He’s the owner of DeNeire’s Gallery of Fine Art in downtown St. Thomas and now Shawn DeNeire is plunging into the fine art of municipal politics.
As of yesterday (Aug. 12), NeNeire was one of 10 individuals seeking to fill eight councillor seats at city hall.
DeNeire was born and raised in St. Thomas and was a Central Elgin Collegiate grad although he also spent time at Arthur Voaden Secondary School and Parkside Collegiate Institute.
Ask why he is eager to sit around the horseshoe in the council chamber and DeNeire will relay the following observation.
“I’ve talked to several businesses on Talbot Street and they haven’t had one council person come down in the last four years and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? I’m so and so and have you got any concerns?’
“Not one. And that bothers me. Who are we being paid by? The taxpayers.
“Who should be in our best interest? The taxpayers.”
I am sure there are members of council who will challenge the above and they have been seen patronizing downtown establishments.
Perhaps as the October 24 election draws nigh, they will be more visible in the core although problems at the city’s emergency shelter could be a contributing factor to their presence.
Which plays into DeNeire’s strong opinions on homelessness and The Inn.
“You know the homelessness is one thing. It doesn’t necessarily group together with mental health and drug addiction.
“The unfortunate thing,” continues DeNeire, “society is bringing it all together and that’s not always true.
“I would like to see homelessness is separate from the drug rehabs and or the clinics where they get their free fixes.”
It would appear DeNeire may not be a booster of harm reduction.
As for The Inn, he points out, “Unfortunately it’s a 40-bed facility and there’s no green space and they let them run amok.
“What does that do for the rest of the community, especially businesses?
“They should have thought about that before they allowed them to rent city-owned property that wasn’t suited for it to begin with.”
DeNeire makes it clear he is not opposed to The Inn, “it’s just the location.”
And that, stresses DeNeire, has some members of council back-tracking.
“How many things need to happen before they wake up? The meth clinics that were established here a few years ago, look what that did to the downtown core.
“They didn’t learn by that?
“Now they’ve done this and they’ve got a couple of councillors who, all of a sudden, are back-tracking saying, ‘Oh, gee maybe we’ve made a mistake.’
“It’s going to be families losing their homes. What are they going to do and where are they going to go?”
“What you’re doing is being hypocritical because you’re afraid you’re going to end up losing your seat come October.”
He asks why not move the shelter out to any vacant building in the industrial area in the city’s north end.
“With acreage for a lot and it’s usually fenced in. The property is big enough to put a green space in. The buildings are big enough to put in lodging, medical and training back into society all under one roof.”
I’m sure Sean Dyke over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. would confirm there is little if any vacant space available.
As for mental health issues, DeNeire warns the issues are only going to get worse.
“And it’s going to have nothing to do with drug addiction or alcohol.
“It’s going to be families losing their homes. What are they going to do and where are they going to go?
“It’s almost like the government wants this to happen.”
So where do you begin to address these societal issues?
“I’m not going to put a team together. I’m not going to script up something to say in these debates. I’m going to speak the truth.”
“We need to get (Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP) Rob Flack on board. Earl Taylor (chairman of the Downtown Development Board) and myself and a bunch of other business owners and property owners got together and we put all our views and issues, which are basically all the same but hearing it from a group instead of individuals all the time, we’re going to put a presentation together for city council.
“Not that it’s going to make a lot of difference, but we also want to draw Rob Flack into the fray.”
Then there’s the issue of public transit, which needs “a major overhaul,” according to DeNeire.
“You’ve got a bus stop and people wait there for 40 minutes or more wondering where the hell is the bus and you look at the sign and it says call for a bus.
“Are you kidding me?
“How many seniors have a cell phone and how many know to use it?
“I’m sorry, that doesn’t cut it.”
And to DeNeire, seniors and children are critical.
“I’m old school. There are three words that are going to be on the campaign, accountability, integrity and trust.”
“The west end, I’ve got friends who live down there in the Grand Central (apartments) and they’ve been taking videos of the stuff that is going on down there.
“Those seniors are afraid to leave their apartments to go to the Foodland to do their shopping.
“What’s going on down there? The light is horrendous. It’s like you’re walking down a dark alley.
“When you pull the west end, the transit, the homeless and the drug addiction, my main concern are seniors and the kids and those cover all the bases.”
DeNeire makes it clear he will run a no-frills campaign.
“I’m not going to put a team together. I’m not going to script up something to say in these debates.
“I’m going to speak the truth.
“Someone asks me a question, I’m going to answer with the truth. And, based on fact.
“I’m not going to script something up and sound like a salesman.
“No, no, no, that’s not me.”
But you will see him going door to door.
“I’m old school. There are three words that are going to be on the campaign, accountability, integrity and trust.
“Where are those these days?
“Yeah, sure anybody can campaign online, but where is the emotion?
“There isn’t any.
“You talk to someone face to face and you’re accountable for every word you say.”
His take on what a new city council should look like after the Oct. 24 vote?
“So, I think we get a couple of people on there with fresh minds, fresh ideas on the front line with what’s going on, voicing the opinions of the people.
“Do I know that’s going on now or in the past?
“No, but I tell you if I do get on there, they are going to get it.”
THE CITY’S ADVOCACY PLAN
The city will send a delegation to next week’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario’s (AMO) annual conference in Ottawa.
The representatives include Mayor Joe Preston, councillors Gary Clarke and Jim Herbert and city manager Sandra Datars Bere.
Topics of interest for the city at this year’s gathering include the following, according to a city media release.
“Advocacy for resources to create new and augment existing mental health supports, funding to assist with the costs of environmental remediation of brownfields to support residential development on former rail lands, increased support for inter-community transportation connections and initiatives, and support for opportunities to work with local school boards to address concerns surrounding future growth planning and existing overcrowding challenges at area schools.”
The city has put together an 18-page Provincial Advocacy Plan that “showcases the ongoing priorities and directions of council as they relate to working with the elected provincial government to realize our strategic plan goals of being a compassionate, vibrant and thriving community.”
According to the plan, the city is focussing on eight priorities:
Increase regional transit connections
Deliver on affordable/supportive housing
Continue mitigation funding for public health
Enhance mental health supports
Support brownfield remediation
Repair airport infrastructure
Address WSIB issues
Support for improved school board & municipal relations
The plan stresses, “Connecting the City of St. Thomas and the City of London via accessible and convenient transit is vital to the ongoing success and growth of our region.”
It then advises, “Provincial support is necessary to leverage our communities forward and enable connected, accessible, and future-ready transit in the region.
“St. Thomas calls on the Ontario government to deliver increased support for inter-community transit initiatives.”
Concerning housing it is noted, “St. Thomas has experienced a significant spike in housing costs including rental rates. Additionally, the vacancy rate has decreased significantly from 3.4% in 2020 to 1.9% in 2021.”
“for increased opportunity for collaboration and information sharing with local school boards and the province in order to work together and assess the impact of new developments on long-term student accommodation and capacity planning.”
The plan outlines the two projects undertaken by the city in partnership with Indwell. These are the Railway City Lofts and the 45 apartment units now being constructed on Queen Street.
The city points out to the province, “To continue this progress, the City of St. Thomas calls on the Ontario government’s support to acquire additional funding to establish a third partnership with Indwell, intended to create an additional 68 units, again on city-owned land, as well seek funding for other projects being contemplated in partnership with the YWCA/Sanctuary Homes and Canadian Mental Health Association Thames Valley Addictions and Mental Health Services.”
As for public health funding, the city is calling on the Minister of Health “to provide an update on mitigation funding (as a result of increased spending due to the pandemic) and the review of public health services.”
The city would like the province “to support and provide resources to create new and augment existing mental health supports which are essential in the community and for those most in need.”
With a look toward brownfield remediation, the city’s plan advises, “St. Thomas is somewhat distinctive, however, from other municipalities in that its brownfield sites are located throughout the municipality. Occupying and encumbering some very large and strategically located vacant parcels of land, mostly outside of the industrial area of the city, they consist primarily of abandoned rail lands.”
As such, the city is asking for “support from the Ontario Government for a provincial incentive program and/or direct funding to assist with the costs of environmental remediation to support residential development on former rail lands. This would include a request for funding for all remediation activities including site cleaning and safe transportation of contaminated soils to appropriate waste deposit areas.”
With approximately 70 individuals employed by companies within the St. Thomas Municipal Airport complex, with a projected total of 91 within the next year, the city would like provincial support “for resources to complete needed infrastructure repairs to the runways at the municipal airport.”
With the city employing over 500 staff, it would like the province to listen to its WSIB concerns which include: employer costs of managing the WSIB system have increased to be cost prohibitive, delays in the adjudication and appeals system have grown, and affected employees are facing increased and unnecessary stress.”
The city would like the province to “listen to these concerns and provide their assistance and support to address ongoing issues.”
And finally, with the issue of new schools and existing school capacity, the city is requesting support “for increased opportunity for collaboration and information sharing with local school boards and the province in order to work together and assess the impact of new developments on long-term student accommodation and capacity planning.”
It is quite the wish list from the city and it will be most important for those conference delegates to report back to the rest of council, staff and residents of St. Thomas on how the plan was received and the next step forward.
A GAME-WINNER FOR MASTERS 45 HOCKEY
No overtime was needed, the Thursday night hockey league keeps its ice time and the St. Thomas Minor Hockey Association will have to be flexible in finding available bookings for its needs.
David Smith is the president and convenor of the men’s recreational league which includes 128 players on eight teams. He made a deputation to council this past Monday (Aug. 8) in which he sought an unsportsmanlike penalty to be called in the city’s plan to move fire their time slot over to minor hockey.
He got a unanimous vote from council to hold on to the ice time they have enjoyed for 26 years.
Of course, it helps when you have the likes of city treasurer Dan Sheridan, former city councillor David Warden, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge and Const. Travis Sandham as players – current or former – in the M45 league.
Smith closed his presentation to council by pointing out that the current ice rental policy is 12 years old.
“It needs some addendums or it needs to follow its mission. I am truly hoping that this presentation is not M45’s valediction.”
All of this despite Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands’ effort to deflect from the issue at hand with her dialogue on this country’s Number 1 sport being, in fact, swimming.
Should have been an obvious call for delay of game.
COUNTDOWN TO FILE
The deadline to file nomination papers for the Oct. 24 municipal vote is 2 p.m. next Friday, Aug. 19.
As of now, there is only one candidate for mayor, that being the incumbent Joe Preston.
There are 10 individuals seeking eight seats on council which, at his point, is pretty good odds for all involved.
The only addition to the list this week is Bruce Smith, who is seeking to be one of two Elgin county trustees on the Thames Valley District School Board.
As is the case in major league sports when the trade deadline approaches, will there be a flurry of activity in the coming week?
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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.