Sackville Town Council news: Joel Plaskett, future hotel tax, potholes & paving

It’s not quite a done deal, but it appears that singer/songwriter Joel Plaskett, one of Atlantic Canada’s best-known musicians, will be a headliner at Sackville’s Bordertown Festival in May.

At its meeting last night, town council authorized the mayor to sign a $7,000 contract with Plaskett for a performance at the Vogue Cinema during the festival, which is being held from May 23 to 26.

Joel Plaskett performing live on radio. (Cathy Irving/CBC)

“I just want to say, I’m super excited, I’d buy a ticket right now if they were available,” said Councillor Andrew Black.

“Joel Plaskett is a huge headliner,” he added. “He’s going to draw a huge crowd, the tickets will sell out super fast.”

Town manager Ron Kelly Spurles acknowledged that Plaskett’s $7,000 fee would put a big dent in the town’s festival budget of $12,500, but added that ticket sales would generate at least an additional $2,500.

He also pointed out the town gives financial support to other groups that want to perform at the festival.

“We were able to fund everybody who applied for a grant,” he said, adding that therefore, the payment to Plaskett would not short-change anyone else.

Kelly Spurles said Plaskett would draw people into Sackville generating lots of business activity.

The contract with Plaskett for his performance at the festival is expected to be signed soon.

Hotel tax?

Meantime, Mayor Higham reported at last night’s council meeting that the Southeast Regional Service Commission, the body that co-ordinates planning in southeastern New Brunswick, is moving ahead with a long-term strategy to attract more tourists to the area.

The mayor said he attended the commission’s meeting last month where he heard a series of recommendations based on studies conducted for the city of Moncton and the commission.

Mayor John Higham

The recommendations include creating a regional marketing organization governed by people in the tourism business to promote destinations in the southeast.

Higham said financing for such regional marketing would come from a four per cent tax on hotel rooms similar to one adopted in the Ottawa area.

He added that three-quarters of the tax revenue would finance marketing efforts with the rest going to improve tourism destination sites.

The mayor said tourism operators in the Sackville area favour a hotel tax, but he suggested much more planning needs to be done before regional officials can ask the province for legislation that would allow the four per cent municipal levy to be implemented.

Potholes and paving

Councillor Bruce Phinney read a report from the Engineering and Public Works Department that would not surprise anyone driving or cycling in Sackville.

“The harsh winter has taken its toll on the streets and roads around town,” Phinney said, “and we are experiencing a large number of potholes.”

He then moved a motion awarding a $276,000 contract for “street asphalt patching” to the lowest of four bidders, Costin Paving and Contracting of Amherst.

It emerged during discussion, however, that Costin originally bid more than $325,000 to supply 700 tonnes of pothole-filling asphalt, the amount the town had specified in its tender package.

Town engineer Dwayne Acton

Town engineer Dwayne Acton explained the town had to reduce the asphalt to 552 tonnes to stay within budget.

Acton was asked whether all of the town’s potholes can still be filled.

“We’re going to do our best to stretch the patching as far as we can given the road conditions,” he replied.

“There are several things that we do look at. There are some areas that have small alligator cracks,” he said, adding that the town will focus on potholes and broken pavement leaving the smaller cracks for another year.

In the meantime, councillors approved using all of the money the town receives this year from the federal gas tax fund for paving projects.

That means that $367,359 will be spent paving 1,000 metres of Walker Road, 1,000 metres of Stanley Drive, 135 metres of University Avenue and 85 metres of Hesler Drive.

A report from Sackville’s treasurer shows that since 2014, the town has spent $1.9 million in gas tax funds on paving. Over the next five years, it plans to spend $1.9 million more.

For Treasurer Michael Beal’s breakdown on gas tax funds and how they were and will be used, click here.

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Mt. A. prof not surprised as Stephen Lewis calls out misdeeds of Canadian mining outfits

Mt. A. politics professor David Thomas

David Thomas, professor of politics and international relations at Mount Allison University says he’s not surprised at comments made last week by former UN ambassador Stephen Lewis.

During a speech in Sackville on Tuesday, Lewis accused Canadian mining companies of failing to pay decent wages and fair royalties in their African operations.

“In places like Tanzania and Zambia there is a very considerable effort on the part of the government to extract the royalties that should have been paid and should have been owing if the companies had not been so obstreperously arrogant,” Lewis said.

Professor Thomas, who documents specific cases of how one big Canadian company operates internationally in his recently published book Bombardier Abroad, says Canadian mining companies are present in dozens of countries in Africa, Latin America, Asia and other parts of the world.

“Canada is really a global mining powerhouse,” Thomas said during an interview with The New Wark Times. “I’m not surprised at his (Lewis’s) statements the other night.”

Figures published by the federal government last month show that Canada is home to almost half of the world’s publicly listed mining and exploration companies and their Canadian mining assets (CMAs) abroad far exceed their assets in Canada. As of 2017, the companies were present in 101 foreign countries.

Professor Thomas says a number of academic studies, including one conducted by faculty at Osgoode Hall Law School, have identified troubling aspects of Canadian mining operations, including environmental degradation and human rights violations, especially in Latin America and Africa.

He points to a court case in B.C. in which security guards for a Canadian mining company are accused of shooting at protesters in Guatemala.

Last month, the Globe and Mail reported on two other court cases including one in Ontario in which a Canadian mining company is alleged to have been liable for rapes and murder at another mine in Guatemala, while the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in January about whether a case alleging the use of slave labour at a mine in Eritrea should proceed through Canadian courts.

“For decades, Canadian mining operations have wreaked havoc in developing countries. Villages have been razed, water supplies poisoned. Allegations of rape and murder have emerged,” the Globe reported.

Government support for mining

Professor Thomas says the federal government has traditionally turned a blind eye to such allegations.

“The Canadian government is a champion of its mining companies,” he says, “and it plays an important role in promoting the success of our Canadian mining companies.”

Thomas says the government does this partly through support from such federal agencies as Export Development Canada.

In the meantime, military journalist Scott Taylor wrote a report for Esprit de Corps magazine last fall accusing Canada of despatching peacekeeping soldiers to Mali to protect its extensive mining interests there.

“There are over 70 Canadian companies currently involved in extracting Malian gold,” Taylor wrote, adding that although the mission is being billed as an “altruistic effort to bring peace and stability to a poor African nation,” it’s more about “securing mining profits from the exploitation of the nation’s natural resource.”

Professor Thomas says that a year ago, the federal government promised an independent ombudsperson to enforce standards of conduct on companies that operate abroad, but so far has failed to appoint one.

“There’s really been very little, if any movement, on the Canadian government’s side to try to monitor, let alone enforce any kind of regulations,” Thomas says.

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Mt. A. president’s series: Stephen Lewis on Jane Philpott, HIV/AIDs & climate change

Stephen Lewis

A veteran Canadian activist and former United Nations ambassador told an audience at Mount Allison University Tuesday night that the resignation of Jane Philpott from the Trudeau cabinet represents a huge loss.

“The country has lost one of the best cabinet ministers that has emerged in Ottawa in decades,” said Stephen Lewis.

“That, of course hurts in feminist terms and it hurts profoundly in indigenous terms because she was the minister whom the indigenous community most frequently looked to.”

Lewis, who was delivering one in a series of addresses sponsored by Mt. A’s new president, was referring to Philpott’s resignation this week in the ongoing turbulence over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

He said that when Philpott worked as a doctor at a Toronto-area hospital, she oversaw raising millions of dollars for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which helps HIV/AIDS victims in Africa.

Then, as federal minister of health and later, minister of indigenous services, Lewis said Philpott supported his efforts to take action against the high rate of tuberculosis among the Inuit in Nunavut.

He added that he has rarely worked with someone as principled as Philpott whom he believes was on track to become Canada’s first female minister of finance.

“It’s such an unusual moment historically in any country where someone of such prominence and of such decent motives decides she can no longer work with a certain leader,” he said. “I’m filled with admiration.”

HIV/AIDS pandemic

Lewis’s comments came during an impassioned, hour-long speech that covered a wide range of topics including the continued spread of HIV/AIDS as governments and private foundations cut back on their efforts to fight the disease.

Lewis himself is co-founder and co-director of AIDS-Free World, an organization that tackles the root causes of the global pandemic.

“There are 37 million people living with the virus today,” Lewis told his Mt. A. audience. “There are 15.2 million people living today with HIV who do not yet have treatment and they’re struggling to get the treatment because access to drugs is still so difficult and the drugs can still be so costly,” he added.

“There are nearly 5,000 new infections every week in young women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24. In 2018, there were nearly two million infections overall and nearly a million people died,” he said.

“How can anyone say that the pandemic is over?”

Lewis scoffed at a recent report that an AIDS victim has been cured based on stem cell research. He said that even if a cure has been found, it will be available only in rich countries while victims in poor countries continue to go without the drugs that would prolong their lives.

Climate change

Mt. A. President Jean-Paul Boudreau (L) presents gift to Stephen Lewis

Lewis called climate change the “single, most calamitous issue” facing humankind today.

“God knows how we’re going to get through the next generation without some kind of self-immolation,” he said.

“It really requires brave and courageous and unswerving leadership, which is not yet to be found,” he added.

“Everything is going haywire,” Lewis said, adding that sea levels are rising, oceans are warming and the poles are melting with more frequent hurricanes, floods and droughts all related to global warming.

“And the world sits back and watches,” he said. “A hundred and fifty countries got together in Paris and signed an accord which was utterly voluntary and they are not even meeting the voluntary targets that they established and by the way, one of the worst culprits is Canada.”

Lewis accused Justin Trudeau of following in Stephen Harper’s footsteps in avoiding action on climate change, although he said there is much more “rhetorical self-indulgence” from Trudeau.

“I know rhetorical self-indulgence,” Lewis said as the audience laughed. “I do it all the time.”

What students can do

When asked during the question period what students can do, Lewis said he always gives this piece of advice: “I urge them to choose one issue, the issue that they care most about.”

He added that the issue he cares most about is climate change even though he’s working in an organization seeking to get at the root causes of HIV/AIDS.

He said students can work for organizations such as UNICEF or other UN agencies or such groups as the Suzuki Foundation, CARE or Amnesty International.

He said he often talked to students when he taught at Ryerson University in Toronto.

“I was always amazed at the sense of urgency on the part of the students who wanted to get their education over with and go out into the world. This was particularly true of the young women,” he said.

“The young women, overwhelmingly in any class I’ve ever been associated with, wanted to go out and change the world.”

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Sackville councillors approve construction of new wetland as extension to Waterfowl Park

Future Ducks Unlimited wetland area looking toward the intersection of Bridge and Lorne from St. James St.

Sackville Town Council has approved signing an agreement with Ducks Unlimited Canada to construct a six-acre wetland conservation area on land the town has acquired north of St. James Street behind the Marshlands Inn.

Town manager Jamie Burke told councillors last week that under the agreement, Ducks Unlimited will construct, maintain and manage the wetland for 30 years.

In response to a series of questions raised by Councillor Andrew Black, Burke said the wetland would not pose a risk to nearby homes if heavy rains breached the earthen berm that will enclose it.

“Ducks Unlimited has a risk assessment program,” Burke said. “They inspect these things twice every year, so they do their own investigations and evaluations on an ongoing basis.”

Burke added that if there were a heavy rainstorm, water would flow out of the Ducks Unlimited wetland into deep ditches and the new retention pond that the town is digging south of St. James St.

“The agreement also requires Ducks Unlimited to provide proof of liability insurance naming the Town of Sackville as co-insured, which we do with all agreements that we enter into with third parties,” Burke said.

Mosquitoes?

Town manager Jamie Burke

Councillor Black also asked about mosquitoes breeding in the new wetland.

“There’s mosquitoes there now,” Burke answered, “and mosquitoes breed in those small, shallow, little pools of water,” he added. “I guess the idea of this Ducks Unlimited pond is that  there would be a consistent amount of water in the pond, which is less favourable for mosquito breeding.”

Burke also suggested that the wetland will provide habitat for birds, insects and other species that eat mosquitoes and their larvae.

“So, having this type of managed wetland is a good thing,” he said. “We’re certainly not going to say it’s going to reduce the number of mosquitoes, but it is a managed project by Ducks Unlimited so there is some assurance that it’s not going to make matters worse.”

Burke pointed out that with 400 to 500 wetland areas in New Brunswick alone and more than 2,000 in Atlantic Canada, Ducks Unlimited is used to managing projects like this.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve partnered with Ducks Unlimited,” he said. “We’ve got an award-winning Waterfowl Park, which Ducks Unlimited was instrumental in creating and managing.”

To read a previous story on the Ducks Unlimited project, click here.

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Climate Change Week: Sackville audience hears about the benefits of carbon taxes

Professor Brad Walters and MLA Megan Mitton at the Vogue Cinema

Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton says she wishes New Brunswick’s Conservative government would stop wasting taxpayers’ money going to court to fight federal carbon taxes and take action instead to avert the worst effects of climate change.

During a panel discussion Monday evening at Sackville’s Vogue Cinema, Mitton said the burden of proof against carbon taxes should rest with those who oppose them.

“This [putting a price on carbon] is proven to be one of the things we can do,” she said. “This is one of the most efficient ways to get our emissions down.”

Mitton also wondered why opponents of carbon taxes aren’t proposing an alternative.

“If there’s a better way forward, I’m all for it,” she said. “I’m not seeing a better plan. I’m not seeing an alternative.”

Politics and economics

Mitton made her comments during one of a series of events organized by the local group, EOS Eco-Energy, to mark climate change week.

Mount Allison Geography and Environment Professor Brad Walters, who was the other participant on the panel, said the fight over carbon taxes is primarily political, not economic.

“The idea of carbon taxes emerged predominantly out of mainstream economics and [they] were actively supported by conservative politicians more so than those on the left,” Walters said.

“Over time, the strange irony, if you want to call it that, particularly in North America, is that as conservatives have abandoned any commitment at all to appropriate climate policy, the centre and left have moved over and embraced carbon taxes as one of the instruments that’s key to moving the economy away from fossil fuel dependence,” he added.

“Carbon taxes are administratively simple to implement,” Walters said. “They are economically efficient, there’s virtually unanimous consensus among economists that carbon taxes are probably the most efficient policy instrument available to facilitate this transition away from fossil fuels to alternatives.”

 Consumer rebates

Both Mitton and Walters agreed the federal carbon tax that will take effect on April 1, will actually benefit most New Brunswickers because they will get more money back in rebates than they will pay in taxes.

The federal government estimates, for example, that a New Brunswick family of four will pay an average of $207 this year, much of it through an extra 4.42 cent-a-litre tax on gasoline, while receiving a rebate of $256 in 2019. (See CBC report: How the carbon tax will affect you in 2019.)

Mitton and Walters suggested, however, that because consumers pay the tax upfront and receive the rebate later, they have an immediate incentive to cut down on burning the fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

Mitton argued that implementing a price on carbon to reduce emissions will be cheaper than doing nothing.

“Climate change is really expensive,” she said, adding that governments and individuals are already paying more because of extreme weather that causes catastrophic flooding, for example.

Mitton said she had a meeting a few months ago with provincial transportation officials who said that wilder winter weather has increased the costs of keeping the roads clear.

“We can’t talk about this in a vacuum,” she said, adding that doing nothing is not an option.

“It’s much more expensive and it’s just sticking our heads in the sand,” Mitton said.

For more information from the federal government on how carbon taxes will affect New Brunswick, click here.

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Sackville councillors vote to accept military gift now rather than risk losing it

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

Sackville Town Council has rejected a motion to delay accepting the gift of an armoured combat vehicle for installation in the town’s Memorial Park.

During council’s meeting Monday night, Councillors Shawn Mesheau and Bruce Phinney moved and seconded a motion to postpone signing an agreement to accept the vehicle, known as a Cougar, until the council meeting in March.

They argued that a postponement would allow time for consultation with the Sackville Legion.

The 8th Canadian Hussars want to donate the retired Cougar to symbolize the regiment’s long association with the town, but Councillor Mesheau said that while he respects the Hussars’ connection to Sackville, he thought the Legion should have a chance to comment.

However, other councillors voted against the motion to postpone accepting the gift after the town’s Chief Administrative Officer said CFB Gagetown, where the Cougar is being stored, is apparently anxious to move it within the next month or so.

Phil Handrahan added that the Hussars had “a couple of communities” that were interested in receiving the Cougar, but preferred to donate it to Sackville.

“I’m not saying it’s urgent, but I know that they’re basically anxious to have a decision so that they know it’s going to be moved off base,” Handrahan said.

Councillor Joyce O’Neil

“I’d be very, very disappointed if this Cougar went somewhere else,” said Councillor Joyce O’Neil.

“I can’t see any reason why the Legion would even really need to be asked about this, I guess in all fairness maybe they should, but I just don’t like to see us put it off so that there’s a chance that we would lose that,” O’Neil added.

Councillor Allison Butcher agreed.

“I think it’s important that we try and get approval for it sooner to make sure that it could actually be placed in our park,” Butcher said. “I would hate to take the time and then lose that opportunity.”

How urgent?

“I’m a little disappointed in the fact that we can’t give it another four weeks,” Councillor Mesheau said after the defeat of his motion to postpone accepting the Cougar.

“We seem to see a lot of things that become pressing all of a sudden [and] as a council, we have seven days to consider something.”

Mesheau also wondered just how urgent the matter really was.

“How long has it been sitting there waiting to moved?” he asked, “and when will it actually be moved here?”

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Marilyn Lerch launches fifth book of poems aiming to ‘tell the tale of our time’

Marilyn Lerch at Owens Gallery book launch

Sackville poet Marilyn Lerch fought back tears Sunday as she addressed almost 100 people at the Owens Art Gallery during the launch of her fifth book, That We Have Lived At All: Poems of Love, Witness and Gratitude.

“Coming here was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Lerch said, “and for these twenty-some years, your wisdom and friendship and activism have nurtured me and enriched me in measureless ways.”

Lerch, who has just finished a four-year term as Sackville’s poet laureate, received many rounds of applause as she introduced and read several of the poems in a collection with a wide range of themes: community; love and loss; a sustained celebration of the Earth’s natural beauty; and anger and foreboding over the ways in which human beings, their systems and technologies are relentlessly destroying that beauty.

“Poets have to tell the tale of our time,” Lerch said. “It’s not an exaggeration to say we are being hunted by powerful forces whose consequences are often deliberately kept secret or unknown; forces that have already violated the carrying capacity of our Earth; forces that have created unprecedented inequality giving power to the few over the many.”

Lerch read “What Do You Have to Say for Yourself, Poet?” the first poem in a section of her book called “In These Anthropocene Times.”

I say
the turning point is past,
the worst is yet to come.
Having clawed to the pinnacle
we see
the ruins strewn below,
what made them
powers
the rapid descent,
so find a clear running brook
and say your goodbyes.

I say
we know we cannot go on like this
and we know it will go on like this.
We know what must be done
and we know it will not be done,
not in time, not in time,
so listen to a songbird and weep.

As her audience listened intently, Lerch read through her poem’s stanzas to a kind of final affirmation:

And yet,
and yet I say
because the collapse is upon us,
because accepting the unacceptable is no longer
an option for our species,
we are called to heroic acts,
to live within
the great acceleration of fire and advancing waters,
the desperate eyes of animals and children,
with some grace and
always resistance;
to suffer, fall, fail, keep on,
sing      play              paint
write
dream
our truths.

I say
how much, what, who ends,
yet to be known.
Seeds of goodness,
seeds of courage
still being sown.

Poetry of disappearance & acceleration

Marilyn Lerch talks to a reader during her book signing

“In the most general terms, my poetry comes out of a preoccupation with disappearance and acceleration and how what it means to be human is changing,” Lerch said.

She explained that by disappearance she meant extinctions of species and also what she termed the disappeared.

“By that I mean capitalism’s implacable war against any group, movement, uprising or nation that threatens it,” she said, adding that the many U.S. interventions in Latin America, including the current one in Venezuela, are an example of this war.

“Acceleration to me refers to technology produced without thought to the precautionary principle; the mania for newness is both cause and effect of consumer pathology,” she said, adding that both disappearance and acceleration feed global warming.

Lerch drew laughter when she wondered about the advent of computers that process 10,000 financial transactions per second.

“What do you do with that?” she asked.

Digital domination

“How ironic that globalism creates tribalism,” she said. “How incredibly fast the dream of everyone connecting to everyone else on the World Wide Web has morphed into cyber-warfare, voter meddling, shutting down a nation’s electrical system.

“I believe that digital domination will continue to condition us if we allow it,” she continued, “as one part of our civilization seems bent to making us hybrids, machine and muscle, partially robotized, and invaded and implanted with God knows what.”

In her poem “The Last Luddite Addresses the Lonely Vapourized Crowd,” Lerch suggests ways to act against “the encroaching darkness swallowing us” by bowing our heads to:

perform acts that feel right and lovely in themselves,
create profound, poignant, terrifyingly beautiful art,
make our lives ever-extending webs of love,
and, if we can,
let arise from the deepest recesses of our hearts
a tenuous trembling moment of gratitude
that we have lived at all.

During the question and answer period after her readings, Lerch said she makes no apologies for writing poetry that deals directly with the big political issues of our time.

“I think Adrienne Rich said ‘poetry doesn’t change anything, but nothing changes without poetry’. I like that,” Lerch concluded.

To listen to Marilyn Lerch’s three minute reading of “What Do You Have to Say for Yourself, Poet?” click  on the media link below:

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