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.”

Its mandate will be to develop “a plan to stimulate economic growth and job creation in the weeks and months ahead.”
The committee plans to meet with business associations, chambers of commerce, municipal leaders, corporate leaders, small business owners and entrepreneurs to develop “an action plan to move forward.”
St. Thomas and Elgin county will be well represented with the appointment of MPP Jeff Yurek to the committee.
As Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks his inclusion would seem an obvious one, however speaking with Yurek yesterday (Friday), he stressed the importance of ensuring rural communities and, indeed, all of southwestern Ontario have a voice at the table.
The end goal of the group suggested Yurek, “is try to obtain where we were pre-pandemic, however, we’re still going to be dealing with COVID-19.”
He continued, “Businesses are, of course, going to have to change how they operate and people are going to have to change their shopping habits going forward. So that’s all being put together in a plan.”
Of course, noted Yurek, there will be a review of what has been done properly during the pandemic and where there needs to be improvement.

“I know people want everything opened up sooner or start opening sooner and the numbers are almost where the chief medical officer health wants them to be. That will get us to get things moving and it’s coming. It’s coming really soon.”

Great improvement in the case of long-term care homes.
“Premier Ford’s already committed to reviewing long term care,” reminded Yurek. “And, he’s made a commitment to ensuring that essential items that are needed are manufactured in Ontario and available to our province when needed.
“And you know, we have a commitment from the Minister of Health to get the non-elective surgeries and treatments up and running as soon as possible. I know that’s a priority.”
Yurek stressed he will be front and centre as a voice for rural Ontario during planning for the economic recovery, “to ensure that we are looked after in the plan coming out and it’s not solely based on one part of the province but ensuring that southwestern Ontario is a big part of that.”
That’s in addition to his role as environment minister.
“I know the federal government is going to have quite a bit of investment in the environment and we want to make sure the province is part of that program. It also gives people the opportunity as they restart their businesses to see how the government can be helpful in expanding a greener way of doing business.
“Like the clean-tech industry and how we can ensure that waste management is done in a more environmentally beneficial fashion.
“And also our parks. How can we utilize our parks for not only the enjoyment but also to help local economies in Northern and southern Ontario utilize the provincial parks to improve their economic outlooks.”
Yurek cautioned, “Part of the key to getting things re-opened is the ability of public health to react to any flare-ups of COVID-19. So that they’re able to dig down and do some monitoring and tracing of how that flare up occurred and, of course, how to isolate that area in order to overcome the flare-up.”
A key consideration in minimizing the risk of those flare-ups is when to re-open the border with the U.S.
“We’re hoping the federal government really takes a look at that before they proceed. We have a long way to go in our province that we’d like to get a handle on and make sure our economy is up and running and our people are safe before the prime minister looks at opening up those borders.”
All of this is going to require patience and diligence on the part of Ontario residents, reminded Yurek.
“I know people want everything opened up sooner or start opening sooner and the numbers are almost where the chief medical officer health wants them to be. That will get us to get things moving and it’s coming. It’s coming really soon.”


What once was destined to be a repository for files, documents and other city hall paraphernalia could ultimately be in the vanguard of a new, creative approach to a low-income housing strategy for St. Thomas.
While the concept is not even in the infancy stage at this point, the report on Monday’s (May 4) council agenda is an imaginative progression from the affordable housing development in the city’s community services hub at 230 Talbot Street.
Transit terminaljpgThe report from city manager Wendell Graves seeks council’s authorization to explore the possibility of converting the second floor of the transit building at 614 Talbot Street, adjacent to the lot formerly occupied by the Sutherland Press building, into affordable housing units.
However, that recommendation doesn’t do the proposal justice.
In a nutshell, here is what Graves envisions.
“The vacant space is approximately 6,500 square feet. The initial project under consideration would be to create 10 – 12, 350-square-foot self-contained micro-apartments. Each unit would have its own washroom, a small kitchenette area and a bed/sitting area.”
Ideally, the undertaking would include common laundry facilities and a meeting room that could be used by support services visiting tenants who would be some of the most vulnerable and homeless in the community.
The concept caught our attention and we chatted with Graves yesterday (Friday) to find out more.
His enthusiasm for the transit building apartments was palatable.
“It’s a solid building and it was built in the early 1900s, I think 1920 or 1930 vintage. It was an automobile dealership at one time and they actually stored vehicles on the second floor so it is solid.”
According to Graves, the second floor is wide open and he stresses, “A key piece of the work will be to marry the potential use of it to the Canada Mortgage and Housing matrix for this type of housing so we can best position it if, indeed, we are able to move forward to attract funding streams.
“The initial part is we can submit an application to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation for seed funding so you can further develop an application and concept plans.”
The next step suggested Graves, “Would be to work with an architect to get some big-picture pieces about what would be required for HVAC systems and plumbing and basically do a building code audit to see where we would have any red flags we would have to address.”
Transit station micro apartment renderingIt would be an interesting use of the structure to increase residential opportunities in the downtown core.
Graves cautions, “We would have to take a look at proper exiting for fire, proper stairwells allowing access to the units.
“But our internal scan of it thinks this is certainly worth exploring and could be something if the green lights follow, that would not be a long, drawn-out process.”
It’s that kind of brainstorming on the part of the administration that not only would address affordable housing and homelessness issues but go a long way in the revitalization of downtown.


It’s not such a rosy prospect over at the still vacant Wellington School, where the idea had been floated of converting the building into some form of housing.
“We’ve taken a look at that,” admitted Graves, and the conversion costs there are pretty extreme relative to the space available just by the basic setup of the building itself.”
So, with the former school now relegated to the back burner for the time being, Graves says the city will turn its attention to Phase 2 at 230 Talbot.
If you remember in June of last year, Graves advised council the “preliminary cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Phase 2 project are high.”
The second building, to front on Queen Street, was to include a child care facility and 24 additional housing units on the second and third floors of the building.
These were to be a combination of rent-geared-to-income units, affordable units and market-rate units, according to Graves.
At that council meeting a year ago, Graves pointed out to members, “At this point, the actual business case for the Phase 2 project is soft and the cost per residential unit is projected to be fairly high ($290,515 per unit).”
Construction was put on hold and the child care facility is to be shifted over to the St. Catharine Street parking lot, across from the former Colin McGregor Justice Building.
The revamped Phase 2, noted Graves, “will probably be a little different configuration than what we would be looking at in the transit building.”
“There are also a number of developers in the community looking at affordable housing, which is great. We can’t have too much at this point. We’re working with them as well.”

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You’ve seen them around the city, Community Safety Zones adjacent to elementary schools to discourage motorists from speeding with the penalty of substantially increased fines.
There are a dozen of them in St. Thomas however, according to a report before council on Monday, the signage associated with these zones is not entirely in compliance.
Last month the city was notified by “a prosecutor for County of Elgin Courts identifying the need for more prescriptive documentation regarding enforcement timeframes of our existing Community Safety Zones.”
Could this be a case of someone caught speeding in one of these zones trying to fight the charge through a technicality?
What needs to be clarified is the timeframe for enforcement.
As stated in the report, “The existing wording implies anytime enforcement but is not explicitly stated.”
That is to be corrected shortly and then be advised lead-footed motorists the loophole has been closed.
Not that you should be speeding at any time in school zones.
Doesn’t matter if classes are not in session. You don’t get a green light to speed just because children are not present.

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