Plus, you can listen to a segment of “Tear It Down,” an eight-chapter audio series about a small town whose government became wildly dysfunctional when political insurgent group formed seeking revenge: www.tearitdownpodcast.com.
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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:
I can almost reach my hand out from the media desk and touch the Leamans. City staff reserved two seats for them in the front row with name tags.
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.
Summer vacation? We don’t need no stinkin’ summer vacation! There are WAY too many city council meetings to cover and–despite the work of our time travel research team–so little time.
We saw a little girl get stoked to shake hands with every council member, heard about multiple people getting kicked out of council meetings, and experienced our first meeting in another language. If none of that is ringing a bell, go peruse our June Month in Review page.
And if you’re still not convinced that June’s council meetings were all that cool, have I got the picture to prove you DEAD WRONG:
Something seemed off about the Dieppe city council meeting.
At first, I figured that the glass of wine I was drinking had reacted poorly with the five glasses of wine I just finished drinking. But then I realized: the audio was out of sync. And the reason was shocking.
They were speaking FRENCH!
“Without further ado, dear colleagues,” an offscreen translator spoke for Mayor Yvon Lapierre, “may we have the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things that we can change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Lapierre shifted his eyes and cracked the tiniest of grins after no one from the audience accepted his invitation to speak. “It’s fairly calm tonight.”
So calm, in fact, that the creation of the brand new “Elsliger Street” passed unanimously without question or comment. The mayor, however, jumped in with une petite commentaire.
“Somebody during the week asked me, ‘Elsliger? Where does it come from?’ Well, it’s in honor of the woman who suggested the name Dieppe: Madame Agnès Elsliger.”
From here, the meeting veered away from honoring old ladies into talking about…drugs.
“To DieppeMAG, they put the phone number for people who find syringes or needles,” trumpeted Councilor Patricia Arsenault, brandishing a copy of the magazine with a bicycle-riding child on the cover. “All they have to do is call that number to make sure that somebody’s going to take care of those things.”
But in fact, there is no hotline to call for another looming menace: Mary Jane. (Or, in French, Marie Jeanne.)
“All this is going to become legal on the First of July, 2018,” Councilor Arsenault warned. “The Medical Society of New Brunswick says it would be nice if we could increase the age to 21 years old.”
Legal marijuana for people under 21? Healthcare for everyone? Canada truly is a backwards county.
“Lastly, as a little puff of fresh air,” Arsenault smiled, perhaps intending that very clever pun, “a young 17-year-old Acadian launched his first CD.” She held up another newspaper with the budding artist’s picture.
“I hope that my shirt shows that it’s summer,” Councilor Jordan Nowland suddenly gestured to his Jimmy Buffet-style top.
“It would be a good idea to put EpiPens in public places,” he suggested. “Somebody who has an EpiPen–it can last for 20 minutes. This is where the second one, publicly accessible, would make a big difference.”
Between syringes, marijuana, and EpiPens, the city may soon have to rename Elsliger Street to “Medical Supplies Boulevard.”
Mayor Lapierre glanced askance at Councilor Jean-Marc Brideau. “Why the laughter, Monsieur Brideau?”
The bearded councilor looked fondly at a Canadian police officer sitting up front with arms folded. “I’ve been five years on council and I’ve always complained that we didn’t see the RCMP in Dieppe,” he chuckled.
“So I have to say, this afternoon, I had to had to wait to get out of my yard because there was a patrol car that had stopped right there!”
Well, if Councilor Brideau ever needs a police escort, they know where to find him.
Final thoughts: I give 8 out of 10 bowls of poutine to the English translator. Maybe next time he can get 10 out of 10 by doing the characters’ voices.