With just 99 days until the federal election, you might very well be wondering who the Liberal party has tasked with attempting to unseat incumbent Karen Vecchio in Elgin-Middlesex-London (EML) riding.
Well, the short answer is no one.
The nomination meeting was originally scheduled for January and here we are midway through July with no designated candidate although we know Lori Baldwin-Sands has filed papers.
Will she be acclaimed at some point in the very near future?
A phone call to David Goodwin of the federal Liberal riding association should result in some answers.
“They haven’t called the nomination yet,” advised Goodwin.
He noted neither this riding nor London Fanshawe has received word on scheduling a nomination meeting.
“We’ve been in contact with the party because we also have to have our annual general meeting. We were told it’s going to be called in the next weeks . . .
It’s the Number 1 item on our agenda.”
Goodwin observed if it goes into August, “it is concerning. It is not a reflection on EML. It is challenging.”
The party has not indicated to Goodwin and the riding association how many individuals may have filed nomination papers.
“They don’t tell you when your nomination is going to be called . . . and they don’t tell you who has been green-lighted as a nominee.
“I can see both sides because you don’t want to intimidate others . . . so we don’t know how many we may have.”
Goodwin had toyed with throwing his hat in the ring but ultimately chose not to due to employment obligations.
As for his prognostication on the October vote, Goodwin said “It’s a fascinating election. It’s going to be won or lost on the carbon tax.”
Goodwin went on to note the riding association “is in the best financial situation since the Gar days (former EML MP Gar Knutson who served from 1993 until 2004).
A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
Turns out the case of the downed trees on the Alma College property is an embarrassing oopsie on the part of city staff.
To recap, several dozen trees were felled last month on the Moore Street property in advance of the province approving a heritage easement agreement reached between the city and Patriot Properties.
The latter is proposing a three-tower residential complex on the 11-acre property, previously the home of the private school for girls.
The agreement is in the hands of the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal and if approval is received, city manager Wendell Graves has indicated “prior to the development actually proceeding, council will be required to manage the planning matters for the site which include the removal of the holding zones, final approval of the site plan and the city will be required to enter into a Community Improvement Program grant agreement for the project.”
The fate of several dozen trees and the final landscaping are to be part of the site plan approval.
“I do believe that it was council’s understanding that further discussion about the trees at 96 Moore Street would occur at the time when council considered its approval for the site plan and from my perspective the issuance of the permit was, in fact, premature to those discussions.”
In a report to council for Monday’s meeting (July 15), Graves reveals Patriot Properties in March of this year applied to the forestry section of the parks and recreation department for a permit to begin removing trees.
A permit “issued in accordance with the procedures that are in place,” according to Graves, was issued April 25.
All very well, however as Graves reminds in his report, “the issuance of the permit was outside of the larger development processes that are currently
Graves continues, “I do believe that it was council’s understanding that further discussion about the trees at 96 Moore Street would occur at the time when council considered its approval for the site plan and from my perspective the issuance of the permit was, in fact, premature to those discussions.”
Small consolation given that parks and recreation staff have been involved all along with the proposed development and the timeframe to be adhered to.
Apparently, 34 trees were removed with no indication at this point if some of those were ones planted by Alma students.
Even the current owner of the property, London developer Gino Reale, was caught off guard by the actions of Michael Loewith and Patriot Properties.
“They (Patriot Properties) were in there, they had permission to cut down trees . . . which I wasn’t aware of.”
Graves concludes his report by noting, “as part of the permit, $5,750 in fees were paid, 91 trees are to be replanted on the site and 2 Colorado Spruce trees are to be transplanted.”
Does this not remind you of the scene in the movie Cool Hand Luke?
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”
In April of this year, the city’s animal welfare committee recommended $400,000 set aside for renovations to the existing animal shelter be put toward construction of a new, functional facility.
Council put a hold on that even though the existing shelter housed on the city works yard lacks even basic amenities needed to handle cats, dogs and potential pet owners.
At Monday’s meeting, council will deal with a report from Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services, updating members on the site selection process for a new shelter.
Several factors were taken into account when considering the available options.
Should it be co-located with a dog park or at the opposite side of the city from the existing dog park; low to no purchase cost for the land; available water servicing and road access; and a quiet location in contrast to the existing facility in the industrial area of the city.
Five potential sites have been shortlisted: Highbury Avenue, just south of the Messenger Freight facility; South Edgeware, adjacent to the Hydro One yard; immediately south of the Doug Tarry Sports Complex; Jonas Park off Ross Street; and the Palm Street storage yard just east of Memorial Arena.
Option 3 – the sports complex location – is the preferred site of the animal welfare committee.
Unlike some of the other options, there is no soil contamination and it is a non-residential location with a large area for a dog park.
Should council approve Option 3, construction of the new shelter could begin next year with a cost estimate of $1.2 million.
In his report, Lawrence concludes “The operating costs for a new building will be lower than the existing building based on energy efficiency improvements. Ideally, a net-zero building can be constructed within the budget which would (reduce) annual operating costs by approximately $5,000.”
SPACE TO PLAY
A surprising turn of events Thursday (July 11) at a committee of adjustment hearing to deal with an application by Patricia Riddell-Laemers for a minor variance so she can operate a childcare centre out of her home at 18 Hickory Lane.
According to the notice of application, she is proposing to run the childcare centre when, in fact, it has been operating for some time.
More on that later.
The proposed variances address the deficient lot area, frontage and front yard depth which are requirements of the city’s zoning bylaw for a childcare centre.
Riddell-Laemers, the former executive director of the St. Thomas Early Learning Centre, was not present at the hearing. Instead, her agent was Bob Hammersley, who stressed he was representing her as a friend and not in any capacity as president of the St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce.
Senior planning technician Steve Craig advised the two members of the committee of adjustment three conditions have been applied to the application.
There can be no more than five children at the centre at any one time; the outdoor play area is restricted to the backyard; no signage is permitted at the location.
As to why the application is being heard now, months after the centre opened, Hammersley indicated “she (Riddell-Laemers) uncovered discrepancies.”
Hammersley assured the committee the Ministry of Education has twice inspected the residence and it is in compliance.
Representing neighbours concerned with the centre operating in their neighbourhood, John O’Reilly opened his remarks with the comment, “I am under no illusion as to the outcome (of the hearing).”
He added the process appeared to be nothing more than “rubber-stamped.”
“She had said she has friends in high places,” noted O’Reilly.
While Hammersley stressed Riddell-Laemers had no use intended for the front yard, that condition is not relevant, O’Reilly indicated on at least six occasions children were playing in the front yard – approximately 25 feet from the roadway – with no parent present.
In February of this year, O’Reilly approached Jim McCoomb, the city’s manager of planning services, with concerns about the childcare centre.
At that time, McCoomb indicated Riddell-Laemers had not applied for a variance and she was given until June 11 to do so.
O’Reilly contends Riddell-Laemers ignored a first request from the city for a variance submission.
“She doesn’t play by the rules,” suggested O’Reilly.
“I have photos of a tent and a pool in the front yard,” he added.
“She had no intention of using the front yard,” responded Hammersley. “I am absolutely certain she will abide.”
The hearing took an unexpected turn when committee members Inge Bowman and Richard Hodgkinson expressed concerns about the amount of play space available in the back yard.
“Our goal is to move the city forward.”
A yard that also contains a gazebo, garden shed, water fountain, hot tub and pond.
“What is the minimal space required for five kids to play in,” questioned Bowman.
To which Hammersley responded, “the kids don’t require a lot of space due to their age.”
As to the amount of space available, Craig admitted there had been no physical inspection of the backyard.
“Typically I don’t do site inspections. I don’t know if I have permission.”
Bowman also expressed concerns about the hot tub, even though the play area is fenced in.
O’Reilly indicated “on several occasions she (Riddell-Laemers) has taken the kids into the hot tub.”
“Is that appropriate at that age,” questioned Bowman.
The Center for Disease Control in the U.S. advises children under the age of five should not use hot tubs because they’re not able to dissipate the heat as much as adults.
The Association of Pool and Spa Professionals in the U.S. recommends “Children should not be allowed in hot tubs unless their heads are completely out of the water when they stand on the bottom of the tub.”
After a short deferral, the committee determined further research is needed on the available play space in the backyard.
And, the committee members will arrange for an inspection of the yard at 18 Hickory Lane and report back during a second hearing at a yet-to-be-determined date.
Hammersley closed out the meeting with the comment, “Our goal is to move the city forward.”
Curious on two counts.
No mention of the safety of the children in Riddell-Laemers’ care.
And, that comment is more in keeping with a St. Thomas and District Chamber of Commerce official than an agent for the childcare centre.
On a related note, no court date has been set related to Riddell-Laemers’ termination with cause in April of last year at the St. Thomas Early Learning Centre. In July of 2018, the former executive director initiated legal action against the centre.
The centre alleges Riddell-Laemers failed to obtain proper approvals from the Ministry of Education prior to demolishing a wall in one of the facilities; improperly disbursed wage enhancement funds; used centre credit cards for personal expenses; harassed and bullied staff; and engaged in intimate interactions in the office which were overheard by staff.
THE READER’S WRITE
In response to last week’s lead item with Jeff Yurek and the latest inquest into an inmate death at Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre, Bob Upsdell passed along his observations.
“Blaming it all on opioids is a cop-out. The design makes it impossible to monitor what the inmates are doing. Take a tour sometime. You build the new one before you tear down the old one. Is 200 (inmates) accurate? How many was it built for?”
FOR THE CALENDAR
Megan Pickersgill, tourism manager at Railway City Tourism, sends along info on a colourful undertaking to kick off a city-wide art project.
Four railway boxcars parked on a siding at the Elgin County Railway Museum are to be an oversized canvas for area artists.
Next month, these four individuals will unleash their individual creativity for all to see on the sides of the now stationary rolling stock.
According to Pickersgill, “Each mural is as unique as each artist and will highlight their personal experience and relationship with St. Thomas. Artists Grayden Laing, Mediah, Jaclyn White, and Laura Woermke will each bring to the boxcars a different flavour ranging from abstract to whimsical, all celebrating unique aspects of St. Thomas.”
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