‘There is a need to try and make sure our council represents a little bit more of the population that we see here’ – St. Thomas municipal council candidate Petrusia Hontar

She is taking a second run for a seat on city council in the fall municipal election. And, Petrusia Hontar, project manager at St. Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership stresses she doesn’t have all the answers to all of the issues. So, suggests Hontar, open up a dialogue with those individuals and groups who can provide insight. “My answer is always going to be who can we bring to the table to be more informed on this decision? “I think that is a really strong piece I am advocating for.” Hontar finished 14th in a field of 19 candidates for councillor with 1,995 votes in 2018. For Hontar, establishing a safe injection site was a priority in that campaign, along with more affordable housing in conjunction with a housing strategy. And while she applauds the city’s efforts to increase the supply of assisted and affordable housing, Hontar says it’s time to take a more strategic approach to housing. “We definitely need to do more,” stresses Hontar. “We need to look a little more at being strategic in the way we plan for things. “I really believe in mixed communities and not just creating one whole area that caters to one socio-demographic group. “So look at how we can have mixed-use spaces.” Part of Hontar’s motivation when declaring her intent to run in the October 24 municipal election is to push for a more diverse city council. She says, “I’m here to bring ideas of decision-making, a younger perspective as I’m just under 40. “And I’m hoping we can find ways that the municipality can make decisions and stay out of the way to let our community thrive and be as incredible as I know it can be.” Hontar continues, “There is a need to try and make sure our council represents a little bit more of the population that we see here. “I would call on more females to put their name forward. And, more people from diverse backgrounds. “We have people who may have immigrated here who are now citizens and we need to get them to put their name in.” “I think having experiences from different communities, from different populations will only make this place richer. “The motto of the city is strength through progress and, unfortunately, we haven’t seen very much turnover in our council and we need to have some progress and we need to change who is making decisions and bring new life and new ideas to the table.” As an aside, this corner wrote about this very issue exactly one year ago when the decision was made to fill a pair of council vacancies with former councillors instead of seizing on an opportunity to add some diversity to the table.

“With us not having a ward system, I believe there are huge blocks of our community that are just not being brought to the table and their concerns are not being brought up.”

We specifically brought forward Hontar’s name at that time. There is a link below to that post. Picking up from her initial campaign four years ago, Hontar stresses she really believes in the harm-reduction model when dealing with addiction issues. “Currently we have some services in place that do use the harm-reduction model and there is some incredible work being done. “But clearly, it’s not meeting the needs of the really vulnerable population, so every single group that is doing something to support this population should be part of decision making at the municipal level.” And finally, Hontar has concerns about the voting options available in this year’s municipal election. “I am a little bit concerned with the decision to go to a completely online voting system. “There are a lot of people who are not comfortable with technology and I’m not even sure they have access to their democratic right to vote.” As she noted four years ago, Hontar is a proponent of the electoral ward system. She concluded, “With us not having a ward system, I believe there are huge blocks of our community that are just not being brought to the table and their concerns are not being brought up. “So, I’m looking to see how we can increase democracy in our community, as well.” The second link below will take you to our post dealing with the online voting system to be used this fall. Related post:
Councillors are willing to do ‘a circus performance’ for childcare facility; the mayor would rather deflect
Internet voting: ‘It’s all about balancing risks and benefits’
IT’S TIME TO TALK Nothing like a major land acquisition to launch the rumour mill into a frothy frenzy. Speculation is rampant after the city announced last month it was assembling a package of more than 800 acres to attract a sizeable economic investment from a major industrial player. A battery production facility seems plausible. In addition, how about a courier distribution centre? Is the airport somehow involved based on the alignment of the properties? What is the involvement, if any, of the province? Do they have a financial stake? You have to wonder what was the scuttlebutt decades ago when Ford snatched up hundreds of acres for what became the St. Thomas Assembly Plant? So, Bill Walters says “It’s time to talk.” Walters is a man of the land who also dabbled in politics including a stint as mayor of Central Elgin. We called over to the farm this week to get a sense of what is going down and boy did we get a tractor load of opinion. So much so that he directed us to a posting of his on a Port Stanley social media site. He wrote, “It has been long enough, we deserve to have some answers and some indication of what the 800-acre land acquisition by St. Thomas means for each of the municipalities. “St. Thomas, Central Elgin and the County of Elgin should be providing some answers to the residents’ and taxpayers’ concerns that are being asked.” Walters notes his involvement in local politics, including the honour of being a former Warden of the County of Elgin and he points out, “Never has there been such a large and dramatic announcement as the land acquisition without corresponding statements or joint press releases with signatures and statements of both the mayors of St. Thomas and Central Elgin and the warden of the county. “It seems extremely odd and confusing that Mayor Joe Preston is the sole spokesperson for this land acquisition and Mayor Sally Martyn’s comments are that she is directed by the province to remain silent.” Hmmm, that might shed light on our pondering above about possible provincial involvement. Walters notes that 60 per cent of the lands being acquired are within the Municipality of Central Elgin. He asks, “What does this mean to the ratepayers with this proposed large loss of tax base and assessment?

“Central Elgin has had hundreds of acres zoned commercial/industrial east of Centennial Avenue for over 60 years. To date, we do not have one plant located there and yet we have partnered with the City of St. Thomas all these years with our planning and development.”

“Is our agricultural base and related industries any less important to our community than anything new that might be proposed . . .?” Walters points out that the land acquisition will not only have a serious impact on local farmers but will also have a direct effect on a number of related industries such as processing and feed mills. “A huge ripple effect will be lost support for local insurance companies, farm machinery dealers, crop input suppliers, hardware stores, community organizations and local events.” Walters notes, “Central Elgin has had hundreds of acres zoned commercial/industrial east of Centennial Avenue for over 60 years. “To date, we do not have one plant located there and yet we have partnered with the City of St. Thomas all these years with our planning and development.” And Walters wonders, with growth of that size, will it make our communities any better? “Will we be any better able to get a family doctor, will our schools still be overcrowded, will our small commercial businesses that are affected by the loss of agricultural lands be able to continue to contribute and support our hospital, hospice and our community?” Walters says there are hundreds of undeveloped industrial lands in Southwold previously owned by the Ford Motor Company and with Central Elgin’s supply, “Don’t we have enough industrial developable lands without taking more.” A recent Canadian Press news item noted 319 acres of land in Ontario each day are taken out of production. That amounts to 116,435 acres lost in a year. Hard to comprehend just how much that is. Well, Tom Martin, who owns land just to the south of the properties in question and across from St. Thomas Municipal Airport puts that figure into perspective. He says imagine a stretch of land 1 km wide and 455 km long or the distance from St. Thomas to just east of Kingston. That’s in one year. Walters reminds Aug. 19 is the deadline for candidates to file nomination papers for the fall municipal vote. He suggests “Those who have already filed . . . should be aware and sharing their thoughts and opinions about our future. “I hope even those who don’t run will make their concerns better known. “Enough is enough. Let’s hear and know more about our local communities’ futures, now.” Related post:
Land acquisition sends a clear message St. Thomas is actively seeking to attract a significant manufacturing investment
WILL COUNCIL TEE OFF ON MINI-GOLF? Following up on the June 13 public meeting, council will be asked Monday (July 11) to approve a proposed zoning bylaw amendment needed to permit an 18-hole miniature golf course on the vacant lot at 79-83 Elm Street, immediately to the west of the Pinafore Park entrance. Vyvyan Campbell is seeking to enter into a 20-year lease agreement with owner Don McCaig to establish the mini-putt layout on the two-acre property. If approved by council the land would remain zoned residential. In his report to council Jim McCoomb, Manager of Planning Services indicates, “If the mini-putt operation is successful then the city benefits from a new destination activity, but if it is not there will not be significant changes to the land to prevent its easy conversion for residential use.” At the public meeting, councillors Steve Wookey and Joan Rymal expressed concerns about taking residential land out of use. McCoomb concludes, “With respect to precedent, staff have supported this proposal only because of the site-specific considerations of the location of the land. Staff would not support this type of use in the heart of a residential subdivision. “However, this site is located on a busy arterial road, across the street from a manufacturing use and surrounded on two sides by Pinafore Park. Staff believe that these attributes warrant consideration of the proposed use, which will offer an additional family activity to those offered by the park.” Related post:
Invigorated by the accomplishments of this council, Jeff Kohler is pursuing another term at St. Thomas city hall
PURE COINCIDENCE? Margaret Barrie, chair and Cherisse Swarath, interim executive director, of Inn Out of the Cold will be in attendance at Monday’s council meeting to present information on shelter services. Will they also address concerns raised by Brad Beausoleil, who owns several properties in St. Thomas, including 6 Princess Avenue which is adjacent to The Inn, the city’s recently opened emergency shelter? He recently wrote to Mayor Joe Preston about the “increased vandalism, damage, trespassing and general disgusting activity” he has had to deal with over the past six months. Don’t be surprised if there is a presence from some downtown merchants in the gallery Monday. Related post:
STEGH is facing capacity challenges and hospitals across the province “are having to adjust their services based on the staff that are not available”
SPEAKING OF WHICH The public gallery in the council chamber at city hall will reopen for Monday’s meeting which begins at 5 p.m. Those wishing to attend future council meetings in person can be seated in the upper gallery, located on Level 4 at city hall. If you plan to attend you have to enter city hall through the northeast doors off the rear parking lot. 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. city_scope_logo-cmyk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s