Call centre closure is discouraging but ‘there’s lots of room for optimism going forward’


city_scope_logo-cmykMonday’s (June 29) announcement may have caught some city officials off guard, however for the 230 employees at the Marriott International call centre in St. Thomas, they had an inkling something was up the week before.
They had been told a video conference call was scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, leaving them to fret the weekend away as to what lay ahead.
In this COVID-19 world, where the travel and hospitality sectors have been particularly hard hit, an announcement the call centre here and another one in San Antonio, Texas were to be shuttered later this summer really should come as no surprise.
Between the travel restrictions still in place and, before that, the ease of booking trips and hotel rooms online, the warning signs were clearly present.

Continue reading

Body-worn cameras ‘are often effective when dealing with victims’ – Kentville Police Service


city_scope_logo-cmykTo follow up on last week’s item on the pilot project to be undertaken by the St. Thomas Police Service to evaluate body cameras, Chief Chris Herridge indicated the small police force in Kentville, Nova Scotia may prove to be a valuable resource during the evaluation.
We contacted Kentville police and exchanged emails with Deputy Chief Marty Smith who was most helpful with his responses to our questions.
As to how long the service has employed body cameras he noted, “The Kentville Police Service started with a pilot project in 2015 under retired Chief Mark Mander.
“In the beginning, we only had a few members outfitted with Body-Worn Cameras to see if they would be beneficial for our members and the public. In 2018 KPS developed a policy and every patrol member wears a BWC when working.”

Continue reading

In the picture: A body camera pilot project for the St. Thomas Police Service


city_scope_logo-cmykIn a move “to ensure the city has a police service accountable to those they serve,” the St. Thomas Police Service will soon undertake a pilot project to evaluate the use of body cameras.
The decision to proceed with the test was approved Wednesday by the Police Services Board, advised chairman Dave Warden.
He continued, “The St. Thomas Police Services Board supports building public trust, community support and enhancing officer safety and public safety.”
We caught up with Police Chief Chris Herridge the next day for insight into the partnership with Axon Public Safety Canada, which supplies the service with Tasers.
The critical first step, stressed Herridge, is the trial run with a limited number of officers over a yet-to-be-determined period of time.

Continue reading

The Horton Market: Getting it right in a ‘COVID-19 2020 world’


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter enduring a painful three months of coronavirus cancellations, curtailments and closures, this has been an extraordinary week for positive, time-to-move-forward announcements.
Let’s begin with Monday’s (June 8) meeting where council revisited its May 19 split decision to leave the tables empty this summer at the Horton Market.
Five members of council – Mayor Joe Preston and councillors Jeff Kohler, Gary Clarke, Joan Rymal and Mark Tinlin – reconsidered their previous non-support which resulted in a unanimous vote to proceed with opening the popular market on June 20.
The market board of directors submitted a revised plan of operation with enhanced COVID-19 restrictions which assured all members of council the health and safety of both vendors and customers would be a top priority.

Continue reading

COVID-19 is a warning that we are in need of ‘rejuvenating long-term care in the province’


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc in long-term care homes across the province, you only have to look at first-rate facilities like Elgin Manor and Valleyview Home to witness the flip side of the pandemic coin.
Neither facility had a confirmed case of COVID-19 and we talked at length with Valleyview administrator Michael Carroll about that and he credits the loyal staff and ongoing support from the city.
“The staff here are excellent,” observed Carroll. “They are providing great care to the residents. They are very diligent in protecting themselves when they are out in the community.”
Elaborating on diligence Carroll notes, “They are very diligent in ensuring that they are screening themselves for any symptoms of COVID-19 or any sickness for that matter.
“They’re calling in, they’re getting tested and staying home to not bring anything into the home.”
Continue reading

Virtual farmers’ market: shop local, support local youth


city_scope_logo-cmykIt is being billed as your online, one-stop, mid-week shopping solution offering an amazing selection of fresh, locally grown produce.
But, that is only half the story.
While you shop at CULTIVATE Virtual Farmers’ Market, you are supporting the young people at the Talbot Teen Centre in St. Thomas.
Vicki Asher, teen centre manager, says the virtual market is an opportunity for local youth to learn and build valuable life skills by being involved in the day-to-day operation of a small business while connecting them to local farmers.
She explains the participating vendors will set up the stores within the website as if they had a stall at a typical market.

Continue reading

The Horton Market: An event or a shopping experience?


city_scope_logo-cmykCity hall is the battleground this week in a growing controversy.
Literally.
The central player in all of this is the Horton Market and whether it should be allowed to open at the end of the month to provide a sales venue for area fruit and vegetable growers, among others.
On Tuesday (May 19) city council, by a 5-4 margin, defeated a motion to provide a letter of support for plans to be submitted to the health unit allowing the popular Saturday market to open for the season under COVID-19 restrictions.
We’ll break down that vote in a few minutes.
It didn’t take long for the controversy to flare up, not unlike the divisive environment associated with debate around the city’s twin-pad arena and the new police headquarters.

Continue reading

Security cameras will ensure a vibrant downtown as ‘a canvas for economic development’


city_scope_logo-cmykVideo surveillance will soon be keeping a watchful eye over the city’s downtown core. At Tuesday’s (May 19) meeting, members of council will be asked to endorse Phase 1 of a project that will see the installation of eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to Queen Street.
The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information.
In a report to council from city police, it is noted the CCTV program “is 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.”
Right now when a crime is committed downtown, police need to canvass businesses to see if they have surveillance footage as evidence.

Continue reading

‘We’ve been able to bend the curve, but we’re not out of the woods yet’


city_scope_logo-cmykThey are not included in the daily tally issued by health units across the province – including Southwestern Public Health in this area – and yet these individuals have been victimized and their lives put on hold by the coronavirus.
And last week’s release of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals is a welcome ray of hope for those whose elective surgeries and procedures also fell victim to COVID-19.
Although it may still be several weeks before ramping up the numbers, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron says the preparatory work is underway.
Speaking with him yesterday (Friday), Biron advised the immediate task is to work with other hospitals in the region to create a joint plan so that all hospitals are working “in a lockstep approach.”
He adds, “There is a lot of complexity involved in that because there is a pandemic we have to account for.

Continue reading

MPP Yurek named to team tasked with ‘developing a roadmap to a stronger, more prosperous economy’


city_scope_logo-cmykPleasant surprises have been in short supply the past two months in a world locked in the grip of a coronavirus that introduced us to social distancing, self-isolation, face masks, makeshift home offices and the vulnerability of those housed in long-term care facilities who often died alone with loved ones unable to say goodbye.
So, Friday’s announcement by the Ford government that, beginning Monday, the door to recovery is going to open just a crack is welcoming news
There is a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel.
The day before, there was a prelude to the shape of things to come with the introduction of the province’s Jobs and Recovery Committee which, according to the media release, “will focus on getting businesses up and running and people back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”

Continue reading

The funding is not a concern, the worry is the financial accountability on the part of city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykWell, wasn’t that quite the diatribe this week from Vishal Chityal and his counter ego Charlie Duke over at SupportiveLiving.ca. The lengthy Facebook posting was in response to last week’s item on COVID-19 precautions that may be in place at Walnut Manor, a home operated by SupportiveLiving.ca.
There hasn’t been pushback like that from Vishal/Charlie in the six years we’ve documented conditions at Walnut Manor, beginning with the closure of the kitchen by the health unit in 2014.
So, why is that?
And, the detailed itemization of the many protocols now in place at the facility including increased sanitization, temperature monitoring and PPE for frontline staff.

Continue reading

A response to our “shocking statement” last week regarding Walnut Manor


The following is a response to last week’s item on Walnut Manor. It was submitted by the owners of the facility, SupportiveLiving.ca. We have included the submission in its entirety.

As background to the six years spent documenting the plight of the individuals warehoused at this facility, the following is a link to MPP Jeff Burch’s private member’s bill to protect vulnerable Ontarians. The home in question in this backgrounder is Walnut Manor, right here in St. Thomas.  https://www.ontariondp.ca/news/ndp-mpp-jeff-burch-tables-legislation-protect-vulnerable-ontarians-supportive-living-homes

On Dec. 28 of last year, City Scope posted the following item detailing part of the back story to MPP Burch’s bill. “An Award-Winning Team? What an Insult to Walnut Manor residents” can be found here. https://ianscityscope.com/2019/12/28/an-award-winning-team-what-an-insult-to-walnut-manor-residents/

In a shocking statement by Ian McCallum posted to his blog with regards to Walnut Manor, he has once again raised questions as to the operations of SupportiveLiving.ca in St. Thomas.

Ian McCallum chooses to attack SupportiveLiving on a constant basis to serve his own political agenda. For many months, well before COVID-19 was even a current topic, SupportiveLiving.ca was monitoring the situation closely.

Through this pandemic, SupportiveLiving.ca has been weeks ahead of public health guidelines in the fight against COVID-19, protecting our residents and frontline workers alike.

As of today, we are proud to say that our homes and residents are safe and well protected, which is a huge accomplishment, considering the number of residents we serve. Management and frontline workers are monitoring this situation on a minute-by-minute basis during these trying times and adjusting our policies and procedures accordingly.

SupportiveLiving.ca will continue to be a front runner in the fight against COVID-19 and will do everything in its ability to keep residents and frontline workers safe.

Under the guidance of our CEO, Vishal Chityal, who has tirelessly championed the rights of the homeless, the vulnerable and the weak, we will get through this pandemic and set a shining example of how homes for the vulnerable should be operated in Ontario.

Previous blogs written by Ian McCallum have perpetually reported false information on how SupportiveLiving manages Walnut Manor and its residents – today’s post is no exception.

For weeks, we have worked hand in hand with our communities, public health departments and stakeholders at large to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our frontline staff, external healthcare workers and most importantly, our residents.

We began enforcing strict policies within our homes since March 2, 2020 which include the following:

1. No visitor policy, including contactless delivery of supply chain essentials, weeks before anyone else in the industry

2. Mandatory screening of essential medical/psychiatric service workers to the residents of our homes, five weeks prior to the advice given by public bodies

3. 24-hour telephone support for our residents from doctors, family members and supports

4. We have halted new admissions as of March 26 to protect our front line staff and residents

5. Increased sanitization practices in commonly used areas within our homes – in addition to our already stringent policies on cleanliness within our operations

6. Temperature monitoring of our residents and an immediate 14 day isolation/quarantine of anyone exhibiting fever, cough, or other known COVID-19 symptoms

7. PPE available to all of our frontline staff. Gowns, masks, gloves and face shields have been in place in all SupportiveLiving homes and are available to staff, well before recommendations from public health officials. This PPE have been provided personally by our CEO Vishal Chityal and is not publicly-funded

8. Increased activities, supports and individualized mental health support has been made available to our residents on a 24-hour-a-day basis, all personally provided by our CEO due to the lack of public funding

The strict guidance that has been provided to us by our CEO has kept Walnut Manor as well as all of our homes across Ontario safe and infection-free thus far.

Our website and social media channels have consistently communicated the policies and measures that we have put into place, even before the crisis began in Ontario.

Pre-pandemic, SupportiveLiving.ca sounded the alarm in St. Thomas, Ontario and is on record with public health officials questioning the practices of other care homes and businesses with the intent of keeping Walnut Manor’s frontline workers and residents safe. SupportiveLiving.ca had taken swift action with regard to community spread weeks before official guidance in order to protect our frontline workers and residents.

Our mandate is to ensure the health and safety of our residents – pre-pandemic and now.

If Ian McCallum questions, “Is anybody monitoring,” the answer is a resounding YES. The real question to be asked here is what is his political agenda and why has he been spreading false rumours about our operations at Walnut Manor for years?

As a community, we need to be asking Ian McCallum what he is doing for the city of St. Thomas when it comes to our vulnerable population. His constant attacks in a time when communities are coming together now need to be questioned.

The community in St. Thomas is an intelligent community and will no longer accept the tabloid falsehoods that he spreads.
Future articles exposing these falsehoods and why Iancityscope.com continues to perpetuate his slander about SupportiveLiving.ca will be released shortly.

We wish all citizens of St. Thomas the best during this crisis and give special recognition to all the Frontline Workers in healthcare, retail, logistics, as well as all other industries that are keeping our city running.

Stay safe and stay well,
The Management and Frontline Workers of SupportiveLiving.ca

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

Visit us on Facebook

city_scope_logo-cmyk

Yes, St. Thomas Transit buses are being cleaned and sanitized. But, in a COVID-19 world, when did this begin?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith cramped quarters and no exit doors near the rear of the buses to keep passengers distant from drivers, is it safe to ride St. Thomas Transit in these far-from-normal times?
Well, it appears this week much attention is being paid to the safety of passengers and drivers. But what about the situation over the last month when the transit system was operating a regular service while others in the province had shut down or substantially reduced hours.
And, larger operators with full-sized transit buses could take the front door out of service and have passengers enter and exit the vehicles through the rear door, well away from drivers.
With the city’s fleet of what can only be described as glorified airport parking shuttle buses, the above is not an option.

Continue reading

Could the former St. Thomas psychiatric hospital go from movie set to front-line player in the COVID-19 pandemic?


city_scope_logo-cmykLet’s pray it never reaches this stage – and to date, there is no indication St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is about to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients – however, the president of OPSEU is urging the province “to look for creative ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus.”
Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas is urging the Doug Ford government to consider opening portions of previously shuttered regional mental health centres including the facility south of St. Thomas and the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls to ease a potential capacity crisis in the healthcare system.
In a media release issued last month, Thomas noted, “They can be used for currently hospitalized alternative care patients or as dedicated COVID-19 centres to relieve pressure on our hospitals. Let’s be proactive. Now is the time for action.”

Continue reading

COVID-19: St. Thomas EDC is there with support for businesses, albeit it’s more emotional in nature right now


city_scope_logo-cmykSean Dyke, CEO at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., admits he is feeling a little handcuffed right now.
We all know the feeling as we settle in for the long haul in the battle of wits against the coronavirus.
We talked with him earlier in the week and in the intervening days, it seems the COVID-19 playbook has been completely amended.
We started the conversation on a positive note in that construction is continuing on the Element 5 plant in the Dennis Drive industrial Park.
It was announced last July the Toronto-based firm was to set up shop in St. Thomas to produce solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives.
It will be a $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. facility with production expected to begin late this year.

Continue reading

I have a cough, why am I not being tested for COVID-19?


city_scope_logo-cmykAs is bandied about across all social media venues, does every individual have the right to demand a COVID-19 test?
This week we presented that train of thought to Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health at Southwestern Public Health for her observations.
Is an individual with a cough immediately tested for the virus?
Not normally.
Dr. Lock advises, in simple terms, a test is administered when it is clinically indicated.
In other words, the test results will better help the doctor to decide what is the best route of care for that patient.
So, in the case of an individual exhibiting mild symptoms, what would be prescribed?

Continue reading

How’s that social distancing working out for ya?


city_scope_logo-cmykHave to admit, we haven’t experienced a week like this since, what, the 2008 financial meltdown? Wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage with the city unveiling its balanced approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and city manager Wendell Graves suggesting the management team likely would not have to declare an emergency.
A day later and the Doug Ford government did exactly that.
City hall closed, municipal facilities all shuttered. Students on furlough for at least a couple of weeks.
Ditto for many of their parents.
Have you ever seen traffic on Talbot Street downtown so sporadic?
Do you think life will return to normal on April 6?
Do you think COVID-19 gives a tinker’s damn about a calendar date?

Continue reading

When you’re not the public health experts then rely on those who are


city_scope_logo-cmykMy, what a difference a few days make in the life of the coronavirus outbreak. From little in the way of inconvenience to scores of cancellations, long lineups in grocery outlets and the mysterious disappearance of toilet paper from many shelves.
To get a sense of the state of preparedness at city hall, we talked with city manager Wendell Graves earlier this week.
He advised, “Last night (Monday) at city council, I advised them that our management team met with the Director of Public Health (Dr. Joyce Lock) to review what’s happening in the area and we are also upgrading our internal business continuity plans.”
To keep on top of the spread of the coronavirus, Graves noted the management team will likely be meeting on a weekly basis.
“We’re meeting quite regularly on it now,” advised Graves, “just to make sure that we’ve got a course of action in place.”

Continue reading

Mayor Preston on grants policy: ‘At no time did anybody come up to me and say would you please give away more of my money’


city_scope_logo-cmykWhile attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof.
Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.”
To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.”
Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate.
“I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle?
“I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding?
“I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”

Continue reading

Groups think we have a process in place: Sorting out the community grants boondoggle in St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykThe item on Monday’s reference committee agenda notes, “The members will discuss the council grants process.”
Trouble is, this council and previous editions have not had a clearly defined method of distributing funding to community groups and organizations.
In particular, the last two rounds of funds disbursement have been an embarrassing undertaking, to put it mildly.
In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow.
The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range.
Last year’s determination of who gets what was likened in this corner to a “Saturday morning session at the auction house.”
The best takeaway was Coun. Gary Clarke’s observation, “Groups think we have a process in place.”

Continue reading

With our beautiful consolidated courthouse comes ‘a substantial hit to our operating budget every year’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s portion of the cost of providing court security and prisoner transfer (CSPT) has been steadily increasing since it first received money from the province beginning in 2012.
That year, the province contributed $75,224.
The net budgeted costs to provide the service this year is just over $1 million, with the province providing the city with a grant of $713,000 to offset the expense. That works out to just under 70 per cent of the total cost, down from 74 per cent last year and 83 per cent in 2018.
That diminishing financial support was the topic of discussion at a council meeting earlier this month when members unanimously supported a motion to craft a letter to both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and MPP Jeff Yurek outlining concerns on the mounting court security costs and to seek their assistance in having the province review this matter.

Continue reading

Hospice for Elgin ‘is not a luxury item. It is absolutely an essential service’


city_scope_logo-cmyk“This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.”
Coun. Linda Stevenson’s observation at the Jan. 16 reference committee was typical of the words of support from council members for the Hospice of Elgin, a 10-bed palliative care facility which, when built, would serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin county.
Trouble is, neither municipality has come forward and put dollars on the table.
Even though in September of last year, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott pledged $1.6 million pledge toward construction of the hospice at a yet-to-be-determined location.
Plus, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs.
Late last month, the county played its cards in the form of a letter from Warden Dave Mennill to city council advising municipal officials there resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support.”
In a conversation with after this week’s reference committee, he elaborated further.
“It won’t be financial support because we are tied to 2023.”
That’s when the county’s financial commitment to The Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is fulfilled.

Continue reading

As St. Thomas positions itself for growth, the financial reality looms


city_scope_logo-cmykBy the year 2041, the city’s population is projected to exceed 50,000.
To accommodate this influx, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan.
The city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth.
The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development.
Concurrently the city is identifying recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades.
Representatives from Dillon Consulting in Kitchener met with council at Monday’s reference committee meeting with a draft copy of its fire station location study.

Continue reading

On the lunch menu with St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston: housing, transit and smart growth



city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a particularly effervescent Joe Preston who took to the podium this past Wednesday for the area mayor’s luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre.

Sharing the spotlight with Southwold Mayor Grant Jones and Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn, Preston was not only bubbling over with enthusiasm, but he also came in three minutes under the allotted 10-minute time slot.
And, made a promise of better city transit by the end of this year, guaranteed.
Preston opened with, “St. Thomas, what a great place to be the mayor.”
He continued, “I have been mayor for little over a year and it’s been an extra-special time.”
After thanking the city councillors, he observed, “Boy, do we employ some pretty good people . . . I’m here to tell you’re in pretty good shape.
“We’re in good shape at being able to run this community in an efficient way with smart people doing it.”

Continue reading

Does preserving railway heritage in St. Thomas merit property tax relief?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the observation, “Our assets are the strongest link to the new city branding,” a pair of St. Thomas railway-based entities are seeking an exemption from paying municipal property taxes.
Matt Janes of The Railworks Coalition – representing the Elgin County Railway Museum (ECRM), the CASO station and, in the near future, the St. Thomas Elevated Park – made a pitch to city council at Monday’s (Jan. 20) reference committee meeting requesting tax relief.
While no decision was made at the meeting, there was no shortage of questions and comments from members of council combined with a healthy dose of skepticism from several quarters.
In an email to City Scope on Tuesday, Janes outlined three objectives behind the deputation to council.
Topping the list was the need to, “Stress how important the Railworks’ assets (ECRM, CASO Station and Elevated Park) are to “The Railway City” brand, and the economic activity generated by our organizations.”

Continue reading

Hospice of Elgin: An investment ‘in more than bricks and mortar’


city_scope_logo-cmykFour months ago, the province green-lighted an end-of-life residential hospice for St. Thomas and Elgin.
And Thursday (Jan. 16) city council got an enhanced picture of what the palliative care facility will look like and feel once inside.
In her presentation to Mayor Joe Preston and councillors, Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, detailed the pressing need for the Hospice of Elgin, which will serve the only county in southwestern Ontario currently without a community-based hospice.
Sherwood noted each year, more than 800 people in St. Thomas and Elgin die without adequate services, “placing tremendous pressures on families, caregivers, and our local health care system.”
Within the next dozen years or so, that figure is expected to increase by as much as 50 per cent.

Continue reading

After all these years, is there a move afoot to pare the size of St. Thomas city council?


city_scope_logo-cmykSize does, in fact, matter.
That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall.
The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.”
The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.”
The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.

Continue reading

St. Thomas is in desperate need of affordable housing. Question is, who should build it?


city_scope_logo-cmykLet’s start with the following premise.
“If the joint goal of our community is to provide as much affordable housing for people (as possible), it is important that the private sector be the primary delivery agent.”
That’s the argument put forth by Peter Ostojic who, along with his brother Joe, has completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer.
In the past several months via emails sent to this corner, Peter has repeatedly questioned why the city is undertaking the construction of affordable housing units such as Phase 1 of the city’s social services and housing hub recently opened at 230 Talbot Street.
A total of 28 apartment units are located on the two floors above the ground floor office space.
Of those units, eight one-bedroom apartments have received funding through the federal/provincial Investment in Affordable Housing (IAH) program. As such, rents can be no higher than 80 per cent of the average market rent for the area.

Continue reading

An award-winning team? What an insult to Walnut Manor residents.


city_scope_logo-cmykThe arrival of the email was as disturbing as it was unexpected and the tone of the opening paragraph introduced an icy chill to an otherwise warm and cheery Christmas morning.
“My brother just moved to this assisted living house a few weeks ago, disgusting is all I have words for this,” announced the email from Shelley Turner.
“I have written the ombudsman, spoke with the people in charge of this residence to no avail.
“My brother is a recent leg amputee, they assist in what? Taking people’s money? That’s the complaints I hear from within, besides the food that is deplorable, and the bed bug situation that has been there for a year now as I was told.”
Before delving deeper, I was resigned to reading another horror story about a poor soul warehoused away at Walnut Manor in St. Thomas.

Continue reading

Pilot project would see St. Thomas Transit buses venture beyond city limits


city_scope_logo-cmykHopping on a bus bound for London may soon be a reality for St. Thomas and Elgin county residents.
The city is about to pitch a pilot project to the province seeking funding support for regional transit connectivity for residents of St. Thomas, Central Elgin, Southwold, Malahide and Aylmer.
The undertaking was a recommendation of the Transit Strategic Plan presented to city council a month ago, although the pilot project would go beyond the one-year test suggested in that report.
As outlined Monday (Dec. 16) by Mayor Joe Preston at the reference committee meeting, the three-year undertaking would see a Monday through Sunday service operating from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The bus would leave St. Thomas on the hour for each trip, although Preston stressed these times and hours of operation could be adjusted.

Continue reading

Replication of Alma facade removed from Patriot Properties development


alma-plaque

Alma College plaque

In the end, any hope of including “a faithful replication of the north facade of the former Alma College building” in a proposed redevelopment of the Moore Street property came down to a conference phone call.
In March of this year, city council approved a motion for staff to make an application to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) to remove the requirement of the existing 2008 Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) order that any development or redevelopment on the site of the former school for girls includes such replication.
The LPAT hearing was held Nov. 19 via a telephone conference call involving John Sanders, legal counsel for the City of St. Thomas and Joel Farber, representing Patriot Properties.

Continue reading

Surge in incidents, human trafficking basis for substantial grant to St. Thomas Police Service


city_scope_logo-cmykThe past few days were a good news/bad news rollercoaster ride for the St. Thomas Police Service.
On the positive side, the service was the recipient of $870,000 in provincial dollars under the new Community Safety and Policing (CSP) Grant program over the next three years.
In total, the province is investing $195 million in the initiative.
According to a media release announcing the investment, the police service “is collaborating with several community agencies to better support survivors of human trafficking as they go through the investigative process.
“The funding will help provide ongoing training to enhance frontline officers’ knowledge and abilities in supporting survivors, add a new Street Crimes police officer, provide the necessary resources to maintain the position of Technological Crimes Investigator and help develop a social media awareness campaign to encourage the public to be an active police partner on the issue of human trafficking.”

Continue reading

2020 St. Thomas budget outlook: Contract negotiations cloud the horizon at city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykMore investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining.
That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year.
With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget.
Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year.
That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.

Continue reading

A tale of two schools: ‘The public doesn’t support us closing full schools to create a business case to open another one.’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was a three-year battle to save a couple of rural schools in Elgin, but in the end, it may have been a last-minute letter of clarification that sealed the deal.
Tuesday evening (Nov. 26) Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) trustees voted overwhelmingly in favour of rescinding a motion to shutter New Sarum and Springfield public schools next year.
The motion had initially been introduced in October by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock, with the support of fellow area trustee Bruce Smith.
After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools.
A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school.
Several trustees had opposed Ruddock’s motion in the belief such a move could jeopardize the business case for the construction of a new school in Belmont.

Continue reading

St. Thomas Transit strategic plan: ‘Any change is better than what we have now’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s much-maligned transit system may very well become a greatly relied upon people mover if council endorses the recommendations of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Transit Plan.
The proposed changes would involve route and schedule adjustments, the introduction of demand-responsive transit (DRT), the possibility of larger buses and electric bus technology and a pilot project to explore regional bus service.
At Monday’s (Nov. 18) reference committee meeting, Brian Putre of Stantec Consulting and city engineer Justin Lawrence presented an overview of recommendations to members of city council.
The plan, which is 95 per cent complete, drew favourable comments from all of council, including the stark observation from Coun. Joan Rymal that “any change is better than what we have now.”

Continue reading

Parents and elected officials get their say on pending Elgin county school closings


city_scope_logo-cmykThe mayors from a pair of Elgin county municipalities along with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek made their best pitch Tuesday (Nov. 19) at a special meeting of Thames Valley District School Board trustees.
But it was a member of the Wilson family of Malahide who hit the ball out of the park in a bid to rescind a TVDSB motion to close New Sarum and Springfield public schools.
The meeting was held to allow public input on a motion introduced last month by Elgin trustee Meagan Ruddock to reverse a decision to close the pair of schools next year.
After the school board completed an accommodation study of a dozen area schools two years ago, it was recommended four of them be closed: South Dorchester, Westminster Central, New Sarum and Springfield public schools.
A fifth, Sparta Public School, was to be repurposed as a French immersion school.
Fifteen delegations were presented during the two-hour meeting with Yurek suggesting the construction of a smaller school than originally proposed in Belmont could allow the two threatened schools to remain open.

Continue reading

A clear case of neglect, however ‘reasonable doubt’ lingers in the death of Lady


city_scope_logo-cmykJustice Glen Donald’s judgement Friday (Nov. 15) at the Elgin County Courthouse infuriated the fur baby fans in the front row but, in the end, he had no other option.
Following a three-day trial last month in which Tarrick Fakira-Martin – charged with unlawfully killing his dog, Lady – often wept and buried his head in his hands at graphic witness testimony, Justice Donald acquited him but noted there was no question the dog had been neglected.
Fakira-Martin was charged last July after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, Oct. 7.
Fakira-Martin has always maintained the dog drowned in Kettle Creek near an area known to some as Suicide Hill.

Continue reading

Proposed cuts to healthcare funding will result in more downloaded costs to municipalities: Ontario Health Coalition


city_scope_logo-cmykPlanned provincial cuts and the closure of public healthcare services will lead to the Doug Ford government offloading more costs associated with these services to every municipality in the province.
That is the message Melissa Holden will deliver in a deputation to city council on Tuesday (Nov. 12).
Holden is a member of the Ontario Health Coalition in London whose mandate “is to protect and improve our public healthcare system for all.”
In addition, the organization advocates “to protect services as public and non-profit and to protect local accessible service on the principles that underlie our public healthcare system . . . principles of compassion and equity.”
Holden warns rural communities already suffering from a shortage of services will be particularly hard hit “as dispatch services and the governance of ambulance services would move further away.”

Continue reading

The Provincial Animal Welfare System: Providing protection for the canary in the coal mine?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith a pair of high-profile St. Thomas court cases in the past couple of years dealing with abuse and neglect, this week’s announcement the province is proposing a new animal welfare system is encouraging news for animal advocates.
The legislation was introduced Tuesday (Oct. 29) by Solicitor General Sylvia Jones and, according to a release from MPP Jeff Yurek, “includes the strongest penalties ever in Canada for people who violate animal welfare laws and a more robust enforcement system.”
No specifics, however, are contained in the release introducing the Provincial Animal Welfare System (PAWS) Act as to what those penalties may be.
“Ontarians can be confident that the government is proposing a system that will protect animals,” assured Jones.

Continue reading

‘We heard more about Doug Ford than we heard of any other leader, including Andrew Scheer.’ – MP Karen Vecchio


city_scope_logo-cmykProving her inaugural run at federal politics was no one-hit-wonder, Karen Vecchio cruised to an easy victory in Monday’s federal vote.
She will represent the constituents of Elgin-Middlesex-London for a second term after garnering just shy of 31,000 votes, up from 28,000 in 2015.
Liberal hopeful Pam Armstrong was a distant second with just over 14,000 votes.
That is far less than the 17,642 gained by Lori Baldwin-Sands in 2015.
We caught up with a battle-weary Vecchio on Thursday for a lengthy conversation on her local success which was tempered by the failure of leader Andrew Scheer to power past the Justin Trudeau Liberals.
To open the discussion, we asked Vecchio about the strain she underwent running a 40-day campaign marathon.

“You’re going every single day from dusk till dawn. And honestly, the thing that keeps you going is all the volunteers that surrounded you. But physically, you are getting drained, mentally, you’re ready to go. You’re going, going going, but physically, you’re getting tired. But it’s really hard when one time I had a 93-year-old lady who coordinated 16 volunteers. You’re not going to say ‘no.’
“So, I just kind of went to the pace that my volunteers were at. That kept me going every day. Hard, hard, hard, and it was wonderful. I’m surrounded by really hard-working people that motivate me every day.”

Continue reading

Province loosens the purse strings to assist St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital


city_scope_logo-cmykRecognizing the need to fix “long-standing issues with how hospitals are funded,” the province this past week announced an additional $68 million in funding to support small- and medium-sized hospitals in Ontario.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek unveiled the funding boost Thursday (Oct. 17) at the CASO station, indicating St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) will received $1.47 million under the investment geared to ending hallway healthcare.
“Noting that it is a medium-sized hospital, the hospital has faced its fair share of problems throughout the years,” acknowledged Yurek, “in spite of its success in implementing the Lean program throughout the facility.”
The Lean management program – adopted by the hospital several years ago under then CEO Paul Collins – maximizes patient care while minimizing waste at the facility. In other words, creating more value for patients with fewer resources.

Continue reading

Senseless vandalism at St. Thomas Elevated Park a blight for visitors ‘standing on somebody’s dream’


STEP ART 2 JPGExactly one month ago this weekend, local artist Christine Dewancker was on hand for the official opening of the St. Thomas Elevated Park.
Her imaginative installation, The Faraway Nearby, could the seen in the distance at the west end of the Michigan Central Railroad bridge.
The 11-piece sculpture had previously been on

Christine Dewanckerjpg

Christine Dewancker

display at Ontario Place in Toronto and the plan at its new venue in St. Thomas was to have it spread about 30 feet wide and stretch 120 feet to the western entrance to Canada’s only elevated park.
At the Sept. 11 opening of the park in the sky, Dewancker noted, “I’m really, really pleased to be a part of this historic project and I know all of the work that has gone into creating something like this and everybody should be really proud.”

Continue reading

As her daughter performs ‘phenomenally well’ in school, Elizabeth Reavely continues her autism awareness campaign


city_scope_logo-cmykOnce every month or so, you’ll find Elizabeth Reavely standing beside the entrance to the laneway leading to the CASO station off Talbot Street.
Sign in hand, she is quietly protesting on behalf of her daughter Claire in the hope of alerting downtown traffic to the plight of autistic children across the province.
The small group of parents usually catch the attention of Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek, whose office is at the end of that laneway.
“Jeff comes out and talks to us usually every time and he did hold a round table,” advises Reavely. “But for the most part, his hands are tied.
“He has to toe the party line and it’s too bad. We need the MPs and MPPs to take a step back from their parties and say ‘my constituents need this.'”

Continue reading

Sexual interference charge nets a 30-month prison term for former St. Thomas Police officer


city_scope_logo-cmykA year-and-a-half sexual relationship with a teenage girl will put a former St. Thomas Police Service officer behind bars for 30 months.
Garry Christiansen – a 29 year veteran with the police service – showed no emotion as he sat in the prisoner’s box during sentencing Friday afternoon at the Elgin County Courthouse.
Justice George Orsini said Christiansen took advantage of a vulnerable 15-year-old girl, and added, “adult sexual predators must pay a heavy price.”
Christiansen first met the girl – whose identity is protected under a publication ban – in January of 2016 when she came to the police station to obtain a background check.
Two days later they had their first sexual encounter and the relationship continued until May 2017.
The key consideration in sentencing was whether Christiansen had intercourse with the girl prior to her 16th birthday.

Continue reading

Day 3 in the trial of Tarrick Fakira-Martin, charged with injuring an animal


LadyjpgTarrick Fakira-Martin had an “exclusive opportunity to neglect, abuse and kill Lady,” his German shepherd found buried in a shallow grave on July 3 of last year.
However, after three days of testimony at the Elgin County Courthouse, defence counsel argued while there is no doubt Lady died that day, what happened to her and how she died remains unanswered.
Fakira-Martin was charged last July after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, Oct. 7.
Fakira-Martin has always maintained the dog drowned in Kettle Creek near an area known to some as Suicide Hill.

Continue reading

Day 2 in the trial of Tarrick Fakira-Martin, charged with injuring an animal


LadyjpgA disturbing Facebook video and a grisly PowerPoint presentation highlighted Day 2 in the trial of Tarrick Fakira-Martin, charged in St. Thomas with injuring an animal.
The accused was led into the courtroom Wednesday morning in handcuffs after his arrest late Tuesday on three counts of breach of bail conditions on an unrelated charge.
Fakira-Martin was charged in July of last year after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog.
He pleaded not guilty Monday at the Elgin County Courthouse to charges of injuring his dog Lady, a female German shepherd.
The first witness Wednesday, Aaron Watt, a neighbour of Fakira-Martin, said he saw Lady and her owner almost every day and often gave him dog food when he had no money.

Continue reading

Day 1 in the trial of Tarrick Fakira-Martin, charged with injuring an animal


LadyjpgTrial update: Due to a busy court schedule today, Day 2 of the trial has been pushed back to Wednesday (Oct. 9).

The recounting of Lady’s injuries proved traumatic today (Oct. 3) and the trial scheduled to last three days at the Elgin County Courthouse will determine if the actions of the German shepherd’s owner, Tarrick Fakira-Martin, led to her death.
Fakira-Martin was charged in July of last year after St. Thomas Police received reports from residents in the area of St. Catherine and Meda streets regarding the well-being of a dog.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of injuring an animal on the trial’s opening day, in front of  Justice Glen Donald.
The first witness, St. Thomas Police Service Const. Dan Ainsworth, recounted the events late on the evening of July 3, 2018, when he responded to a grassy area at the end of St. Catharine Street adjacent to the rail yard.

Continue reading

Year-round homeless shelter in St. Thomas a step toward ‘the urgent goal of homes for all’


city_scope_logo-cmykWith the opening for the season at the homeless shelter serving St. Thomas and Elgin, what was once deemed “possible and probable” is set to become a reality.
A reality, mind you, that is a sad reminder of day-to-day life for the homeless and near homeless in the community.
Gathered outside Inn Out of the Cold, housed at Central United Church, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston announced Thursday (Oct. 3) the short-term shelter that has served as a ray of hope to the homeless for the past 10 years is to become a year-round shelter service.
This will be achieved through a two-model approach, explained executive director Lori Fitzgerald.
“Our normal model is that we open November through April. We open at 6 p.m. for a hot meal and we offer some activities and programs to move people forward and connect them to services.
“That is followed by a good night’s sleep in a warm place and a good breakfast before heading out at 8 a.m.”

Continue reading

EML federal candidates field questions on diverse issues from climate change to freedom of speech


city_scope_logo-cmykThey lined up patiently behind the microphone at Memorial Arena in St. Thomas, awaiting their opportunity to question a half-dozen of the Elgin-Middlesex-London candidates in the Oct. 21 federal election.
Close to 200 people attended Wednesday’s (Oct. 2) all-candidates meeting hosted by the Aylmer Express, with the hopefuls queried on a wide range of subjects ranging from the national debt and climate change to electoral reform, taxes and freedom of speech.
A no-show for the event was the Green Party’s Ericha Hendel. The Sudbury resident and Laurentian University student was parachuted into the riding after failing in her nomination bid in the federal riding of Nickel Belt.
Addressing climate change and related spinoffs, including the relevance of electric vehicles and support for intercity transit, consumed a good portion of the two-hour meeting.

Continue reading

Is Ontario really leading the way in dealing with climate change as the environment minister claims?


city_scope_logo-cmykClimate crisis marches were again held around the globe yesterday (Sept. 27) including here in St. Thomas.
The province’s Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks did not attend any local rallies, as was the case with a rally held last Friday in front of city hall.
Instead, he issued a media release where he noted, “Today, I would like to recognize all the young Ontarians who are making their voices heard on the serious issue of climate change.”
But just how seriously are Conservatives at both the provincial and federal level dealing with the implications of climate change?
At a massive rally in Montreal, federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was the only head of a major federal party not in attendance.

Continue reading