Kathy Bockus, with files from Barb Rayner
St. Stephen – Those who opposed the relocation of court services from St. Stephen to Saint John are in disbelief at the news the provincial government intends to spend $2.5 million over the next two years to renovate the Provincial Building on King Street.
Bill Fraser, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure said the renovations are necessary to bring the building to current building codes and standards, and will extend the life of the building. Funding for the work is part of DTI’s capital budget, he stated.
Before it was relocated to the Saint John Law Courts as a cost saving measure, the Provincial Building was the seat of the St. Stephen Provincial Court.
“I am astounded that there is that much money available to renovate that building when a pittance of that was all that was required to get it up to standard for security,” said Saint Andrews lawyer David Bartlett, who spearheaded the movement to keep the courtroom in St. Stephen.
“They had the scanning system in the basement and shipped that off to Bathurst.”
He said it was unbelievable the province would spend $2.5 million on renovations to the provincial building, but closed the court in St. Stephen in 2015 to save $84,700 in costs related to the installation of a security system.
Bartlett said he didn’t have the numbers available on people who are missing court because they cannot get to Saint John. Even though Rural Lynx now offers a bus service to the city, he said the cost is $45 and, for someone who is on welfare, that is five to 10 per cent of their monthly cheque.
“They could find that much money, and they couldn’t find $84,700 to put the security in to save the court! Wow! I’m speechless. Imagine,” said an astounded Joan Despres, a retired victim services coordinator who led a public petition signing campaign to save the courtroom.
One opponent of the court’s relocation, who did not wish his name used, was told of the renovations. He suggested the renovated space would be a perfect spot in which to re-establish the St. Stephen Provincial Court.
That won’t happen, according to Fraser.
“That decision has been made and that decision is final,” he stated, referring to the courtroom relocation. He said the move has resulted in a total savings of “several hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
He said the court’s relocation was the result of the province’s strategic program review in which many difficult decisions had to be made to “right the province’s finances.”
Fraser said the former courtroom space and adjoining judge’s office were renovated at a cost of “less than $100,000” to create office space for the province’s new consolidated land registry office.
“It’s important to note the consolidation created six additional jobs in St. Stephen, which was good for the St. Stephen region,” said Fraser.
For the duration of the renovation work, Fraser said the offices of Social Development would be moved to the third floor of Ganong Place at 73 Milltown Boulevard.
He said he was unable to reveal the cost of the rent for that space because it was part of a contract with a third party, which he could only share after a successful filing of a request for information.