Ombud rejects Warktimes complaint, rules RCMP briefings can remain secret

For the third time, New Brunswick’s Ombud has rejected a Warktimes complaint about secrecy in Sackville’s municipal government.

In a letter e-mailed today, Senior Investigator Christine LeBlanc writes that Sackville Town Council’s monthly, closed-door RCMP briefings do not violate the Local Governance Act.

She points to Section 68(1) of the law that says a council meeting may be closed to the public “if it is necessary to discuss information gathered by the police, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in the course of investigating any illegal activity or suspected illegal activity, or the source of that information.”

LeBlanc’s letter also says that a written report on police activities is presented at every regular council meeting and a member of the RCMP appears before council every four months to answer questions.

She was responding to a Warktimes complaint filed with the Ombud’s office on August 17, 2021, more than 15 months ago:

My position is that Sackville Town Council can always go into closed session to discuss matters with the RCMP that fall under the provisions of Section 68(1) of New Brunswick’s Local Governance Act, but that it should not be permissible to close the entire monthly RCMP report just in case some legal or confidential matter happens to arise.

I would also argue that the intent of the Local Governance Act is that Sackville Town Council meetings should be open and public except when the mayor and councillors are discussing matters that are covered under Section 68(1).

In two previous rulings on Warktimes complaints, the Ombud said that the law does not prohibit town council from meeting with staff behind closed doors to discuss budget priorities and that the Montana report recommending what to do about persistent harassment and bullying within Sackville’s fire department should remain secret because it deals with investigations into personnel or harassment matters.


Former CAO Phil Handrahan decided that the monthly RCMP council briefings should be held in public starting in September 2019 after a series of articles about the frequency of closed municipal council meetings across New Brunswick in the Times & Transcript and after Warktimes raised concerns about the lack of public briefings from the RCMP.

However, six months later, in February 2020, Sgt. Paul Gagné complained about having to deliver his reports in public.

“Since we changed the format of our present meeting to being open to the public, I personally don’t find as much value in being here as I did before because I found our exchanges much more, I would say, hearty and substantial,” he told council.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, the RCMP stopped appearing before council when its meetings moved online.

Several months later, in November 2020, then-councillor Shawn Mesheau said he’d like to see the RCMP appearing before council again to explain its quarterly reports.

“I think it would be really important if the RCMP was actually presenting this report to help break down the information they’re providing and also to be able to answer any questions of the public or council,” Mesheau said.

He also called attention to RCMP opinion surveys showing that the force needed to do a better job providing information and service to its contract partners which include the town of Sackville.

“I just found some of the results quite interesting because 22% of the respondents thought that the value of money spent on the policing services was good,” Mesheau said. “That’s not a really high mark.”

He also pointed out that only 41% felt that the RCMP was providing useful information about its work.

Back behind closed doors

By August 2021, Sgt. Gagné got his wish when council decided to move the public briefings behind closed doors again.

Town CAO Jamie Burke responded to a reporter’s question about how the decision was made by saying it came after a discussion held in a private meeting.

“We can’t talk about in-camera discussions, but I’m quite comfortable to say that we had a conversation in-camera on the topic of RCMP reporting,” Burke said.

Within days, Warktimes filed a complaint to the Ombud which led to today’s ruling that the closed-door meetings comply with the law.


Earlier this year, the Canadian Association of Journalists awarded its annual Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy to the RCMP.

To read the Warktimes report on it, click here.

Posted in RCMP, Sackville Fire & Rescue, Town of Sackville | Tagged | 4 Comments

17 of 20 Tantramar candidates reveal campaign donations & expenses

Tantramar mayoralty candidates Shawn Mesheau (L) Bonnie Swift and Andrew Black

Seventeen of the 20 candidates running in the Tantramar municipal election have responded to a Warktimes request for information about campaign donors, the amounts they gave and total campaign expenses.

Mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau stuck with his initial response that there is no requirement under the Municipal Elections Act for candidates to keep track of their campaign donations or expenditures and Warktimes received no response from Ward 3 candidates Charles Harvey and Sana Mohamad.

Andrew Black, who won the mayoralty race, sent this spreadsheet:

Mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift also sent a spreadsheet:

Ward 1

Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, who won the race in Ward 1, said she had one private donation of $100 to pay the rental for a candidate meet and greet. She did not disclose the name of the donor. She paid the rest of her campaign expenses, which came to $1,075.25: Advocate Printing $985.55 and postal costs $89.70.

Robert Corkerton reported total campaign spending of $777.00 with one donation from Carla Gillis of $3.00 for a bag of foam paint brushes.

Ward 2

Barry Hicks, who won the contest in Ward 2, sent the following message: “I didn’t spend any money. I chose to speak to people personally and didn’t spend anything on signage.”

Kevin Scott e-mailed to say: “I didn’t receive any donations and spent $120 out of my own pocket for my campaign.”

Wendy Epworth said she had no donors and spent $354.21 on a campaign website.

Natalie Donaher wrote: “I’m confirming no donations to my campaign. I spent time on a website but no money, my campaign total was $0.

Ward 3

Ward 3 candidates who responded to Warktimes’ request for information, L-R: Josh Goguen, Bruce Phinney, Alice Cotton, Virgil Hammock, Allison Butcher, Sahitya Pendurthi, Michael Tower

The Ward 3 candidates, who responded to Warktimes’ request for campaign donations and spending, are listed in order of the number of votes they received beginning with the four who were elected:

Allison Butcher e-mailed to say: “This is an easy answer for me. My signs were made by my children with paint we already owned and scrap lumber. I had no campaign donors. My total is zero dollars.”

Michael Tower reported that he had no donations to his campaign and that he and his wife drafted and created all of his campaign materials. His total spending of $90.57 was for photocopying.

Bruce Phinney, who has served on Sackville Town Council since 2004, responded: “I have no money donations, just verbal support. I spent no money on my campaign. I had signs left over from the last two elections.”

Josh Goguen responded that he paid his total campaign expenses of $220.81 out of his own pocket and did not receive any donations. The expenses were: $94.28 for pamphlets; $76.53 for Facebook advertising and $50.00 to RD Print for election signs that were worth $122.00 (The difference in what he paid and total sign value was “compensation for work done/barter.”)

Alice Cotton responded with this message: “Here we go: 384.00 for lawn signs from Hansen Signs Ltd., 58.00 for the printing of handbills by Mount Allison’s print shop. Rob Lyon designed my lawn sign from a photo taken by Peter Stephenson, free of charge. I paid for the printing of the lawn signs and of the handbills. I did not pay for any advertising on Facebook, though I did contemplate it.”

Sahitya Pendurthi wrote that she didn’t spend any money on her campaign.

Virgil Hammock responded that he had “zero donations” and “I have spent zero dollars running for council. I have done everything online by myself.”

Ward 4

Matt Estabrooks, who won the council seat in Ward 4, e-mailed to say: “1. No donors to my campaign. 2. No donors and therefore no funding or in kind services received for my campaign. 3. $245 of personal funds spent at Payzant Home Hardware on exterior paint and one sheet of 3/4” plywood. To hand paint and construct my one election sign installed on my own property. That is the extent of my personal spending on this election.”

Sabine Dietz reported no donors and total campaign spending of $900.00.

Note: Greg Martin, who was elected by acclamation, did not need to campaign in Ward 5 because no one ran against him.

Public disclosure rules in other provinces

  1. Nova Scotia requires municipal candidates to list the names and addresses of anyone who contributes $50 or more and that information must be filed at the municipal office where it is open to the public.
  2. Prince Edward Island requires disclosure of names and addresses of those who contribute more than $250.
  3. Newfoundland and Labrador requires candidates to disclose the names of contributors who give more than $100.
  4. Quebec requires disclosure of donations over $50.
  5. Ontario requires disclosure of donations over $100.
  6. Manitoba requires disclosure of amounts over $250.
  7. Saskatchewan leaves contribution disclosure rules up to municipal councils who can pass a bylaw governing local elections.
  8. Alberta requires municipal candidates to disclose the names and addresses of donors whose contributions exceed $50.
  9. British Columbia requires disclosure of amounts over $100.
Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged | Leave a comment

Chief Electoral Officer responds to Tantramar Facebook fight

Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth

An intense, internal conflict within the Facebook group Tantramar Community Concerns boiled over during the municipal election campaign and landed on the desk of New Brunswick’s Chief Electoral Officer.

Kim Poffenroth says she has no power to investigate allegations of possible election manipulation in connection with the Facebook group.

“I…wish to ensure you are aware that as the Municipal Electoral Officer, a statutory officer of the Legislative Assembly, I only have those authorities and powers granted to me under the Municipal Elections Act, Poffenroth wrote in a letter on November 28th.

She was responding to former group moderators Jean-Pascal Lavoie and John Dale who submitted their complaint after being removed from their positions by the Facebook group’s owner, Micheal Landry who lives in northern New Brunswick.

Lavoie, Dale and other moderators had blocked Tantramar mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift from participating in the group because they felt she had violated group rules.

The dispute reached a climax after Tantramar Community Concerns published a link to a Warktimes article that reported on Swift’s controversial tweets.

Swift herself was blocked from commenting on the article in the Facebook group and Landry eventually responded by dismissing Lavoie, Dale and several other moderators and replacing them with ones who would lift the ban on Swift’s participation.

Tantramar Community Concerns is now administered by Will Kriski, Swift’s husband.

In their complaint, Lavoie and Dale said they were concerned that Landry had claimed in online conversations with them that he had received funds in the 2021 municipal election from a mayoralty candidate in Campbellton and they worried that Landry was being influenced in the Tantramar campaign by a financial contribution, although they acknowledged they had no direct proof.

They also say they have no evidence that Swift herself was involved in any way, but were asking Elections NB to look into the matter.

Poffenroth wrote that she found nothing in the complaint or in online text conversations submitted as evidence to indicate the law had been broken.

“Although the behaviour complained of may be considered distasteful, it does not appear to give rise to a violation of the Municipal Elections Act,” she wrote.

String of local groups

Aside from Tantramar Community Concerns, Landry runs a network of more than 20 local Facebook and social media groups in the province with a potential reach of about 20-thousand members.

He says he removed Lavoie, Dale and several other moderators for pushing a pro-left wing narrative while blocking Tantramar mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift along with many of her supporters and attempting to silence her election platform.

Landry also points to a $50 donation he received from Lavoie to help him out financially and claims the admin/moderator was trying to buy the group from him to promote his left-wing agenda.

In her letter, the Chief Electoral Officer advised the complainants to go to the police if they believed the law had been broken, or if they felt the law needed to be strengthened, they could reach out to their MLA, who is Megan Mitton.

MLA Megan Mitton addressing the NB legislature in 2020

In a statement to Warktimes, Mitton suggested that legislative changes governing the role of social media should be part of a larger package of reform:

It’s essential that we have transparency in our electoral system, and that there is confidence from the electorate that our elections are free and fair. In our municipal elections, candidates don’t need to declare who donated to their campaigns and there are no clear third-party advertising regulations. This is a serious problem. Municipal elections need to require the public reporting of expenses, like we do for provincial and federal elections.

I call on the government to introduce legislation to strengthen the Municipal Elections Act to ensure greater transparency in our elections, as Minister Allain has committed to. This needs to include measures to address the issues around financing and the role social media plays in our elections. The government also needs to implement the recommendations that the Chief Electoral Office has already presented to the legislature.

Other changes that are needed include legislation to prevent intimidation and non-physical coercion of voters, ending the practice of publicizing candidates’ home addresses, and ensuring Elections NB has adequate resources so that polling stations are located in areas that are convenient and accessible for voters.

For previous coverage of the temporary takeover of Landry’s Facebook group by an entrepreneur from Saint John in 2020, click here.

Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged , | 14 Comments

Andrew Black wins Tantramar mayoralty

Andrew Black

Sackville’s Deputy Mayor Andrew Black has been elected Mayor of the new Town of Tantramar according to results posted tonight by Elections NB.

He will preside over a council that includes four current Sackville councillors and the Mayor of Dorchester.

The three other councillors will be newcomers Josh Goguen in Ward 3 (Sackville), Barry Hicks in Ward 2 (West Sackville) and Greg Martin who was acclaimed in Ward 5 (Point de Bute).

The results in Ward 3, the former Town of Sackville, show that voters have chosen the three Sackville councillors in the running as well as Josh Goguen.

In Ward 1, Dorchester Mayor Debbie Wiggins-Colwell defeated Deputy Mayor Robert Corkerton.

In Ward 4 (Midgic/Upper Sackville), Sackville councillor Matt Estabrooks defeated his council colleague Sabine Dietz.

In Ward 2 (Westcock/Wood Point/Rockport), Barry Hicks defeated three rivals.

Tantramar Town Council will officially take office on January 1st.

Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 6 Comments

Ward 4 candidate Sabine Dietz says ‘it’s absolutely crucial’ who gets elected mayor

Ward 4 candidate Sabine Dietz

Sabine Dietz says she decided to run as a Tantramar council candidate in Ward 4 after Andrew Black announced he would be running to become mayor of the new town.

“I decided that yes, I can imagine working with Andrew to make this work for all of the community,” she said during an interview last week.

“It’s absolutely crucial who gets elected mayor,” she adds, noting that whoever is elected mayor will have a seat on the board of a newly strengthened regional service commission.

“There are going to be all sorts of committees and the mayor will essentially determine who sits on those committees to make sure our Tantramar interests are represented and defended,” she said.

“That’s why it’s absolutely crucial who gets elected — someone who understands the role of the regional service commission, who can ask the questions that are needed and who can make a stand,” Dietz says.

Dietz, who is currently serving as a Sackville councillor, is running against her council colleague Matt Estabrooks for the Ward 4 seat.

Estabrooks declined an interview request from Warktimes saying in an e-mail, “I have chosen to use my own social media and good old fashioned face to face conversations to communicate my positioning in Ward 4 issues.”

For her part, Dietz says she has knocked on almost all of the doors in Ward 4 which includes Pond Shore Road, Upper Sackville and the Midgic area.

“I know there’s about 660 voters in the area and I estimate about 300 houses, or units I should say, because some of them are apartments,” she says.

“In some cases, just a flyer in the mailbox, if there was nobody home, but I’ve visited all but a handful.”

Ward 4 issues

Dietz says residents are concerned about tax increases especially since property assessments have risen so steeply and they’re also worried about the services they’ll receive from the new town.

“There are these questions about, what does it mean for me?” she says, adding that snow clearing and road maintenance are big concerns even though the province will continue to provide those services in the outlying areas for the next year or two.

She notes that people on Pond Shore, who were within Sackville’s town limits, continue to worry about speeding as well as ATVs on the road.

“There was also something very curious that I noticed,” she says.

“Part of it was a quiet excitement that folks in outlying areas can now vote, but on the other hand, there was the total opposite, ‘This is stupid, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.'”

Dietz says it will be important to try to reconcile the interests of the residents along Pond Shore, Mount View, Church Street and Station Road, who were part of Sackville, with those in the rural areas.

She also noticed that younger people have been moving in, attracted to the area because of lower housing costs, but also affected by the steep rise in property assessments.

“It’s interesting, it’s different, Ward 4 feels almost more like a provincial riding where you get the same kind of broad range of interests and  differences in what people think.”

Dietz says that if elected, she will continue to work on climate change issues even though next year’s budget is still uncertain and no one knows, for example, whether the province has made any provision for the climate-change co-ordinator position that Sackville requested.

New layer of government

Sabine Dietz

Dietz points out that the provincial government has downloaded some of its responsibilities to the newly strengthened regional service commissions that will oversee regional economic, social and community development as well as tourism and recreation.

“I feel we’re on the brink of losing some of our own capability of addressing issues locally and moving them to an unelected body which is not what we want,” she says.

She notes that the province will pay the added costs next year, but in 2024, “believe me, we will be paying.”

Dietz fears that decision-making power will shift to the regional service commission.

“It’s in the opposite direction to where we need to go,” she says.

“We need to make our communities stronger, take ownership over all of those files that are important to us like housing, health care, social development, economic development, tourism, climate change — all of those really need to be embedded in the community and what is happening is some of those things that make us stronger and more resilient are being taken away from us.”

Dietz says that since Tantramar’s mayor will sit on the board of the regional service commission, it’s crucial to elect someone who understands the issues and can defend the town’s interests.

“We’ve got communities such as Dieppe and Moncton in there, they have a way stronger voice, but only in theory. If you’ve got a good mayor, the mayor will be able to stand up in this forum,” she adds.

Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 11 Comments

UPDATED: Tantramar Mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift deletes hundreds of right-wing tweets

Swift tweet endorses 2008 statement from Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre questioning compensation for residential school abuses

Sackville Mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift has deleted hundreds of tweets from her Twitter account that express strong right-wing views including support for the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels; visceral hatred of Prime Minister Trudeau and his Liberals as well as opposition to women’s abortion rights and campaigns for racial justice.

Many of Swift’s tweets were replies to Trudeau including to his tweet on June 6th saying the prime minister was meeting with Ottawa high school students to discuss “climate change, gender equality, democracy, leadership, and other topics these young people are passionate about.”

“Topics no one cares about,” Swift replied. “Cost of living, cost of housing, inflation rates on food and gas, improving healthcare, decreased standards of living for families because they can’t afford to live here. The level of detachment this government shows for basic human needs is appalling.”

In reply to a tweet about the possible loss of abortion rights in the U.S., Swift wrote on May 5th: “And if abortions is illegal it does not impact me in anyway….I just don’t care…it’s not 1950 use birth control, tons of options”.

When Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland tweeted on May 3rd that Canadian women who care about “a woman’s right to choose need to be active, vigilant and speak out,” Swift replied: “As a Canadian woman I don’t care about this crap. I care that about all the women and single moms that can no longer afford to live in this country because of the inflation your irresponsible government created”.

CTV News tweeted on May 3 that Freeland was “deeply troubled” that the U.S. Supreme Court was considering overturning the abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade.

Swift replied: “”I am deeply trouble by Freeland …She’s a hideous human being,” adding later: “I can’t stand Freeland. Rather be run through a wood chipper than have her as my PM. I am women but she disgust me”.

In reply to a tweet on April 26th that the “biggest threat to Canadian healthcare is Conservative politicians who want to erode universality by introducing more privatization so they can eventually open the country to American HMOs who are slavering at Canada as a virgin market,” Swift replied: “Can’t happen soon enough. I was very ill had to fly to the US for treatment as the wait times for specialist here are way too long….Give us some other options because we need them”.

In a tweet on April 30th, Swift referred to the CBC as “Trudeau’s propaganda TV station.”

On April 25th, a tweet from American economist Robert Reich caught Swift’s attention.

Reich wrote: “A handful of billionaires now have unprecedented control over banking, the food we eat, the health care we can access and, now, the information we receive. This is what oligarchy looks like.”

Swift replied: “Shut up please…We couldn’t live without these people and the technologies and jobs that they have created. They are doing more to advance society that you ever will.”

On April 28th, a tweet from British journalist Laurie Penny provoked another acerbic reply from Swift.

Penny wrote: “Like many writers who aren’t straight, white, wealthy men, I’ve spent my whole career being trolled, threatened, flamed, defamed, iced out and lied about by EXACTLY the same people who claim to be all about ‘protecting free speech’ until a single woman actually speaks her mind.”

Swift replied: “I really think most people don’t care about what you have to say. They are just not that interested in this stuff. At least the white, wealthy men are creating technologies that are advancing society. The only reason you have these platforms to whine on is because they made them.”

On May 14th, Swift again defended the American rich against the prospect of President Biden raising their taxes.

“That rich are 70% of the tax base they are what’s holding the country up, they also create most of the jobs. Tax them anymore they’ll leave then we are screwed the jobs are gone,” Swift wrote.

Swift’s admiration for Elon Musk was a recurring theme in her tweets. His promise to reinstate Donald Trump’s Twitter account drew her praise.

Here is a statement e-mailed to Warktimes by Bonnie Swift at 4:09 p.m Wednesday, Nov. 23rd:

My husband deactivated my Twitter account when I was out today campaigning in Midgic, due to the online harassment coming from the comments on my sites and he was worried about my safety. There was lots of personal stuff on there. By the time I was contacted by Bruce Wark, I was unable to go back and see when the comments were made or confirm if the context was accurate. So when Bruce said I deleted it that was not true. He also asked me to confirm some of the stuff yet he posted it without me having a chance to respond.

My responses, such as my comment under the Poilievre meme where I was quoted as saying “everyone could learn the value of hard work” was missing. There were other lines missing, so I do believe some if these tweets are out of context, but how can I confirm this? I can’t.

Since I began running for mayor, I have received steady harassment and stalking online but it’s not going to break me. I’ve always been a strong woman and I will see this election out to the end.

If I was truly concerned about my social media, I would have deleted my accounts long before I ran for local office. I chose not to delete them because I live my life as an open book with nothing to hide.

The Twitter content posted was taken from a small window of my life. There was tons of Twitter content not included, like when I was a green party supporter for 10 years, or my animal welfare posts and my volunteering for wildlife conservation. What was posted, if even accurate, was a very limited reflection of me as a whole person.

I have views reflecting both left and right for the most part. I am a social liberal but a fiscal conservative. I am non partisan, having voted Green, Liberal and Conservative, it varies every year. I consider myself politically fluid across the political spectrum.

I have just as many left sided views as right but none of those were ever posted. I have to question why I am singled out to be investigated in the campaign. Whatever happens, I could author a book about women like me, who don’t fit into the Sackville status quo. I feel like the next Rima Azar. The poor women’s career was almost destroyed by cancel culture. I don’t care about the outcome of this campaign. I ran because many concerned citizens asked me to and they still want me to. I really don’t care if I win or lose. They think I do but I don’t, that’s what they don’t get.

Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 50 Comments

Where do Tantramar municipal candidates stand on revealing campaign donations and spending?

Tantramar mayoralty candidates Bonnie Swift, Shawn Mesheau & Andrew Black

The Tantramar mayoralty candidates outlined differing positions on revealing campaign donations and their total campaign spending when they responded to questions from Warktimes e-mailed to them on November 15.

The candidates were asked if, after the election, they would commit (1) to publishing the names of campaign donors (2) revealing the amount of money or the value of services that each donor contributed and, (3) publishing the total amount of their campaign spending.

Bonnie Swift reaffirmed her commitment “to publish my donors’ names and what they gave me. However, if a donor didn’t want their name published, I would protect their privacy.” She added that she will reveal her total campaign spending.

Shawn Mesheau responded with a message signed by a member of his campaign team that read:

“Candidate Mesheau is following all of the rules as set out under the elections act for municipal elections. There are no rules requiring candidates to keep track of contributions or expenditures related to their campaign. Candidates are not required to file a financial return at the conclusion of the election. It is our understanding that by the time of the 2026 municipal elections the provincial government has indicated that they will be addressing these requirements. Candidate Mesheau will be reviewing the campaign finances with his team at the end of the campaign and will share appropriate information through social media platforms in keeping with the municipal elections act requirements.”

Andrew Black responded: “Yes to all three questions!”

Council candidates

Ward 1 candidate Robert Corkerton answered yes to all three questions: “I will make that commitment without issue,” he wrote.

Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, who is also running in Ward 1, wrote: “Had one private donation for one hundred dollars. My own funding was Advocate Printing nine hundred, eighty-five dollars and fifty-five cents and postal cost eighty-nine dollars and seventy cents. Total of one thousand, seventy-five and twenty-five cents. The private donation was used for rent for meet and greet.”

Ward 2 candidates Natalie Donaher, Wendy Epworth, Barry Hicks and Kevin Scott said they would reveal donors, donations and total spending.

Ward 3 candidates Allison Butcher, Alice Cotton, Josh Goguen, Sahitya Pendurthi and Michael Tower pledged full disclosure.

Bruce Phinney wrote: “I have no money donations, just verbal support. I spent no money on my campaign. I had signs left over from the last two elections.”

Virgil Hammock sent this answer: “Of course, yes to all questions. But the real answer is that I have zero donations and I have spent zero dollars running for council. I have done everything online by myself. I will not accept any donations between now and the election. Nothing is needed.”

Warktimes did not receive a response from Ward 3 candidates Charles Harvey and Sana Mohamad.

Ward 4 candidate Sabine Dietz responded that she has not had any campaign donations, but did have door-knocking help and will reveal total campaign spending.

Matt Estabrooks, who is also running in Ward 4, wrote: “I am able to provide the answers to your questions now.  1. No donors to my campaign. 2. No donors and therefore no funding or in kind services received for my campaign. 3. $245 of personal funds spent at Payzant Home Hardware on exterior paint and one sheet of 3/4” plywood. To hand paint and construct my one election sign installed on my own property. That is the extent of my personal spending on this election.”

For CBC reporting on the lack of municipal spending disclosure laws in New Brunswick, click here and here.

Posted in Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 13 Comments

Tantramar mayoralty candidates won’t say no to hefty pay hikes

Tantramar Mayoralty candidates Shawn Mesheau (L) Bonnie Swift and Andrew Black at MASU all-candidates forum

Mount Allison students tossed the three Tantramar mayoralty candidates a financial hot-potato on Monday during an all-candidates forum organized by MASU, the university’s students’ union.

Candidates Andrew Black, Shawn Mesheau and Bonnie Swift were asked if they supported new municipal salary levels that would triple the pay that members of Sackville Town Council are now receiving.

Table: Salary comparisons

Black’s response

“Wow” replied Andrew Black with a chuckle.

“I’ve been on council for six years now and in that time, I think it’s been five times that the issue of remuneration has come before council,” he said.

“Every time it came before council it was defeated and the reason for that is because the argument was that it shouldn’t be about money, it should be about doing something for your community.”

Andrew Black at MASU all-candidates forum

Black said there was another side to that coin.

“We need to have some form of remuneration so that you could do the job effectively and also have more people be interested in running — it’s a lot of work being on council.”

He pointed out that the new salary levels came from the province through the transition facilitator as part of municipal reform.

Black indicated that he didn’t necessarily approve of the huge pay increase, but noted the new salaries did not include the health, dental and life insurance benefits that members of Sackville Town Council now receive.

“So really in the end, it’s about a 50% increase,” he concluded.

Mesheau’s response

Shawn Mesheau explained that the province provided the transition advisory committee with salary templates including one from New Brunswick’s Association of Francophone Municipalities.

“What was decided upon was to look at that template from the Francophone Association and look at different areas — population, tax base, [government] services that are being provided,” he said, adding that the advisory committee told the province it would be an opportunity to set a level playing field for all municipalities.

Shawn Mesheau at MASU all-candidates forum

“It’s something that councils won’t touch with a 10-foot pole,” Mesheau said as the audience laughed, adding that pay levels reflect the amount of time members of council put in.

“As the current sitting mayor, I can put 25 to 30 hours very easily into a week on top of my part-time job.”

He said that although the province did not end up providing consistent pay levels for all municipalities, this is what’s in place for Tantramar.

“Let’s hope it’s satisfactory in order to move us forward,” he concluded.

Swift’s response

Bonnie Swift said that although she was not familiar with the process for deciding on the pay increases, she had thoughts about them.

Bonnie Swift at MASU all-candidates forum

“I was talking to a young man who’s working two part-time jobs supporting a family and he said, ‘I would love to run for municipal government, but I would have to give up one of my part-time jobs,'” Swift said, adding that for people living paycheque to paycheque adequate compensation is crucial.

Without it, she said, the municipality would be shutting out large numbers of people from participating in local politics.

“There are a lot of things to consider,” she said.

“We want to draw everybody in who wants to run for a council position or a mayoral position, but they have to be able to do that and live, so that’s really important,” Swift concluded.

Current Sackville benefits package

Note: Sackville Treasurer and Acting CAO Michael Beal supplied the following information about the benefits package that members of Sackville Town Council are now receiving:

Members of council are currently eligible to join the town’s health plan. Benefits for each sub-group in our plan varies and each of those costs varies as well.

The subgroup that covers the mayor and councillors includes life insurance up to age 65, health (which covers prescription drugs and other services, i.e. physio) and also dental.  For councillors over 65 , their life insurance benefit is reduced and if they are over 75, it is eliminated.

The current overall cost for a member of council who is less than 65 and on the plan with full coverage, would be $560.26 or $6,723.12 per year. This is the 2022 rate for this subgroup and rates are adjusted annually based on many factors.

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

Ward 4 council candidates clash over EV charging station in downtown Sackville

Table shows that the cost of downtown EV charger has increased by $18,282.52 since June when Sackville Town Council approved installing it subject to obtaining financial support from NB Power and the province

Sackville councillors Matt Estabrooks and Sabine Dietz, who are both running for the single Tantramar council seat in Ward 4, came out on opposite sides Tuesday night as council voted to spend $72,567.89 to install an electric vehicle charger in the downtown parking lot beside the Post Office.

“I do appreciate and recognize the positive environmental optics of installing electric vehicle chargers generally, but it’s the struggle with the use of public money to fund this required infrastructure,” Estabrooks said as he explained why he would be voting against a motion to install the charger.

He also voted against the project in June when council first approved it subject to obtaining financial support from NB Power and New Brunswick’s Regional Development Corporation (RDC).

Acting CAO Michael Beal said that since June, costs had risen by more than $18,000 and that the local contractor, Tantramar Electric, had submitted a revised quote to cover the higher cost of materials.

“We all know what inflation has done,” Beal explained “and the contractor of course could not hold his price for the nearly six months it took [to obtain funding].”

He pointed out that even with the increased cost, the project is well below the $108,000 set aside for it in this year’s capital budget.

Subsidizing NB Power

Coun. Matt Estabrooks participated in the council meeting via an online hook-up

In arguing against the EV charger, Estabrooks suggested that Sackville taxpayers were subsidizing NB Power.

“The end result of this project will be Flo, a division of NB Power, operating and selling electricity to users via a charger that the town of Sackville purchased from them,” he said, adding that the town will also pay the cost of the needed electrical infrastructure.

“Is that a proper use of taxpayers’ money?”

Estabrooks added there are only about 20 electric vehicles in Sackville and if business owners are hoping the fast charger will bring more visitors to town, they should present numbers to demonstrate that the benefits outweigh the costs.

“I believe that alternatives to power our vehicles beyond fossil fuels must be found and supported, but that technology is changing very, very quickly and any specific type of car charger installed this year could be obsolete in a short while,” he said.

Councillor Bruce Phinney said he would also vote against installing an EV charger because of its cost.

“Actually $72,000 to me is ridiculous to take taxpayers’ money for the benefit of approximately 20 people,” he said.

 Need for leadership 

Councillor Sabine Dietz said she hardly knew where to start in answering Estabrooks and Phinney’s “misconceptions about electric vehicles.”

“I’m a bit appalled,” she said and offered to sit down with them along with the town’s climate change co-ordinator to clarify things.

“It shows to me that Councillor Estabrooks and Councillor Phinney do not quite follow world events around climate change, around where electrification of our transportation system is actually going,” Dietz said, adding that the issue is not a long-term one, but much more immediate given federal policies and strategies.

(The federal government is pushing for half of all passenger cars sold in Canada to be zero emission vehicles by 2030 and is requiring a complete phase-out of fossil fuel burning cars by 2035. Meantime, the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association says Canada needs to be building millions of EV charging stations. For more details, click here.)

Coun. Sabine Dietz

“Why should Sackville invest in something that currently is very expensive?” Dietz asked.

“As individuals, as communities and as governments, there have to be leaders and there have to be people out front to make it possible for others to follow suit,” she said.

“This is one of those cases.”

Dietz said that voting against the EV charger makes no sense.

“If council votes this down right now, this would be an absolute embarrassment,” she said, “after showing off that we’re such a climate-ready and climate-aware community in everything that we do.”

The vote to approve the EV charging station was 5-2 with Estabrooks and Phinney voting against it. (Councillor Ken Hicks was absent.)

To listen to the eight minute debate and vote, click on the media player below:

Posted in Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged , | 28 Comments

Tantramar all-candidates forum hears campaign pitches from mayoralty and council contenders

About 120 people attending Saturday’s all-candidates forum in Middle Sackville heard a wide range of views on the role the municipal council should play in shaping the future for the new Town of Tantramar.

“We are setting the foundation for the generations to come. How exciting is that!” declared mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau.

“Our population will be 9,100 and our tax base $1 billion.”

Ward 5 Councillor Greg Martin

Mesheau’s view that the new mayor and council “must create the mechanism that brings our communities together with one vision” seemed to be widely shared among the 15 council candidates who attended the forum along with Greg Martin, who has already been acclaimed in Ward 5 (Point de Bute/Aulac) because no one ran against him.

“I am the first elected council member of Tantramar,” Martin said.

“I’ll tell you, my mother would be very, very proud,” he added as the audience laughed.

He said there will need to be “a team mentality” on the new council.

Mayoralty candidate Bonnie Swift promised to bring more transparency and openness to municipal government.

She also spoke directly to residents of the rural wards.

“You now have a candidate that understands your concerns,” she said.

“You know why? Because I grew up in one and I know a lot of you are struggling and worried about having proper representation. If I am your mayor, you will not have to worry about that. I will be there for you.”

Mayoralty candidate Andrew Black came with written answers to key questions.

When asked about the shortage of affordable housing, for example, he promised to push for “a full housing needs assessment in our new expanded boundaries so we have solid and accurate data to start with.”

Black also pledged that he would create a mayor’s round table on housing to bring groups working on the issue together and said he would take steps to investigate and potentially set up a housing authority in Tantramar.

For a transcript of the mayoralty candidates’ opening statements, click here.

Ward 3 (Sackville)

Four of the nine candidates for Ward 3 (Sackville) Photo: Peter Stephenson

Council candidates for the populous Ward 3 (Sackville) shared a variety of opinions and ideas.

Allison Butcher, who has been a Sackville councillor since 2016, said she originally ran “to give back to the community that I love so much, and was quite surprised to discover that I actually got a lot of satisfaction and joy from working at the municipal level.”

She added she would like to continue working for the new Town of Tantramar.

To read Butcher’s two-minute opening statement, click here.

Alice Cotton, who has lived in Sackville for nearly 30 years, said she decided to run for office because of the lack of affordable housing.

“We must work with the new housing hub and groups like Acorn to find solutions,” she added.

“A working group from council needs to be tasked with coming up with creative housing solutions, working on zoning bylaws and partnering with local concerned citizens and organizations.”

To read Cotton’s opening statement, click here.

Josh Goguen, who works for Moneris, has lived in Sackville for 16 years and is heavily involved as a leader in the Scouts.

“The reason I’m running is just to give a new perspective on town council,” he said.

“If elected, I’ll definitely work hard on representing everybody not just from Ward 3, but from every single other word, because this is not just a ward issue, it’s a whole Tantramar Council issue.”

To read Goguen’s opening statement, click here.

Virgil Hammock, who served on Sackville Town Council for 13 years as well as four years on the Southeast Regional Health Authority and seven years on the planning commission, said he’s running because he’s angry that the province imposed municipal amalgamation without any mandate from the people affected by it.

“The Town of Sackville and the Village of Dorchester have histories that go back to the mid-18th century and are going to be erased and replaced with Tantramar,” he added.


Hammock also criticized the ward system.

“It’s going to be hard for newly elected Tantramar councillors to get your heads around the idea they need to represent the entire community and not just your wards.”

T0 read Hammock’s opening statement, click here.

Charlie Harvey delivered this short opening statement:

“Good evening, my name is Charlie Harvey. I’m running for council in Ward 3. If elected, I pledge to be receptive to the citizens of Tantramar and bring worthy concerns and suggestions to council for consideration. On council, I will vote as I believe is in the best interests of Tantramar. Thank you.”

Sahitya Pendurthi said she and her husband moved to Sackville last year and while the town is still new for her, “it’s still as dear as it is for all of you.”

She added she wanted to run for town council to give back to the community that has accepted her as its own.

“Everybody is so loving and kind, but is also so troubled in this little paradise of ours,” Pendurthi said.

She urged everyone to vote as a way of preserving Canada’s democracy.

To read her opening statement, click here.

Ward 3 candidates Bruce Phinney (L) and Michael Tower

Bruce Phinney, who has served continuously on Sackville Town Council for the last 18 years, said councillors who are elected are going to have to learn from the people in the five Tantramar wards.

“As much as I know Wood Point and Rockport, I know nothing really,” he added.

“I know people, but I need to know what their needs and concerns are.”

Phinney said he’s open to listening to people and hoped voters would re-elect him on November 28th.

“I enjoy this job immensely and I work for you, not for anybody else.”

To read Phinney opening statement, click here.

Michael Tower said his long experience and dedication to his work on Sackville Town Council would be an asset to Tantramar’s new council.

“I understand how council works and I acknowledge that things can be better and must be better,” he added.

“Being an open-minded and approachable person, I listen to what people have to say in meetings and casual conversations,” he added.

“I believe to get the best results, we must work collaboratively.”

Tower ended his opening statement with this advice:

“When you get your ballot, please review the list of candidates and vote from the bottom up.”

To read Tower’s opening statement, click here.

Note:  Ward 3 candidate Sana Mohamad was not able to attend the all-candidates forum.

Ward 4 (Upper Sackville, Midgic)

Sabine Dietz, who has served on Sackville Town Council for a year and a half, said councillors need to be active on many fronts.

“When I was elected last year, I was clearly running on climate change making this community be more aware of climate change and incorporating climate change into all the decisions that council would make,” she said.

“I soon realized that councillors cannot be a one-issue person.”

She added that councillors have to be active on issues such as health care and housing even though issues such as these are not in municipal jurisdiction.

Dietz said it’s really important for municipal councils to advocate on behalf of health care, for example, with the provincial government.

(Dietz herself served on the Rural Health Action Group, a volunteer committee that worked for the restoration of full services at Sackville Memorial Hospital.)

She warned that Tantramar councillors will also need “to make our stand with the Regional Service Commission, who will impose many more mandates on us than we currently have.”

To read Dietz’s opening statement, click here.

Matt Estabrooks said he was proud to be running as councillor for Ward 4.

“What a wonderful community we live in. We should be so very thankful that we live in a democracy where all people have a voice,” he added.

“This local government reform process has strengthened that for us, giving a voice to all members of Tantramar, giving a voice to some that did not have one before,” he said, referring to the local service districts that did not elect local councils.

Estabrooks said that he alone supported municipal amalgamation.

“I was on an island. I like to think a beautiful island. But nonetheless, I was the lone councillor on that island. On an island choosing positive change, positive change based on a collaborative way forward for our region,” he added.

“The relationships between our communities have been damaged over the last year by some outspoken people, and we now have the task ahead of us to repair them.”

He ended his opening statement by saying he is “ready and willing” to do the job of bringing “all the communities in new Tantramar together through collaboration.”

To read Estabrooks’s opening statement, click here.

Wards 1 and 2

Candidates for Ward 1 (Dorchester & vicinity) and Ward 2 (West Sackville/Rockport) participated in the all-candidates forum.

For a complete report on the candidates in Ward 1 including what they said at the all-candidates forum, click here.

For a report on the candidates in Ward 2 and their contributions at the all-candidates forum, click here.

Posted in Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 1 Comment

UPDATED: Taxes a big issue in Tantramar Ward 2, candidates say

Note: This report ends with updated information based on the all-candidates forum held on Saturday, November 12th at the Church by the Lake in Middle Sackville.

Candidates in the new Town of Tantramar’s Ward 2 agree that anticipated property tax increases are a big issue in the area that includes communities such as Frosty Hollow, Westcock, Wood Point and Rockport.

“Everyone that I have spoken with, it’s the first thing out of their mouths,” says candidate Wendy Epworth.

“It’s an issue for everybody — it was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard about amalgamation.”

“A lot of people live outside of the limits of a town because of the relief that they get from taxes,” Epworth says, adding that increased taxes would only add to an already rising cost of living.

“I think we’d be naive to think that our taxes are not going to go up,” says candidate Kevin Scott, who notes that for him and many others who live in Ward 2, this year’s property assessments have already increased.

“My understanding is that there won’t be much of a change in the property tax rate in 2023,” he says, adding that the increase would probably come the year after.

“People are having a hard time surviving the way it is right now with the high inflation and I don’t see any benefit to start overtaxing people to the point where we can’t live our lives,” Scott says.

Candidate Natalie Donaher says she’s also hearing from residents concerned about likely tax increases coupled with what she calls the “double whammy” of rising assessments.

“People are saying, ‘Don’t have our taxes go up, we’ve chosen a rural area that is affordable for a reason, we have family ties here, we want our children to be able to come back or stay in the area if they are moving out of the house,'” she says, adding that affordable housing is also an issue for older people who want to stay in their homes and people on social assistance.

All three candidates pledge they would speak up vigorously on behalf of residents when Tantramar Town Council sets tax rates to ensure that property taxes reflect the levels of municipal services that people in Ward 2 are actually receiving.

Barry Hicks, who is also a candidate in Ward 2, declined to speak with Warktimes saying he would make his public comments at Saturday’s all-candidates forum in Middle Sackville.

The three candidates, who did agree to be interviewed, talked about other main issues and why they are running.

Natalie Donaher

Ward 2 candidate Natalie Donaher on the Mt. A. campus where she works as a technician/lab instructor in the department of chemistry & biochemistry

Natalie Donaher says she decided to run for Tantramar Town Council after serving on the local service district advisory council that reported to provincial bureaucrats in Fredericton.

Donaher and the four other members of the council resigned in January 2021 over the lack of provincial response to a number of issues including damages to wells and houses caused by quarry blasting in Westcock and British Settlement.

To read a report on their resignations, click here.

“We didn’t have very much decision-making power, we didn’t have any funding or any budget that we had any control over,” she says, adding that she decided to run for a council seat as someone who has “a record of service to the community.”

Donaher says that as a councillor, she would gather data about the damages caused by quarry blasting to use in her advocacy on behalf of the community and to ensure there is enforcement of provincial regulations governing any expansion of the quarries.

Donaher is also concerned about stopped CN trains blocking emergency access via Rte. 935 to the communities in West Sackville and south on the loop down to Rockport.

“We haven’t had too, too many instances of  that,” she says, but adds that as an elected councillor, she would take steps to safeguard public safety.

“My main efforts would be put into formalizing a community communications structure so that when there are issues arising, there is a clear set of people who can be contacted to get the ball rolling to understand why this is occurring and how to mitigate it.”

Aside from trains blocking the road, she says that people in the area worry that the province isn’t maintaining the new aboiteaux at Carters Brook adequately to prevent flooding of Rte. 935.

Donaher, who grew up in Moncton, has lived for 18 years in the Sackville area. She and her husband, who is a carpenter by trade, are restoring “a beautiful old home on the Bay of Fundy” in the Wood Point area.

To view her campaign website, click here.

Wendy Epworth

Wendy Epworth at the Sackville Public Library

Wendy Epworth says that owning a small business in downtown Sackville made her aware of what was happening in local politics and even though Mel’s Tearoom has since closed, she continues to be interested in municipal affairs, especially since people in Ward 2 will now have a voice and a vote.

“I just thought it was a good opportunity for me to champion a few ideas around climate change mitigation or economic development and to ensure that people out in my area get some additional services for the additional taxes we know are coming with amalgamation,” she says.

Epworth, who has lived in Frosty Hollow for about 20 years and who grew up in Middle Sackville, explains that the biggest climate change issue in Ward 2 is the threat of flooding at Highway 106 and Rte. 935 that could cut off emergency services to the people in West Sackville.

While she acknowledges that the province has installed new aboiteaux in the Carters Brook area, she feels the new flood control structures won’t be effective in light of the increasing frequency of extreme weather.

She says her career as a biologist working on preserving endangered Atlantic salmon in the Bay of Fundy for the Fort Folly First Nation has taught her how easily silting can plug up flood control structures.

“The waters in the Upper Bay of Fundy are incredibly laden with silt, 30,000 milligrams per litre of silt, and so, when that water comes in on high tide and hits a barrier, all of that sediment just falls right out of suspension and the silt just builds up on the tidal side of the gates,” she says.

“If you want them to work properly, you either need to continually be removing that silt or ideally, you put in a bridge.”

Epworth says that as councillor, she would push the province to conduct regular maintenance of the aboiteaux.

“I would also want to look at some alternate routes to get people access to emergency services,” she adds.

“The Old Frosty Hollow road comes out by St. Ann’s Church and it is a driveable road,” she explains.

“In terms of upgrading that road or phased re-commissioning of that road so that emergency vehicles can get into West Sackville, I seriously think that’s something  that should be looked at.”

To view Wendy Epworth’s campaign website, click here.

Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott after a radio interview at CHMA

“I’m not afraid to speak up when I believe something is right or wrong,” says Kevin Scott, who adds that he grew up in a local service district in the Baie Verte area and saw the challenges his parents faced in getting things like the street lights that “made a big difference.”

Scott says now that people in the West Sackville LSD finally have a voice, he wants to be the councillor who speaks up for them.

“Now we will have a voice that people can hear on a monthly or bi-weekly basis depending on when the meetings are,” he says.

“We will have a voice on council and they will know what’s going on in our ward and what our issues are.”

Scott says, for one thing, the new aboiteaux at Carters Brook “haven’t been tested yet” and he’s afraid flooding will still block the roads.

“Being a voice for Ward 2, we want to make sure that if anything happens like that, that we can still get in and out, that we can get fire and ambulance service or police service still get to us if we need help.”

He adds that residents he’s spoken to have said the Old Frosty Hollow road should be rebuilt and made accessible year-round as an alternate route.

As for the damages caused by quarry blasting, he says while the old quarries have been grandfathered in, he promises to oppose any new ones.

“I will fight hard if elected, to make sure there are no more rock quarries going into our area.”

Scott’s record of speaking up includes his efforts to expose the bullying, harassment and favouritism at Sackville Fire & Rescue that had led about 17 volunteer firefighters to resign over a five-year period.

Those efforts forced the town to hire a consulting firm to conduct a workplace assessment and recommend changes.

Scott, who now volunteers at the Point de Bute fire department, says that Sackville firefighters he’s talked to say some of those recommendations have been or are being implemented.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that will continue to happen,” he says.

“If elected, I will certainly do my best to ensure that continues to move forward.”

To read Kevin Scott’s campaign brochure, click here.

All-candidates forum

Three of the four candidates running for the single council seat in Ward 2 participated in the all-candidates forum held on Saturday, November 12th in Middle Sackville.

Kevin Scott was unable to attend.

The other candidates gave two-minute opening statements

To read a transcript of Natalie Donaher’s, click here.

To read what Wendy Epworth had to say, click here.

To read Barry Hicks’s opening statement, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville, Town of Tantramar | Tagged | 2 Comments