Sackville audience hears about suing the government to save the planet

Silver Donald Cameron talks with Meredith Fisher at Sackville’s Vogue theatre on Monday

Journalist Silver Donald Cameron was answering questions after showing his film on green rights at Sackville’s Vogue theatre on Monday night when Roy Ries spoke up about suing the federal government to save the planet.

Ries, who helped lead the fight against shale gas fracking in New Brunswick, mentioned a case in Oregon in which 21 young people are suing the U.S. government for failing to do enough to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Ries said he’d personally like to see a similar case in Canada taking the federal government to the Supreme Court for its failure to protect citizens under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights, which guarantees the right to “life, liberty and security of the person.”

“I think the government is vulnerable there,” Ries said, “but we haven’t been able to build a coalition that would unite behind that initiative.”

Following the Dutch example

Silver Donald Cameron agreed that challenging the federal government in court under the Charter would be a good idea.

In his film, Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World, Cameron shows that when 900 citizens in Holland sued the Dutch government for not doing enough to limit greenhouse gases, the court responded by ordering the government to cut emissions by at least 25 per cent within five years.

“The Dutch went to court on the basis that the state has an obligation to protect the welfare of its citizens,” Cameron said. “That’s not environmental rights in the narrow sense at all, that’s a broad right and we’ve got the same thing here.”

Cameron acknowledged, however, that building a coalition to organize and finance a Supreme Court challenge can be difficult in a big country like Canada with scores of environmental groups scattered widely across the country.

Millions of lives at risk

During an interview later, Roy Ries said a Supreme Court challenge would need to emphasize that climate change puts lives at risk all over the world.

“It is so urgent that we act immediately to shut down the fossil fuel driven economy in order to save millions and millions of people in the world,” he added.

“It requires a group that’s willing to raise enough money, and it’s not a lot of money, a hundred thousand dollars would do it, but you need a group that can assemble the scientific evidence of the threat,” Ries said.

In 2014, the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance launched its own lawsuit against fracking.

But Ries says he believes that such provincial lawsuits wouldn’t be necessary if a national coalition of environmental groups could win a climate change Charter case in the Supreme Court of Canada.

Town council support

Meantime, Sackville Councillors Megan Mitton and Bill Evans, who watched Cameron’s green rights film at the Vogue, said afterwards they were impressed by the number of victories environmental groups are winning all over the world including the one by the anti-fracking alliance here in New Brunswick.

Councillor Mitton said, however, the film shows how much work there is left to do.

“It also made it clear just all the different roles that different citizens can play,” Mitton added.

“So there are people who maybe run for office, like me, like Councillor Evans. There are people that are out there on the highway, people willing to get arrested, and then there are the lawyers that are in the courtrooms,” she said, adding it’s important for people to take action on behalf of the environment.

“When you do that, good things can happen,” Mitton said.

For his part, Councillor Evans said Cameron’s film demonstrates the power of small groups of committed people fighting for the public good in countries where laws guarantee the right to clean air, water and food. (The film points out that those explicit “green” rights are not legally guaranteed in Canada or the U.S.)

“I realize in Canada, we have the inverted pyramid in terms of you have the corporations at the top, the individuals and then the group, the collective down below,” Evans said. “I think it should be the other way around.”

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Journalist Silver Donald Cameron champions civil disobedience & green rights

Silver Donald Cameron outside the Vogue theatre

A veteran journalist, author and activist says civil disobedience is one of the most effective ways to force politicians to protect the natural environment from the destructive effects of corporate-driven, resource extraction.

During a presentation last night at Sackville’s Vogue theatre, Silver Donald Cameron said he came to that conclusion after hearing some advice a few years ago in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.

“A local politician said to me, ‘Look, you can write all the petitions you want and you can write all the letters you want and you can hold demonstrations, but nothing is going to happen until you’ve got people lying down in front of the trucks,'” Cameron told his audience of about 50 people.

Elsipogtog victory

He said the strength of civil disobedience was demonstrated in New Brunswick in 2013 when a defiant alliance of Acadians, English-speaking citizens and Aboriginal people from the Elsipogtog First Nation defeated the combined will of an American-based fracking outfit, the Conservative provincial government and columns of armed, riot police.

The Elsipogtog struggle is featured in the 67-minute film that Cameron showed at the Vogue as part of his presentation.

The film, Green Rights: The Human Right to a Healthy World, was written and narrated by Cameron and directed by videographer, Chris Beckett.

It reveals that in most of the world’s countries — more than 180 of them — citizens are legally entitled to clean air, water and food, but these rights are not legally guaranteed in Canada or the U.S.

During a question and answer period after the film, Cameron said the North American economy is heavily dependent on the extraction of natural resources and big corporations who influence politicians here, don’t want citizens to have green, legal rights.

“We have a lot of corporations in Canada who behave extremely badly in other parts of the world,” he added. “They would not really like to see the legal system strengthened too much, I would think.”

Legal victories

Cameron’s film features scenes and interviews from 11 countries where citizens and lawyers are fighting in the courts to enforce their legal rights to clean air, water and food.

And in many cases, the film shows, they’re slowly winning.

In Argentina, for example, the Supreme Court ordered the clean-up of the toxic Riachuelo River in Buenos Aires in response to a case launched by lawyers who argued that the environmental guarantees in the country’s constitution weren’t being respected.

In the Netherlands, an environmental foundation backed by 900 citizens sued the Dutch state for not doing enough to limit the greenhouse gas emissions implicated in climate change. The court responded by ordering the government to cut emissions by 25 per cent by 2020.

Hope for Canada?

Cameron sees hope that Canada will join the worldwide movement to grant legal protections to green rights.

He points out that in June, the Commons Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, for example, called on the federal government to recognize and protect environmental rights including “the right to clean air and water and a healthy and ecologically balanced environment” as part of the Environmental Protection Act.

He also points out that about 160 municipalities across Canada, including Sackville, have declared their support for citizens’ rights to a clean environment as part of the Suzuki Foundation’s Blue Dot movement.

“It’s like the rising tide,” Cameron said, “it will take awhile before it covers all the sand, but it will get there.”

To watch a trailer for Silver Donald Cameron’s film, click here.

To watch his green rights film based in the Maritimes, Defenders of the Dawn, click here,

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Sackville town managers receive 8% raises

According to newly released figures, the salary scales of senior town managers have risen by just over eight per cent since July when a majority of  Sackville councillors approved a one-time raise to bring management salaries more in line with the town’s unionized workers.

Managers received the one-time, six per cent “catch-up” in addition to two per cent raises that all employees are getting as part of the six-year collective agreement the town and CUPE local 1188 negotiated this spring.  Some of the increases were retroactive to December 31, 2015 when the last contract expired.

Town salaries increased by one per cent in each of the first two years (2016/2017) and will rise by another one per cent next year, followed by two years of one-point-five per cent increases and a two per cent raise in 2021, the final year of the agreement.

New management scales

To protect the privacy of individual employees, New Brunswick does not require municipalities to release precise salary figures, only salary ranges as well as general information about other benefits such as car allowances.

The new salary scales for the most highly paid managers range from $96,367 to $128,489 for Chief Administrative Officer Phil Handrahan; $82,969 to $110,625 for Town Engineer Dwayne Acton and, $62,872 to $83,829 for Treasurer Michael Beal and Senior Manager of Corporate Projects Jamie Burke.

To view a three-page summary of salary ranges and other benefits for all town employees, click here.

Although the salary scale for CAO Phil Handrahan has risen just over eight percent since July, further raises will not be tied to the collective agreement, but will be based on an annual performance review.

Councillors discussed the six per cent “catch-up” for senior managers at a closed meeting where it’s understood they were told that management staff were falling behind unionized workers who can earn overtime pay.

In 2005, council decided to tie managers’ pay raises to the collective agreement, but most councillors felt that a six per cent “catch-up” was justified this year to restore balance between the two groups of employees.

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N.B. Green Party leader calls on province to reduce poverty, boost incomes in light of latest StatsCan figures

N.B. Green Party leader David Coon and Town Councillor Megan Mitton at the Sackville Fall Fair

New Brunswick’s Green Party leader says the province needs to take steps to raise incomes after Statistics Canada released figures showing the province has the lowest household median income in the country.

David Coon says New Brunswick should adopt measures enabling workers to join unions, while raising minimum wages and welfare rates and experimenting with a basic, guaranteed annual income.

He spoke to The New Wark Times during a visit today to Sackville where he answered questions about the Statistics Canada figures released this week.

The figures showed that in 2015, the national median household income was $70,336, while the New Brunswick figure was $59,347, the lowest in any province or territory.

New Brunswick also tied with Nova Scotia for the highest rate of children (22.2 per cent) living in low-income households.

First contract legislation

“I’m convinced that one of the reasons we have lower wages in New Brunswick is that too few people have unions to fight for them,” Coon says.

He adds he plans to introduce a bill in the New Brunswick legislature this fall to create first contract legislation that would require employers to bargain in good faith with newly unionized workers.

Poverty reduction

David Coon talks to The New Wark Times in Sackville

Coon maintains New Brunswick should take a number of other steps to reduce poverty.

“Right off the bat, we need to raise income assistance rates, people aren’t going to get out of poverty if we can’t do that,” he says.

“We need a basic (annual) income,” he adds. “That needs to be done in co-operation with the federal government. We’re not currently engaged on that, we need to be.”

The Green Party leader points out that the P.E.I. legislature passed a unanimous resolution last year calling for the province to pursue a partnership with the federal government on a basic income pilot project while Ontario is already testing the idea in four areas of the province.

“The federal government has expressed an interest in supporting exploration of this approach to help reduce poverty overall, but New Brunswick has not stepped up and said we want to be part of that,” Coon says.

“I would argue that beyond the pilot projects, New Brunswick would be the perfect place to actually pilot it on a large scale.”

(However, it’s not clear whether the federal government is still committed to helping more provinces test a basic income plan. So far, P.E.I has failed to get funding for one.)

Contracting out health-care services

Coon reiterated his strong opposition to the province’s plan to hand the management of New Brunswick’s extra-mural, home-care support program to Medavie Blue Cross which already manages ambulance services.

“It’s unconscionable,” he says. “When you contract out the management of a public service, then it becomes more of a numbers game, decisions get made by bean counters, not by public sector managers who are making decisions in terms of the public interest,” he adds.

Coon argues that if contracting out goes ahead, extra-mural nurses will know they’re no longer working for the public even though they’ll be paid from the public purse.

“They’ll be working for private managers and that changes everything,” he says.

“It doesn’t bode well for the extra-mural health care in New Brunswick.”

To listen to the interview with David Coon, click on the link below. The interview runs 6:44.

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Sackville mayor delivers lengthy public response to former councillor’s letter

Mayor Higham responds to Mesheau letter

Describing some of its contents as “utterly false,” Mayor John Higham spent 13-minutes at Monday night’s Sackville Town Council meeting replying to a letter from former councillor Shawn Mesheau.

Mesheau’s August 27th letter was published in the Sackville Tribune-Post and also sent to town council asking for a response.

It expressed shock that council would oppose the provincial government’s decision to freeze next year’s property tax assessments when the town recorded a budget surplus last year of $787,359.

“This stand is very self serving and I do not believe represents the position of a majority of property owners in the municipality,” Mesheau’s letter says.

“I am sure there are struggling municipalities in our province who cannot sustain their services with a freeze on assessments however Sackville is not one of them,” it adds.

False premise

Mayor Higham responded that Mesheau’s letter starts from a false premise.

“The premise is that we are either seeking a change to unfreeze the assessment or we’re seeking to raise property taxes,” the mayor said.

He went on to argue that the town is merely asking the Union of New Brunswick Municipalities to talk to the province about its unilateral decision-making.

“This was a unilateral decision,” he said. “The province was responsible for property tax assessments, they made an error and then they chose to put that cost onto local government without consultation.”

Higham pointed out that last week, the mayors of New Brunswick’s three largest cities also called on the province to consult with municipalities on the property assessment freeze and other issues.

“Their words were almost identical to what we’ve used,” he added, “but in this author’s view, we’re self-serving.”

Lack of understanding

The mayor went on to criticize Mesheau’s letter for claiming that the town generated a budget surplus of three-quarters of a million dollars last year equal to about 13 cents on the property tax rate.

“[It’s] utterly false and really describes a lack of understanding of what the financial statements actually say and how the tax rate is actually calculated,” Higham said.

Later, Treasurer Michael Beal explained that the actual operating surplus for tax calculation purposes was only $64,316 while the utility operating fund showed a surplus of $21,083.

Mayor Higham pointed out that when Mesheau sat on council, he served as liaison councillor for the town’s finances at a time when the books were also showing surpluses.

“He moved a motion to increase property tax rates by two cents,” Higham said. “So, there is an utter disconnect between what’s being stated in the letter and what he has actually done.”

The mayor added that the town welcomes informed criticism, but suggested Mesheau’s letter contains internal contradictions and errors that needed a detailed response.

“We’re not perfect,” Higham concluded. “We seek to do things well, we seek to follow best practices…and we’re responsible for what we do and what we say.”

To read the treasurer’s written response to the Mesheau letter, click here and to watch Mayor Higham’s oral response, click here. (Note the mayor’s response begins at the 32 minute, 20 second mark on the recording.)

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Sackville mayor defends council’s actions on drive-thru ban

Mayor Higham addresses Sharon Hicks

Mayor John Higham has rejected suggestions that Sackville Town Council did not fully understand what it was doing when it voted last year to continue the ban on more fast-food drive-thrus near the TransCanada Highway.

The mayor was responding to a report that Sackville resident Sharon Hicks sent to the mayor and councillors last week.

“I’m stymied with understanding how you’ve concluded that we’ve misinterpreted, we’ve misunderstood, we’ve miscommunicated and that we haven’t done anything,” Higham told Hicks after she presented a verbal summary of her report at Monday’s council meeting. Hicks also asked council to either lift the current ban or explain why it would not take a step that could encourage the establishment of new businesses in town.

“We have consistently said, if there was a proposal, you could bring it forward,” Higham said.

The mayor also rejected Hicks’s contention that the original 2001 bylaw banning further drive-thrus was meant to be only temporary.

Highway exits 504 & 506

The controversy over banning further drive-thrus arose last year after Wendy and Kelly Alder applied to open a Robin’s Donuts drive-thru at their Ultramar gas station on Cattail Ridge near TransCanada Exit 506

A majority of councillors voted against amending the bylaw during a council meeting in July 2016.

At the time, some councillors feared that allowing a drive-thru at Exit 506 would open the way to more of them at Exit 504 leading to increased traffic congestion and pedestrian safety concerns near the high school.

At this week’s council meeting, the mayor suggested similar concerns arose as councillors considered the prospect of a drive-thru at Exit 506.

“When we started to examine it, what we were seeing were eerie similarities between what had happened in 504,” Higham said, “how the roads were misaligned, where there was no left turn lanes, roads that come in on an angle, bends without any pedestrian crossings, that there was a lot of questions about how this could develop properly,” he added.

So, he said, council decided to commission a study to determine what would be needed to accommodate business development at Exit 506.

“You’re urging us to act before we get that information,” the mayor told Hicks. “You’re urging us to act without any understanding of what the public investment would be,” he said, adding that public money had to be spent at Exit 504 to fix problems that the drive-thrus there caused.

Councillors weigh in

After the mayor spoke, other councillors echoed his concerns about allowing more drive-thrus without further study although it’s clear that Bill Evans and Megan Mitton also oppose them on environmental grounds.

Allison Butcher and Michael Tower said they would definitely not want more than two drive-thrus at Exit 504, but suggested they could be open to them at the less-congested 506.

C0uncillors Bruce Phinney and Joyce O’Neill called once again for lifting the ban on further drive-thrus, especially at Exit 506.

“To think that we’re turning down businesses coming to this town just upsets me terribly,” O’Neill said. “We need every bit that we can get.”

For her part, Sharon Hicks said that if council lifted the ban, it could prevent drive-thrus from springing up everywhere by imposing strict conditions that would prevent traffic congestion and alleviate safety concerns.

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The comments about traffic drive-thrus came at the beginning of Monday’s council meeting. To see and hear everything that happened in those opening 22 minutes, click here.

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Up, up & away, $23k for Sackville skateboard park

Half-pipe for Sackville’s skateboard park (Photo courtesy Canadian Ramp Company)

The 20-year-old Sackville skateboard park will be getting a big upgrade this fall if town council approves a $23,000 expenditure for a 30-foot long, 12-foot wide and four-foot high galvanized steel structure known as a half-pipe.

At their meeting this week, councillors were told that the Canadian Ramp Company was the low bidder on the project and that the money would come from the $150,000 the town was awarded as part of New Brunswick’s Canada 150 provincial grants.

Councillors will be asked to approve the project at their next meeting on September 11th.

Black enthusiastic

“As a skater, I’m really excited for a half-pipe in Sackville,” said Councillor Andrew Black.

He added that when he was a kid, there were two plywood structures downtown.

“And kids got hurt quite often. They would just get up and cry and go home…but a half-pipe is just going to be fantastic for the people who skate in town.”

Black predicted that as Sackville’s skatepark develops further, people will travel from other areas such as Moncton and Amherst to skate here.

Skatepark history

Sackville skateboard park on Dufferin St. in 2017

Judging from a search of archival articles in the Sackville Tribune-Post, the town’s skateboard park has evolved slowly over the past two decades.

“When a bylaw was introduced in 1996 prohibiting the use of skateboards on town streets and sidewalks, the town set up a temporary park for skateboarders in the parking lot of Atlantic Wholesalers (now Moneris),” the newspaper’s Katie Tower reported in November, 2008.

“This served the purpose until the new $25,000 park was built in 1997 on Dufferin Street, a year after a group of local skaters approached town council asking for a safe and suitable place to enjoy their sport,” she added.

Park expansion

Along with the installation of the new half-pipe, town staff are proposing to spend an additional $10,500 of the provincial grant money to expand the park slightly and perhaps, spruce up some of the existing equipment.

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