is Chris Pierce, a local cattle farmer.

In a telephone interview, Baughan said the town’s description of the facility as an abattoir or slaughterhouse gives a misleading impression.

He added that it would be more like a small meat processing plant, although one or two cattle would be killed there each day.

“It’s a small-scale operation for local farmers,” Baughan said. “It’s more of a meat shop and we wouldn’t be selling to the Super Store or anything like that.”

In an interview with CHMA’s Erica Butler, Chris Pierce said the plan is to have a small storefront butcher shop and abattoir where customers could buy locally raised meat.

“There’s a lot of farms around Sackville,” Pierce told CHMA news, “that this spring during COVID, we had a hard time getting animals processed. So that’s I guess what really made me want to do this.”

“We’re still in the early stages here,” Pierce is quoted as saying. “I have to get the town on board.”

He did not say exactly how many cattle he plans to slaughter and process, but did tell CHMA that his eventual goal would be to handle the same number as the Boudreau abattoir in Memramcook.

Zoning changes

The project would require changes to Sackville’s municipal plan and zoning bylaws.

Town planner Lori Bickford at an earlier council meeting

“One of the challenges that we have with abattoirs and slaughterhouses is that, you know, it’s generally a more sensitive, and what you would call, a more intensive use of land,” Bickford said.

She recommended that, if the project were to go ahead, it should be zoned for intensive use with a specific development agreement that would give the town more control.

“Some examples of things that could be included within that development agreement would be no penning of animals outside the facility,” she said.

She added that the agreement could also contain provisions for controlling smells and ensuring that animals are unloaded at the rear of the building.

Bickford gave few other details about the proposed slaughterhouse and has not responded to phone calls or an e-mail from Warktimes.

View of the building from Fleet St. Red lines show portion to be used as abattoir

During Monday’s meeting, Councillor Bill Evans sounded enthusiastic.

“I want the record to show that Sackville is open for business,” he said. “This is a legitimate business. It’s an important business. I know people in the beef-producing business and getting animals butchered is a challenge,” he added.

“So I think this is a great initiative. And I really like the flexibility of the development agreement that will make sure that it’s done in a way that is satisfactory to us,” he said.

Later, during a telephone interview, Evans said he didn’t know many more details about the proposed slaughterhouse other than the information given during the council meeting.

He said he favours passing resolutions that will likely be introduced at council’s meeting next week that would lead to a public presentation and a public hearing before any changes would be made to the municipal plan or zoning bylaws.

Project won’t work

Meantime, Jay Boudreau wonders how a small slaughterhouse in the Industrial Park could operate economically when animal wastes would need to be trucked away for disposal.

“The heads and the guts, they can’t bury that on their land,” he says referring to strict health and safety regulations that govern cattle abattoirs to prevent BSE, also known as mad cow disease, from entering the human food chain.

“You can’t have blood and stuff from the slaughterhouse going into the town’s sewer system; they’ll need to put a filter underground with a pump and a tank,” he says, adding that trucking cattle wastes is expensive.

Boudreau says if he were setting this abattoir up, he’d locate it a lot farther away from the town.

He says that putting a slaughterhouse so close to town could generate local opposition.

“Especially nowadays with [concerns about] animal cruelty and the vegans and the tree huggers,” he says, “slaughtering animals is not something that the next generation is going to endorse.”

To view the report on the project from town planner Lori Bickford, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Main candidates reveal strategies during election forum at Sackville Town Hall

Forum moderator Mario Levesque

The three main candidates in Memramcook-Tantramar took part in a lively 90 minute forum last night that showed their varying strategies for wooing voters in the September 14 provincial election.

Green candidate Megan Mitton emphasized her experience speaking up for the riding on a wide variety of issues in the legislature, while Liberal Maxime Bourgeois and Progressive Conservative Carole Duguay presented themselves as best able to fight to protect local interests including the Sackville Memorial Hospital and the Memramcook Institute.

The bilingual candidates forum, organized by the Mount Allison Students’ Union (MASU), was conducted by Mario Levesque, head of the Mt. A politics and international relations department and was broadcast live by the campus/community station CHMA as well as on Facebook.

Former People’s Alliance candidate Heather Collins declined to participate and MASU did not invite Independent candidate Jefferson George Wright to take part because he is not running on behalf of a registered political party.

The debate was held without a live audience at Sackville Town Hall and before it began, MASU President Jonathan Ferguson explained that to ensure clear sound, Mayor Higham had granted special permission so that the moderator and candidates would not have to wear the masks that are now required in all town buildings.

Candidate strategies

Green candidate Megan Mitton

“I have proven experience as an MLA standing up in the legislature, working in a minority government, working to serve constituents across the riding,” Mitton declared in her opening statement.

“I am an experienced, proven and effective Green MLA and that is better than having a backbencher and there are no Green backbenchers,” she said, suggesting that if elected, either of her Liberal or PC opponents would end up sitting on the sidelines as a rookie MLA.

Liberal Maxime Bourgeois countered Mitton’s strategy during a discussion about cuts to Sackville hospital services that Conservative Premier Higgs first supported before cancelling them in February.

Bourgeois said the Liberals are firmly against cuts to rural hospitals, then added that Green leader David Coon had been quoted that morning in the Irving-owned Telegraph-Journal as saying he saw a lot of similarities in the Green and Conservative platforms.

“So, I think it’s fairly scary to see that David Coon is actually considering working with the Conservative government,” Bourgeois said. “I truly believe that I am the best choice just because, well, one of the reasons is that we don’t want Higgs to cut our health care.”

PC Candidate Carole Duguay

PC candidate Carole Duguay said Higgs has admitted he made a mistake in supporting cuts to hospital services that the regional health authorities had recommended and that the previous Liberal government had tried to implement.

She added that Higgs had promised to consult citizens before making any changes.

Duguay suggested that if she is elected, she would have influence with Higgs as premier.

“I am there to represent the citizens and therefore, I will be the voice with the premier,” she said, suggesting that if the government were to try to make any changes, she would be in a position to speak up.

“I will make sure to remind him of the promise he made to have consultations,” she said.

When asked by moderator Mario Levesque if she would vote against her own party on the issue, Duguay replied, “I would definitely stand with the citizens of Sackville.”

Mitton responded that Duguay wouldn’t likely be able to vote against her own party because of the voting discipline the older parties impose.

“We’re looking at likely Progressive Conservatives able to form a government, but no one here is going to be at the cabinet table,” Mitton said.

“We may see though a minority government in which the Greens could hold the balance of power and responsibility,” she said, adding that’s what the Green leader meant by working with a PC government.

“What is the other option to go back to the polls again, to not have a government be formed?” she asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

Liberal candidate Maxime Bourgeois

The Liberal candidate raised Green collaboration with the Conservative government again during a discussion about climate change.

Bourgeois noted that Mitton had called for urgent action on climate change.

“I think it’s a bit ironic,” he said, “Megan Mitton saying that it’s an urgent action where the Green party has voted for the Conservative budget on multiple times.”

“That’s not true,” Mitton interjected as Bourgeois went on to say that the Liberals favour many actions on climate change including banning glyphosate spraying on crown land and eliminating single-use plastics.

After Mitton renewed her call for action including rebuilding the economy in the pandemic so that our economic  system no longer contributes to climate change, Bourgeois weighed in again.

“If it’s an urgent matter and we still need to address it, I’m wondering why the Green party, I think seven out of eight times voted for the budget,” he said.

“I’m not sure what he is talking about,” Mitton responded. “I did not vote in support of the government’s budget,” she said, acknowledging that she had abstained as did every Liberal MLA. (Mitton’s Green colleague Kevin Arseneau also abstained while leader David Coon joined the People’s Alliance and government MLAs in voting for the budget.)

“The reasons the Liberals abstained,” Bourgeois said, “is that we wanted to be sure that the government would stay in power because of the pandemic.”

PC Carole Duguay was quick to respond.

“Both the Liberals and the Greens have abstained,” Duguay said.

“As a representative, I am elected to be your voice, not to abstain and be silent. I believe both parties should have voted either way, it’s a democracy and we need to vote, we can’t just abstain,” she concluded.

To watch the debate on Facebook, click here.

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged , | 1 Comment

People’s Alliance drops Heather Collins as its candidate in Memramcook-Tantramar

A big gap appears on the People’s Alliance online list of candidates after the New Brunswick party abruptly dropped Memramcook-Tantramar hopeful Heather Collins from its election roster when CBC discovered she had complained in 2019 Twitter posts about the number of Muslim immigrants coming to Canada.

Yesterday, an alert Warktimes reader pointed out that Collins had been campaigning in Memramcook-Tantramar with John Snave who appears to be the identical twin of John Evans, a candidate for the far-rightNational Citizens Alliance in the 2019 federal election.

John Evans 3:09 PM · Sep 29, 2019·Twitter for iPhone

In the 2018 New Brunswick election, Collins, who was running then for the People’s Alliance in Riverview, apologized for advising high school students to “vape away.”

Global News quoted her as saying, “I do apologize…I don’t advocate for any child to smoke.”

Heather Collins, one day ago in a Facebook message to supporters

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Small nuclear reactors: Answer to energy needs & climate change or costly & dangerous turn in the wrong direction?

Both PC Premier Blaine Higgs and New Brunswick Liberal leader Kevin Vickers are touting the benefits of small modular nuclear reactors as they stump the province during the 2020 election campaign.

The leaders of the province’s big political parties see the potential for tens of thousands of jobs in the development of an electricity-producing technology that does not generate the greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels.

In sharp contrast, Green leader David Coon warns that developing smaller nuclear reactors would cost buckets of taxpayers’ money, threaten public safety and divert resources away from the immediate investments in renewable energy that are needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.

So, what’s behind this issue and how are the party leaders arguing their positions?

Higgs builds on Liberal investment

Last December, Premier Higgs signed a memorandum of understanding with the premiers of Ontario and Saskatchewan pledging to collaborate on the development of small modular nuclear reactors.

During a year-end interview with the Canadian Press news agency, Higgs was quoted as saying that the smaller reactors could solve the problem of generating electricity without contributing to climate change.

Blaine Higgs (Warktimes file photo)

“This can be an absolute solution for the massive amount of energy that is needed, with zero emissions,” CP reported him as saying.

A couple of months earlier, PC Energy Minister Mike Holland was quoted in the Irving papers as saying that the development of smaller nuclear reactors could lead to the creation of an industry employing more people in New Brunswick than forestry.

And, in the current election campaign, the PCs are promising to continue developing smaller nuclear technologies.

Higgs is following in the footsteps of the former Liberal government which invested $10 million in 2018 to help the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation develop a “nuclear research cluster” in the province.

As the CBC’s Jacques Poitras reported, the New Brunswick Energy Solutions Corporation “has no website, no legislation to authorize its creation and no dedicated employees.” But it did invest the $10 million it got from the Gallant Liberals in two companies, ARC Nuclear and Moltex Energy, which set up offices in Saint John.

Vickers: small nuclear can save the world

Liberal leader Kevin Vickers speaking to reporters in Sackville on Friday

During his two campaign visits to Sackville, Liberal leader Kevin Vickers spoke enthusiastically about the potential for smaller nuclear reactors to generate thousands of jobs while saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

“There’s a new opportunity here in New Brunswick, a once-in-a-generation opportunity, an opportunity where New Brunswick could save the world from climate change,” Vickers told a group of supporters gathered on August 27 near the Sackville Memorial Hospital.

The Liberal leader referred to the companies in Saint John that are developing smaller nuclear reactors.

“These are safe reactors that are sodium cooled, they can sit on the back of a tractor trailer and one can keep a major city going for five years,” Vickers said, adding that the reactors produce very little waste and the waste that they do produce can be reused to feed them.

“This could bring 10,000 direct jobs to our province and 40,000 indirect jobs,” he said. “We’ve got to harness this and again, believe in ourselves and it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity and an opportunity for New Brunswick to save the world from climate change.”

Vickers was equally enthusiastic about the potential for smaller nuclear reactors to replace electricity generated by burning fossil fuels when he visited Sackville again last Friday.

“Right now, every month in countries like India and China, there are coal-fired generation stations coming on board,” he said. “If this doesn’t stop, the future of our children for this climate is really in danger.”

Invest in renewables Coon urges

Green leader David Coon in Memramcook on Friday

But New Brunswick’s Green Party leader strongly disagrees with his Liberal and PC opponents.

“We’ve had experience with nuclear power in this province [and] it didn’t work out so well,” David Coon told reporters in Memramcook on Friday.

“We’ve got a huge reservoir of highly radioactive toxic waste down on the shores of the Bay of Fundy,” he said referring to the wastes produced by the Point Lepreau nuclear station.

“NB Power is carrying a massive debt which is driving our power costs up every year,” he added, “because of the incredible cost of repairing and renovating Point Lepreau and managing the waste.”

The Green leader pointed out that so far, smaller modular nuclear reactors are just design drawings on a computer.

“To go farther, they’re going to require buckets of taxpayer’s money,” Coon said.

“It’s going to cost us a fortune to to move the idea from the laptops onto a workbench and a lab,” he said, “for a technology that is going to take years to develop, that is not clean, that produces highly radioactive waste that is fuelled by plutonium creating huge security concerns.”

Coon said that the further development of renewable sources of energy should be a priority because of the climate emergency we’re facing.

“Wind energy is the cheapest form of new electricity that’s available now and New Brunswick is blessed with tremendous resources of wind, of solar energy, of materials from our fish plants, from our mills and from our food plants that, like in the Nordic countries, can be used to produce renewable natural gas…and biodiesel,” he said.

“We’re committed to making the same thing happen here over the next 15 years,” Coon said.

“We’ve got the resources, we’ve got the creativity, we’ve got the people, we’ve got businesses around this province who are ready to grow dramatically as soon as there are supportive policies in place that knock down the barriers in legislation that prevent them from delivering that electricity and that fuel to New Brunswick,” Coon concluded.

Further reading

For a comprehensive report on smaller modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) published on the British Broadcasting Corporation website, click here.

To read about the federal government’s action plan for the development of SMR technology, click here.

To read counter-arguments from the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick, click here.

Posted in Environment, New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged , | 5 Comments

In uncertain COVID-19 summer election, lack of Mt. A. campus voting may not change much

“Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.” —Phaedrus

On that sunny October day in 2018 when a New Brunswick judge confirmed Megan Mitton’s 11-vote victory in Memramcook-Tantramar over her main rival Bernard LeBlanc, it was widely assumed that on-campus voting at Mt. A. was a key factor in the Green candidate’s narrow win over her Liberal opponent.

After all, David Suzuki himself — chosen by CBC viewers in 2004 as the Greatest Living Canadian — had urged students to vote for Mitton during his speech to a packed house at the university library.

But as that canny Roman writer Phaedrus once quipped, “Things ain’t always what they seem.”

A recent one-sentence e-mail to Warktimes from Memramcook-Tantramar Returning Officer William Hicks reads: “The 2018 Campus vote was 552 votes cast as shown under line P16 RO-BDS.”

Hicks was referring to a voting results table on page 112 of the Chief Electoral Officer’s report.

Line P16 RO-BDS shows that Mitton did indeed receive more campus votes than her main opponent. But her total of 233 was only 42 more than the 191 Bernard LeBlanc received. Etienne Gaudet of the PCs got 88 votes, while Hélène Boudreau of the NDP received 40.

To view the Elections NB table, click here.

In this election, Elections NB is not conducting on-campus polling, a decision that could hurt Mitton, but possibly not by as much as it would seem. The 2018 results suggest that campus Liberals were quietly effective in getting out their vote.

As I reported in 2018, a tally of results elsewhere in the riding showed that the predominantly French-speaking areas in the 12 polls in and around Memramcook overwhelmingly supported Bernard LeBlanc who received 1,852 votes to Mitton’s 638.

The results were reversed in the predominantly English-speaking town of Sackville’s 12 polls where Mitton received 1,583 votes to LeBlanc’s 686.

COVID-19 effects?

It’s seems likely — though not certain — that the lack of polling stations on university campuses as well as in long-term care homes could result in lower voter turnout.

And, the short 28-day summer campaign in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic may also lead to fewer voters getting out to the polls.

Mt. A. Politics Professor Geoff Martin

But Mount Allison Politics Professor Geoff Martin says the common assumption that a low turnout favours the party in power won’t necessarily hold true in this election.

“A lower voter turnout tends to mean that it’s partisans who are turning out and that means Conservatives and Liberals and other dyed-in-the-wool partisans of the other political parties,” he says.

“Right now there’s no party in New Brunswick that can really say ‘we are the party of the majority, we are a majority movement’ in the way that say, Louis Robichaud could say in the 1960s or Richard Hatfield could say in the 1970s and Frank McKenna could say in 1987,” Martin adds.

“It’s a very fractious, divided partisan environment,” he says, “so I don’t think that low voter turnout necessarily favours the government because it’s not really all that big a political movement in terms of the population that would pledge allegiance to the PCs or to the Liberals for that matter.”

Martin predicts the Conservatives will have a tough time in Memramcook-Tantramar partly because of their weak support among Francophone voters both here and across the province.

“In some ways, we probably pay a little too much attention to the riding-by-riding competition and not enough concern for the big province-wide competition,” he says adding that there’s always the possibility of support surging in a wave one way or another.

“Most of our elections historically are determined by a wave, a wave in favour of Frank McKenna, in favour of Bernard Lord or in favour of Brian Gallant,” Martin says.

“I’m not sure that the vote in this area is going to be all that much different than the way the vote shakes out province-wide. In other words, what do Francophones and what do Anglophones province-wide do in terms of partisan preferences,” he adds.

“This riding may be a microcosm of New Brunswick in more ways than one in the sense that the local vote may shake out similar to the province-wide vote.”

Posted in Mount Allison University, New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged | 1 Comment

Setting the record straight: Why PA candidate refused to be interviewed

PA candidate Heather Collins

The People’s Alliance candidate in Memramcook-Tantramar has given her version of events about why she declined to be interviewed as part of Warktimes election coverage.

Heather Collins was responding to my post to the Facebook group Sackville NB Community Concerns explaining why I would not be interviewing her for an election story.

“I’m sorry but I have to correct this message,” Collins wrote. “I actually told you I wasn’t available because I’m dealing with a house fire we had and lost our home and my husband had a heart attack and I’ve been taking back and forth to Saint John hospital for appointments and testing. Also going through heart attack recovery classes. Never did I say I was to busy to do an interview. Just wasn’t focused enough at that time.”

However, a transcript of our exchanges on Facebook Messenger beginning on Saturday August 29th tells a different story.

It shows that Collins appeared to agree to a telephone interview on Sunday, August 30, but then after receiving the e-mailed list of questions she had asked for, backed away from one: “Bruce there is no way I will be able to do an interview today as I’m away visiting family and wont be home till morning,” she wrote.

I responded a few minutes later: “When would you be able to do one? I’m tied up on Monday. Best time for me would be Tuesday morning.”

Collins responded within 15 minutes: “Tues I have to take my husband to Saint John for doctors appointments. Would Wednesday work for you?”

“Sure Wednesday morning would be good for me. Say 10 a.m.?” I responded.

Then, more than 24-hours later Collins sent this message:

“Bruce I’m not going to be available to do this interview with you as I’m tied up with a lot of things around here with my husband and as well we lost our home to a fire back in may and still trying to get everything finalized with that. And then trying to get out and meet people in the riding is a big thing as well. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“That’s too bad Heather. I was looking forward to talking with you. And, sorry to hear about the fire. Please let me know if you change your mind.”

“Ok no worries Bruce, just have a lot on my plate right now and don’t want to get everything twisted. Our platform is very interesting and I will work very hard at getting the voices of the constituents heard in the legislature in Frederiction. That’s a promise to everyone.”

To read a transcript of our Facebook exchanges as well as the list of questions I sent Collins, click here.

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged | 8 Comments

Memramcook mayor announces new plan to stop sale of historic site as he challenges political candidates to defend it

Memramcook Mayor Michel Gaudet announcing plans for private, bilingual high school

The Mayor of Memramcook has launched a two-pronged attack against the Higgs government’s rumoured plan to sell one of the village’s most historic buildings to a private buyer.

During a public meeting today, Michel Gaudet called on the provincial government to give his village first right of refusal in any potential sale of the Memramcook Institute, site of the first Acadian university and a centre of French-Canadian history and culture.

Gaudet also revealed plans to use part of the Institute and its extensive grounds as the site of a privately run, bilingual high school that could serve 350-400 Canadian and international students.

“We have been working on this for about a year,” Gaudet said, adding that the provincial government is fully aware of the project.

“Today, the big thing is to say that the announcement is two-fold,” the mayor said.

“One, we strongly oppose the sale of the Memramcook Institute and that we want first right of refusal if there is an offer, and two, is the announcement that we are working on this project for a bilingual, private school in the community.”

Memramcook Mayor Michel Gaudet

Gaudet bristled at suggestions from Progressive Conservative candidate Carole Duguay that the village was reacting to rumours based on fear in the midst of a provincial election campaign.

“If you were in my shoes and sitting here today and the possibility of losing the Memramcook Institute forever,” the mayor replied, “I would be very, very, very disappointed that you would not do the same thing.”

Gaudet pointed to the three candidates in the room, Duguay of the PCs, Maxime Bourgeois of the Liberals and Megan Mitton of the Green Party and called on them to defend the Institute and oppose its sale to a private buyer.

“We need to do what’s right for Memramcook and anybody that knows Memramcook or is from Memramcook knows the history behind the Memramcook Institute,” he said.

Duguay responded that, as owner of the Institute, the provincial government will have to evaluate all potential buyers to see which proposal is best. She urged the village to submit its plan and promised that if she’s elected she would be in a position to make sure it’s evaluated fairly.

Political support

After the meeting, both Bourgeois and Mitton expressed support for the idea of a bilingual private school.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Bourgeois said, “and most importantly it’s a project that’s coming from the municipality, it’s a project that’s coming from the community.”

“I agree with the key points that the Mayor of Memramcook made,” Mitton said, “that the building should not be sold and that the community needs to have a say and be able to use part of the space.”

She was referring to the village’s previous proposal to set up a community centre in the building.

(Mayor Gaudet made it clear today that the village still wants space for the community centre, preservation of the Institute’s historic chapel as well as a bilingual high school.)

“It is interesting to see a proposal around continuing the legacy of education that started in  Le Collège Saint-Joseph and the Memramcook Institute be continued and carried forward and I’m hearing a lot of support around that in the community,” Mitton said.

High school

Bernard Cormier (L) and Aurel Schofield are leading the bilingual high school project

Two of the leaders behind the the private, bilingual high school outlined details of the project during today’s meeting.

Aurel Schofield, a retired Moncton doctor who served as founding dean of the medical school at the Université de Moncton, said later during an interview that he’s been working on the project for more than a year and that so far, the first half of a market or feasibility study has been completed.

“The first phase, which is the qualitative phase, has been done with focus groups in Ontario, Quebec, Maritimes and in France in both languages and the results are very interesting because there’s lots of interest out there for this type of school,” he said, adding that plans call for small classes of 15 students that follow the Canadian standards for independent schools with an advanced International Baccalaureate program.

The school, which would function as a non-profit corporation, would be funded by annual tuition fees that could range from $10,000 to $20,000 as well as business donations.

Bernard Cormier, a retired business executive who is another partner in the project, says the school could be up and running in two or three years.

“I guess the unique thing here is that it will be bilingual which you do not see anywhere in Canada,” Schofield said.

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged | 1 Comment

Memramcook-Tantramar Independent candidate woos voters with street-corner piano

Independent candidate Jefferson George Wright

Jefferson George Wright, a 38-year-old Independent candidate, says the piano on the corner of Sackville’s Bridge and Main Streets was one of the things that made him decide to run in Memramcook-Tantramar.

“Music is a gift, tones travelling through space and time is a gift,” Wright says after playing a short, jazzy piece on the piano.

“I really appreciate that Sackville has this and it afforded me the opportunity to speak with many great citizens here about issues that are important to all of us, both sonic and temporal.”

Wright, who lives in the Saint John area, says he considered running in several provincial ridings before settling on Memramcook-Tantramar.

He describes the riding as progressive and diverse because it includes such a wide range of communities including Mount Allison University, Sackville as a “Wesleyan-Presbyterian” town, “the strong, original Acadian culture within Memramcook,” and the distinctiveness of the Fort Folly First Nation, the Port Elgin area and Dorchester Penitentiary.

“I’m greatly concerned about the state of prisoners,” he says, “and what we should be doing in a progressive manner towards them.”

Although he’s running as an Independent, Wright says he’s allied with the UFO Party which he describes as a spiritual affiliation of people who believe we came from the stars.

“One of my broader goals is to help all religious people realize,” he says, “that all the religions are the same, we don’t need to be in conflict,” he adds.

“My goal is to try to convince as many religious people and spirited souls that the large corporate, techno-state agenda is against all of us spiritual people,” Wright says, adding that spiritual people could rise up and renegotiate their covenant with the Earth.

“So, UFO Party is a reminder to be rigorous and optimistic at all times,” he says. “It has no designation as a party. If anything, it’s a tribe as in, it’s free to enter, you have free conscience and voice while you’re with the UFO.”

Wright also points out that the initials UFO stood for the United Farmers of Ontario, a party that governed the province from 1919-1923 and that saw eye-to-eye with agrarian movements in western Canada as well as fishermen’s groups in the Maritimes.

“The basis of agrarian thought, especially with regards to economics and social credit, to me is very important,” Wright says. “I’d like to re-discuss how we have money.”

Wright says he’s also concerned about preserving democracy as well as shrinking the size of governments while pursuing a necessary ecological revolution.

“No Canadian disagrees that we don’t need an ecological revolution in some regard, but we can’t let the government, owned by the corporations and making up money that doesn’t exist, be the arbiter of that,” he says.

“We need some level of citizen-engaged referendum and it has to have teeth and how do we do that? That is the question I pose and the answer I think we will find as an intelligent citizenry together.”

When asked what he sees as the main election issues in Memramcook-Tantramar, Wright says:  “I will get back to you on that answer,” adding that his campaign officially begins next Monday.

He says he plans to engage voters through public speaking, consultations with citizens as well as a radio program on CFTA, 107.9 FM in Amherst.

“I am attempting to be a holistic, analogue person. I minimize my contact with the internet  at all times; I write on a typewriter,” he says.

Wright argues that advertising-driven, digital technologies such as Facebook and Twitter are making it impossible for people to hear or understand things.

“In many ways, everything has become a very loud noise and it takes our attention, but it doesn’t do anything with our intellect,” he says.

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020 | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Sackville doctor supports Green plan for more local say over hospital services

Dr. Allison Dysart comments on need for more hospital autonomy

A well-known doctor in Sackville says he agrees with the Green Party that small, rural hospitals don’t have nearly enough say in the kinds of medical services they provide.

Allison Dysart was commenting on Green Party leader David Coon’s plan to give local hospital administrators and staff more power to ensure they can provide the health services people need in their communities.

Coon also advocates establishing community health boards to replace the members of the public who currently serve on the boards of the regional health authorities.

Dysart, who is a longtime Green Party supporter, spoke on Thursday after listening to Coon outline his proposals for decentralizing hospital decision-making during a Green Party campaign stop near Sackville Memorial Hospital.

“Centralization has progressed through successive provincial governments starting in the early to mid-1990s,” Dysart said.

“The priorities and the input of small, rural communities in this province has been steadily eroded to the point where now it’s very, very small,” he added.

“If you don’t have input from small communities, you’re less likely to get decisions made that are in the best interests of small, local communities.”

Dysart was referring to plans outlined by the Horizon Health Network and initially supported by Premier Higgs to close the emergency room overnight, cancel day surgeries and convert the hospital’s acute-care beds into beds for patients awaiting placements in long-term, nursing-care facilities.

He suggested those planned cuts were only the latest examples of substituting centralized services in city hospitals for ones that could be provided in Sackville.

“You could talk about access to a number of diagnostic tests that perhaps, do not always need to be centralized,” Dysart said.

“Why do rural people always have to travel to Moncton to see a specialist?” he asked.

“There are maybe two or three or four specialists who will see patients in Sackville, but to me, that number should be increased,” he said.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have clinics held at this hospital for specialists to see people like used to happen in much greater numbers back 15-20 years ago.”

Health services where people need them

Dysart says that, for him, it’s about giving people services where they need them.

“We have a Service New Brunswick office here in Sackville,” he says. “It would be cheaper not to. It would be cheaper just to make everybody drive to Moncton, but we don’t do that because we say ‘that wouldn’t be reasonable, we should be able to reach out to people where they are’ and I don’t see why that shouldn’t also be the principle in health care.”

Green Party leader David Coon with local candidate Megan Mitton near the Sackville Memorial Hospital

During the question period at Coon’s campaign stop, Dysart asked the Green Party leader how he would respond to critics who say that centralizing health services saves money.

“We’re not looking to save money at the expense of people’s health and that’s what’s been going on,” Coon answered.

“If the patients were at the centre of the decisions that are made in our health-care system, then we would have a way better health-care system,” he said.

“But when it is so centralized, it’s impossible to put patients at the centre of the health-care system because the decision-makers are so removed from patients entirely and from…the health professionals who care for them in their communities.”

Coon added, however, that he’s not arguing for getting rid of regional health authorities because some centralized planning is essential.

“If we’ve got a major trauma problem whether it’s a major car accident or airplane crash or  a bus crash or a mine disaster,” he said, “we’ve got one of the best trauma systems in Canada,” he said.

“The same with cardiac care or neurology or endocrinology, if you’ve got serious problems that need specialized care, specialized diagnosis, specialized intervention, we’ve got those folks, we’ve got them working in our regional centres of excellence,” he added.

“That’s where the centralized parts work to make sure all of that is functioning for New Brunswickers.”

Coon said centralized and local services should complement each other: “Where the centralized part of the system manages the things that necessarily must be managed from a centralized perspective and (where) the community-based medicine is managed at the community level,” he said.

“That’s the change I’m talking about here today.”

Posted in Health care, New Brunswick election 2020, New Brunswick politics | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Green and Liberal leaders use different political messages during Sackville hospital stop

The leaders of the provincial Green and Liberal parties visited Sackville today to defend the local hospital, but David Coon and Kevin Vickers had very different political messages.

Both made it clear they would not cut overnight emergency room services, close acute-care beds or cancel day surgeries as Premier Blaine Higgs proposed before changing his mind in February.

But, while Coon outlined the details of a Green plan to decentralize health care, giving local hospital managers and staff more power, Vickers used his visit to warn that a vote for local Green candidate Megan Mitton would threaten Sackville’s hospital.

“Megan is an extraordinary person (and) she’s wonderful,” Vickers told a small crowd of supporters standing on a lawn near the hospital, “but I’m telling you, if you vote Green, you are indirectly voting for the Conservative government and you’re voting to lose your hospital.”

Coon, who had addressed a small group of his supporters near the hospital a few hours earlier, seemed to have anticipated Vickers’s remarks.

“Using health-care reform as a political football has got to stop and we’ve already, once again, seen this happen in this election campaign,” Coon said.

“Using health-care reform as a political football and instilling fear in people as a result, is no way to solve the very real challenges faced by our health-care system.”

Green plan

Coon gave details of the Green plan to fix problems that he said are at the root of many problems in the system.

“The management of our health-care system has become so over-centralized,” Coon said, “it has lost touch with the needs and expectations of local communities and local people.”

The Green leader argued that’s how what he called “the appalling plan” to cut services at six rural hospitals came to pass.

“It didn’t make sense locally, which is why, understandably, there was overwhelming opposition to that plan which I joined as did my colleagues,” Coon said.

He added that a Green government would restore local autonomy to hospital administrators and their staff.

“There’ll be no more decisions handed down from on high in Fredericton by managers who have no direct connection to the hospital or the community health centre,” Coon added.

“We will also establish community health boards to ensure local health-care services reflect the needs and expectations of the community.”

Megan Mitton

Coon’s words were echoed by Megan Mitton who is running for re-election in Memramcook-Tantramar.

“Successive governments, both Liberals and Conservatives, have failed to listen to what people in rural areas need,” she said, “and failed to recognize that these ill-conceived plans would add strain to the already overburdened urban hospitals.”

Mitton said she is listening to local concerns.

“I am listening to the patient who has been admitted by their family doctor and been able to receive care here in Sackville close to home and not had to worry about transportation,” she said.

She added she has also been listening to patients left in hallways at the Moncton hospital as well as to local people who have worked hard to raise money for Sackville Memorial.

“I will continue to stand with you and fight for you and to ensure that we have the health-care services we need and deserve in our riding,” she concluded.

Vickers’ 30-day pledge

For his part, Liberal leader Kevin Vickers repeated the pledge he made earlier this week in Sussex to maintain services at rural hospitals.

“I tell you that in the first 30 days of my taking the office of the premiership, I will direct both health authorities, in your case Horizon, that your hospital and the hospitals that were identified in the other communities will not be touched,” Vickers said.

He added that in the last four to five years, more than 30 people’s lives were saved at the Sackville hospital.

Vickers also argued that the hospital is not only important to the local economy, it’s instrumental in attracting new residents and businesses.

Robert Gauvin, who is running in Shediac Bay-Dieppe with local Liberal candidate Maxime Bourgeois standing behind him, rear left

Later, the Liberal leader introduced Robert Gauvin, the former Conservative cabinet minister, now running for the Liberals in the riding of Shediac Bay-Dieppe.

“I remember when I ran in 2018 in Northern New Brunswick, Premier Higgs came there and said we are not going to touch your hospitals,” Gauvin said.

“Well, you know what happened,” he added, referring to Higgs’s initial decision to back the hospital cuts.

“Do you think all [Conservative] MLAs and ministers wanted this?” Gauvin asked. “He (Higgs) wanted this. He said, ‘We’re doing this, it’s good for the province, we’re doing this.'”

Gauvin said he told Higgs on a Friday that the Conservatives would be lying to the people if they went ahead with the hospital cuts, but the premier was adamant.

“On Sunday, he changed his mind,” Gauvin said. “What did he find out Saturday that he didn’t know before? So, it was just political, but you can’t play politics with people’s lives.”

Gauvin ended by urging people to support Memramcook-Tantramar Liberal candidate Maxime Bourgeois.

“So, right here, you have someone that will work for you,” he said, adding Bourgeois would join northerners, southerners, Francophones, Anglophones and First Nations people in the Liberal caucus and party.

“He’ll be a great addition to the team,” Gauvin said.

Posted in New Brunswick election 2020, New Brunswick politics | Tagged , | 15 Comments