A ‘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.
The 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.
With 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.
Earlier 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.”
Founded 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.”
Wary 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?’
The 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.
The 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.”
It 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.”
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.
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.”
One 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.
Tuesday 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.”
Coun. 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.
Members 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.”
There 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.
There 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.”
It 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.
The 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.
There 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.
Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.
City Scope wishes all our faithful readers a very Merry Christmas!
There 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.
He’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.”
City 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.”
Last 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.”
“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.”
Well, 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.
It’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?
The 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.
As far as policies go, the city’s proof of vaccination procedure appears designed more to accommodate employees who may balk at getting a COVID-19 jab.
In the process, avoid any disruption to the provision of services at city hall.
And, if approved Monday by council, those hesitant or unwilling to be vaccinated would be compensated for holding out as long as possible.
The proof of vaccination policy report, authored by Sandra Schulz, Director of Human Resources, indicates these procedures will apply to all members of council and committee appointments, active city employees, volunteers and students.
They will all be required to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19; or request an exemption due to a medical or creed/religion reason(s) under Ontario Human Rights Code for not being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and undertake regular testing; or complete a COVID-19 vaccination educational session and undertake regular testing.
Requests for exemption will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
Earlier this month, Jeff Yurek celebrated 10 years in provincial politics as MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Now a decade employed in the same field may seem fairly insignificant, however in the world of politics – at any level of government – that can feel like a lifetime.
Moreso of late with the transformation of the playing field into a highly divisive, confrontational and threatening battleground.
We talked at length this week with Yurek about his political career to date.
As we jokingly asked Yurek, what would possess a successful and popular downtown pharmacist to throw his hat in the political ring?
He admitted he has always had an interest in politics.
“I think it was the combination of being involved with the government of the day dealing with pharmacy issues. Everyone always looks back and wants to do better for the next generation.
“Opportunity arose and I thought I would put my name forward.”
Like the situation faced by numerous individuals and families over the last two years, Southwestern Public Health (SWPH) this week let it be known it has “significant cashflow concerns.”
Of course, that would be related to COVID-19 expenditures and “the delay in reimbursement by the Ministry of Health.”
The situation is outlined in a letter to city council for Monday’s (Oct. 18) meeting and signed by board chairman Larry Martin and CEO Cynthia St. John.
How many times have you heard Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott pay tribute to the province’s health units for the yeoman work undertaken during the pandemic?
Work that includes a vaccination program executed remarkably.
So how about thanking these health units by coughing up the money promised to them in the early going of the pandemic.
The tardiness has reached such a critical stage, SWPH has had to dip into cash on hand from the 2019 year-end surplus and increase its line of credit to the maximum of three million dollars from $800,000.
At the end of July, we wrote about Dennis Kalichuk and his retirement.
After delivering his last letter for Canada Post, he eschewed typical retirement pastimes like golf and fishing in favour of starting a movement.
As per his vision, “a movement and official petition to ask the Ontario government for immediate and sweeping changes to the way that Ontario deals with issues and problems of homelessness, mental health and addictions.”
Remember, this was at the very end of July.
Not three months later – this past Thursday (Oct. 7) to be exact – there’s Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek standing up at Queen’s Park to present Kalichuk’s petition to members.
He referred to Kalichuk “as recently retired and he’s making Ontario a better place.”
Thanks to a critical partnership forged at the beginning of the year, the affordable housing inventory in St. Thomas will increase by more than 100 units in the next four years.
Teaming up with Indwell, the city can develop local solutions to homelessness.
That was the observation of Indwell CEO Jeff Neven Wednesday afternoon at the official groundbreaking of Phase 2 of the social services and housing hub evolving in the city’s west end.
Initially, it was hoped this building fronting Queen Street would begin to take shape in 2019, however, the numbers presented a soft business case and the project had to be put on hold, forcing the relocation of a childcare centre that was to be housed on-site.
As announced Wednesday, the four-storey structure expected to open in the spring of 2023 will contain 45 one-bedroom apartments and eventually a third fire hall.
Have you got anything planned for this coming Thursday?
You know, Sept. 30.
That would be our inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
If you’re fortunate enough to get the day off work, are you using the time to catch up on chores? Maybe get a leisurely round of golf in?
Or, perhaps your idea of time off is to binge-watch whatever Netflix has on offer.
Don’t forget, however, the true meaning of the day.
Moreso, in light of the discovery of hundreds – if not thousands – of unmarked graves so far this year.
Don’t know where to begin with commemorating the true meaning behind National Day for Truth and Reconciliation?
Start by paying a visit to St. Thomas Public Library.
You don’t have to go inside.
Head over to the west exterior wall.
You can’t miss it.
Perhaps the city’s alleged new community grant process isn’t quite yet carved in stone.
We wrote about the grant policy last week in advance of Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting where Dan Sheridan, the city’s director of finance, recommended members deny small funding requests from the STEAM Education Centre and Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas Elgin because the money, according to Sheridan’s interpretation, is to be used for operating expenses.
Council heeded Sheridan’s advice but there was a notable sense of discomfort with the decision from several quarters.
Which, once again, opened up a debate over what is and what should the community grant policy look like.
Prompting this opening salvo from Coun. Steve Wookey.
“For the benefit of myself and everyone watching, I just want to review this very quickly.
“These grants are not meant for day-to-day operations. That’s where I have a little bit of a different assessment of it currently than the folks in treasury do.
“In my mind, the over-arching concept here is, does this help get something off the ground.”
A critical consideration put forth by Coun. Wookey as it could be applied to both funding applications before council on Monday.
Well, a new wrinkle in the city’s much-maligned grant policy.
As evident in the agenda for Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting, the city’s director of finance is now a gatekeeper in the grant application process, taking some of the heat off the mayor and council.
And, it’s not good news for two of the more recognized organizations in the city.
In his report to council, Dan Sheridan reminds members “Successful applications under the current (grant) policy are more likely to be for special events or one-time start-up funding for new community initiatives that align with council’s strategic priorities.”
Sheridan continues, “Grant applications that request funding for expenses that an organization incurs through its normal course of operations are not recommended for approval.
“These could be salaries, advertising or facility repairs, for example. Even costs that are one-time in nature can be considered operating costs if they are used to support the organization’s normal course of operations.”
Quite a tightening of the rules in what has been a loosey-goosey undertaking in the past.
The evolution began in May of last year when city council endorsed Phase 1 of a project to install eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to St. George Street.
The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime-mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information.
But, it is not meant to be a red-light camera system to document vehicles running traffic signals.
The CCTV program was pitched to council as “a proactive, local solution modelled on successful networks in other municipalities to enhance community well-being and assist the St. Thomas Police Service with solving crime.”
A report from the service concluded,” a safe, secure and vibrant downtown will provide a canvas for economic development.”
Last month, the entire system was brought on stream and is now in full operation, according to Insp. Steve Bogart, who oversees the CCTV operation.
Elgin Mall has wonderful potential according to the small, family-owned real estate investment company that acquired the 263,000-square-foot property in October of 2016.
At the time the mall was operating at a roughly 50 per cent vacancy rate.
Jay Burstein, spokesman for the new owners stated, “Our goal is to try and lease the vacant space as quickly as possible and try to make this mall the vibrant place it once was.”
A rather major concern was the large vacant space at the west end of the mall, formerly occupied by Zellers.
“We recognize the fact the former Zellers space is something we really have to look at,” admitted Burstein. “If we could find one tenant for that space, that would be awesome.”
Just shy of five years later and what is now known as Elgin Centre is again making headlines.
Preparatory work has begun at the very same spot in the shopping centre to make way for a $16 million, 95-room Holiday Inn Express and Suites scheduled to officially open next October.
How do you determine what market value rent is? And, who determines that?
It was a good question from Coun. Jim Herbert at the Aug. 9 city council meeting and was prompted by the 2020 Progress Report on the city’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan.
It’s a question that has been raised in comments from readers of this corner.
Danielle Neilson is the city’s Homelessness and Housing Supervisor and the report in question noted the city owns and manages 558 units of housing, including 512 units of rent-geared-to-income housing.
That’s a significant number and it’s part of the role of the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department to administer and/or deliver “a range of housing and homelessness programs including existing social housing, new affordable housing, rent supplements, housing allowances, portable housing benefits, home repair assistance, homeownership down-payment assistance, funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing, and other homelessness prevention programs including the Housing Links for People (HeLP) program.
Last week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council. She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.” She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues. “For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.” At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence. Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.” The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”
Proposed residential development on land currently owned by the Elgin County Railway Museum is an opportunity to revitalize that portion of downtown St. Thomas, stresses developer Doug Tarry. He is proposing to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for a low-rise residential development that would front onto a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street. We talked with Tarry on Tuesday of this week (Aug. 3) and he stressed nothing is carved in stone at this point as museum members have yet to approve the sale of the property. He started by noting the museum is a gem and, “There is such an opportunity to incorporate how that building works and what it is being used for and how we can expand that into a real revitalization of the centre of downtown.” As to what the housing would look like Tarry advised, “We’re talking apartment units and we don’t have a design done yet because we obviously haven’t bought the property yet. “But we’re also wanting to bring our expertise to the table to help with the museum revitalization.”
Preserve a critical piece of property intrinsically linked to the city’s railway heritage or build 240 or so badly needed housing units in the downtown core. That’s the question to be put to members of the Elgin County Railway Museum early next month. St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry is offering to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for low-rise residential development that would front on to a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street. The museum would remain, as would the transfer table to the east. Much of the existing yard track would have to be lifted to create a new yard to the north of the museum, maintaining the connection with the Port Stanley Terminal Rail line. The offer is conditional on the museum receiving approval of the membership. The reason for a possible sale of some of the excess land is to raise funds to go toward restoring the museum building – the former Michigan Central Railroad locomotive shops – while reducing ongoing operating costs. Proceeds from the sale will provide seed money to access additional loans and grants to allow for the complete restoration of the building.
Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March. Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley. Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring. “The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves. In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.” Did you catch the common theme here? Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager. Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council. After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
Councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday. Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion. Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting. In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year. The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month. Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street. “Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.” He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated. “I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).” We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca. The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
Seven years after the health unit closed the kitchen for three days due to food handling and storage violations, Southwestern Public Health ordered Walnut Manor closed due to public health violations. After years of enduring rodents, bed bugs, mould and food best described as appalling and not appealing, the health unit today (July 7) issued a Section 13 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to close Walnut Manor in St. Thomas due to the existence of significant health hazards. The closure comes on the heels of an exterior fire back in May in which, luckily, no one was injured. The only surprise in this closure order is the fact it took the health unit, city hall, mayors and councils, the fire department and other agencies in St. Thomas years to send a message to owner Vishal Chityal of SupportiveLiving.ca that our most vulnerable residents do not deserve to be warehoused in the fashion they are at Walnut Manor.
With the drawing to a close this past week of Indigenous History Month and the horrific revelation of more bodies discovered in unmarked graves at another residential school, our conversation with Ray John took on increased significance. He is an impassioned Indigenous cultural teacher at the London District Catholic School Board and with boards elsewhere in the province. He has worked in the education field for more than 15 years and he says the mixed emotions of the past month have had a unifying effect in his Oneida community and within Indigenous communities elsewhere in the country. “You drive up and down in our community and you see so many orange shirts. You see toys out there dedicated to the young ones that are gone. “But there’s a real sense of unity here. It’s not that it wasn’t here before. I think it is more that we are supporting each other.” John has been awarded for working “tirelessly in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation” and he stresses only through engaging in tough conversations will Canadians be able to educate themselves on Indigenous culture and the tyranny of residential schools.
After an extensive national search, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital had to look no further than its administrative offices to appoint a new president and CEO. The current vice-president of integrated care, Karen Davies, will take over the helm Aug. 7 from retiring president Robert Biron. We spoke with Davies on Tuesday (June 22) and she considers it a privilege the hospital board of directors has given her a vote of confidence. “It’s not about you,” suggested Davies, “it’s about the patients and all of the amazing people who work here, all of the staff and all of the physicians and the community we serve. “So, it really is a great privilege. And no, I didn’t anticipate to be in the middle of a pandemic but I’ve come to see, though, it is also such a good time of opportunity.” Credit is due to the team at STEGH, added Davies, for the manner in which they have been able to navigate the hospital through the COVID-19 pandemic. And continue to do so.
Monday night (June 21), city council is expected to declare Mark Tinlin’s seat officially vacant after his death on June 13 at the age of 79. It is the second time in just over a year that members of council have gone through this emotional process. In March of last year, council was faced with the death of second-term councillor Linda Stevenson. Former councillor Steve Wookey was appointed to fill the vacant seat. The process has not always been that seamless as we’ll delve into shortly. Born and raised in St. Thomas, Tinlin was characterized as a “great role model for the rest of us,” by Mayor Joe Preston. He graduated from the Ontario Police College north of Aylmer in 1963 and served with the London Police Service from 1962 through 1966. He spent five years with the RCMP and over 20 years guiding security at universities. His municipal career included stints as a councillor and deputy mayor of the Township of South Frontenac. He was first elected to city council in 2014 as an alderman. Preston had high praise for Tinlin.