Wary of having the June provincial election get in the way of his political aspirations later in the year, St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston became the first candidate to put forth their name for the municipal vote in October.
On Wednesday (April 6), Preston confirmed his intention to seek re-election as the head of council.
“It’s an election year,” noted Preston in a conversation shortly after announcing his candidacy, “but with a lot of other stuff going on with the provincial election and a federal leadership in one of the major parties.
“And I just thought, before all that gets too crowded, I’m going to let people know so I can go about the job of mayor and continue doing it until we get into campaigning sometime late summer or early September for an October election.”
He admits he has been peppered with the question, ‘Are you running?’
Preston stressed, “I really haven’t been hiding it, but what the heck let’s get a release out there so people will know I’m there and willing to do the job I currently have and I’d like to do it again.”
In other words, Preston would like to maintain a course on the city’s strategic growth plan that has defied the pandemic.
“We have seen remarkable, almost record growth and there are a few things that aren’t done yet.
“There will always be things you can stay and do, but there are some pretty important things on the growth of St. Thomas that I want to be part of and will continue to be part of to prepare the city for that type of growth.
“The census had us growing at a thousand people a year and we’ll continue, I think, for at least the next decade. So, St. Thomas will look different and I want to be a part of making sure that happens, like I said, smart growth.
“We’re going to grow properly. We have to have housing and jobs and roads and all the other amenities that come with a city that’s growing as fast as St. Thomas is.”
With half a year remaining in this term of council, Preston outlined what he would like to accomplish if re-elected.
“We wrote a pretty comprehensive strategic plan for this council and it did not all stop on Oct. 24 (the date of the municipal election).
“Some of them, including affordable housing and supportive housing go past that into the text term (of council). So I think we have to complete what we’ve already said we would do to the best of our ability.
“And we need to plan what the next four years look like with the new council. You don’t do things alone as a mayor and I want them (the present councillors) to be back.
“It’s that critical to have a team in place that is capable of working together like this one has. Almost no disagreement, but lots of conversation, lots of ideas on how to do things differently.”
A keystone of this council has been the progress made in promoting social housing.
“It will stay at the top of the middle of the desk as a project for us. One of the responsibilities of good municipal government is housing.
“We found early in this council that supportive housing and supported housing are what we are really responsible for and need to do.
“Whether it’s a shelter like Inn Out of the Cold (now The Inn) or other agencies that provide that or Indwell (who the city is working with on the Railway City Lofts and the 16 Queen Street project).
“It cannot stop. With the growth in our community, we have to grow in that area.
“But, it’s a mixture of things going forward at the same time. That’s the smart growth piece.”
To accommodate this growth the city is moving forward preparing for new residential development on the boundary with Southwold Township.
“We’re running pipes there now. Let’s get wastewater and water to the area. I know there’s been a great deal of real estate action in Areas 1 and 2 (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), which is where we are heading first.
“With the growth of St. Thomas, it is critical that we open settlement areas to our builders, who are some of the best in the world. But if we don’t have land for them to build on then that would be a mistake.”
Preston continued, “We’ve got lots of things we can smile about but we’ve got to make sure we are prepared for what is coming.”
Seeking re-election, has Preston come up with a catchy campaign slogan?
“I keep telling people my favourite election slogan is ‘Yes.’ Yes is the answer and now what is the question?
“Instead of it can’t be done, or that’s not the way we’ve done it before, yes is the answer. Let’s find out if we can do new things in St. Thomas and make it grow smart and make it grow in a really, really great way.”
Which brought us to the current divisiveness that seems to pervade politics at every level.
“I believe I can work with anyone so we’ll let the voters decide on what they want the province to look like and we’ll try and decide how that fits on the growth of St. Thomas.”
“If you can’t say something nice about somebody, then don’t say it. And if you have to say something bad about somebody to get elected, I don’t want the job.
“I’m hoping we can remain pretty civil and just talk about what we need to do to get there. Other people will have ideas you may agree with or disagree with, but thank them for their ideas and see how you can make them work with yours.
“I’m hoping we can do that civil.”
What impact will the provincial election have when it comes time to elect a mayor and council in St. Thomas this fall?
“The provincial government helps a lot with municipal projects and funding. Having connections in the province is a fantastic thing and it has worked very well for St. Thomas in this last little while.
“I believe I can work with anyone so we’ll let the voters decide on what they want the province to look like and we’ll try and decide how that fits on the growth of St. Thomas.
“With this provincial government, a bunch of housing projects were able to start because the province contributed and we’ll have a better transit system now because both the province and the provincial government have contributed.
“We get a lot of good contributions from the other levels of government and I hope that stays in place.
“Jeff (Yurek), Karen (Vecchio) and I are all very good friends and if something was a priority, each of the other two levels of government knew what was a priority for St. Thomas.
“It helps that we talk to each other and we know what is going on. We don’t always agree, but at the end of the day we work out what is best for St. Thomas.”
To illustrate that point, turn back the calendar to July 10 of 2018, the day Preston announced his intention to run for mayor of St. Thomas.
Steve Peters had already filed his nomination papers seeking one of eight councillor seats – setting up the unique possibility of two former members from two different parties at two different levels of government working together in the council chamber.
Responding to that scenario Preston acknowledged on July 10, “And two former members from two different parties who used to work so well together and brought so much to St. Thomas because we buried our team uniforms at the door and actually got stuff done.”
The question now is what impact will Preston’s early declaration of intent have on the mayoral race?
In fact, will it prove now to be a one-horse race?
In the 2018 municipal vote, Coun. Steve Wookey took a run at Preston and then-mayor Heather Jackson.
Is there a councillor with similar ambition this time around?
A FAIR AND TRANSPARENT ELECTORAL PROCESS
Continuing with the October municipal vote, council at its meeting Monday (April 11) will be asked to adopt city clerk Maria Konefal’s report on the use of city resources during an election period.
Establishing such a policy as outlined in her report is a requirement under the Municipal Elections Act.
If you are contemplating a run at municipal politics this fall, you would be wise to keep the following in mind.
“. . . staff shall not wear, post or distribute campaign material on behalf of a candidate or registered third party in any city facility or on city property.”
Candidates for a municipal election, provincial election, or federal election, registered third parties, elected officials, and city employees who are attending city-organized events are not permitted to campaign or disseminate election-related campaign materials, including the wearing of campaign material at the event.
And, candidates for a municipal election, provincial election, or federal election, registered third parties, and elected officials are not permitted to engage in campaign activities directed at city employees while those employees are at their workplace or engaged in work for the city.
Likewise, city staff shall not engage in any work in support of a candidate or a registered third party during hours in which a person is working for the city, except during scheduled time off such as vacation or leave of absence.
Going one step further, staff shall not wear, post or distribute campaign material on behalf of a candidate or registered third party in any city facility or on city property.
In at least one previous election, there appeared to be infringements on some of these policies.
GAPS IN DOWNTOWN CCTV COVERAGE
Coun. Steve Peters at the April 4 council meeting requested a report from staff dealing with the CCTV cameras in the downtown core.
In an exchange of emails between Peters and St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge, some gaps in coverage have been identified.
The gap in question appears to be at St. Catharine and Talbot streets.
Peters wants to know what role, if any, the city can play “as ultimate funding advisors in addressing some of these gaps that may exist.
“We know Chief Herridge has some items on his radar screen and would look forward to asking for a report back as to how we could potentially play a role as a council and as a city.
In May of 2020, 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.
In total, $70,000 in funding was made available to purchase equipment and implement the first phase. The St. Thomas Downtown Development Board contributed $10,000 while a local business donated $50,000. The remaining $10,000 was expected to come from the city.
This was beefed up by $90,000 in provincial government funding.
At the time, we talked with Insp. Steve Bogart who stressed, “I really do not perceive that it’s a violent, crime-ridden area, it is not. We want to contribute to creating a positive environment.
“We want to create a feeling that it is safe and more secure through that environmental design we can assist with.”
I’LL VOTE WITH THEM
As noted here last week, council was asked to rescind the city’s proof of vaccination policy covering members of council, committee appointments, current city employees, volunteers, students and new hires.
During the discussion on the motion, Coun. Jim Herbert put forth his concerns.
“I’m just concerned at how the world is changing again with another variant rolling through.
“I’d hate to think we’re dropping the requirements and then all of a sudden in two weeks they recommend we put these policies back in place.
“Personally, I think it’s a good thing to keep it (the policy) in place.
“I don’t know what other municipalities are doing, I know they are basing all these guidelines on the Ministry of Health, but I just feel we could be more proactive by keeping it in place rather than dropping it right now.”
Valid observations on Herbert’s part.
So, what happened when it came time for the recorded vote?
Herbert stated, “I’ll say yes.”
Yes to rescinding the city’s vaccination policy, despite expressing concerns.
Once again Coun. Herbert has cast aside his political convictions and voted with the majority.
Swimming upstream must not be his forte.
There is a new player on the political landscape in Ontario.
The New Blue Party of Ontario aims to field a candidate in every riding in the province for the June 2 election.
The prospective candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London is Matt Millar of Lambeth.
He describes himself as a small ‘c’ conservative who believes in reducing the size and power of government and returning more autonomy and responsibility to individuals.
He is opposed to COVID-19 lockdowns, mandates and vaccination passports.
He ran for Ward 9 councillor in London in the 2018 municipal election, finishing second to incumbent Anna Hopkins.
We’ll take a closer look at Millar next week in this corner.
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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.