One week ago today, while truck horns blared and tempers flared, Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio rose in the House of Commons and gave a speech on the Motion for Confirmation of the Declaration of Emergency.
It was very late Saturday night, and yet she delivered one of the more impassioned, albeit reasoned, presentations of all those MPs who stood to relay their message.
So much so that it drew praise from two members from other parties. More on that later.
Whatever your political stripe, Vecchio’s words are well worth pondering on several accounts, not the least of which is her obvious compassion for the constituents she represents.
She began, “I am here because of my family and the families and people across Canada. And I will speak about the reasonable people that I also represent.”
She then focussed on the divisiveness and intolerance that have muscled their way into so many conversations today, whether in person or on social media.
“No one is finding a side on this debate to land where you can look at the other person and say, well you’ve got a good point.
“The fact is I think many of my colleagues have made good points. Now, some of them I absolutely disagree with, but I do believe they have the right to their opinion, whether they are right or wrong.”
Careful on this point, Karen, because can there truly be a right or wrong opinion and who determines that?
We at City Scope have been firmly admonished over the years because our opinion is apparently wrong in the eyes of some people.
But, back to her thought-provoking speech.
“I have been down here throughout this period of time and I think the biggest thing I have found and even trying to prepare my speech today is we can’t say anything right and can’t say anything wrong without somebody just jumping on us.
“Every single Parliamentarian here, every single politician or any leaders, every single time we say something, there is going to be somebody who is going to smack you down.”
She then referenced an interview with me on myFM at the end of January when the Freedom Convoy was approaching its final destination in Ottawa.
“Prior to the protesters coming here on Jan. 31, I had done an interview five days before with our local radio station. I said I support the truckers’ convoy.
“I support the right to protest. But, we cannot question the fact that there are characters out there and actors who are not going to behave.
“I don’t think anyone has seen a protest with a large group of people where there hasn’t been one small infraction. We do know, though, we have talked about what do these infractions look like.”
“And that is what I’d like to say to those protesters that are going past that next step. If you want change, you’ve got to be part of the change. It’s not always about getting exactly what you want.”
Vecchio then turned her attention to the constituents she represents at home.
“Being from Elgin-Middlesex-London, I can tell you the last two years have been very, very difficult. And it’s been difficult for everybody, regardless of where you’re living.”
As she duly noted, the riding played host to several protests long before the Ottawa blockade.
That is inevitable when you are the home of the Church of God and Rev. Henry Hildebrandt amid a pandemic and, with it, mandates and restrictions.
“But we have seen this type of stuff happening in my riding since 2020. And, I even think about things that happened in 2021, where the Prime Minister had had the gravel thrown at him by one of the protesters.”
A reference to Shane Marshall of St. Thomas who is set to appear in court in London in March for a charge of assault with a weapon laid last year after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was hit by gravel as he boarded his election campaign bus following a stop at an east London brewery on Sept. 6.
Vecchio noted, “We all agree that was wrong. But, he was apprehended and taken in and that was done.
“This same protester was on our streets just a few days ago. I know him personally. What do I say about this protester? I say to him, you’ve got to step back and you’ve got to listen. You’ve got to be part of the conversation.
“They’re calling us racist, they’re calling us Nazis and the fact is, we’re not going to get anywhere until we stop bullying one another and calling one another names.”
“And that is what I’d like to say to those protesters that are going past that next step. If you want change, you’ve got to be part of the change.
“It’s not always about getting exactly what you want.”
At this point, she shifted her focus to behaviour on the streets of Ottawa and in the Chamber itself.
“And, that’s the exact same thing I would have to say to this government. This is about a place where we have to find balance.
“I have been called a racist, misogynist, all of these wonderful names. And I called one of the members of the NDP out for that and she just doubled down.
“That is not democracy. That is not the way we should be talking to other people. And, the fact is, we’re sitting there talking about these vile people standing outside.
“Yet the same members of Parliament complaining about them are saying the exact same things inside this Chamber today. They’re calling us racist, they’re calling us Nazis and the fact is, we’re not going to get anywhere until we stop bullying one another and calling one another names.
“And so, last Monday when we asked a question and we were denied that, the fact is people were just looking for answers. People are looking for solutions. And that is why I am here today.”
“I think that is the bottom line to this. That no one planned to find a plan. I saw an entire bench of members of Parliament of the government get whipped instead of representing their people and saying, ‘You know something, my neighbour Johnny called me and Johnny is tired. His son is tired. His son has missed two years of school and you know, my sister, she is a mother and a single parent, teaches kindergarten and has her own children.'”
Vecchio zeroed in on the crux of the matter from here on in.
“We are forgetting about those people when we are in these discussions. We are forgetting that people are tired and people do want hope.
“I recognize that this is a critical mass. I recognize that with healthcare measures we have to make sure that there are measures.
“So, I’m asking of this government, show us the metrics. Show us the measurements. Give us some idea of what the long game looks like. Because everybody is tired.
“And so, last Monday when we asked a question and we were denied that, the fact is people were just looking for answers. People are looking for solutions. And that is why I am here today.
“And I know that half of the members of Parliament in this place today are looking for the exact same thing.”
“I’m concerned about where we’re going. I’m concerned because I’ve been standing up for the rights of people. I am triple vaccinated and I am proud of it.”
And now a side of Vecchio some may not recognize.
“Unfortunately, I’m saying only half because I’ve listened to some of this crap that’s been said to us today and I’ll be honest, I’m ashamed of listening to some of this rhetoric.
“How can we expect people to be better?
“I listened to a member of Parliament from Pickering wanting to read out a horrible email that she got because it was so visceral.
“Well, welcome to politics because we always get those. And, you know something, I have had people tell me to grow a thick skin.
“I don’t believe in having to grow a thick skin when you’re in politics. It’s about being a good person, for goodness sake.
“And so when somebody starts reading something into the record and saying, ‘Look how badly I was treated,’ we’re not trying to say look at me, we’re trying to say let’s pour on the gas, this is all the stuff I’ve been called.”
Vecchio shared a concern of so many of the populace.
“I’m concerned about where we’re going. I’m concerned because I’ve been standing up for the rights of people. I am triple vaccinated and I am proud of it.
“But I have been standing up for people in my riding like a young woman I know who is 50 years of age who, when she was young, did have an interaction to a vaccination. She is scared of having another vaccination.
“I’ve always respected the tone she brings to this House and the reasonableness and decorum she shows.”
“I know her very, very well. She is scared of getting sick and missing Christmas with her family because there was somebody who was sick and she didn’t want to make others sick.
“That is called personal responsibility. And, I think if we granted personal responsibility back to Canadians, they may just do it.
“I look at my mom, who is 81 today, and I think of my mom when I come home from Ottawa I’ve been sitting in an airport around hundreds of people. I’ve been on an airplane around hundreds of people.
“And so I take the first step and I choose not to go see my mom because she is vulnerable. And that is what Canadians do when they are given that sense of responsibility.”
Have we become a nanny state, pondered Vecchio?
“We’re losing that right now. The government has to tell us don’t go see your mom. No, I’m pretty sure this 50-year-old knows when it is right or wrong to go see your mother.
“But, we’re being told by the government this is the case.
“I like to walk the streets of Ottawa and I don’t mind walking them but I won’t walk the streets of part of my riding by myself. But, when I’m in Ottawa I feel safe.
“My first week when I was here I dressed up every day and I just looked like everybody else. I wanted to look like everybody else because I was scared, I was worried about walking.
“Yesterday, when I stopped and spoke to a guy who was in front of my apartment building, we talked for a few minutes. I said to him, so where are you from?
“He said ‘from a little place outside of London.’
“I said, I’m from London, where?
“He said, ‘I’m from Fingal.’
“Fingal is where my brother plows the roads. Fingal is where my son has gone to see his friends.
“We have to remember there is a whole bunch of regular people out there and we have to stop pushing them.”
Vecchio closed with, “We’ve got to find solutions and we’ve got to do it now.”
The House of Commons is not often associated with praise from opposing members.
Following Vecchio’s speech Julie Vignola, Bloc Quebecois MP for Beauport-Limoilou thanked Vecchio for her comments which she praised as “measured.”
We have angry Canadians out there and we are in a political crisis.
Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway, followed that with “I’ve always respected the tone she brings to this House and the reasonableness and decorum she shows.”
High praise indeed in these tumultuous times.
ST. THOMAS EXPERIENCING INCREDIBLE GROWTH
Normally upbeat, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston was nothing short of effusive Tuesday afternoon during what was billed as The Mayors’ Happy Hour.
The online event was hosted by St. Thomas & District Chamber of Commerce and, along with Preston, featured Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn and Southwold Mayor Grant Jones.
The topic was what lies ahead for our municipalities and Preston got down to business by opening with, “St. Thomas is showing an incredible amount of growth. Southern Ontario and other places are showing some growth, but if you want to see incredible growth you’ve got to come here.
“We grew in the last census, the data is just out, 10.1 per cent (population growth since the 2016 census).
Giving the city a population of 42,918 in 2021, up from 38,909 in 2016.
“I am so proud of that .1 per cent because London grew at 10 per cent. And so I get to tell Mayor (Ed) Holder what happened here? How did we beat you by .1 per cent?”
The influx in population is from other corners of the province and, indeed, from elsewhere in Canada and beyond.
Preston continued, “Ten per cent growth over a five-year period is extremely significant. We’ve been predicting this.
“We can’t do this if we don’t know what we’re aiming for. And we continue talking on the terms of a thousand people a year joining our community in St. Thomas.
“The housing for a thousand people a year, the jobs for a thousand people a year, the amenities, parks and roads for a thousand people a year.
“We now know that’s where we’re going for the next decade. And, when we look back we haven’t really built a multi-unit apartment in a decade.
“We’re now looking forward saying how many of those are necessary to give us the housing units for the supply side of the demand of 10,000 more people a decade from now.
“Happy with the growth. We have to be smart and get it all at the same time rather than grow one thing and then say well, what about housing or what about jobs.”
Preston touched on the commercial growth on the former Timken Canada property as well as the ongoing revitalization of The Elgin Centre, including evidence of the Holiday Inn emerging at the west end of the mall.
To accommodate growth in the next decade, Preston advised “We started servicing our newest growth area in the northwest, our new settlement area.”
Four areas, all hugging the western limit of the city bordering with the Township of Southwold have been flagged (see map). They have been identified as the last remaining lands within the municipal boundary that can accommodate this level of projected residential growth.
Area 1, consisting of 63 hectares, is south of Talbot Line on both sides of Ford Road.
Area 2, 101 hectares, is north of Fingal Line while Area 3, 39 hectares is south of Fingal Line.
Area 4, 88 hectares, includes land on both sides of Bush Line.
“You’ll start to see the work happening for servicing water and wastewater treatment getting to those areas so our homebuilders have a place and more land to build starting very shortly.”
Preston concluded with, “Happy with the growth. We have to be smart and get it all at the same time rather than grow one thing and then say well, what about housing or what about jobs.”
Maintaining the growth rate of 1,000 individuals per year in the next decade would put St. Thomas well over the 50,000 population mark.
Is this sustainable? Will we recognize the city?
What are your thoughts on this aggressive growth in St. Thomas?
STEVE PETERS TALKS ABOUT THAT SPECIAL BOND
Vladimir Putin’s ruthless invasion of Ukraine this week has some St. Thomas residents worried about the fate of that country’s residents.
Not the least of whom is Steve Peters who can trace his family’s roots back to Ukraine.
But St. Thomas also has a history linked to Ukraine.
At one time there was a sizeable Ukrainian community in St. Thomas with their own church. It was called Holy Cross Ukrainian Catholic Church and is still there but has been converted into a house.
Did you know there is a Ukrainian Street in the city? It runs west off Woodworth Avenue over to Nelson Street.
We chatted with Steve on Friday about the quickly evolving situation in Ukraine and he advised he is proudly flying the country’s blue and yellow flag as a symbol of support.
His family is from the western Ukraine region and he has been messaging back and forth with a cousin on his mother’s side who advises moral support is very important at this time.
His cousin advised, “Many Ukrainians are fleeing Ukraine for Poland but my children and I remain in Ukraine.”
Steve noted how scary it must be when you hear fighter jets roar low over your house and you have to run to the basement.
His cousin and her family live west of Kyiv, close to the Polish border. Her area is one of the few routes out of Ukraine into that country.
As Steve pointed out, Ukraine’s boundaries have changed so many times over the years which impacted his family.
“My mom’s mom, her village where she was born and raised is actually now in Poland.”
Thirty kilometres into Poland to be exact.
Steve continued, “It’s always struck me there is a special bond between Canada and Ukraine. The third-largest Ukrainian-descended population in the world lives in Canada.”
Going back to the church, Steve advised it was built in the 1950s with a lot of the surplus material used in the construction of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital was donated to the Ukrainian community.
Legend has it the bell in the church tower came from the locomotive that killed Jumbo.
“We as Ukrainians I guess are a bit of an emotional bunch,” admitted Steve. “We all call it the old country.
“I remember my grandmother would send care packages. She would send cash. There was a guy in Sudbury they found who would deliver cash.
“She met him through Uncle Johnny who wasn’t really an uncle, but we called him Uncle Johnny. It was a network.”
Steve continued, “The other thing about Ukrainians is we’re a bit of a stubborn lot. If you’re going to invade Kyiv you’ve got to go through the streets.”
A reference to those who remain and are willing to fight to the bitter end. Many of them were issued rifles by the government to defend their country.
And as for that Ukrainian flag flapping in the wind over at Steve’s place. It came from The Flag Shop in London and we talked with Alex Lang at the Exeter road outlet yesterday (Friday).
They sold a lot of Canadian flags while the Freedom Convoy was in Ottawa, but she advised they are putting second and third orders in for the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine.
And have you noticed the blue and yellow stripes blossoming on Tweets?
Every bit of moral support helps.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
Visit us on Facebook
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.