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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Paper a thing of the past in the 2022 municipal vote


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

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


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

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


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

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Proof of vaccination mandate for St. Thomas municipal employees to debut Nov. 2


city_scope_logo-cmykAs 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.

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With a provincial election on the horizon, MPP Jeff Yurek reminds, ‘The people who elect you should be your focus at all times.’


city_scope_logo-cmykEarlier 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.”

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Province’s COVID-19 compensation tardiness leads to cashflow concerns for Southwestern Public Health


city_scope_logo-cmykLike 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.

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‘A world where mental illness is seen in the same light as all other illnesses in Ontario.’


city_scope_logo-cmykAt 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.”

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Ceremony on a vacant lot at 16 Queen Street in St. Thomas a case of ‘standing on the ground of compassion’


city_scope_logo-cmykThanks 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.

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‘In this time of healing, we are finding our voice” – Indigenous artist Nancy Deleary


city_scope_logo-cmyk

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.

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The long and winding road toward a firm – yet fair – community grant policy in St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykPerhaps 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.

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Is it safe to say St. Thomas finally has a community grant process in place?


city_scope_logo-cmykWell, 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.

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A fully functional downtown CCTV system helps bring public safety further into focus


city_scope_logo-cmykThe 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.

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As was his vision, Jay Burstein says Elgin Centre will again be a happening place


city_scope_logo-cmykElgin 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.

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The elimination of long-term homelessness is a key goal of the St. Thomas housing plan


city_scope_logo-cmykHow 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.

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‘As a community, we need to face this crisis. We need to call it out.’


city_scope_logo-cmykLast 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.”

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Setting the switch to the appropriate track forward for the Elgin County Railway Museum


city_scope_logo-cmykProposed 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.”

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Three decades after incorporation, could the son of a founding father offer a financial lifeline to the Elgin County Railway Museum?


city_scope_logo-cmykPreserve 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.

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So, who really is behind the wheel of the city hall bus? It may not be who you think.


city_scope_logo-cmykQuite 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?

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Councillors are willing to do ‘a circus performance’ for childcare facility; the mayor would rather deflect


city_scope_logo-cmykCouncillors 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.”

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Vulnerable residents of homes like Walnut Manor are victims of ‘a gap in the system’


city_scope_logo-cmykElgin-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.

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A Section 13 closure order for Walnut Manor – ‘This was an unfit, unsafe environment for living’


Walnut Manor - food services closed signjpgSeven 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.

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‘How did a Third World country arrive right in the backyard of what they say is the greatest country in the world?’


city_scope_logo-cmykWith 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.

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‘Our people are our greatest resource and our product is caring’ – Karen Davies


city_scope_logo-cmykAfter 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.

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Mark Tinlin, “a great role model” – St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston


city_scope_logo-cmykMonday 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.

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The biggest catch so far at Lake Margaret . . . those fishing illegally


city_scope_logo-cmykIt took a question from Coun. Jim Herbert at Monday’s (June 7) council meeting to get a sense of how people are handling newfound freedom at Lake Margaret.
Coun. Herbert pointed out, “people don’t seem to be following the bylaws, you go by and people are fishing. How many tickets have been given out? Hopefully, it is settling down.”
To which Jeff Bray, the city’s new director of parks, recreation and property management responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them.
“I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets.
Bray continued, “On Sunday, I know that they gave a bit of an education piece to 10 to 15 fishers out there. They were 12 to 16 years of age.

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‘Boys and girls in Canada are not for sale. Either on screens or in person. They are not little commodities.’


city_scope_logo-cmykThe Ontario government on Tuesday (June 1) passed new legislation and made amendments to existing legislation in its Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy.
It coincided with the arrest of 59-year-old St. Thomas resident Eugene Andre Francois on human trafficking charges including sexual assault, sexual exploitation, traffic in persons under the age of 18, benefitting from trafficking and possession of child pornography.
A female had contacted St. Thomas Police to report she was a trafficking victim for several months as a minor in 2013.
Representing that victim is Kelly Franklin, recognized as this country’s leading expert in anti-human trafficking awareness and certification.
She is the founder of Courage for Freedom, a Canadian-based organization that exists to educate, train and certify front-line and community service providers on proven strategies and prevention tactics that serves vulnerable victims of human trafficking and sexually exploited girls.
Franklin is also the Executive Director of Farmtown Canada, located just east of Mapleton.

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St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge calls for a ‘two-stream’ criminal justice system


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s a great question. How are police supposed to keep this community safe when the courts continually release or deal lightly with repeat offenders?
Some with dozens of outstanding and fail to comply charges.
A revolving door police are stuck in while attempting to deal with a record number of service calls, many involving social and mental health issues.
All of which tax police resources at a time when there is a hue and cry to defund police.
We presented this to St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge this week – which coincided with the release of the service’s 2020 annual report.
A document which revealed a 10 per cent increase in incidents last year while the overall use of force rates for the service dropped by 33 per cent.
The report notes, “This is a very strong indicator of officer awareness, de-escalation skills along with education and training capabilities of our officers.”
Herridge began the conversation by suggesting, “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this issue we are having. It’s been termed catch and release and we have to find a way to protect the victim and how do we look after vulnerable people as well.

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No need to fish for comments on Lake Margaret usage


city_scope_logo-cmykIs it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago?
It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents.
As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season.
The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake.
“No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.”
Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”

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The Lake Margaret debate: Coun. Steve Peters argues for ‘healthy living and healthy lifestyle for the environment’


city_scope_logo-cmykFishing and canoeing are now permitted activities at Lake Margaret after Monday’s (May 10) 6-3 vote in support of a couple of motions brought forward by Coun. Gary Clarke.
The turn of events caught city staff off guard as no policies are in place, let alone any signage or launch areas for watercraft.
In speaking with city clerk Maria Konefal this week, her initial advice is “stay tuned.”
She added, “We’ll have a plan that will be coming forward so people are aware how and where . . .”
On Friday the city sent out an advisory of additional items for Monday’s (May 17) agenda including “an overview of measures that will be implemented to provide for non-motorized boating and fishing on Lake Margaret.”
Coun. Clarke calls Lake Margaret, “a positive recreational place for the city to add to Waterworks and Pinafore. It has some features those two don’t have, in terms of accessibility.”

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Tiny homes hold a big vision for a more vibrant St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykUnveiled this past Monday (May 3) by St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry and Lindsay Rice of the YWCA St. Thomas-Elgin, Project Tiny Hope offers just that. Big on hope packaged up in quality, energy-efficient, supportive affordable housing for St. Thomas.
The undertaking to take shape at 21 Kains Street, the former home of Elgin Handles, will consist of 20 tiny homes and 20 units in a three-storey apartment building.
A dream come true for Tarry, who enthused you can’t beat the location.
“You’re five minutes from everything. You’ve got banking, grocery stores and you’re a minute from the trail system. We’re really pumped about this project.”
Doug Tarry Limited contributed $280,000 for cleanup of the brownfield site which is expected to begin later this year. He is partnering with the YWCA and Sanctuary Homes of Elgin-St. Thomas.
The latter donated $200,000 to purchase the lot.

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Oh bridge, wherefore art thou?


city_scope_logo-cmykThe operative word in this week’s headline is art.
Art on a grand scale. As in a massive movie-themed mural painted on Pier 9 of the Michigan Central Railroad trestle, which hosts the St. Thomas Elevated Park atop the impressive structure.
The expansive visual treatment, to be undertaken by mural artist Daniel Bombardier, also known as Denial, is the brainchild of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation.
Because the mural would be an alteration to the bridge designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, council’s consent is required and the matter will be on the agenda for Monday’s May 3 meeting.
At an April 14 meeting of the Municipal Heritage Committee, support was given to the project, “subject to any paint or colour scheme being complementary to the historic character of the designated property.”
Serge Lavoie, president of the elevated park promotes it as “a worthy addition to Canada’s first and only elevated park.”

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‘A good public transit system is essential to a healthy community’ – a frustrated St. Thomas passenger


city_scope_logo-cmykIsabelle Nethercott knows a thing or two about the city’s transit system.
She probably knows more about the pitfalls and shortcomings of the bus operation than anyone at city hall. And that includes mayor and council.
For years, Isabelle has relied on the creaky buses to get her to and from work.
And, to put it mildly, she is not impressed with the much-ballyhooed roll-out of Railway City Transit.
Most days she is the only rider on the bus, making social distancing effortless.
She forwarded a copy to this corner of a very lengthy letter addressed to Justin Lawrence, the city’s director of engineering.
It is as comprehensive as many of the big-buck consulting reports that cross the desk of city hall staff.
The director and council would be wise to heed and act upon many of her observations.
In short, any city that penalizes users by downgrading the service to a one-hour headway on almost all of its routes has no right to call itself progressive.

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Will a third Lake Margaret master plan have us swimming in reports?


city_scope_logo-cmykThere are one or two members of council advocating for fishing and non-motorized boats to be permitted on Lake Margaret. Several of their peers have expressed an interest in whether this is even possible from an environmental point of view.
But, is council as a whole willing to authorize an expenditure of $50,000 to find out if such recreational activities are feasible?
That’s the question Monday night when members delve into a report from Ross Tucker and Adrienne Jefferson from the city’s parks, recreation and property management department.
For a sum of $49,245 plus HST, Ecosystem Recovery Inc. of Kitchener will undertake an environmental assessment of the Lake Margaret area.
The firm offers a diverse range of engineering services to help effectively assess, manage, and restore sensitive water resources infrastructure, according to their website.
Over the past 20 years, two master plans have been created for Lake Margaret, both were conservation-based and both recommended no activity on the lake including swimming, fishing, or recreational watercraft.

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Childcare spaces disappear as the result of a ‘soft’ business case


city_scope_logo-cmykA total of 88 critically needed childcare spaces in the city have just evaporated into thin air. Along with the spaces, $2.6 million in provincial funding – in hand – now has to be returned as the city has been unable to not only complete the project, it hasn’t even put a shovel in the ground.
And ultimately, you have to double back to the comment from city developer Peter Ostojic, why is the city involved in building affordable housing units themselves?
Peter and his brother Joe have completed several affordable housing developments in St. Thomas and Aylmer.
“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,” advised Peter more than a year ago.”
So, what have childcare spaces to do with affordable housing?
Let’s join the dots.
Phase 2 of the social services hub at 230 Talbot Street was to include additional affordable housing plus a childcare facility. Back in July of 2019, city manager Wendell Graves admitted the cost of construction per residential unit was projected to be “fairly high” at $290,515 per unit.

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The latest COVID-19 shutdown: Province can’t afford to have businesses go out of business


city_scope_logo-cmykYou had to have seen it coming. After a week of new COVID-19 cases above 2,000 per day across the province, we will spend the month of April in another shutdown.
In reality, however, there are very few changes from our region’s past few weeks in the Orange zone of the COVID-19 colour-coded restrictions.
As asked of Premier Doug Ford during Thursday’s announcement, these restrictions have been in effect in the province’s hotspots with little effect, what makes you think they will have an impact now?
We asked Downtown Development Board chairman Earl Taylor how the small, independent businesses in the city are faring so far and what impact will this latest strategy have on their bottom line?
Being able to open to 25 per cent capacity “I think is better than what we had last time,” observed Taylor.
“I think the government has finally come to terms with the fact they can’t afford to have these businesses go out of business. So, I think it is better than nothing.” Continue reading

St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge: ‘an increasingly expensive police response is the wrong direction’


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It’s time to get serious and address the escalating challenges looming over the city’s downtown core, advises St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge.
After a couple of phone calls this week and an exchange of emails, Herridge took the time to present a case for taking a leadership role in confronting those challenges.
“We are seeing a trend where drug and property crime has been increasing,” notes Herridge. “If we do not get a handle on the issues we are currently facing, the big city issues that quickly arrived here three to four years ago are going to turn into the serious issues occurring in larger centres across our country.
“As I have mentioned many times in the past, St. Thomas is not unique to the social, health and crime problems being experienced, but we can be leaders in addressing these issues if we focus on where the challenges are and, right now, the challenges are predominantly in and around our downtown.”
Herridge starts with a resource primer that should be pinned within easy reach for downtown merchants and their staff.

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There is no ‘bait and switch’ with the Alma College Square development


city_scope_logo-cmykEvident by the questions raised by a couple of councillors at Monday’s (March 15) meeting, the Alma College Square development still generates concern even while the skeleton of Phase 1 reaches skyward.
While council did approve amendments to the plans for the three-tower residential development, unanswered questions remain.
Issues revolve around traffic flow, the final colours of the structures, why the site plans seemed to be in a constant state of flux, Community Improvement Plan funding and, most puzzling of all, why was a Wellington street access to the former Alma College property nixed?
Developer Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties, at times, added to the confusion, in particular as to what shades and hues the exterior of the buildings will wear.
Coun. Jeff Kohler perhaps put it best when he observed, “I’m certainly not going to accept buying a red car when I ordered a blue one.”
A reference initially alluded to by Coun. Steve Peters.

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A defining moment in the history of St. Thomas’ Memorial Arena to be written this spring and summer


city_scope_logo-cmykIt has a long and storied history. Of course, the St. Thomas Elgin Memorial Centre was long the home of the St. Thomas Stars and before that, the Pests and the Barons.
How many of you remember the short-lived Wildcats of the Colonial Hockey League who called Memorial Arena home for three years before morphing into the London Wildcats and then the Dayton Ice Bandits?
The old barn is seeped in hockey history but its defining moment may very well be written this spring and summer.
Over the past couple of weeks, the venerable facility built in 1953 has been transformed into an impressive vaccination hub where tens of thousands of area residents – certainly far more than the 2,600 or so hockey fanatics who could jam the stands and walking track for a game – will wend their way through the structure and emerge after a shot of insurance against the coronavirus.
Tremendous gratitude is owed Cynthia St. John, Jaime Fletcher and the rest of the hard-working staff at Southwestern Public Health and their community partners who have ironed out every last detail to open up the vaccination clinic Monday morning to get down to the business of corralling the coronavirus.

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Is the province interfering in or ensuring compliance with municipal codes of conduct?


It will be interesting to gauge the response at city hall

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after the province announced yesterday (Friday) it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members.
To quote the release from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “The province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace and carry out their duties as elected officials in an ethical and responsible manner.”

Minister Steve Clark added, “We want to gather input to ensure there are adequate mechanisms in place to hold council members accountable for any unacceptable behaviour.”
He went on to note, “It’s critical that everyone feels safe and respected in the workplace, and that they know there are accountability measures in place for members who violate codes of conduct.”
It was two years ago that an unnamed member of council was the subject of a signed complaint from a city employee alleging an individual of the opposite sex removed a cell phone from a hip pocket, brushed their body against the complainant’s back and casually touched a forearm and elbow multiple times, making the employee feel very uncomfortable.

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From slap shots to COVID-19 shots, Memorial Arena takes on a new role


city_scope_logo-cmykWith all the knocks against the province’s coronavirus attack plan and vaccination roll-out, you have to wonder how much consultation there has been with the local health units and their medical officers of health?
In fact, how closely is the government listening to medical authorities at institutions like Sick Children’s Hospital in Toronto and other experts in the field on a safe back-to-school policy?
You can point to the federal government for their handling of the vaccine itself, but is the shortage an easy target when your own program is likewise sputtering and subject to rapid and unexpected about turns?
At the grassroots level our local health unit, Southwestern Public Health, is being proactive and has approached the city to obtain use of Memorial Arena as a vaccination hub.
The matter is a late addition to Monday’s (March 1) council agenda.
As noted in city manager Wendell Graves’ report to members, “Attributes of the site include easy access, good parking and the ability to map out an operational floor plan that would allow for the greatest number of people to be vaccinated as expeditiously as possible.”

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