Barbara Simpson is the Telegraph-Journal‘s municipal affairs reporter who had a front row seat to an array of quintessentially Canadian policy debates in Saint John, including what to do with the emboldened deer population and whether to retaliate against outsiders using the city’s ice rinks.
Q: Back in January, you tweeted this:
Who are the Leamans and why do they get the V.I.P. treatment at the council meetings?
A: The Leamans are my kind of people because they are dedicated council watchers. If you cover municipal politics, you know that it’s very rare to have ordinary citizens come out on an issue that isn’t a hot-button issue. But the Leamans come to every single meeting, except I think they go away for a little bit in the winter. They bring their books and they read before the meeting, so they’re very civically engaged.
Q: What do they do in the winter? Drive down to Florida and sit in on their council meetings?
A: I don’t think so, but that would be fantastic!
Q: What was the problem that the Saint John council was having with deer earlier this year?
A: Most of our province is beautiful, natural habitat. But in this one particular area [of the city], we have a high density of deer. They cause all sorts of problems. They chew on people’s shrubs. The deer spread Lyme disease. This is how brazen the deer are in Saint John: I have a photograph of the deer at Halloween time and they’re eating a pumpkin off of someone’s front porch. To remedy this issue, the city is moving forward with a deer cull. Each property owner could apply to the province to bring a hunter in to bag one deer per defined hunting season.
Q: Before Saint Johners could hunt the deer, there had to be a prohibition on feeding deer. How was the city planning to capture physical evidence of deer feeding?
A: There’s some recognition that this is going to be pretty difficult to enforce. I can’t imagine–we’re all good Canadians here–that neighbors are going to be taking photos of each other in the act of feeding deer.
Q: Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary was concerned about people wandering around with bows and arrows like something out of The Hunger Games. Was she the only one?
A: Yes. If you listen further, I believe Councillor Gary Sullivan makes that point that if you call the police and said there’s someone running around with a weapon, the police would respond relatively quickly.
Q: In America, when someone wanders around with a weapon, it’s called concealed carry and it’s, like, half the country. So I’m glad you have a distinction.
In November of last year, Mayor Don Darling suggested that if there could not be some fair, regional way to pay for use of Saint John’s ice rinks, drastic measures may be on the way, like closing down the rinks entirely. How serious is this sentiment in Saint John that outsiders are using the rinks and not paying for it?
A: It’s incredibly serious. Over the last few months, Saint John and the surrounding communities have been trying to negotiate a deal because the cost of arenas–the operating costs, the city argues–isn’t being fairly shared across the region. The city is in a very difficult financial situation. The city took a provincial bailout of up to $22.8 million over the next three years. They’re trying to find new revenue. On the opposing side of that, the communities surrounding us say, “this is Saint John’s problem. Why should we be contributing more?”
Q: Hockey is obviously sacred to you all. Is that why the council seemed a bit touchier than if it were other types of facilities that were abused by non-residents?
A: No, I think why they’re so touchy is it speaks to a bigger issue in Saint John. We are a city of 67,000 people. The greater region is 125,000 people. There’s some sentiment that people drive into the city from these outlying communities, use our arenas and other services, and don’t pay their fair share. But the arenas is the touchpoint for this.
Follow Barbara Simpson on Twitter: @JournoBarb