“It’s quite fun to be here . . . and it’s pretty exciting.”
That was Mayor Joe Preston’s giddy reaction to Monday’s (Nov. 21) swearing-in procedure for the incoming council.
It was also the occasion of his inaugural speech to open the very first meeting – albeit ceremonial in nature – of this new council.
Preston prefaced his remarks to council, staff and the residents of St. Thomas by praising all of the individuals who put forth their names for office.
“To all of the other candidates who ran in this race, and it was as pleasant and good a group as I have ever been associated with . . . I’d take that whole group and we could do great things with it but this is the group that has been elected.”
Preston continued, “So could we please ask those candidates, put your heart into St. Thomas still and help us make St. Thomas a better place and come to us if you need help. We’ll certainly be there to help you do it.
“To our St. Thomas team, to the hundreds of employees and directors that this community has that over this last term of council and now, going forward, will continue to do the hard work that a great staff in a city does.”
He then paid tribute to the two members who did not seek re-election.
“I wanted to say thank you again to Joan Rymal and Mark Burgess who decided at the end of the last council not to re-enter the race and stay with us.
“The work that they did in the last four years – or most of four years, Mr. Burgess joined us part way through – was equal to the task.
“And also, since that last first day of council, we had sitting in these chairs Mark Tinlin and Linda Stevenson, two other great members of parliament but, not through their choice, did leave. They passed on during the last council and I miss them both, dearly.
Both were great advisors to me in my first term and so thank you Mark and thank you, Linda.”
Preston then delved into the nitty-gritty of the path he would like to see council head in over the next four years.
A council he praised as his “dream team.”
He elaborated, “I asked what could we get that would be the best to move St. Thomas forward in the way we were doing so and what else we can do.
“Look, this is as good as it gets from a council. We will have a hard time messing this up, folks, so let’s work together to make it work.”
“As the fastest-growing city in southwestern Ontario, we must act like where we want to be and not where we have been. This means this council must fulfill our destiny and achieve smart growth in the city with the assets available to it.”
Preston went out on a limb with an ambitious objective. He committed the new council to hitting a target of 500 housing units built each year over the four terms of this council.
“And, it doesn’t mean all single-family housing. Five hundred units include supportive housing as the previous council has done and is doing under the new council.
Preston added, “Together, we will continue to build a thriving, safe and compassionate city for all residents.”
He has great expectations not only for himself but the new council over its four-year term.
“As the fastest-growing city in southwestern Ontario, we must act like where we want to be and not where we have been.
“This means this council must fulfill our destiny and achieve smart growth in the city with the assets available to it.
“I look forward to this team taking the assets of our city to a great new level.
“That they looked ahead, they saw the future and they went there. They looked forward and no one was left behind.”
Preston noted council must focus on exceptional and smart growth, supportive and market rent housing and jobs.
“With our large land acquisition (the 800 acres east of Highbury Avenue) in order to grow great new jobs in our community, we’ve got to prove to anybody who will come to start a new business in St. Thomas that we have the employment base they will need to do those jobs.
“So let’s work together on that.”
Preston closed by stressing council must look forward while leaving no one in the city behind.
“That they looked ahead, they saw the future and they went there. They looked forward and no one was left behind.
“And they looked forward to finding the best ways to grow using all of the partners that we have in the city and we will help lead, but we need lots more partners in our city and certainly the other levels of government.”
HOW ARE WE TRENDING?
Up until the start of fall, little attention had been paid for quite some time to the COVID dashboard, updated weekly on the Southwestern Public Health website.
That has changed with the triple threat of the flu, RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) and COVID which is taxing the resources of hospitals across the province.
Just this week, the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre announced it has made the difficult decision to reduce surgeries as it reports daily visits to its emergency department are 80 per cent higher than usual and its inpatient beds are well over capacity.
The move will allow teams to prioritize urgent, time-sensitive surgeries and help manage patients admitted to critical care and in-patient units.
And on Wednesday of this week (Nov. 23), the health unit launched an enhanced COVID-19 dashboard (see photo) which not only showcases raw data but also assesses the risk to the community associated with that data.
According to epidemiologist Kerry Bastian, since the original dashboard launched, almost 290,000 people have visited the site.
Bastian points out, “We don’t recall a time in our history that there was such an interest in the intricacies of the data that drives public health decision-making.”
“. . . individuals and health system partners such as long-term care homes and hospitals to more easily interpret their personal risk or the risk of those they care for and act accordingly.”
The updated dashboard highlights four indicators: confirmed cases, per cent positivity, new hospitalizations and active outbreaks.
And then, an indication of whether those domains are trending upward or down. And the risk assessment is labelled as low, moderate, high or very high.
So what does the provision of this enhanced date mean?
Bastian notes it will allow “individuals and health system partners such as long-term care homes and hospitals to more easily interpret their personal risk or the risk of those they care for and act accordingly.”
The new dashboard is updated every Tuesday and can be found at https://www.swpublichealth.ca/en/reports-and-statistics/covid-19-dashboard.aspx
For the week ending Nov. 19, the overall COVID-19 risk level was high, but compared to the previous week it is trending downward.
A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF DISCRIMINATION
In February of this year, city council received a report that unpacked the experiences of discrimination in St. Thomas and Elgin county.
It contained the results of a survey undertaken by the St.Thomas-Elgin Local Immigration Partnership (STELIP).
The report noted, “Discrimination is happening in locations that are managed by the City of St. Thomas and this reality needs to be addressed.”
Secondly, the document stated, “With no immigrants, visible minorities, nor Indigenous People represented on the City of St. Thomas Council, this report can help all of us better understand how these groups are experiencing life in our community.”
You can read a copy of that report at https://www.stthomas.ca/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=18316516 beginning at page 40 of the agenda.
STELIP is undertaking a second discrimination survey in partnership with Western University’s Network for Social and Economic Trends.
To complete the survey, 30 volunteers are sought who will be interviewed about experiences of discrimination that immigrants and racialized people (often called visible minorities) may have faced in the community.
” . . . is if someone feels they have been discriminated against, that is important information for us to know.”
We talked this week with Fiona Murray, community coordinator with STELIP about the undertaking.
She explained the interview with survey participants is conducted via Zoom in the language of their choice and should take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes.
Participants will receive a $30 gift card as compensation for their time.
The hope is to answer the question, what does discrimination look like?
Murray said, “Specifically, we are looking for people who experienced discrimination in any area in the last three years in a public place.”
That could include a job setting, any public space or a situation involving the police.
“We are not an organization that makes policy recommendations per se. But hopefully it will be a tool people in the community can use.”
The bottom line, adds Murray “is if someone feels they have been discriminated against, that is important information for us to know.”
As was the case with the initial survey, the findings will be made public on STELIP’s website.
Once posted Murray advised, “in the case of the city or the police, if they want to take that data we have made public and then use that to inform their policies or decisions, that is our hope.
“Obviously, that is not something we are particularly controlling, but hopefully by making this information available that really can (occur).”
Murray stressed the final report – as was the case with the initial survey – will not make recommendations.
“We are not an organization that makes policy recommendations per se.
“But hopefully it will be a tool people in the community can use.”
To find out more or to participate in the survey visit https://stelip.ca/projects/experiences-of-discrimination-survey-st-thomas-and-elgin/#qualitativesurvey
The first regular meeting of the new city council will be 5 p.m. on Dec. 5.
Immediately following – projected to be around – 5:30 p.m., council begins preliminary deliberations on the 2023 municipal budget.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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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.