Sackville Town Council says ‘no’ to traffic light, ‘yes’ to pot grow-op & ‘maybe’ to changing secrecy rules

Main St. crosswalk near Avard Dixon building where the town engineer had proposed installing traffic lights

In a marathon meeting Monday night that lasted almost three-and-a-half hours, Sackville Town Council discussed and voted on a wide range of issues including the proposal to spend $32,775 installing a third set of traffic lights on Main Street.

In the end, only Councillors Bill Evans and Andrew Black voted in favour of installing the traffic signals at the crosswalk where hundreds of Mount Allison students cross Main Street several times a day to and from student residences and the Jennings Dining Hall.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken and Councillors Michael Tower, Shawn Mesheau, Joyce O’Neil, Allison Butcher and Bruce Phinney voted against installing the lights.

When council discussed the issue last week, the majority seemed to feel that traffic lights would not be effective, with Deputy Mayor Aiken and Councillor O’Neil favouring the hiring of crossing guards as recommended in a comprehensive study the town received in 2006.

After Monday’s meeting, Mayor Higham had the following response when Warktimes asked what happens now, given the safety concerns that have been outlined in various studies over the years:

“I don’t know what the answer to that will be,” the mayor said. “I think you’re correct that it will be an ongoing study, an ongoing relationship with Mount Allison and it will continue to be raised as to what the risk levels are and what the use is and what those other options might be.”

Mount Allison issued the following written statement after Monday’s vote:

The University values its strong relationship with Town staff and Council. Due to the nature of our close relationship, staff from both our organizations work together on many projects on an ongoing basis. The University recognizes that streets and crosswalks around campus are particularly busy with pedestrian traffic given the nature of our pedestrian campus. The University will continue work with the Town to discuss and monitor the situation. Crosswalks fall under municipal jurisdiction and as such the Town has every right to review and decide what resources they choose to put in place for any specific location. The University recognizes and appreciates the Town’s efforts in recent years to improve traffic control technology at other busy crosswalks on Main Street.

Cannabis grow-op

Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg

Meantime, town council gave final approval Monday night to a bylaw change that permits small marijuana growing operations in agricultural zones.

Council was responding to an application from Danny Fillmore and Sari Weinberg who are planning to grow organic cannabis in a 2,150 square-foot greenhouse on their property in Middle Sackville.

There were no objections to changing the town’s zoning bylaw when council held a public hearing on the matter in June.

“I am not a fan of cannabis,” Councillor Bill Evans said just before Monday’s vote. But he added that his personal opinion was not relevant to the execution of his responsibilities as a councillor.

“My support for this motion doesn’t reflect support for, nor opposition to, the production or consumption of cannabis, but simply a recognition of the fact that both activities are now legal,” Evans said.

Only Councillor Phinney voted against amending the zoning bylaw.

“We’re very happy with this first step,” Sari Weinberg said later, “overcoming this first hurdle.”

She added that the next step will involve building the greenhouse and then applying for a federal growing licence from Health Canada.

Closed door council meetings

Mayor Higham discussing closed-door council meetings

In response to a question during Monday’s meeting about the recent series of articles in the Irving-owned newspapers (Brunswick News) detailing the frequency of closed or in-camera municipal council meetings in the province, Mayor Higham said town staff have been asked to review the criteria for such meetings.

Under provincial legislation, municipal councils can hold meetings that are closed to the public when dealing with legal or police matters, confidential information about staff, or the details of financial contracts and property transactions.

According to Brunswick News, many municipalities hold as many closed, in-camera meetings as ones that are open to the public.

A Warktimes analysis shows that during 15 public Sackville Town Council meetings held so far this year (January 14 to August 12), there were 14 closed or in-camera sessions. In addition, there was one separate in-camera meeting.

The Sackville clerk’s office does not count in-camera sessions that are held during public meetings, so its figures show only one in-camera meeting this year. But the clerk does measure total hours held in public (29.5) compared to the hours held in camera (8.25), although those hours do not include four fairly lengthy closed-door council briefings this year from the RCMP.

During the question period after last Monday’s meeting, I led off press questioning by asking why there aren’t more public briefings from the RCMP.

Mayor Higham responded that years ago, the RCMP did report publicly to council, but the police recommended closed-door meetings to report on operational matters, strategies of crime prevention and despatching.

“What we had in the past was the RCMP say, ‘We’re not comfortable answering those questions here,'” the mayor added. “‘We are more comfortable having that kind of specific operational and tactical questions in camera and that is the nature of that discussion.'”

Lack of public information at council meetings

Bruce Wark of Warktimes

Later, Mayor Higham and CAO Phil Handrahan promised to review the town’s practice of withholding background information from the public during the Special Council meetings that are held on the first Monday of every month. As a general rule, council discusses current issues at such meetings, but does not vote on them until its regular meeting a week later when background documents are usually provided to the public.

I pointed out that councillors often refer to this background information during Special Meetings, including contracts and tenders that are under consideration, but that members of the public sitting in the audience cannot see the documents.

“We frequently, as members of the public, do not have access to the documents that you are reading and that you are discussing and that form the basis for your decisions,” I said. “And so I consider many of those things, like Special Council meetings, to be partially closed meetings too because there’s not full information there available to the public on what is being discussed.”

Marketing proposal not made public

At Monday’s regular meeting, councillors were being asked to approve a $15,000 proposal from the Moncton communications firm Portfolio — a proposal for improving the town’s plans for marketing and branding itself as a desirable place to visit, live, work and do business.

Staff was recommending that council approve the proposal, but councillors voted to defer their decision until September 9th to give them more time to consider it.

While councillors have a copy of the proposal, it was not made available to the public. Jamie Burke, Senior Manager of Corporate Projects, indicated the Portfolio document won’t be released to the public until after council approves it in September.

“A submission related to a tender and/or RFP [Request for Proposals]  isn’t information that we would typically release publically (sic), especially before a motion is awarded,” Burke wrote in an e-mail.

Posted in Mount Allison University, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Sackville expected to join other municipalities in pressing for more federal-provincial support

Treasurer Michael Beal

Sackville Town Council is getting ready to launch a campaign this week seeking more than $865,000 in additional tax money from the federal and provincial governments.

Councillors are expected to endorse a series of resolutions on Monday supporting other municipalities seeking relief from provincial property and sales taxes as well as a permanent doubling of the federal gas tax fund that pays for local infrastructure projects including street paving.

“Everyone knows that we pay provincial property tax on properties that we own,” Treasurer Michael Beal told council last week. “In 2019, we paid $276,000 in provincial property tax.”

The treasurer went on to say that while certain municipal properties such as libraries and rinks are exempt from provincial property taxes, other essential services such as water and sewer facilities are not.

And even though volunteer fire departments are tax exempt, Sackville must pay property taxes on its station because the town has a full-time fire chief.

Beal said he will be asking council to endorse a resolution calling on the Union of New Brunswick Municipalities (UMNB) to formally ask the province for more municipal property tax exemptions.

“Beginning in 2020 all fire station properties and also beginning in 2020 all water, stormwater and wastewater properties would be tax exempt,” he said, adding that the resolution calls on the UMNB to work on exemptions for other municipal properties after that.

“As we’ve said many times, the province doesn’t provide many services to us related to property tax,” Beal said, adding that after the last election, the new Higgs government said it would be looking at eliminating so-called double municipal and provincial taxation on non-owner occupied residential buildings.

“So, if they’re looking at it, now would be a good opportunity to say well, why should municipalities pay the province a property tax if you’re looking at reducing it for other people?” he asked.

[Note: In 2019, non-owner occupied residential buildings in Sackville are taxed at a provincial rate of $1.1233 per $100 of assessment as well as a municipal rate of $1.56. For more information, click here.]

Provincial sales taxes

Beal will also be asking councillors to endorse a resolution calling on the province to eliminate the sales taxes (HST) that municipal governments in New Brunswick pay on the goods and services they purchase.

He said that municipalities stopped paying the federal portion of the HST in 2004, but continue to pay part of the provincial levy. It means that this year Sackville will owe the province about $221,771 in HST payments.

[Note: Although it’s not clear how the Higgs government would react to pleas for property and sales tax relief from UMNB, the premier promised during last year’s election campaign to give local governments more autonomy including new taxation powers.  The PC government has also indicated that some parts of the recent plan on restructuring municipal government in Saint John could also apply in other parts of the province.]

Doubled gas tax funding

Finally, Sackville’s treasurer will ask councillors on Monday to endorse a resolution calling on UMNB to support a permanent doubling of the federal gas tax fund that municipalities receive every year for infrastructure projects.

The Trudeau government announced a one-time doubling of the fund this year. It meant that Sackville received $414,000 on top of its regular grant of $367,359. (To see a chart showing how Sackville has been using the gas tax fund, click here.)

Last month, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) called on all federal parties running in this fall’s election to commit themselves to doubling the gas tax funds allocated for municipal projects.

To read the FCM news release, click here.

If Sackville Town Council endorses these resolutions on Monday, the mayor and councillors will likely seek approval for them at the UMNB’s annual conference in Fredericton, October 4-6.

Posted in Federal Election, New Brunswick government, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Sackville councillors skeptical about need for 3rd set of traffic lights

Mt. A. students use this crosswalk on Main St. near Purdy Crawford Centre, the Avard Dixon building and Windsor Hall student residences

Town Engineer Dwayne Acton has recommended that Sackville spend $32,775 to install a full set of traffic signals where thousands of Mount Allison students cross Main Street on their way to and from university residences, the Jennings Dining Hall and buildings on the main campus.

“We’ve had numerous comments from residents about the crosswalk,” Acton told town council during its meeting on Tuesday. “We’ve had expressed concerns from the university from a safety standpoint as well.”

Acton said that the town has already improved lighting at the crosswalk, but further evaluation showed the need for more safety features.

He added that town staff considered installing flashing signals such as the ones at the crosswalk on Main Street across from the post office, but decided that a full set of red, green and amber lights along with a walk signal would be the safest and best option for pedestrians and motorized vehicles alike.

Acton explained that the signals would be similar to those at Main, Bridge and York Streets or Mallard Drive and Main where pedestrians push buttons to activate walk signals while motorists wait at red lights.

He said the town received quotes for installing the lights from three New Brunswick companies with the lowest one for $32,775 from Roadway Systems Ltd. of Moncton, the company that looks after the town’s other traffic signals as well as its flashing crosswalk lights.

Acton noted that the quote is lower than the $38,600 the town allocated for crosswalk lighting in this year’s capital budget, adding that at its meeting next week, he will ask town council to approve awarding the work to Roadway Systems.

‘False safety feelings’

Coun. Joyce O’Neil

Several councillors responded to Acton’s proposal by expressing skepticism about the need for traffic lights at the crosswalk.

“I still can’t help but feel it’s going to give false safety feelings to the drivers or the students that are crossing,” said Councillor Joyce O’Neil. “Just from being on that street and watching how they [the students] come across that street with their iPads or their cell phones and so on, they don’t even know they’re off campus when they’re crossing that road, so whether they’re going to take time to press a friggin’ button, I don’t know,” she added.

O’Neil also said that using crossing guards at peak times would have more of an impact on safety than traffic lights.

When she wondered whether the university had been asked if it would share the cost of installing traffic signals, CAO Phil Handrahan responded that when he discussed the matter with Mount Allison, “they basically see roads and crosswalks as being our responsibility and they don’t see that they would be sharing in the cost of such.”

Signals won’t work

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken

“I hate to sound cynical about this,” said Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, “[but] you can’t legislate stupid and these students, I don’t believe them sometimes, they just literally march across like it’s a private driveway and I honestly don’t think having a button to push is going to change that at all.”

Aiken also questioned Mount Allison’s worries about safety.

“If they’re so concerned about safety, why in all these years haven’t they put up or paid for a crossing guard there? It’s a pittance. For thirty-some thousand bucks, you could put a crossing guard there for five years,” he added.

“I honestly don’t think this [the signals] will work,” Aiken said.

 Previous study

Coun. Bruce Phinney

Councillor Bruce Phinney referred to a study of the crosswalk conducted for the town in 2006. The study was supervised by Mount Allison Professor Michael Fox.

Its main recommendation was that the town and the university share the costs of providing crossing guards at peak times during the 24 weeks of the university’s fall and winter terms.

“We believe that this would be the most effective measure that could be employed in addressing pedestrian safety and the appropriate flow of vehicles through this area during peak periods of the day,” Fox’s study concluded.

At the same time, it recommended against installing traffic control devices because they would “actually increase wait times and result in pedestrian avoidance and inappropriate behaviours.”

To read the complete study, click here.

Councillor Phinney noted that at the time, Mount Allison rejected sharing the costs of crossing guards.

(On March 7, 2007, the Sackville Tribune Post quoted then-university Vice-President David Stewart as saying: “We just didn’t think it was going to be an effective way to deal with the concerns…We didn’t think that a crosswalk guard was going to improve the situation —either from a safety point of view or from a vehicle stop time point of view. It didn’t seem to us to be the right way to handle it.”)

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Phinney said the university should be willing to pay something if it’s really concerned about student safety.

“I’m very, very concerned about the fact that all of a sudden now, all the costs is put onto the taxpayers of the town,” Phinney said.

Legal liability

CAO Phil Handrahan

CAO Phil Handrahan responded that the university has not been officially asked if it would help pay for traffic signals at the crosswalk.

He suggested that as far as the town is concerned, there are issues of legal liability.

“It’s only two or three weeks ago that our treasurer and our engineer were involved in discovery working with our lawyers around an incident on a crosswalk,” Handrahan said. “So in this instance we’ve got safety being raised whether it’s informal or formally, we’ve discussed it [and] I don’t think any of us can put our heads in the sand and say it doesn’t exist.”

For his part, Mayor Higham suggested the university should be asked about its willingness to contribute financially.

“My suggestion would be that I hear multiple interest in having Mount Allison express whether they would want to share this in some manner because it is a shared risk in many ways,” Higham said.

The mayor then asked the CAO to “reach out” to the university to see if “they are willing and able to participate in it financially.”

Posted in Mount Allison University, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Mohawk Grand Chief speaks out against installing Cougar in Sackville’s Memorial Park

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon

The Grand Chief of the Mohawk First Nation at Kanesatake, Quebec is urging the 8th Canadian Hussars to stand by its decision to withdraw the gift of a Cougar armoured personnel carrier for display in Sackville’s Memorial Park.

Chief Serge Simon says the Cougar is not a fitting memorial to Hussars who died in the Second World War because it was never used in that conflict, but was used against his people during a standoff between Mohawks and the Canadian military during the Oka crisis of 1990.

When he was told that a petition is circulating in Sackville urging the Hussars to reconsider the decision to withdraw the Cougar, Simon said there are better choices.

“Why are they so headstrong about using an armoured personnel carrier as a symbol of, I don’t know, Canadian strength?” he asked. “Canadian oppression of First Nations people? What is your point when we have so many other options?”

During a telephone interview on Friday, the chief said he was already aware of the controversy after being alerted to it last month by a Mi’kmaq person. He added that he wrote a letter objecting to the gift on June 28.

Simon forwarded the letter to Warktimes.

“Many of us in Kanesatake still endure the memories of that summer almost 30 years ago and the effects of the human rights abuses our people suffered at the hands of Provincial and federal forces that are still apparent in our lives today,” his letter says.

“When the Canadian armed forces encircled our community with the help of the AVGP Cougar and closed in, it sent shock waves throughout First Nations territories, as the fear of a wider armed conflict could become a reality and throw us all in an uncertain future as a free society, let alone the image of force being used to further suppress the anger and frustration of First Nation people,” the letter adds.

The 78-day Oka crisis began after Mohawks objected to the extension of a golf course near their ancestral burying grounds on land they claim as their own.

Although Simon said the golf course was never built and the burying grounds are safe, the fight isn’t over.

“There’s still developments on our claimed land that are still going through that we’re trying to stop,” he said.

Mohawk war veterans

The Mohawk chief said two of his great uncles fought in the Second World War with one surviving both the Canadian raid on Dieppe and the D-Day invasion of Normandy while the other was “blown to pieces” in the Italian campaign.

“Our people fought in your army, in all the conflicts since the first [European] contact,” he said referring to Mohawk support for the British in their colonial wars against the French.

“If my uncles were still around today, they would probably be pretty ashamed of the Canadian government and military for their part in the Oka crisis,” Simon added.

His letter says a more fitting symbol to honour war veterans could be a sculpture reflecting peace.

“It could be a giant poppy with ‘never again on foreign or domestic soil’ carved in its base, as well as one feather on the helmet or bonnet of one of the sculpted soldiers of the 8th Hussars…I think my great uncles would be proud to stand beside both the symbol and their brother Warriors as well as recognizing it as a good symbol of reconciliation in this country,” the letter says.

Mi’kmaq support?

The Mohawk chief responded to Mi’kmaq peacekeeping veteran Allan Dobson’s presentation Tuesday night at town council during which he said the town should be listening to the Mi’kmaq of the Fort Folly First Nation who support installing a Cougar in Memorial Park.

“The Mi’kmaq down there are the ones who alerted us to this,” Simon said. “Obviously not everybody is in favour,” he added. “If I were to speak to the Mi’kmaq chiefs and let them know how we feel, they would change their position.”

Simon also responded to the argument that the military were using the Cougar at Oka to restore peace.

“The army was used on Canadian soil to suppress the land grievances of a particular First Nation,” he said, adding that the way to restore peace would have been to deal with the centuries-old conflict over land rights instead of calling in the Quebec police (SQ) and the military.

He recalled that many Mohawks were beaten by the SQ both during and after the crisis including his cousin who had an electric prod applied to his genitals.

“I saw Angus maybe a week later and I couldn’t believe how he was walking and I asked him ‘What the heck happened to you?’ He explained it to me and then he showed me,” Simon said. “I didn’t think a man’s scrotum could swell that bad.”

Simon, who was 27 at the time of the Oka crisis, said he was driving his mother home from the hospital when the military detained them for two hours at a check point.

“My mother got fed up,” he said. “She opened the car door and said ‘the hell with this, I’m going home.’ They pointed an M16 at her.”

Better choices

Simon said he sent a copy of his letter to Harjiit Sajjan, the Minister of National Defence.

“I’m hoping that maybe the minister, hopefully before the election, might be able to take it to his cabinet and see if there is any way that we can dedicate some funding for a proper symbol of peace and harmony and reconciliation,” he added.

“I think the citizens around that area, around that town, the Mi’kmaq and the Canadian citizens would be very happy. I think if they worked together, it’s an opportunity where we could get together, really put our minds in there and do something significant,” Simon said.

“I’m not pushing my views on anyone. I’m just saying that I’m a little disappointed and I’m hoping that better minds will prevail.”

To read Grand Chief Serge Simon’s letter, click here.

To see an historic timeline of the Oka crisis posted on the McGill University website, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Sackville councillors hear pros and cons of Cougar memorial at packed town hall meeting

It was standing room only at Sackville Town Council Tuesday night as about 100 people turned out to hear presentations for and against installing an armoured military vehicle known as a Cougar in Memorial Park.

Alex Thomas, who led the opposition to the Cougar, told council he didn’t think he was the only one surprised at how nasty and divisive the debate became both before and after the 8th Canadian Hussars decided to withdraw their gift of the Cougar in response to opposition to it.

“I also want to acknowledge that a lot of people in this room are angry — angry about the decision of the Hussars to withdraw their gift,” he said. “In a lot of cases that anger is directed at me or directed at other community members who have been opposing the Cougar.”

Thomas suggested that he understood the anger because “different symbols evoke different things for different people” and he urged both sides to come together on shared values rather than things that foster division.

Alex Thomas addresses council

Thomas said those opposed to the Cougar feel that a massive war machine would dwarf other monuments and minimize the Cenotaph’s central role in a small park that is meant to be a place of serene contemplation.

He argued that for some, the Cougar is a symbol of oppression because of its use in the prolonged standoff between the Canadian military and Mohawks during the Oka crisis of 1990.

“We live in an era where all institutions are beginning to ask difficult questions about Canada’s colonial past and how reconciliation can be achieved between settler Canadians and the original people of this land,” he said.

He ended by recommending that the town facilitate the formation of a citizen’s committee to help make decisions about memorials in the park.

“It is our understanding that such a committee formerly existed in Sackville, and that reviving it would help prevent this kind of divisiveness in the future by helping better define how the park could be used and developed,” Thomas said.

Cougar as a trigger

Next, Scott Timpa, a retired, disabled veteran urged town council not to install a Cougar in Memorial Park partly because it would serve as a recruiting tool for young people to join the military.

“It will sit there as an idol up on its cement pedestal and I am sure some young person is going to come along and say, ‘yeah that’s cool, I want to be a soldier,'” he added.

Timpa, who served more than 13 years in the military including in Afghanistan, bitterly pointed to court decisions establishing that the federal government has no legal obligation or “duty of care” toward injured soldiers.

“I firmly believe disabled veterans are being oppressed, divided, not treated equally,” he said.

Retired war vet Scott Timpa

“I ask everyone in this room, do you want your sons and daughters joining the military knowing that they have no duty of care to look after them when they are physically and, or mentally injured?” he asked.

Timpa said that aside from physical injuries and chronic pain, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after spending five years in the back of a light armoured vehicle that is similar to the Cougar.

Although armoured vehicles provide safety, they also became death traps “on the streets of Kandahar, easy prey for the Taliban and a well-placed bomb,” he said.

“I’ve seen what a bomb blast does to a human body if you happen to be sitting inside one of these things,” he added. “I can smell and taste the blood and I probably always will.”

Timpa said he moved to Sackville from Halifax because there is no military base here to trigger his PTSD.

“When I lived in Halifax, it was a constant trigger seeing the navy ships in the harbour, all the military personnel walking around in uniforms or military aircraft constantly flying overhead,” he said, adding that seeing a military vehicle such as a Cougar also serves as a trigger.

“I hear the sounds of the cannons. I smell the exhaust fumes, the dust, the grease and I think about the people I knew who were killed in them,” he said.

“Therefore, I implore you, please to not accept this armoured vehicle as a gift.”

‘Mi’kmaq territory, not Mohawk’

Allan Dobson who spoke next, identified himself as a veteran who served in military peacekeeping missions for 15 years. He pointed to the more than century-long association between the town and the 8th Canadian Hussars.

“As a veteran, I’m honoured that the 8th Hussars offered us the Cougar,” he said.

Allan Dobson speaks on behalf of the Sackville legion

Dobson, who is a status Mi’kmaq living on the Fort Folly Reserve near Dorchester, said he was speaking on behalf of the Sackville branch of the Royal Canadian Legion where he’s been a member for more than 20 years.

He added that he was also speaking for Rebecca Knockwood, chief of the Fort Folly Reserve.

When he served during a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Somalia, Dobson said he saw the Cougar as a protector.

“We were going through, I’m going to say this, Indian country, downtown Mogadishu in convoys, open trucks,” he said, adding that the convoys were protected by Cougars.

“I was never in a Cougar, but I had the protection, they had my back [and] downtown Mogadishu was no place to be without somebody having your back.”

He said that while he sympathizes with Timpa’s experiences, he has a different perspective, adding that every time he passes by the M113 armoured personnel carrier on display in College Bridge near Dorchester, he sees it as an “old friend, an old protector.”

Dobson acknowledged that Cougars were used during the Oka crisis when governments requested the military’s help in restoring order under the National Defence Act after Quebec police had lost complete control. He suggested that without the military’s help things could have been a lot worse.

He also questioned the argument that indigenous people would object to a Cougar being displayed in Sackville’s Memorial Park.

“I talked to the Chief Rebecca Knockwood,” he said. “I asked her, did she express any opinion. She said no. There was no opinion expressed on behalf of Fort Folly First Nation to anybody.”

Sackville Legion President Doreen Richards with veteran Allan Dobson (L) and First Vice President Alf Walker

Dobson went on to say he didn’t know how some people in town perceived that the indigenous community would be upset by the gift of a Cougar.

“Where did that come from? he asked. “It didn’t come from Fort Folly and Fort Folly should be the ones you guys should be talking to,” he added. “This is Mi’kmaq territory, not Mohawk.”

He ended by saying that the local legion stands by the town’s acceptance of a Cougar for Memorial Park.

He said that branch President Doreen Richards would be willing to discuss incorporating the Cougar into a peacekeeping memorial that would honour indigenous people as well as veterans of the war in Afghanistan.

“This is something we can work out between all of us, but we still stand upon having the Cougar,” Dobson said.

Incivility and poor fact checking

After the presentations, Councillor Bill Evans condemned what he termed incivility in the ongoing debate over the Cougar.

“I don’t participate in social media, not because it isn’t a place where you can share things with families and friends, but because too often it’s a place where licence to act anonymously and without restraint leads to some pretty intemperate excesses,” Evans said.

Coun. Bill Evans

He accused people participating in debate on Facebook of failing to get their facts straight especially when criticizing town council.

“Council voted unanimously to accept the gift of the Cougar and no member of council that I am aware of has indicated that they want to refuse it,” he  said.

“Yet council has been pilloried individually, publicly and on social media for being despicable cowards for allegedly having done so,” he added.

“It’s one thing to have people tell you that they think you’re wrong when you vote on an issue, but surely the critic has an obligation to at least know how we voted.”

Evans acknowledged that “some logistical questions came up about how to implement the decision and then, the poop hit the fan.” He was referring to council’s decision to postpone installation of the Cougar after residents began objecting to it.

“The problem was created by poor fact checking and incivility,” he added. “It was not what the Hussars nor the town wanted. The Hussars said, ‘let’s stop this, let’s cool down and see if we can’t work something out’ and I concur.”

Evans concluded by saying the town is neither caving in to pressure, nor bulldozing ahead, but is trying to do the right thing.

“Let’s not let the poor behaviour of a few define our community,” he said. “This park belongs to all the citizens of Sackville and it’s our job as councillors to do, not what we want personally, but what we think is in the best interests of the entire municipality.”

Shame and division

Next, Councillor Allison Butcher said she also felt the need to speak. She said council decided to postpone installation of the Cougar to give constituents a chance to make presentations.

“And then, as you are all aware, things went off the rails,” she said. “There were media reports that went national, most of them portraying this whole process in less than a flattering light.”

Coun. Allison Butcher

Butcher said social media were “full of misinformation and speculation…and people got upset.”

She added that Sackville’s reputation was hurt not because of the issue itself, “but because of the shameful way that it divided us. It’s pitted neighbour against neighbour, people said horrible things about each other.”

Butcher said one of the community’s strengths is its diversity and the ability to live and work together.

Her voice shaking with emotion, she added: “I have been deeply ashamed by the divisive, unaccepting way that many have chosen to respond to people whose opinions are different from theirs. We are better than this.”

Butcher ended by saying she hopes the town and the Hussars can come to an agreement on a proper memorial.

“I look forward to the end of all of the arguing and the beginning of a collaboration that can showcase our community’s strength and its diversity” she said.

Cougar belongs in park

Councillor Joyce O’Neil said that in her 16 years on town council, nothing has upset or disgusted her more than the opposition to the Cougar in Memorial Park.

“Our Memorial Park is just that, a place to honour and remember those brave folk that gave their all and continue to serve so that we can live lives such as we enjoy today,” she said.

Coun. Joyce O’Neil

O’Neil added that Sackville has been blessed with the role the Hussars have played here.

“When the Armouries was here, they took in young people, taught them values and they joined the militia and they showed them how to grow into men and the kind of citizens they are today,” she said.

O’Neil said the park is “a very solemn place for me as the second name that appears on the World War Two plaque is my uncle who was a member of the 8th Canadian Hussars armoured division.” She added that both her husbands and an uncle served in the military.

“To me, the Cougar is a symbol of the 8th Canadian Hussars service as peacekeepers and it deserves a place in that Memorial Park,” she said.

O’Neil received sustained cheers and applause as she concluded: “I encourage the 8th Canadian Hussars to re-offer the Cougar to our town and for our council and citizens to gratefully accept and display the Cougar with pride.”

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, filling in for Mayor Higham who was away on business, ended the discussion by saying that council would be considering the issue further.

“We have a lot of talking to do about it I think, in light of what we’ve heard tonight,” he said.

He invited residents to e-mail the town or ask questions during the public question period at council’s next meeting on July 8th.

To read earlier coverage of council’s decision to accept the gift of the Cougar last February, click here.

To read coverage of council’s decision to postpone installation of the Cougar, click here.

To listen to the presentations as well as opening remarks by Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Hussars withdraw gift of armoured vehicle for Sackville’s Memorial Park amid concerns about its use during Oka Crisis

James Lockyer

The 8th Canadian Hussars have withdrawn the controversial gift of a Cougar armoured vehicle for installation in Sackville’s Memorial Park.

James Lockyer, the regiment’s honorary colonel, confirmed the donation had been withdrawn during a telephone interview on Saturday.

He said the Cougar was a way of memorializing Sackville’s long relationship with the Hussars’ C Squadron as well as the regiment’s role in the liberation of Europe during the Second World War.

“But by the same token, any memorialization doesn’t have to be focussed on a given item, in this case the Cougar,” Lockyer said.

He added that the regiment has proposed setting up a committee with representation from the Hussars, the town and perhaps a military historian to examine how best to memorialize a relationship that lasted more than a century.

“The regiment put forward that proposal and the town accepted it,” Lockyer said.

He refused to respond to suggestions that the Cougar would not be a fitting memorial because of its use against Mohawks during the Oka Crisis in 1990.

“I don’t respond to that,” he said. “Again, the vehicle was intended to memorialize the liberation of Europe by members of the 8th Hussars.”

What is Memorial Park for?

Cenotaph in Sackville’s Memorial Park honours the dead in the two World Wars and the Korean War

Mayor John Higham says he received a note from the Hussars Wednesday night that did not give specifics about why the gift was withdrawn.

“Just in general terms [it said] that they were concerned about some of the difficulties that had arisen from their donation,” Higham said in a telephone interview.

He added that he expects that criticisms over the use of the Cougar during the Oka Crisis were among the difficulties the note referred to.

A statement on the town’s website says:

…we have received feedback from the community reflecting a number of different perspectives on this donation, including those of the indigenous community. After hearing these perspectives, the Hussars made the decision to withdraw the donation and offered to explore alternative ways to memorialize the special relationship between the Hussars and the Town.

Mayor Higham says the real question now is what happens next.

“My advice to council will be that we should clarify what that park is for, how we expect it to run and what we think is appropriate for being in there, so that this kind of debate won’t happen in the future,” he said.

No winners or losers

Alex Thomas led opposition to installation of Cougar

Alex Thomas, who raised the issue of the Cougar’s use at Oka, says he hopes the Hussars make a full statement soon giving the reasons for withdrawing their gift.

During an interview Saturday, he added that he believes the regiment acted because of revelations about the oppression of indigenous people that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

“I think the Hussars should really be commended here,” he said. “I think they’re acting in the spirit of reconciliation realizing, OK we didn’t see this and we made a mistake, but in the spirit of reconciliation, we are going to make a change and I think that is a great way forward and a great lead to follow.”

Thomas added that he’s not declaring victory now that it’s clear the Cougar won’t be installed in Memorial Park.

“I don’t think there’s winners and losers here. I think this is a chance for us to come together as a community and talk about our park,” he said.

Thomas says his group still plans to make a presentation to town council on July 2nd about the need for a citizens’ committee that would discuss plans for the future of Memorial Park.

Cougar belongs in park

Doreen Richards, President of Branch 26, Sackville Legion standing next to Ferret military vehicle in Memorial Park

“Im really upset, I really am, I’m really upset about it,” Doreen Richards, president of the Sackville branch of the Royal Canadian Legion said during an interview.

She added she was hoping Sackville would get the Cougar because the town deserves it.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people in Sackville,” Richards said.

“I know Sackville’s behind us,” she added. “There’s just a handful that aren’t.”

She said the Cougar belongs in the park.

“It’s a Memorial Park, it’s a park for putting these things into,” Richards said. “A lot of children enjoy looking at them. It’s their heritage really and it’s history.”

When asked about the use of the Cougar during the Oka Crisis, Richards said the armoured vehicles were there, but weren’t used.

“The machines were behind the soldiers,” she added. “They were there just in case, but nothing came of it.”

Richards said the legion will also be making a presentation to town council next Tuesday.

To read earlier coverage of James Lockyer’s original presentation to town council in February, click here.

For information from Tantramar Heritage Trust on the history of Sackville’s Memorial Park, click here.

To read a detailed history of the 8th Canadian Hussars complete with archival photos, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Sackville Waterfowl Park celebrated as environmental gem on its 30th anniversary

Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau (L), MLA Megan Mitton and Mayor John Higham spoke during 30th anniversary celebrations of the Sackville Waterfowl Park

Sackville celebrated the 30th anniversary of its Waterfowl Park on Saturday with speeches, music, a short play, birthday cake and hotdogs.

“Having the Waterfowl Park in Sackville has shaped my life,” MLA Megan Mitton told the crowd that had gathered for the event near the park entrance off Mallard Drive.

Mitton mentioned that she once worked for the Tantramar Wetlands Centre, across the highway from the Waterfowl Park.

“Even though I’m not a biologist, I do know quite a bit about the value of wetlands,” she said. “It’s really exciting to see how our community has embraced having the Sackville Waterfowl Park right in the centre and to see it still growing.”

She remembered that when she was a child, a duck was the park’s mascot while the benches downtown still have duck heads as arm rests and ducks adorn some town crosswalks.

“It’s amazing how integrated into our lives and into our community the Waterfowl Park is,” Mitton added. “It’s such a gem for our town and our region.”

Marshview’s environmental warriors

Mayor John Higham said Mitton’s speech reminded him of how Sackville values the environment and the ecology that goes with it.

The mayor noted the long history of the Waterfowl Park, then mentioned that only last week, “The Mighty Earth Warriors” environmental group at Marshview Middle School won a national competition sponsored by a non-profit organization called Learning for a Sustainable Future.

Among other things, Marshview was recognized for its campaign against single-use plastics and for its success in getting a 3-stream waste system in Sackville’s schools.

Higham suggested the Marshview students’ concern for the environment is linked to respect for the landscape, respect fostered by the natural beauty of the area including its iconic Waterfowl Park.

Adam Campbell of Ducks Unlimited

Adam Campbell of Ducks Unlimited told the crowd that he became a wetland biologist partly because of the Waterfowl Park.

“My first summer job was as a Waterfowl Park interpretative guide,” he said. “My eyes were opened to the variety of species that call wetlands home.”

Campbell said he ended up falling in love with his future wife who also worked as a guide.

“This may be a bit of a stretch, but my youngest daughter Anna’s middle name is actually Teal,” he said to laughter. “I fought for it to be her first name, but I don’t always get my way.”

Campbell said Ducks Unlimited plans to replace and upgrade the water control structure in the park in the next few years and will continue to invest in the project indefinitely.

Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau

Mount Allison’s new President Jean-Paul Boudreau reminded the audience that the university made the Waterfowl Park possible. (The university leases land it owns in the southern portion of the park to the town for $1 per year.)

Boudreau added that the park is an important part of life for Mt. A. students who spend a lot of time there.

“In fact, when they leave, it’s one of the things they cite as something they will miss about Sackville,” Boudreau said, adding that the university also uses the park as part of its experiential learning programs.

“What better place than a waterfowl park to get into the marsh, to get into the water, dig in see what kinds of critters you can find, what kinds of ducks you can spot and birds,” he said.

Boudreau said the park contributes to the health and well being of the community both physically and mentally.

“I’m also a psychologist and I care about the relationship between mind, body and environment so I think we’ve got a real gem here in our backyard.”

Sandy Burnett, member of the  Waterfowl Park Advisory Committee

Later, Sandy Burnett recalled how he, Al Smith and Paul Bogaard pushed for a wetlands park that had originally been suggested by the aptly named Jim Sackville, a design consultant from Sussex the town had commissioned to draft a strategic plan.

Burnett recalled that the town was skeptical of the idea.

He said that more than 30 years later the park has become a symbol for the town, which nobody foresaw at the time.

“No, I don’t think we did at first, but it became evident very quickly,” Burnett says. “Within about two or three years of the opening of the park, it had won a national environmental award and was recognized by the Governor General’s office and suddenly we realized that what we had spawned was going in directions that we hadn’t really considered at all.”

Burnett says he has complicated feelings now that the park has turned 30. For one thing, he feels immense gratitude toward all the people who worked on the project over many years.

“The other thing that gives me pleasure every time that I visit the park is to see other people enjoying it and realize that what we started out thinking would be a good demonstration  conservation project has turned into a significant part of the life of the whole town.”

To read original plans for the Waterfowl Park, click here.

Posted in Environment, Town of Sackville | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments