Municipal election serves up big changes for local councils

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – “I believe council will make the right decision on the Milltown dam, or at least support the citizens and be their voice to encourage the province to make the right decision. I will look forward to more discussions on this topic with council at the start of our new term.”

Those were the words from newly re-elected Mayor of St. Stephen, Allan MacEachern. MacEachern won his seat handily in the May municipal election, beating out challenger Vernon Card. MacEachern has been an outspoken opponent to the decommissioning of the Milltown hydro-electric dam since the first meetings on the issue in 2019, and remains vocal in his belief the dam should remain in place.

St. Stephen was in fact one of the few municipalities in the region which saw its council chamber remain largely static. With the exception of the loss of Deputy Mayor, Jason Carr, who chose not run this time around, council in St. Stephen remains as it was before the election. Vic Thiessen replaced Carr by acclamation. McAdam council also remains effectively static.

“With five original council members, it will be a seamless transition for us here in St. Stephen,” said MacEachern. “Also with the new addition of Vic Thiessen, it will be nice to have a new perspective on council as well.” As for priorities, MacEachern is sticking by what he said prior to the election; housing remains at the top of the list.

“Housing is a major priority and we will be focusing on anything that can help attract developers to build affordable units in our area,” said MacEachern. “Things like incentive policies, making land available at discounted rates, such as land owned by town or province, and applying for federal and provincial funding when available.

“We also need to encourage the province to release the tax sale properties this year as well, which are being stalled due to COVID. All these avenues are required to help developers create a sustainable business case.”

Newly elected Mayor of Saint Andrews, Brad Henderson, said with the majority of council members in Saint Andrews being new to the job, with the change comes “new opportunity”.

“Fresh faces also come with fresh ideas and fresh perspectives,” said Henderson. “We have already met as a group for orientation, and we are an energetic group who is excited to get to work, and most importantly, wants to work as a team.”

Saint Andrews was an anomaly this election as it saw an over 60 per cent voter turnout, almost double the turnout provincially.

“I think voter turnout was extremely high due to a number of different factors,” said Henderson. “First of all the high number of candidates encouraging family, friends, and neighbours certainly would help draw awareness.

“I believe streaming meetings live through social media has increased the awareness of how important municipal governments are and has increased engagement with the public.

“Finally, I believe Saint Andrews was ready for some change. Over the last nine years, Council has evolved from a board made primarily of retired residents to a group that better represents the demographics of the general voting public.”

Blacks Harbour also saw a turnover of council members, seeing several incumbents, including former Mayor Terry James, left out of the new group.

“It was abundantly clear that citizens wanted change in the leadership and the way local government was being run,” said Mayor-elect, John Craig. “The results are clear that with the incumbents not being reelected, citizens have spoken.

“As a village we are all excited with the new blood and look forward to new thinking to make Blacks Harbour the place they want to call home.”

Craig has several items at the top of the priority list, with infrastructure at the apex.

“Many things have to be prioritized and that includes housing, sidewalks, roads, and a sustainable future for one of our main assets, the arena,” said Craig. “I will be discussing all the priorities, and there will be more, with the new council and working as a team to work and fulfill those priorities.”

Infrastructure tops the priority list for Bonnie Morse, council veteran and mayor-elect for Grand Manan. The island is yet another region which saw a large turnover of council, with few incumbents returning.

“We lost several council members in the last year and were operating at just a quorum,” said Morse. “With two councillors not reoffering, and myself running for mayor it was inevitable that there would be a significant change.

“There is experience with several of the new faces so I think we have a good mix.”

Morse has big infrastructure at the top of her list as well.

“The last council prioritized resurfacing the runway at our airport. For us it’s a vital link for Medivac flights so I hope that we continue to focus on this project.”

Harvey Matthews, newly elected mayor for Campobello Island, knows COVID is an obstacle, but is looking forward to getting to work with his new council. Campobello spent near as makes no difference to a year without an active council at all, having lost quorum, so Matthews et al have their work cut out for them.

“The biggest challenge I see is to get started; and with COVID, it will be hard to meet,” said Matthews, “but we will work through it and hopefully get a few of the islands issues worked on this year.”

Matthews also hopes the island can maximize the opportunity for fibre-op, with cable having been laid on Grand Manan and partially towards Campobello. “They ran the lines half way across the island from Maine to meet the power cable then to Grand Manan, now they need help from Campobello to secure funding to expand to Campobello, and hopefully Deer Island,” added Matthews.

St. George Mayor-elect, John Detorakis, burst out the gate on the heels of his election with a letter aimed at Premier Blaine Higgs to protect New Brunswickers from mineral exploration.

“My family and I live in Saint George and own a small farm that has been subjected to two mineral exploration claims over the past years,” said Detorakis. “Both claims caused stress and uncertainty that affected both my family and my farm.”

Detorakis has outlined several changes that he feels should be made to the Mining Act to see New Brunswickers protected.

The St. George council is also largely new faces, and like all others, with new faces comes new ideas.

“My first order of business is to develop a rapport with each council member,” said Detorakis. “Meeting one-on-one to hear their view on how the council should work together, and the issues that they hold most dear.

“I think there was general discontent about the insider culture that had developed in our municipal governance,” he added. “That is the first thing that I will try to change. So far I feel most councilors share the same view.”