An answer to ‘Why are we still talking about this?’


We live today in a house so divided. city_scope_logo-cmykHowever, yesterday (Friday) over the noon hour at city hall, a hundred or so individuals were able to cast aside their differences and unite in what the colour orange represents.
The sea of orange gathered to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
A day to remember but equally important to learn.
To learn what we were never taught in school.
The dark chapter in this country’s history.
A chapter finally seeing the light of day as a result of hundreds and ultimately thousands of unmarked graves of young children.
Young Indigenous children, the victims of cultural genocide.
Students snapped from their homes and shuffled off to residential schools where their identities were erased.
The last of which closed as recently as 1996.

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‘It really comes down to your choice for a thriving community for all residents’- St. Thomas city councillor candidate Tara McCaulley


city_scope_logo-cmykShe stresses you have to go for it. Even if that means initiating your charge four years ahead of schedule.
Tara McCaulley had hoped to enter municipal politics in 2026, but now she is seeking a seat on city council in the Oct. 24 municipal vote.
McCaulley feels her experience gained over the past 10 years with the Small Business Enterprise Centre and the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation can be put to good use as the city deals with a variety of challenges.
That’s in addition to her experience dealing with all three levels of government.
“I feel this is a good time,” advises McCaulley. “There are lots of exciting things happening in our community and also some challenges.
She stresses the need for affordable housing is a critical priority along with the health of the downtown core and preparing for future growth.

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‘Our once-thriving downtown core is at a critical threshold’ – St. Thomas lawyer Hilary Vaughan


city_scope_logo-cmykIn a deputation last Monday (Sept. 12) to city council she stressed was devoid of “ill will, malintent or hidden agenda,” Hilary Vaughan hit one out of the park with her no-nonsense presentation on the complex issues plaguing downtown.
In a six-and-a-half-minute span, the St. Thomas lawyer delivered a tell-it-like-it-is synopsis, warning the core area is at a critical threshold.
Her closing remarks left members momentarily flummoxed. Vaughan made it clear she was not open to questions, instead it is time to “find a real solution, in real-time, for real people.”
That can be done by striking a working group to tackle the increasingly dire situation.
Because the picture she painted of the downtown core’s immediate prospects is bleak.

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New London South-St. Thomas electoral district ‘ignores well-established systems of service’


city_scope_logo-cmykNote: Due to the death of Queen Elizabeth, the open house scheduled for Saturday at the CASO station has been postponed. We will update you when a new date has been announced.

At the end of last month, we featured a lengthy discussion with Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio on a proposed boundary alignment for the riding she represents.
Well, it’s coming down to crunch time when it comes to public input and Vecchio is hosting an open house next Saturday (Sept. 17) from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the CASO station to garner feedback from constituents.
We talked again this week about the impact new electoral boundaries proposed by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario could have on the outcome of federal and provincial elections in both St. Thomas and Elgin.
An important area that requires clarification is the adjustment to this riding and others across the country is not gerrymandering on the part of any political party, as is often the case south of the border.

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This is Mathew’s story: His last gift to mankind was to let someone else live


city_scope_logo-cmykA ceremony was held Wednesday morning on the steps of city hall to commemorate the third annual International Overdose Awareness Day.
Later in the day, The Nameless, in partnership with Southwestern Public Health, held an open house at White Street Parkette in St. Thomas.
That was where Anna Maria Iredale of St. Marys dug deep into her reserve of fortitude to step forward with her personal tale of tragedy.
We’re documenting it in its entirety as a tribute to Anna Maria and her son.
That’s a photo of him below and every picture does tell a story. This one is well worth the time and effort it takes to absorb.

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New electoral boundaries: ‘It’s about population and not about communities’ – Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykNew electoral boundaries proposed by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario could have a significant impact on the outcome of federal and provincial elections in both St. Thomas and Elgin.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio is quick to admit she has concerns with the proposed re-alignment.
The aim is to have all ridings in the province fairly equal in population, around the 115,500 mark.
The new electoral roadmap was unveiled a week ago and it would see St. Thomas incorporated into a new riding to be known as London South–St. Thomas.
It would stretch north to Commissioners Road and the Thames River, east to Springwater Road to include Belmont and Mapleton, south to John Wise Line and west to Sunset/Westdel Bourne/Wonderland Road, but would not include Lambeth (see map).
The London South-St. Thomas riding has a population of over 120,000 right now, the majority of residents living in London.

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‘No half measures for me. It’s about dreaming big’ – St. Thomas city council hopeful, Gregg McCart


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s now a three-horse mayoral race in the Oct. 24 St. Thomas municipal vote. Joining Joe Preston is former mayor Heather Jackson and newcomer Gregg McCart, who admits it’s a daunting task trying to unseat a high-profile incumbent.
However, McCart feels he may have an advantage in one area, that being his experience in dealing with homelessness in the city.
With reference to Mayor Preston, he admits, “I kind of like the guy, to be honest. But I believe that he is too far away from this particular problem.”
That problem is the scourge of homelessness, particularly in the downtown core.
McCart continues, “I don’t want to say anything bad, but it is my peers who are suffering the most, as far as income levels.
“And I believe, because of that, I have an advantage over him. So, maybe I can do something.”

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‘Accountability, integrity and trust, where are those these days?’ – St. Thomas council candidate Shawn DeNeire


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’s the owner of DeNeire’s Gallery of Fine Art in downtown St. Thomas and now Shawn DeNeire is plunging into the fine art of municipal politics.
As of yesterday (Aug. 12), NeNeire was one of 10 individuals seeking to fill eight councillor seats at city hall.
DeNeire was born and raised in St. Thomas and was a Central Elgin Collegiate grad although he also spent time at Arthur Voaden Secondary School and Parkside Collegiate Institute.
Ask why he is eager to sit around the horseshoe in the council chamber and DeNeire will relay the following observation.
“I’ve talked to several businesses on Talbot Street and they haven’t had one council person come down in the last four years and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? I’m so and so and have you got any concerns?’
“Not one. And that bothers me. Who are we being paid by? The taxpayers.
“Who should be in our best interest? The taxpayers.”
I am sure there are members of council who will challenge the above and they have been seen patronizing downtown establishments.

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‘I’m your guy if you want someone who is really invested in solving these issues – St. Thomas city council candidate Timothy Hedden


Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

city_scope_logo-cmykAfter pitching in with the Heather Jackson campaign team in the June provincial vote, Timothy Hedden is turning his attention to this fall’s municipal vote.
This is his second run for a seat on city council. He was in a crowded field of 19 candidates, finishing 15th with 1,711 votes in the 2018 municipal election.
Hedden tells us he learned plenty from that unsuccessful run and now has a clearer understanding of the role of a city councillor.
“It’s an interesting role that I think I understand a lot better now having been through the process once and watching council meet and paying attention to the things they actually do.”
His understanding of a councillor’s responsibilities and mandates has matured over the past four years, and his campaigning on the plight of the homeless likewise has taken on a sharper focus.
“You might be able to stamp out not homelessness entirely because it is a revolving thing, but I think you can get to the point where there are very, very few individuals that we are having to help out.

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‘Protecting victims takes precedence over protecting hockey players and government officials’ – EML MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykAs the calls for Hockey Canada to be held accountable regarding their handling of a growing number of sexual assault allegations escalate, one local MP says it is time to reform the culture within not only that organization but within the Ministry of Sport.
The latter is the domain of MP Pascale St-Onge.
And, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth this week was one of three MPs who issued a statement on the pair of emergency committee hearings into those allegations.
That would be Elgin-Middlesex-London MP, Karen Vecchio.
In the statement, the trio asserts, “The hearings at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage into Hockey Canada’s involvement in allegations of sexual assault have heard the testimony of a secretive and unaccountable organization where allegations of sexual assault have been covered up.

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Unplugging the homelessness bottleneck in St. Thomas-Elgin


city_scope_logo-cmyk“I think it’s very important that we keep in mind that the solution to homelessness is not an emergency shelter.
“The solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports.”
That was the salient takeaway from the lengthy discussion at the July 11 council meeting revolving around The Inn, the city’s emergency shelter.
The observation, which pivoted the dialogue back on track to long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes, was put forward by Danielle Neilson, the city’s homelessness and housing supervisor.
She followed that with, “And, in our community, we have plans, not only in place or being considered, but actions that are working.
“And, we have lots to be proud of in St. Thomas.”
Proof of that was evident in a media release issued July 8 by Built For Zero, a program of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

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‘We have got to find a way for The Inn to be a better neighbour to its neighbours’ – St. Thomas Councillor Steve Peters


Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

city_scope_logo-cmykDiscussion on the status and future of the city’s emergency shelter, The Inn, consumed more than an hour of Monday’s (July 11) council meeting.
It resolved little but revealed much.
Margaret Barrie, chair of the board of directors and Pastor Cherisse Swarath, Interim Executive Director, Inn Out of the Cold, in a deputation to council updated members on progress at the shelter in its new location and then fielded a bevy of questions from councillors.
Many of those questions were prompted by a letter to Mayor Joe Preston from Brad Beausoleil, who owns several properties in St. Thomas, including 6 Princess Avenue which is adjacent to The Inn.
We delved into that correspondence two weeks ago and there is a link to that post below.
And, Beausoleil forwarded this corner a follow-up email with his impressions of the delegation which we will deal with in the following item.

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‘There is a need to try and make sure our council represents a little bit more of the population that we see here’ – St. Thomas municipal council candidate Petrusia Hontar


She is taking a second run for a seat on city council in the fall municipal election.
And, Petrusia Hontar, project manager at St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership stresses she doesn’t have all the answers to all of the issues.
So, suggests Hontar, open up a dialogue with those individuals and groups who can provide insight.
“My answer is always going to be who can we bring to the table to be more informed on this decision?
“I think that is a really strong piece I am advocating for.”
Hontar finished 14th in a field of 19 candidates for councillor with 1,995 votes in 2018.
For Hontar, establishing a safe injection site was a priority in that campaign, along with more affordable housing in conjunction with a housing strategy.

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STEGH is facing capacity challenges and hospitals across the province “are having to adjust their services based on the staff that are not available”


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s not a situation unique to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) as facilities across the province are grappling with staffing challenges, inpatient overcapacity and stressed emergency departments.
All of which is creating capacity challenges which ultimately impact those requiring emergency care.
In an interview with Karen Davies, STEGH president and CEO, on Thursday (June 30), she confided that the hospital is dealing with a more than 30 percent increase in ER visits.
“In March of this year, we were seeing about 900 patients a week and now we’re seeing over 1,200 patients.
“And so the impact in our emergency department and also our inpatient side where we added 22 new beds in the early days of the pandemic.
“All 22 of those beds are full.”

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Charges against St. Thomas music teacher a warning we need to protect children ‘without hesitation or reservation about others’ opinions’


city_scope_logo-cmykEugene Francois made a brief video court appearance yesterday (June 24) at the Elgin County Courthouse.
He is facing 16 charges in relation to 10 victims who attended his Talbot Street residence – which is also his music studio – where he filmed individuals without their knowledge or consent.
The new charges include voyeurism, making child pornography and possession of child pornography.
St. Thomas Police believe there are more victims and they are asking females who attended his residence between 2009 and May of last year to contact their Criminal Investigation Branch if they have not done so already.
These new charges are in addition to human trafficking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, traffic in persons under the age of 18, benefitting from trafficking and possession of child pornography charges laid one year ago.
He was arrested by St. Thomas Police on May 27 of 2021 after a search warrant was issued for his apartment.

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Invigorated by the accomplishments of this council, Jeff Kohler is pursuing another term at St. Thomas city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council.
Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself.
He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote.
Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat.
The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.

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Land acquisition sends a clear message St. Thomas is actively seeking to attract a significant manufacturing investment


city_scope_logo-cmykSt. Thomas this week upped the stakes in a bid to entice a large manufacturing operation to the city.
On Wednesday the city, in partnership with St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., announced it is assembling an 800-plus acre parcel of land in the area of Ron McNeil Line and Highbury Avenue.
Sean Dyke, EDC CEO said this is in anticipation of attracting a mega industrial development to the city.
“The land we have assembled for this one is aimed at trying to attract a large investment.
“When I say large, I mean on a scale that would be like a single user on a majority portion of that property.”
Dyke added, “More often than not, companies are looking to have shovels in the ground for large investments in months rather than years and I am exceptionally pleased that the city has chosen to take this strategic path forward to encourage a level of long-term success and economic sustainability that will be felt not just in St. Thomas, but across the entire region.”

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‘To whom much is given, much is expected’ – Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP-elect Rob Flack


city_scope_logo-cmykLess than an hour after the polls closed in Thursday’s provincial election, the takeaway from the campaign in Elgin-Middlesex-London presented itself.
For the most part, the eight candidates ran a clean race with no mud-slinging, vitriol and finger-pointing evident.
Around 10 that evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall, as Flack was bathing in the adoration of his supporters, word was relayed to him Liberal candidate Heather Jackson was waiting outside the room to offer congratulations.
You could tell Flack was truly moved by the gesture of the city’s former mayor.
A classy moment all around in a world dominated by raging rhetoric and damning divisiveness.
After the brief exchange, Flack continued with his words of thanks, which included a fitting tip of the hat to the riding’s previous MPP, who stepped aside at the end of February.

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In announcing his re-election bid, Steve Peters observes, that you can ‘move an agenda along quicker at the municipal level’


city_scope_logo-cmykHot on the heels of Joe Preston’s announcement he is seeking a second term as St. Thomas mayor, Steve Peters has made it known he too will pursue re-election.
We caught up with Peters at the end of the week and he stressed, “There is a lot of work to be done on a lot of issues and, honestly, that’s why I chose to seek re-election.”
His political career was launched at the municipal level before Peters moved on to represent Elgin-Middlesex-London at Queen’s Park.
“When I reflect on all my years in politics and my service on different fronts for me, I’ve always been a huge fan of municipal politics, where you can say it is black, I say it is white and collectively we find the gray and get on with it.
“You can make things happen and move an agenda along quicker at the municipal level.”
Sitting in the council chamber, Peters looks to provincial politicians now and is convinced there is an ongoing role shift that is leading to an imbalance for municipalities.

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Is the revolving door in the chief’s office at St. Thomas Fire Department a case of the tail wagging the dog?


city_scope_logo-cmykThe question begs an answer.
What exactly is going on with the city’s fire department?
We are now working on the third St. Thomas fire chief in under a year, what gives?
First, it was Bob Davidson, who came on board in January of 2018, after serving as deputy fire chief in Chatham-Kent.
Well, he served until July of last year when it was announced he abruptly retired.
Or did he?
Was he pressured into leaving?
Remember, the St. Thomas Professional Firefighters’ Association was more than a little upset when Davidson was brought aboard after the death of popular fire chief Rob Broadbent in August of 2017.
The decision was made at city hall to hire a chief externally, rather than from within the department with then Deputy Fire Chief Ray Ormerod considered a strong candidate.
Word has it Ormerod was not even granted an interview.

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Attempting to avoid an unavoidable reality: Cyberattack directed at County of Elgin network results in a data breach impacting hundreds of individuals


city_scope_logo-cmykA ‘technical disruption’ that plagued Elgin county through April was confirmed yesterday (May 13) as “a cyber security incident” in a media release.
The attack impacted the county’s website and email system.
And now the county is confirming some personal information has been breached, however, there is no evidence this data was used to commit fraud or identity theft.
We spoke with County of Elgin CAO Julie Gonyou yesterday for elaboration on the incident.
She advised, “From April 1st to the 27th, we were navigating a cyber security incident so we had our network down with the exception of a couple of critical functions for long-term care.
“We brought the network back up and our cyber security experts who we hired as consultants alerted us on May 3 to a data breach with information dumped on the dark web.
“By the time we found out we had resumed normal operations so we do believe there is a connection.”
As to how many individuals have been impacted by the breach, Gonyou responded, “in and around 330 and within that 330, there are two levels of notification.

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Poverty to possibility: ensuring affordable and supportive housing is on the radar of EML candidates in the June provincial vote


city_scope_logo-cmykThe first Elgin-Middlesex-London candidate forum for the June 2 provincial election was held this past Tuesday at the St. Thomas Public Library.
Hosted by the Elgin-St. Thomas Coalition to End Poverty, the two-hour session featured 10 questions from coalition members relating to poverty, homelessness, a living wage and mental health issues.
The three hopefuls present were PC candidate Rob Flack, Liberal candidate Heather Jackson and NDP candidate Andy Kroeker.
Moderated by the myFM news team featuring Kennedy Freeman and myself, the event kicked off what will be a hectic 28-day runup to the election itself.
Not present for the forum but who have now declared their candidacy are Matt Millar from the New Blue Party of Ontario, Brigitte Belton of the Ontario Party and Amanda Stark of the Green Party of Ontario.

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‘There’s a lot of opportunity in the region right now,’ but do we have the labour pool to support it?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith two area employers seeking more than 3,500 workers, at first glance, it would appear to be a rosy picture for job seekers in St. Thomas, Elgin county and neighbouring municipalities.
More so in light of two years of economic fallout related to the pandemic.
But there are other factors at play when you consider employers here and across the province are coping with a labour shortage.
We talked this week with Sean Dyke, CEO of St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation to ascertain the impact this will have on smaller firms already hunting for employees.
How easy will it be to find 2,000 or so employees for the Amazon fulfillment centre north of Talbotville plus 1,500 workers for the Maple Leaf Foods plant in south London, both opening next year?
“I do think they will be able to draw from a wide range of areas in the surrounding region,” suggested Dyke.

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What was old is new again: Police foot patrols in the core of St. Thomas are about ‘enhancing the value of our downtown’


city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier this month, the province announced the St. Thomas Police Service is to receive $786,925 in funding for community-based safety and policing initiatives.
That should be tempered by the fact funding is spread over three years.
A portion of the money will support an initiative to deal with a modern-day reality in the majority of communities across Ontario while the remainder will support a local program that is a throwback to policing from a bygone era.
In the first scenario, the funding will allow for a uniform officer to remain with the Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST) to ensure a public safety presence.
As Chief Chris Herridge observed a year ago in this corner, “Our community is facing increasing social-related issues resulting in a rise in crime and a feeling of being unsafe in our downtown.
“We immediately need a ‘boots on the ground’ professional health team (mental health, medical, addictions, housing, etc.) in our downtown in partnership with the St. Thomas Police Service who will assist when public safety is a concern.
“The police require a team of experts so we can triage these health-related calls and the appropriate assistance/supports can be provided.”

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‘People should be able to assess their own risk and make their own decisions’ – Matt Millar, New Blue Party of Ontario


city_scope_logo-cmykFounded in 2020, the New Blue Party of Ontario is led by Jim Karahalios, the husband of Belinda Karahalios, former PC MPP for Cambridge and now the party’s first MPP.
She was turfed from the PC caucus after voting against Bill 195, the Reopening Ontario Act, which she described as “an unnecessary overreach on our parliamentary democracy.”
New Blue identifies itself as “an anti-establishment centre-right political party.”
The party aims to field candidates in all ridings for the June 2 provincial election.
It has put forward Matt Millar, a life-long Lambeth resident, as its prospective candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
A third-generation fruit farmer who also operates a small tech support company, Millar advises the party is all about less government involvement.
“The reason I got into this is I just want people to have more control over their own lives. I don’t want the government to be overbearing and forcing people to do things they don’t want.”

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‘Yes is the answer’ to any questions about St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston’s intentions in the municipal vote this fall


city_scope_logo-cmykWary of having the June provincial election get in the way of his political aspirations later in the year, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston became the first candidate to put forth their name for the municipal vote in October.
On Wednesday (April 6), Preston confirmed his intention to seek re-election as the head of council.
“It’s an election year,” noted Preston in a conversation shortly after announcing his candidacy, “but with a lot of other stuff going on with the provincial election and a federal leadership in one of the major parties.
“And I just thought, before all that gets too crowded, I’m going to let people know so I can go about the job of mayor and continue doing it until we get into campaigning sometime late summer or early September for an October election.”
He admits he has been peppered with the question, ‘Are you running?’

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Over the past two years, ‘We’ve all been on a bit of a treadmill’ – outgoing medical officer of health Dr. Joyce Lock


city_scope_logo-cmykThe region’s medical officer of health spent her last day in that capacity on Thursday (March 31) and we caught up with Dr. Joyce Lock in the waning hours of her tenure at Southwestern Public Health.
With just a day to slip by before retiring, she called the countdown “surreal.”
“Retirement is always this vague endpoint many, many miles on the horizon. And to think I am actually there, is astounding.
“We spend so much of our lives working and having our jobs be a major focus in our daily living, so to make the transition to where it will not be, does bring mixed feelings for sure.”
She was an emergency physician for 25 years in the Burlington area before transitioning over to public health and she spent eight years with the health unit.
The last two years completely preoccupied with COVID-19.

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‘Trying to make decision-makers . . . understand that things are different in rural Ontario’ – Andy Kroeker, NDP candidate for EML


city_scope_logo-cmykThe three major parties have now announced their candidates to run in Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial vote.
All three were acclaimed.
In the first week of March, the NDP announced Andy Kroeker as their candidate to contest the riding with the Conservatives’ Rob Flack and the Liberals’ Heather Jackson.
Kroeker has been the executive director of the West Elgin Community Health Centre for the past dozen years.
Working in health care, Kroeker says he has witnessed how underfunding has impacted rural communities in particular.
It’s just one item on a substantial “laundry list” of concerns that need to be addressed.
“Certainly I have my concerns about healthcare,” stresses Kroeker, “social services and affordable housing and education.
“So there is a long laundry list, I guess, of things which are challenging in a post-COVID environment.”

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Back-to-back announcements this week an example of ‘attacking housing from each end in St. Thomas’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt has been a significant week for housing news in St. Thomas.
A pair of announcements mid-week covered off a broad swath of the residential spectrum.
At Wednesday’s site plan control committee meeting, conditional approval was granted to Fast Forward Ventures of London for their 14-storey, 162-unit apartment building to rise on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
The Timken plant closed in 2013 and was demolished and the site cleared in 2017.
The next day, the province announced $3 million in funding to develop 20 supportive housing units inside Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub now under construction at 16 Queen Street.
Let’s take a closer look at both developments – which Mayor Joe Preston described as “one more step in attacking the city’s housing shortage.”

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‘A big part is being able to get along with other folks and playing well in the sandbox to make the best decisions’ – Heather Jackson on her return to the political spotlight


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As is the case with so many things in life, it all becomes a matter of timing. And so, three-and-a-half years after losing to Joe Preston by less than 650 votes in the 2018 St. Thomas municipal vote as she sought a third term as mayor, Heather Jackson asserts the time is right to return to politics.
In this case, she is on the verge of being acclaimed as Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial election.
Her candidacy will become official before the end of the month, and it is not without some controversy (see the following item).
“It’s all about timing,” advised Jackson, “and I think it’s a good opportunity to jump back into politics and see if I can make a difference again.”
Timing, in this case, relates to former MPP Jeff Yurek’s decision to not seek re-election in June and in the process surrender his seat at the end of February.

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‘A lot of pride in the things I’ve had a small fingerprint on’ – outgoing St. Thomas city manager Wendell Graves


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It all started with a high school geography course so many years ago.
As city manager Wendell Graves reflected back on his years of public service on Feb. 25, his final day at city hall, his attention turned to a particular field trip that would be “the ignition point” for what would become a four-decade career path.
“Don Cann was the teacher and he brought us on an afternoon field trip to city hall and specifically to the planning department. And that was my initial ignition point. I had never been in city hall before.
“My roots are in the city. I graduated eons ago from Locke’s Public School and then Arthur Voaden and the influence those institutions had on my career path has been tremendous.
“I give a shout out to all those kids who sit behind those desks or in front of a screen. There is so much opportunity here in the city for them to grow their careers and that is really important.
“And a fulfilling career as well.”

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‘If you want change, you’ve got to be part of the change’ – MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykOne week ago today, while truck horns blared and tempers flared, Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio rose in the House of Commons and gave a speech on the Motion for Confirmation of the Declaration of Emergency.
It was very late Saturday night, and yet she delivered one of the more impassioned, albeit reasoned, presentations of all those MPs who stood to relay their message.
So much so that it drew praise from two members from other parties. More on that later.
Whatever your political stripe, Vecchio’s words are well worth pondering on several accounts, not the least of which is her obvious compassion for the constituents she represents.
She began, “I am here because of my family and the families and people across Canada. And I will speak about the reasonable people that I also represent.”
She then focussed on the divisiveness and intolerance that have muscled their way into so many conversations today, whether in person or on social media.

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National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Canada is a ‘trigger day for me’ – Kelly Franklin


 

city_scope_logo-cmykTuesday morning (Feb. 22) a flag-raising will take place at 10 a.m. in front of city hall in St. Thomas in recognition of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Canada.
The day was proclaimed as such in the House of Commons in February of last year and coincides with the 2007 declaration condemning all forms of human trafficking and slavery.
At last year’s inaugural flag-raising hosted by Victim Services Elgin, Christina Hoffer, crisis intervention specialist at Victim Services Elgin, explained trafficking exists in several not-so-obvious forms.
“Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of individuals for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour or organ removal.”

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The city of St. Thomas to focus on equity, diversity and inclusion both in hiring and the provision of services


city_scope_logo-cmykCoun. Steve Peters delved into a bit of family history at Monday’s (Feb. 7) council meeting.
Specifically about his grandfather.
But, best we let Coun. Peters recount it in his own words.
“As someone who was born and raised in St. Thomas, and considers himself coming from an immigrant family.
“A lot of you don’t know, but my grandfather, who was born and raised in Canada, had to change his name from Dmytro Pidwerbeski to Dick Peters because he was a foreigner.
“And that has always stuck with me that my grandfather had to do that and he was born here but considered an immigrant.”
The glimpse into Peters’ family tree was a preamble to serious discussion related to discrimination in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
It stemmed from a survey undertaken by the St.Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP) that was an item on Monday’s agenda.

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St. Thomas municipal council asked to renew its commitment to addressing discrimination in the community


city_scope_logo-cmykMembers of council will receive a report for Monday’s (Feb. 7) meeting that unpacks the experiences of discrimination in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
It contains the results of a survey undertaken by the St.Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP) and we spotlighted last week a pair of online presentations to be held this coming Tuesday spotlighting the results of that survey.
Delving into the report should prove uncomfortable at times for our elected representatives on two broad fronts.
First, and foremost, the report points out “Discrimination is happening in locations that are managed by the City of St. Thomas and this reality needs to be addressed.”
Secondly, the report states the obvious, “With no immigrants, visible minorities, nor Indigenous People represented on the City of St. Thomas Council, this report can help all of us better understand how these groups are experiencing life in our community.”

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‘We’re not going to arrest our way out of the cycle of poverty, addiction, homelessness and mental health issues’


city_scope_logo-cmykThere is a 29-year-old St. Thomas resident who has been arrested 29 times since 2019, with 77 Criminal Code charges, 34 of those related to property crime, six related to trespassing, four drug-related charges and 39 fail-to-comply charges.
Twenty-six of those were withdrawn. And overall, 45 charges were withdrawn.
St. Thomas Police have checked on this individual’s well-being 19 times, including for overdoses and that person was reported to police 63 times as an unwanted or suspicious person because that person experienced homelessness or still does.
As they say on television crime dramas, those are the facts.
However, this is a real-life situation and not drawn from a reality show.
And it’s the type of ongoing police interaction that has St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge calling for a two-stream justice system.

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‘We’ll get our running shoes on and get out on our listening and learning tour’ – EML PC nominee Rob Flack


city_scope_logo-cmykThere were several tire-kickers, apparently, but according to riding association president Bill Fehr, only one hopeful stepped forward with paperwork in hand.
That was Rob Flack of Dorchester. And so, in the June provincial vote, Flack will be the PC candidate representing Elgin-Middlesex-London.
We caught up with him yesterday morning (Jan. 21) on his way to work and delayed his arrival by a few minutes.
However when you are president and CEO of a large operation like Masterfeeds, who is going to complain.
Their mission statement is as follows, “As a leader in the Canadian animal nutrition industry, Masterfeeds will serve livestock and poultry producers with research-based and proven animal feeding solutions – supported by skilled employees, dealers and sales staff who are accountable to the ongoing success of our customers and stakeholders.”
The short version is catchy, “People advancing animal nutrition.”

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Modified Step Two of the province’s Roadmap to Reopen: A restaurant killer?


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was less than encouraging news this week for St. Thomas and area businesses.
Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, advises he can’t offer any guarantee the current COVID-19 public health restrictions will be lifted on Jan. 26, even though in-class learning opens up on Monday.
Businesses across the province have been begging for greater clarity on the restrictions.
Dr. Moore says he understands their frustration, but any easing of restrictions will be tied to hospital and ICU cases.
There is an expectation, says Dr. Moore, the picture may become a little clearer sometime next week, however, those restrictions will be eased in a slow and careful fashion.
Just after announcing the move to a Modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen at the beginning of January, we talked with Earl Taylor, chairman of the Downtown Development Board to get a sense of the impact locally.

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In today’s toxic world of politics, MPP Jeff Yurek remained true to his values and beliefs


city_scope_logo-cmykThe news release Friday (Jan. 7) afternoon seemed to come out of nowhere and caught many by surprise.
MPP Jeff Yurek announced he would not seek re-election in the June provincial vote and he would resign from his seat at the end of February.
He opened the release with this observation.
“When I entered politics over ten years ago, I made three promises to myself: represent the people of Elgin-Middlesex-London to my fullest ability, remain authentic and true to my values and beliefs, and recognize when it is the right time to step down.”
The reason for Yurek’s decision to pack in provincial politics perhaps lies in the second promise noted above.
Values and beliefs are important to Yurek and, pandemic aside, his insistence on remaining true to those core truths surely put him in a philosophical conflict with Premier Doug Ford and his values and beliefs.

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A community/aquatic centre for St. Thomas: ‘If you want to play, how much are you going to pay?’


city_scope_logo-cmykThere is no approved site on which to begin construction. The wish list of options is rather lengthy. And, as for the cost, we’ll let Mayor Joe Preston opine on that rather important consideration.
Of course, we’re talking about a possible community and aquatic centre now being studied by a technical committee struck to “create a physical concept plan and determine the location for a new community and aquatic centre in order to be prepared for future funding opportunities.
A report from the committee was presented to city council at its final meeting of the year on Dec. 20.
Members unanimously approved moving forward with the next exploratory stage which includes reviewing financial partnerships with surrounding county municipalities, reviewing potential operating partnership opportunities and retaining a consultant to determine a Class C cost estimate for such a facility.
City manager Wendell Graves ball-parked consulting fees at $10-$15,000.

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Will sticker shock dampen the enthusiasm for a community/aquatic centre?


city_scope_logo-cmykThere is no doubt plenty of support in the city for a community and aquatic centre. To the extent, if you add all the bells and whistles sought by the public, the projected cost would be well more than the estimated $25 million just for an aquatic centre.
This is all contained in a report to council for Monday’s (Dec. 20) meeting from the technical committee struck to “create a physical concept plan and determine the location for a new community and aquatic centre in order to be prepared for future funding opportunities by December 2021.”
To prepare its report, the committee looked at the Bostwick Community Centre, East Lions Community Centre, Komoka Wellness Centre, South London Community Pool and the Stoney Creek Community Centre.

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Addressing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues . . . how do we collectively get on the same page?


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’s lived in the downtown core for 29 years and Steve Peters recounts over that time, “either sitting in my front window and watching the traffic on the street or sitting on my deck and hearing the traffic, things have changed.”
Boy, have they ever and Coun. Peters begins to open up on the challenges people face in finding a place to live in the heart of St. Thomas.
How much of that is due to what is referred to as the gentrification of downtown neighbourhoods?
“In the core area, the number of retrofits I have seen and continue to see,” suggested Peters.
“I am aware of a family that has had to move out of their place because the building has been sold and the new owner is coming in and is going to spend a lot of money to upgrade the place.
“I can look at a house beside me that is a fourplex and changed hands about four years ago and the new owner I bet spent over $200,000 or more and where this fourplex was probably renting for $600 is now renting for $1,200 plus utilities.”

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Internet voting: ‘It’s all about balancing risks and benefits’


city_scope_logo-cmykCity council’s unanimous approval of a move to a paperless municipal vote in 2022 generated plenty of pushback, questions and conspiratorial warnings.
So, why not go right to the target of all this distrust and anger, Simply Voting Inc., and talk to the founder, Brian Lack.
It’s the firm that will undertake the electronic vote in the 2022 municipal vote in St. Thomas, as they did in a limited fashion in the 2018 municipal election.
We won’t hold the face he is a Montreal Canadiens fan against him. He is an interesting and knowledgeable individual who is refreshingly forthright.
“I’m the first to admit there is no such thing as 100 per cent security. Nothing on the internet is 100 per cent secure, but we still use it.
“There are people who say we bank online so we should vote online. But actually, it’s not quite the same thing.
“In a way, there is probably more danger with voting online because if my back account is hacked and I’m missing a few hundred dollars, I’m going to know about it.
“If your vote is hacked, how does anybody know? It is not the same analogy.”
“But we have a lot of in-house expertise on security and we work with security companies and we’re following the best practices to make it as secure as possible.”

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‘Sad and challenging times’ – City Scope readers respond to the plight of St. Thomas’ downtown core


city_scope_logo-cmykLast week’s item on the state of the downtown core generated a far-reaching cross-section of opinions, possible solutions and a smidgen of finger-pointing.
Here is a sampling of what has landed from various City Scope locales as of mid-week.

Jackie Harris, a patient care manager offered a valid alternative to security guards taking care of business.

“Why aren’t we thinking of peer outreach workers instead of security? There is an excellent model in London called London Cares as well as other models across Canada and the US.
“We are totally missing the boat on this St. Thomas…”

That prompted this response from St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston.

“Thank you. St Thomas has our CMHA street team and the Mental Health Police support team both active on the street.
“We, with the help of Jeff Yurek, have reached out to the Ministry for more team members and a Detox, Rehab, Mental Crisis beds.”

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‘The filth, the garbage, the clean-up, the needles’ . . . welcome to downtown St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmyk“Yes, the downtown is a mess.”
Realtor Mark Hindley stated what is patently clear to those who continue to support downtown merchants.
The comment was one of many frustrated business owners aired this past Thursday (Nov. 25) in an information session via Zoom on managing the city’s homeless.
Participants included city representatives, St. Thomas Police, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Inn Out of the Cold, Southwestern Public Health, St. Thomas Elgin Social Services and Earl Taylor from the Downtown Development Board.
As Taylor advised, a number of social issues continue to occur in our downtown that are affecting our businesses and properties.
Homelessness, crime, mental health issues, drug addiction, sharps disposal and garbage continue to affect our downtown.
Hindley continued, “I agree that there’s addiction and mental health issues and some of it is just plain disrespect.”

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Paper a thing of the past in the 2022 municipal vote


city_scope_logo-cmykWell, it seems paper ballots are just so last election.
After substantial discussion Monday (Nov. 15) city council unanimously favoured a report from city clerk Maria Konefal calling for an all-electronic vote in the 2022 municipal election.
In other words, constituents will be able to vote by internet or telephone with no paper ballots. To accommodate those who prefer to vote in person, a system of mobile voting kiosks with computer tablets will be established.
Konefal advised there is some work to be done on the latter option but it will be in place for the municipal vote with clear directions on how to participate in this fashion.
In the 2018 municipal vote, electors cast paper ballots at one of four voting locations on voting day itself.
There was no in-person voting using paper ballots during the advance voting period and no electronic voting on voting day.

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There is ‘huge value’ to keeping school resource officers – St. Thomas Police Service Deputy Chief Marc Roskamp


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s been under the microscope for over a year and last month Thames Valley District School Board trustees continued with their collective finger on the pause button while dealing with the future of the School Resource Officer (SRO) program.
In October of last year, the program was paused pending a review “as a result of a board motion reflecting concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter that requested the administration to ‘engage in extensive consultation . . . regarding the School Resource Officer,'” according to a TVDSB release at the end of October.
The release continues, “While the review found value in the program, it also confirmed that some students, including a disproportionate amount of Indigenous, Black and Youths of Colour have felt harmed or traumatized by the presence of police in Thames Valley Schools.”
The SRO program has been in St. Thomas schools for a considerable length of time and Police Chief Chris Herridge stated recently, “We are very proud of our local school programs, the terrific work STPS officers have been doing in St. Thomas schools for decades and the positive relationships which have been developed . . . “
Is this the same program the TVDSB has paused for 13 months?

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‘Any community needs to have a strong protective element for industries to feel good about moving in there.’ – new St. Thomas Fire Chief Kevin Welsh


city_scope_logo-cmykThe Oct. 28 media release from the city announcing the hiring of a new fire chief was somewhat short on information.
The one-paragraph devoted to Kevin Welsh reads, “With over 27 years of experience, Chief Welsh currently serves as Chief in the Town of Renfrew after spending many years with Kingston Fire and Rescue.
“He holds a Masters of Public Administration from Queens University and a Bachelor of Arts from Waterloo.”
He assumes his new role on Nov. 15, so what better way to get to know the city’s new fire chief than to call down to Renfrew and find out who Kevin Welsh is.
He’s got a sense of humour as we quickly discovered when he asked about the short turnaround between his last day in Renfrew this coming Friday and on the job in St. Thomas starting Monday, Nov. 15.
“Well you’ve got a weekend in between, so it’s all good.” he pointed out.
You can easily hear the enthusiasm in his voice, noticeable when he explained he was to be in the city last weekend to begin house hunting.

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