St. Thomas now has a face-covering bylaw but does it have any teeth? Should it need any?

city_scope_logo-cmykAs expected, city council on Monday (Aug. 10) unanimously approved a municipal bylaw which supports the letter of instruction issued at the end of last month by Southwestern Public Health requiring the use of face coverings by individuals inside buildings where there is access to the public.
The bylaw will be in effect until Jan. 15 of next year at which time the need to extend it will be evaluated
But, is it little more than window dressing?
City manager Wendell Graves says the intent now is to train enforcement staff to ensure they understand how the bylaw is to be applied.
Read into that it is unlikely to ever be enforced.
Instead, it will be servers, cashiers and front-line staff who will face the wrath of belligerent customers who stubbornly refuse to wear a mask because it is their right to do so.

Mayor Joe Preston made it clear following the council meeting the intent is not to have city bylaw enforcement officers serve as face mask police.
“Really, all this added was the ability for our bylaw officers to also enforce. Look, I don’t see any of our bylaw officers out there being the mask police.
“We haven’t fined anybody for anything during COVID. I see it being that same way. face covering graphicLook, a lot of this mask bylaw is going to be up to businesses to appropriately do it and our bylaw officers will be helpful in that way.”
Those front-line employees – most of whom make minimum wage – are the real pandemic heroes and one more element has been added to their already harried workday.
Preston, as a businessman himself, concedes that.
“If you’re being rude to an employee at a business because of a bylaw passed by the medical officer of health and now the city, you’re not a very good person.
“Hold off a little bit folks and let’s do a community effort to do this right.”
It’s all about communication, stressed Preston.
And, as a business operator, he admits he and his staff don’t want to be mask police either.
“Certainly, we don’t want any employee of a business person to be put into that position. We want this to be a community effort to help beat COVID.
“Everybody can have a different opinion on this. That’s perfectly fine. But please don’t argue with the young employee at any place of business.
“They are only doing what their boss told them to ask you.”
What’s that old adage about catching more flies with honey than vinegar.

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Back in May, we talked to city manager Wendell Graves about a housing concept in its infancy stage at that time.
He had just prepared a report for council seeking authorization to explore the possibility of converting the second floor of the transit building at 614 Talbot Street into affordable housing units.
Transit station micro apartment renderingFast forward three months and council has just green-lighted a motion retaining Thier Curran Architects of Hamilton to proceed with preliminary design work required for the transformation of the vacant space into as many as 16 micro-apartments.
Each 350-square-foot self-contained micro-apartment would have its own washroom, a small kitchenette area and a bed/sitting area. As proposed, there would be common laundry facilities and a meeting room that could be used by support services visiting tenants who would be some of the most vulnerable in the community.

“It’s here are four walls and we’ll help you with other things you have. Whether it’s mental health, drug addictions or other things. We need to make sure that we build the supports into the four walls.”

Speaking with Mayor Preston following Monday’s meeting he stressed, “We want to still do a variety of homes. Housing first is what we call it. We know people are having difficulty as a society right now.
“The first thing they need is an address, a house, a place to live. And this micro-apartment building in the transit building is that.”
However, advised Preston, this project would involve more than just the provision of housing.
“We can do this well, but it’s also the supports that go the people who have housing in those 16 micro-units. It’s not just about here are four walls and now you are on your own.
“It’s here are four walls and we’ll help you with other things you have. Whether it’s mental health, drug addictions or other things.
“We need to make sure that we build the supports into the four walls.”
There appears to be no shortage of interest in the concept.
“We had 13 firms apply for this (the preliminary design tender). But, all we’ve done is pass the first step . . . From there we will apply for government funding, including our own.
“The good thing right now is we’ve got a helpful level of provincial government and federal government saying, ‘Bring us your proposals.’
Preston cautions the micro-apartments are not about proceeding with a money-making venture.
“That’s up to other developers and we want them too. This is about us making good decisions based on helping the most vulnerable and others in our community find a place to live.”
And bringing people downtown to aid with the much-need revitalization of the core area.
“It’s imperative that it is in the centre of our city,” advised Preston.
“We’ve got an empty building sitting downtown and we have to use it for the right purpose for the city and this is what it is about.
“This is the most important need in our community. We’re going to put all the bells and whistles we can together as a city to make it possible for people to be housed in the City of St. Thomas.”

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Last week’s announcement from Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, of $2.2 million in federal funding for an upgrade to St. Thomas Transit is welcome news for this city’s long-suffering bus riders.
However, what will put more rear ends in bus seats will be the introduction of regional transit. Specifically, a service linking St. Thomas with London, Port Stanley and Aylmer.
The province has been doling out money for such services in southwestern Ontario with Oxford Regional Transit operating a service (in conjunction with Voyago, the contractor for St. Thomas Transit) linking Tillsonburg, Ingersoll and Woodstock with London.
To the west, a daily service is now running between London, Komoka, Strathroy and Sarnia.
pilot transit project mapjpgNot too far in the distant past, there were several daily trips between London and St. Thomas operated by Grey-Bruce Airbus using highway coaches.
Of course, if you want to time travel, how about the London & Port Stanley Railway for commuter service?
Mayor Joe Preston is patiently awaiting word from the province for funding of a regional transit pilot project.
“We kind of know it’s coming,” suggested Preston a week ago.
We picked up on that again Friday (August 14) and he advised, “It’s the next phone call I’m waiting for.
“It sure would be easier to plan our new transit system if we also knew we were planning it so that it could partner with a regional transit system.”
Getting people out of their cars and onto buses is going to take a lot of education, suggested Preston.
“Regional transportation will take a lot of conversation to say ‘What’s this going to mean for me? Am I going to get to work on time, am I going to get to an appointment in London on time?’
“That’s why we call it a pilot project.”

“We need this thing to work, not that we don’t need our own transit system to work. We need the regional transit with buses with lots of people on them on every run.”

While an obvious initial destination in London would be the London Transit hub at White Oaks Mall, Preston says flexibility will be key,
“Maple Leaf Foods is going to building a fairly large employer on the south side of London on the Highbury (Avenue) side and there may be people from St. Thomas who need to get back and forward there too.
“So, we kind of have all of our plans on the flip charts on the walls in the mayor’s office just waiting for the approval.
“We’ve got the tentative working plans there, but nobody has said yes, yet.”
If and when that phone call comes from the province, Preston says the regional transit service would be an ideal showcase for the city’s new fleet of electric buses.
“We need this thing to work, not that we don’t need our own transit system to work. We need the regional transit with buses with lots of people on them on every run.”
Preston has requested a three-year trial period “Because I thought that was somewhere in the sweet spot of how long it would take to get people convinced there’s a better, permanent solution to getting to Fanshawe College or wherever else in London or getting to Aylmer.”

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At the July 13 meeting, council voted 8-1 to defer a motion to direct city administrators to begin with the notice of intent process to declare Trinity Anglican Church a heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The lone voice of dissent was Coun. Steve Peters. Well, to be more specific, he was not given the opportunity to voice any opinion.
Once the motion was tabled, all discussion ended.
Later that week Peters advised, “Was I prepared to speak, of course I was. Procedurally, I wasn’t able to.”
Later in our conversation he promised, “I’m going to be pushing to see that it’s on our August agenda for discussion. And, I will have my hand up first this time.”
This month’s meeting has come and gone and Peters still has not been afforded the opportunity to pitch the merits of a heritage designation for the property which now has a new owner.

“It is a critically important piece of the heritage of St. Thomas and I would like to see us put it to a vote.”

At Monday’s meeting, Peters reminded members and staff the motion was deferred at the July meeting and it’s not back on the agenda.
He advised, “The Municipal Heritage Committee is an advisory committee and the information I received is that the Municipal Heritage Committee needs to speak to the owner (whose identity has not yet been made public).
Peters continued, “I never thought that was their role to go and speak to the owner of a property to find out yeah or nay, do you want it designated.
“I would like to see it brought forward and put to a vote. If you’re not prepared to support the designation of Trinity Church, then council sends its message. I would like to see this dealt with.
“It is a critically important piece of the heritage of St. Thomas and I would like to see us put it to a vote.”
Mayor Joe Preston responded with the fact he would like to see the report (from the MHC) back so all of council can discuss it.
So again, Peters is left somewhat in the lurch although he did get an assurance from the mayor that the MHC report will be on the agenda for the first meeting in September.
It would appear with the deferral last month, there may not be much of an appetite amongst members to handcuff the new owners with a designation.

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Susan Gerry is obviously happy about the upgraded transit system promised for next year.

“Yeah for St. Thomas!!!! Now to fix a few roads on the routes so you don’t get whiplash would be perfect! Perhaps city hall can take a spin and “enjoy” them as much as I do. Sometimes the bus ride is so jarring it hurts my back. I look forward to the changes. Way to go!”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.


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