NB election: Greens promise sweeping changes to fix health care ‘crisis’

NB Green leader David Coon with local candidate Megan Mitton addressing reporters in Sackville

New Brunswick’s Green Party leader is promising a revamped provincial health care system that would include improved mental health services, 40 new nurse practitioners, midwifery services in every region and eight new community health centres.

David Coon says the changes would be paid for partly by cutting $100 million a year in government subsidies and tax breaks to big business and charging forestry companies $30 million more for the wood they cut on Crown lands.

During an outdoor news conference on Wednesday near the Sackville hospital, Coon said he’s met with New Brunswickers from all over the province as well as health professionals such as nurse practitioners, nurses, paramedics and emergency room doctors who all say that health care is in crisis.

“What is this crisis of care?” Coon asked. “We have to begin with a wholly inadequate mental health treatment system in this province that is failing everyone,” he said. “We have a virtual epidemic of depression and anxiety disorders in our schools, among our youth in every corner of this province right now and the system cannot handle it,” he added. “The wait times are excruciatingly long to get treatment and long to get diagnosis.”

Coon also mentioned long wait times in emergency rooms, poor rural ambulance services, burnout among paramedics and nursing home workers as well as a looming shortage of nurses with more than 40 per cent of them set to retire over the next five years.

“We have fundamental problems,” Coon said. “Putting duct tape over them as has been the practice of the last number of governments is not the solution. We need fundamental change in the health-care system, we need reconstructive surgery.”

Green solutions

Coon’s solutions include increasing the money available for mental health and addiction services over four years until it reaches nine per cent of the health-care budget. He explained that would mean spending an additional $30 million in the first year, $60 million in the second, $90 million in the third and $120 million in the fourth.

“We will fundamentally move away from the solitary practice of physicians,” Coon said, “to a collaborative system where health professionals such as nurse practitioners, pharmacists and others work hand-in-hand collaboratively with physicians.”

He said eight new community health centres along with 40 new nurse practitioner positions would facilitate the move to a collaborative system while easing wait times in emergency rooms.

Coon also advocates giving pharmacists the power to diagnose and treat minor ailments as they can in other parts of Canada.

“So that instead of using the expensive machinery of an ER and having eight, nine, 10 hours of wait in our city ERs, people will be able to go to the local pharmacist and get treated for minor but painful infections and so on and get their prescriptions right there in a matter of minutes,” he said.

Financing the changes

Coon said improvements to health care would be paid for partly by cutting $100 million a year in assistance, subsidies and tax breaks to profitable businesses like the TD Bank.

“We cannot afford to give money or lucrative tax breaks to hugely profitable corporations,” Coon said, “nor can we continue to afford the token property tax bills charged to heavy industries like the oil refineries and the pulp mills of this province.”

The Green leader added that another $30 million would come from charging forestry companies fair prices for the wood they harvest on Crown lands.

“We’ve been earning very little from our forest resources and they’re extensive as we know and so, we will change that,” he said.

“We’ll tackle the health crisis head on,” Coon concluded. “New Brunswickers will then be able to get the care they need and our health professionals will be able to deliver the care they’re trained to deliver.”

To read the entire health-care section of the Green Party platform, click here.

Mitton on highway tolls

Here is a story broadcast last week on CFTA, Tantramar community radio, 107.9 FM in Amherst:

A New Brunswick Green Party candidate is defending her party’s plan to impose tolls on drivers entering the province on four-lane highways.

Megan Mitton is running for the Greens in the riding of Memramcook-Tantramar which is on the border with Nova Scotia.

She says the tolls charged to motorists on the Trans-Canada highway would help pay for another Green Party promise — improved public transportation to all parts of New Brunswick.

However, Mitton says the highway tolls would have to be implemented carefully to avoid hurting people who drive back and forth, to and from Amherst:

Mitton made her comments on highway tolls while campaigning in Sackville with federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

The Greens are hoping to make a breakthrough in the riding when the New Brunswick election is held on September the 24th.

To view the sections of the NB Green Party Platform where highway tolls are mentioned, click here.

Posted in New Brunswick Election 2018 | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

NB Green Party targets Memramcook-Tantramar for election breakthrough

Local candidate Megan Mitton (L) and federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May at Cranewood rally on Tuesday

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May helped raise $22,300 in campaign pledges Tuesday evening for provincial Green candidate Megan Mitton during a rally in downtown Sackville that attracted about 200 people.

May conducted what she called a “Dutch auction” starting at a pledge of $3,000 and gradually working her way down to $100 before leading the crowd “in a big rousing cheer” to send a message to Liberal candidate Bernie LeBlanc whose campaign office is just down the street.

“I feel there are a lot more people here tonight than I know a lot of us expected to see,” May said before asking people to put up their hands if this was the first time they had attended a Green Party event.

The crowd broke into cheers and applause when a number of hands went up.

“That’s what I thought,” May shouted. “It’s pretty clear that New Brunswick is the next place where we see Green breakthroughs,” she said, adding, “[Provincial leader] David Coon will not be going back to the legislature alone.”

Green strategy

May’s two-day visit to the area this week highlighted the Green strategy of focusing on a small number of New Brunswick ridings, including Memramcook-Tantramar, where Megan Mitton is running for a second time.

In 2014, Mitton finished third, well behind the Liberals and PCs, but Greens are hoping this time, her higher profile as a Sackville town councillor will help attract more support.

They’re also hoping that the increasing frequency of extreme weather linked to climate change will lead more voters to abandon the traditional parties.

During her speech on Tuesday, Elizabeth May referred to the 500 wildfires burning in British Columbia where she lives.

She said when she visited her family this summer in Cape Breton, it took three days before she could breathe normally again.

“I’ve never before heard weather forecasts that were ‘it’s going to be hot and smoky…air quality warnings remain in effect, it will be hot and smoky,'” she said.

“I sense this from people all over the place, they’re recognizing that climate change isn’t something out there and in the future,” she added, “but it actually has made a difference in how people feel about their current existence, their children’s existence, their grandchildren.”

The crowd applauded as May concluded, “We are, as Greens, all about making sure that our generation ensures that our children and grandchildren have a future, that’s all we are about.”

Health-care event

Provincial leader David Coon with Elizabeth May (L) and Megan Mitton near Sackville hospital

On Wednesday, May joined Mitton on Main Street near the Sackville hospital as provincial leader David Coon outlined Green plans for health-care reform.

It was another high-profile event in Memramcook-Tantramar where Coon has been a frequent visitor.

“There’s many ridings I’m spending time in, but obviously we did very well, Megan Mitton did very well in the last provincial election,” Coon said, “and so, I have no doubt that she will be the next M-L-A for Memramcook-Tantramar.”

Posted in New Brunswick Election 2018 | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

No one taking responsibility for monitoring abandoned tidal turbine

View from the FORCE visitor centre webcam overlooking the Black Rock tidal test site

As the blades continue to turn on an abandoned tidal turbine in the turbulent waters of the Minas Passage, no one seems willing to ensure there is monitoring of their possible effects on fish and other sea creatures.

On Friday, the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) denied it’s responsible for environmental monitoring close to the turbine even though the not-for-profit corporation is legally required as leaseholder to oversee the test site where the turbine was deployed on July 22nd.

Melissa Oldreive, who speaks for FORCE, said in an e-mail that Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., not FORCE, is responsible for monitoring near its turbine and for implementing a contingency plan to replace its environmental sensors which aren’t working.

“We are urging for the implementation of the approved program or contingency plans as soon as possible,” she wrote.

However, Cape Sharp is in financial disarray with one partner, OpenHydro, facing possible bankruptcy and the other partner, Emera Inc., seeking to walk away from the company.

Oldreive said that FORCE has undertaken “a vessel-based hydroacoustic fish survey, which involves measuring fish distribution and densities around the turbine,” but she also confirmed that neither Cape Sharp nor FORCE has deployed an underwater platform equipped with sensors near it.

The sensor platform, known as FAST-EMS, was supposed to have been deployed 30 metres from the turbine by August 10 under a contingency plan approved by regulators at the Nova Scotia Department of the Environment (NSE) and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). The platform is designed to be connected by cable to shore-based computers to provide continuous monitoring of what’s happening near the turbine.

Earlier this year, the regulators warned both FORCE and Cape Sharp to improve environmental monitoring at the site assigning FORCE overall responsibility for ensuring that such monitoring is carried out properly.

To read the letters from NSE and DFO, click here.

In April, FORCE spokesman Matt Lumley said in an e-mail response to my questions that FORCE understood its new responsibilities, although he also wrote that Cape Sharp was developing a contingency plan for monitoring around the turbine.

To read Lumley’s e-mail response, click here.

Before deployment of the turbine, Cape Sharp and FORCE signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining their respective responsibilities for deployment of the FAST-EMS platform, but Oldreive says she can’t reveal what’s in the MOU because “we keep contractual arrangements private.”

‘Complete debacle’

FORCE’s refusal to accept responsibility for underwater monitoring near the turbine comes as no surprise to Mary McPhee, FORCE’s former facilities manager who quit her job last December.

“There’s no question, they are responsible for the overall monitoring,” McPhee said in a telephone interview from her home in Parrsboro.

She added that previously, FORCE interpreted monitoring requirements to give itself the least amount of responsibility until the regulators stepped in.

“Finally this year, the regulators said, ‘No, you are responsible for all levels, like in some way you have to be responsible because if it’s within the site, you’re the leaseholder, so you need to be responsible within that space,'” McPhee said.

“They (FORCE) are being allowed by the regulators presently to duck this and it is a complete debacle, it is an embarrassment to the (government) policymakers and to the people who have worked hard on this project,” she said.

She added she decided to resign after more than six years at FORCE partly because of her concern that managers there weren’t serious enough about protecting the marine environment.

“What I felt were basic standards and what FORCE feels are basic standards are very different things,” she said. “I could no longer be part of that because it was beginning to affect my reputation.”

Posted in Tidal Power | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Sackville to spend $17k hiring consultants to draft business strategy

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

Sackville Town Council has voted to hire outside consultants to draft a business development strategy for the town.

During their meeting on Monday, councillors voted 6 to 2 in favour of hiring Lions Gate Consulting of Vancouver in association with 4L Strategies Consulting of Milford, Nova Scotia at a total cost of $17,020 HST included.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken who, along with Councillor Bruce Phinney, voted against the proposal to hire the consultants, said that the town has commissioned many economic and business development studies over more than 20 years, but has never done anything with them.

“They all make the same three points,” Aiken said. “We should encourage small versus large business, that we offer a quality of life and that we have a great location near the TransCanada.”

Aiken said that council is limited in what it can do to promote economic development, yet Sackville is performing well compared to other small, New Brunswick towns.

He mentioned the new Bagtown Brewery, the Terra Beata cranberry storage facility in the industrial park and the re-opening of the former Moloney electrical transformer plant on Bridge Street.

The deputy mayor argued it would make more sense for the town to enlist local expertise when seeking advice on attracting new businesses rather than farming the work out to consultants, especially during a year when council raised taxes by $60,000.

“Spending over 25 per cent of that, including HST, on this particular proposal, doesn’t sit well with me,” Aiken concluded.

Councillor Andrew Black

Councillor Andrew Black spoke strongly in favour of hiring outside consultants even though he stressed the need to get advice and ideas from local residents too.

He also said local groups need to get more involved.

“Something needs to be done about the splintering groups in our community that are involved in economic development,” Black said as he mentioned organizations such as the former Sackville Chamber of Commerce, the Commons and the Rotary Club.

“All of these groups really need to come together and something has to happen in order for our town to develop economically.”

Black said he’s hoping the report from the consultants will point out what the town is doing right and what it’s doing wrong.

“I’m really interested to see what this report is going to bring back as to what Sackville is maybe not looking at properly and thereby changing what we do and how we do it,” he added.

To read earlier coverage of this story, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Engineering firm will be paid an extra $105k to redesign Sackville flood control project

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, seen here at an earlier meeting, voted against giving Crandall more money

Sackville Town Council has authorized Crandall Engineering of Moncton to redesign the second phase of the Lorne Street flood control project at an additional cost of $105,000.

Crandall’s initial designs had to be scrapped after bids on the project came in at around $6 million — nearly double the federal, provincial and town money that had been allocated for it.

During Monday’s meeting, Councillors Michael Tower, Bill Evans, Joyce O’Neil, Megan Mitton and Allison Butcher voted in favour of a motion to pay Crandall the extra fee on top of the thousands it has already received, while Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken along with Councillors Andrew Black and Bruce Phinney voted against it.

“If the engineering firm suggested it would cost three million or so,” Aiken told council, “and the contract proposals came in at twice that, it strikes me that they blew it pretty badly and I’m wondering why we’re giving them so much in additional fees to correct what was really their mistake.”

Councillor Black agreed.

Councillor Bill Evans

“Paying an additional $105,000 to this company that Councillor Aiken said bungled the original approach, doesn’t make any sense to me at all,” Black said, adding later that the extra fee “seems crazy to me.”

Councillor Bill Evans seemed to speak for the majority who voted in favour of the motion when he noted that the town needed to come up with an alternate, affordable plan to mitigate the risk of downtown flooding.

“We’re going to do it differently,” Evans added. “I understand the frustration, but the alternative would be to lose the money that we’ve got from the federal government and not do anything.”

Extra pay for extra work

Town engineer Dwayne Acton suggested that Crandall was entitled to extra money because the new flood control plan will include several features not included in the original one requiring additional engineering and design work.

For one thing, he said, the new plan would likely add a retention pond in the old Sackville Quarry to prevent stormwater from flooding into downtown areas.

And the pond east of Lorne Street and just south of St. James will need to be bigger than in the original design.

Acton explained that under the new plan, stormwater will no longer flow directly through the industrial park to a new, double-gated aboiteau at the Tantramar River.

Instead, it will probably be directed through existing ditches to culverts under the CN tracks at Crescent Street near the old Via Rail station and then, on out to the river past the Armtec plant using existing aboiteaux in the marshy areas along the way.

He said he sees the redesigned plan as a short-term solution until more money becomes available for a longer-term one with an additional retention pond behind the community gardens and the new, double-gated aboiteau near the river that was part of the original design.

Acton said he’s hoping Crandall Engineering will be ready to present the new $2.6 million flood control plan to council during its meeting on September 4th.

To read coverage about surging Phase II costs click here and for my reporting on earlier modifications to the Lorne Street plan, click here.

New aboiteaux on Rte. 935

Detour around construction of new aboiteaux on Rte. 935

Meantime, work has begun on a flood control project on Route 935 in the Carters Brook area of West Sackville.

The New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) has hired a construction company to install three, six-feet, concrete aboiteaux spaced 10 feet apart to reduce the risk of flooding.

It will also raise the road slightly.

A detour has been built around the project which is expected to be completed by the end of December.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Emera seeks to abandon its stake in Cape Sharp Tidal Inc.

Emera, parent company of Nova Scotia Power, has announced it’s withdrawing from its partnership in Cape Sharp Tidal Inc., the company that has a test turbine sitting on the bottom of the Minas Passage.

In a statement released today, Emera says it has notified its Irish-based partner OpenHydro of its withdrawal and has also notified liquidator Grant Thornton, the firm that is currently handling OpenHydro’s bankruptcy proceedings.

In July, OpenHydro’s French parent company, Naval Energies, asked an Irish court to appoint a liquidator after calling OpenHydro “seriously insolvent” and pointing to its debts of about $426 million. Naval Energies acted only four days after Cape Sharp deployed the massive turbine at a test site overseen by the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE).

In today’s statement, Emera says Naval Energies’ action left it with no choice but to withdraw from Cape Sharp Tidal in which it holds a 20 per cent stake.

“The surprise application by Naval Energies to Ireland’s High Court on July 26th requesting the liquidation of OpenHydro and Naval Energies’ subsequent statement that it will no longer support or invest in tidal turbines left Emera with no practical choice but to withdraw from Cape Sharp Tidal,” the statement added.

It goes on to say that although Emera did not own or develop the open-centre turbine, it considered OpenHydro’s technology “cutting edge” and believed it was worth investing in a demonstration or test project to prove its viability.

“Without support from the technology developer, OpenHydro, to operate and maintain the technology and the turbine, we do not believe that there is further value in pursuing this project for our business,” Emera’s statement adds.

Responsibility for turbine and local suppliers’ bills

Emera’s statement also suggests that the provisional liquidator Grant Thornton is now responsible for operation of the submerged turbine because it “currently controls the majority interest of OpenHydro Technology in Cape Sharp Tidal…

“Emera has repeatedly reinforced with Grant Thornton the need to continue environmental monitoring and safe operation of the deployed turbine and the importance of meeting all obligations of Cape Sharp Tidal and OpenHydro to local suppliers,” the statement adds.

“It is our understanding that a number of local suppliers have been paid and we will continue to encourage the provisional liquidator to resolve all outstanding items as soon as possible.”

To read the Emera news release, click here.

What about environmental laws?

Meantime, the blades on the 16-metre turbine continue to turn, but the turbine itself has been isolated from the power grid and since its environmental sensors are not working, there’s no way of telling if it’s harming fish or other sea creatures.

A contingency plan requires deployment of a platform equipped with sensors 30 metres from the centre of the turbine within two weeks, but there’s no indication that has been done.

Last week, Nova Scotia’s minister of energy said this situation cannot go on indefinitely, and today an e-mail from his department repeats that message:

“As we have said, this situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. If our expectations are not met, we will consider the appropriate next steps to ensure compliance,” the e-mail says.

Meantime, an e-mail from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans says:

“DFO continues to communicate with Nova Scotia Energy to gain a better understanding of the liquidation of OpenHydro and the next steps for the project. As Cape Sharp Tidal has not complied with conditions of its Fisheries Act Authorization related to environmental monitoring, DFO is evaluating appropriate actions.”

An e-mail from FORCE, which is supposed to oversee the tidal test site, suggests we get in touch with Cape Sharp or the province for answers to any questions about what’s happening with the turbine.

Posted in Tidal Power | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sackville moving ahead with 20-acre addition to Waterfowl Park

The Lund property just west of Squire Street will add meadow and woodland to the Sackville Waterfowl Park

At its next meeting on Monday, town council is expected to approve spending $15,000 on improvements to nearly 20 acres of marshy and wooded land that is about to become part of the Sackville Waterfowl Park.

The town is planning to erect a small cairn telling visitors that the land was willed to Sackville by long-time resident Daniel Lund who died in 2013 at the age of 92.

The town is also planning to restore a cobblestone trail that Lund built and create a small visitor parking lot just off Squire Street.

During last week’s council meeting, town manager Jamie Burke said the land was bequeathed to the town under the Ecological Gifts Program — a federal scheme that provides tax breaks to donors. He added the town will seek approval for this first phase of improving the property from Environment Canada as soon as Sackville acquires full ownership of it.

The Lund bequest of nearly 20 acres, adjacent to the Waterfowl Park, lies between the TransCanada Highway and residences on Princess St. bounded on the southeast by Squire St. and on the northwest by the TransCanada Trail

If it approves the $15,000 in improvements, town council will be acting on the advice of the Sackville Waterfowl Park advisory committee which is planning celebrations in October to mark the park’s 3oth anniversary.

For earlier coverage, including a brief history of how the Waterfowl Park began, click here.

Lawn and order

Sackville councillors spent about 18 minutes last Tuesday discussing whether the town needs a bylaw, similar to a recent one passed in Moncton, requiring property owners to keep their lawns, weeds and grasses under 20 centimetres (eight inches) or face fines ranging from $140 to $2,100.

Councillor Joyce O’Neil brought the issue forward partly because of long dried grass at a home close to hers on Bridge Street.

“Our biggest fear out that way is that with all this dead grass, all you need is a cigarette flicked into that and the house is old, the grass has grown in underneath the verandah and to me it’s such a chance of that going up, catching on fire,” O’Neill said, adding that the lives of three small children are at risk in a house next door.

While O’Neil’s colleagues on council agreed that it might be worth discussing the issue further, Councillors Andrew Black, Megan Mitton, Michael Tower and Allison Butcher said such a bylaw isn’t necessary in Sackville.

“I know that lot of people are really bothered by long grass,” said Councillor Butcher adding that it might contribute to the presence of rodents and ticks. However, she added, there are already ticks everywhere.

“I think that a well-manicured, perfectly groomed golf course-looking lawn is environmentally really awful,” Butcher said. “It’s not good for our world, it’s not good for butterflies, it’s not good for bees.”

She said the town bylaw on unsightly premises should cover cases in which people aren’t looking after their properties.

“I think that there are lots of beautiful properties that don’t have lawns mowed and probably don’t own a lawnmower,” Butcher concluded.

In the end, CAO Phil Handrahan promised that staff would prepare a background report on the issues involved in controlling tall grass in case council wants to have further discussion about passing a bylaw to regulate it.

To listen to what was said at last week’s meeting about the issue, click here. (The discussion starts within 30 seconds of the beginning of the meeting.)

A front yard on Main St. in Middle Sackville where flowers, tall grasses, shrubbery and trees occupy most of the space

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 7 Comments