For the past four years, the St. Thomas Fire Department has faced the equivalent of an internal multi-alarm blaze. And, it is to be hoped with the announcement this week of Kyle Smith’s promotion to deputy fire chief that the final embers of controversy have been suppressed. You have to delve back to August of 2017 and the death of popular fire chief Rob Broadbent to discover the source of the flames of discontent. The decision was made somewhere in the corridors of city hall to look elsewhere for a replacement for the outgoing, community-minded Broadbent. This is despite a strong candidate in Deputy Fire Chief Ray Ormerod who, according to some sources, was not even granted an interview. We’ll wend our way back to Ormerod shortly. So the search for a new chief ended in Chatham-Kent where the deputy chief in that municipality, Bob Davidson was deemed the ideal replacement. Davidson arrived in St. Thomas in January of 2018 only to abruptly tender his resignation in July 2021.
It was a critical talking point throughout this year’s municipal election campaign.
But homelessness and, in particular, its impact on the downtown core has been a front-burner issue now for several years.
To kick off the city council meeting this past Monday (Nov. 7) Danielle Neilson, the city’s Homelessness Prevention and Housing Programs Coordinator initiated a deep dive into the lives of homeless individuals in St. Thomas and Elgin.
Her presentation and subsequent Q & A consumed a good 30 minutes.
She kicked off her information session with a reminder, “I would like to start by acknowledging that the complexity, humanity and tragedy of the impact of homelessness on people’s lives in St. Thomas are no different from what people are experiencing across all of Canada today.”
She continued, “Experiences of homelessness today are the result of deep, historic, system-level errors that have accumulated over decades.
“Such as colonialism and divestments in affordable housing. These combined with other social inequities such as deep poverty, unresolved inter-generational trauma, an inflated and unaffordable housing market, the current cost of living crisis, the impacts of the pandemic – and these are just to name a few – have cumulatively increased housing instability, including occurrences of homelessness at a higher rate than we have ever seen historically before.
It’s a re-match of the 2018 mayoral campaign in St. Thomas, only this time around Heather Jackson is not the incumbent.
She filed her nomination papers on Aug. 19, the final day to do so, joining newcomer Gregg McCart in what became a last-minute three-horse race with Joe Preston seeking the nod for a second term.
Looking back at the 2018 race, Preston prevailed by 542 votes, quashing Jackon’s bid at a third term as mayor.
It’s not as if Jackson stepped away from the political spotlight, however.
She was the Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in this year’s June provincial election, finishing third to Conservative Rob Flack and the NDPs Andy Kroeker.
She polled 7,615 votes, almost double the number garnered by Liberal candidate Carlie Forsythe in the 2018 provincial vote.
As he campaigns for a seat on city council, Devon Church confidently proclaims when elected, not if.
Specifically, “When elected, I will be accountable, dedicated and propel council towards innovation and positive change.”
Church is a registered nurse at Southwestern Public Health who bemoans the lack of lived experience on the present council.
Church feels members of council “were mostly folks from a higher income level trying to figure out what to do with folks from lower incomes.”
Every candidate points to the need for solutions to issues plaguing the downtown core.
Church offers alternatives.
“I believe we need a downtown drop-in space that is accessible to all, that includes food and beds.”
But it is not the existing emergency shelter known as The Inn.
Note: Due to the death of Queen Elizabeth, the open house scheduled for Saturday at the CASO station has been postponed. We will update you when a new date has been announced.
At the end of last month, we featured a lengthy discussion with Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio on a proposed boundary alignment for the riding she represents.
Well, it’s coming down to crunch time when it comes to public input and Vecchio is hosting an open house next Saturday (Sept. 17) from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. at the CASO station to garner feedback from constituents.
We talked again this week about the impact new electoral boundaries proposed by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario could have on the outcome of federal and provincial elections in both St. Thomas and Elgin.
An important area that requires clarification is the adjustment to this riding and others across the country is not gerrymandering on the part of any political party, as is often the case south of the border.
New electoral boundaries proposed by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission for Ontario could have a significant impact on the outcome of federal and provincial elections in both St. Thomas and Elgin.
Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio is quick to admit she has concerns with the proposed re-alignment.
The aim is to have all ridings in the province fairly equal in population, around the 115,500 mark.
The new electoral roadmap was unveiled a week ago and it would see St. Thomas incorporated into a new riding to be known as London South–St. Thomas.
It would stretch north to Commissioners Road and the Thames River, east to Springwater Road to include Belmont and Mapleton, south to John Wise Line and west to Sunset/Westdel Bourne/Wonderland Road, but would not include Lambeth (see map).
The London South-St. Thomas riding has a population of over 120,000 right now, the majority of residents living in London.
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.
As the calls for Hockey Canada to be held accountable regarding their handling of a growing number of sexual assault allegations escalate, one local MP says it is time to reform the culture within not only that organization but within the Ministry of Sport.
The latter is the domain of MP Pascale St-Onge.
And, the Conservative Shadow Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth this week was one of three MPs who issued a statement on the pair of emergency committee hearings into those allegations.
That would be Elgin-Middlesex-London MP, Karen Vecchio.
In the statement, the trio asserts, “The hearings at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage into Hockey Canada’s involvement in allegations of sexual assault have heard the testimony of a secretive and unaccountable organization where allegations of sexual assault have been covered up.
“I think it’s very important that we keep in mind that the solution to homelessness is not an emergency shelter. “The solution to homelessness is housing and housing with supports.” That was the salient takeaway from the lengthy discussion at the July 11 council meeting revolving around The Inn, the city’s emergency shelter. The observation, which pivoted the dialogue back on track to long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes, was put forward by Danielle Neilson, the city’s homelessness and housing supervisor. She followed that with, “And, in our community, we have plans, not only in place or being considered, but actions that are working. “And, we have lots to be proud of in St. Thomas.” Proof of that was evident in a media release issued July 8 by Built For Zero, a program of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.