Council meeting becomes heated over StFX re-opening plans

ANTIGONISH: When politicians don’t listen to public health professionals they can get into some hot water, the mayor of Antigonish says.

The end of the regular town council meeting, which took place July 20, became slightly heated when councillor Jack MacPherson asked to discuss the town’s official position on the re-opening of StFX.

MacPherson was advised his request was too late, and that it would be added to the agenda of the next council meeting, but the next regular council meeting for the Town of Antigonish will be in September, after students return to campus, something he suggested would also be too late.

Following the meeting Laurie Boucher, the town’s mayor, advised the re-opening plan was made in consultation with and accepted by provincial health experts.

“Dr. Strang has been leading us through this pandemic for the last four months,” Boucher said. “Everybody was very [accepting] of his suggestions and the way it was going, so I view this as no different.”

She said during the meeting that one of the reasons Canada has been successful battling COVID-19 is that political leaders are listening to the advice of our health professionals, and that’s what’s happening at StFX as well.

Boucher advises council has heard from individuals from both sides of the decision welcoming students back to Antigonish for an in-person fall semester.

“Just like this council, there’s an underlying feel of concern, and reservations as well,” she said. “Right now, we have to come together as a community, and do what we can together.”

Highlighting council’s feeling on the university’s decision are irrelevant, because it’s a provincial decision, Boucher noted, adding the plan is only paper, but it gives her confidence that it was vetted by public health officials.

When responding to a question during a media briefing on July 24, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang said the province will continue working with all universities, including StFX, on their re-opening plans.

Officials in the Department of Labour and Advanced Education are now collecting data from each university, which Dr. Strang will then review.

“I’ve indicated to the university that one of the key things that I will be looking for is how do they plan to manage international students especially, but also students coming from other parts of the country, if necessary, and allow them to come there with appropriate safety steps,” he told reporters.

Dr. Strang added that he has a meeting this week with each university president to discuss plans to welcome students to campus.