It was less than encouraging news this week for St. Thomas and area businesses.
Ontario’s top doctor, Dr. Kieran Moore, advises he can’t offer any guarantee the current COVID-19 public health restrictions will be lifted on Jan. 26, even though in-class learning opens up on Monday.
Businesses across the province have been begging for greater clarity on the restrictions.
Dr. Moore says he understands their frustration, but any easing of restrictions will be tied to hospital and ICU cases.
There is an expectation, says Dr. Moore, the picture may become a little clearer sometime next week, however, those restrictions will be eased in a slow and careful fashion.
Just after announcing the move to a Modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen at the beginning of January, we talked with Earl Taylor, chairman of the Downtown Development Board to get a sense of the impact locally.
The news release Friday (Jan. 7) afternoon seemed to come out of nowhere and caught many by surprise.
MPP Jeff Yurek announced he would not seek re-election in the June provincial vote and he would resign from his seat at the end of February.
He opened the release with this observation.
“When I entered politics over ten years ago, I made three promises to myself: represent the people of Elgin-Middlesex-London to my fullest ability, remain authentic and true to my values and beliefs, and recognize when it is the right time to step down.”
The reason for Yurek’s decision to pack in provincial politics perhaps lies in the second promise noted above.
Values and beliefs are important to Yurek and, pandemic aside, his insistence on remaining true to those core truths surely put him in a philosophical conflict with Premier Doug Ford and his values and beliefs.
Well, it seems paper ballots are just so last election.
After substantial discussion Monday (Nov. 15) city council unanimously favoured a report from city clerk Maria Konefal calling for an all-electronic vote in the 2022 municipal election.
In other words, constituents will be able to vote by internet or telephone with no paper ballots. To accommodate those who prefer to vote in person, a system of mobile voting kiosks with computer tablets will be established.
Konefal advised there is some work to be done on the latter option but it will be in place for the municipal vote with clear directions on how to participate in this fashion.
In the 2018 municipal vote, electors cast paper ballots at one of four voting locations on voting day itself.
There was no in-person voting using paper ballots during the advance voting period and no electronic voting on voting day.
The Oct. 28 media release from the city announcing the hiring of a new fire chief was somewhat short on information.
The one-paragraph devoted to Kevin Welsh reads, “With over 27 years of experience, Chief Welsh currently serves as Chief in the Town of Renfrew after spending many years with Kingston Fire and Rescue.
“He holds a Masters of Public Administration from Queens University and a Bachelor of Arts from Waterloo.”
He assumes his new role on Nov. 15, so what better way to get to know the city’s new fire chief than to call down to Renfrew and find out who Kevin Welsh is.
He’s got a sense of humour as we quickly discovered when he asked about the short turnaround between his last day in Renfrew this coming Friday and on the job in St. Thomas starting Monday, Nov. 15.
“Well you’ve got a weekend in between, so it’s all good.” he pointed out.
You can easily hear the enthusiasm in his voice, noticeable when he explained he was to be in the city last weekend to begin house hunting.
Earlier this month, Jeff Yurek celebrated 10 years in provincial politics as MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Now a decade employed in the same field may seem fairly insignificant, however in the world of politics – at any level of government – that can feel like a lifetime.
Moreso of late with the transformation of the playing field into a highly divisive, confrontational and threatening battleground.
We talked at length this week with Yurek about his political career to date.
As we jokingly asked Yurek, what would possess a successful and popular downtown pharmacist to throw his hat in the political ring?
He admitted he has always had an interest in politics.
“I think it was the combination of being involved with the government of the day dealing with pharmacy issues. Everyone always looks back and wants to do better for the next generation.
“Opportunity arose and I thought I would put my name forward.”
Thanks to a critical partnership forged at the beginning of the year, the affordable housing inventory in St. Thomas will increase by more than 100 units in the next four years.
Teaming up with Indwell, the city can develop local solutions to homelessness.
That was the observation of Indwell CEO Jeff Neven Wednesday afternoon at the official groundbreaking of Phase 2 of the social services and housing hub evolving in the city’s west end.
Initially, it was hoped this building fronting Queen Street would begin to take shape in 2019, however, the numbers presented a soft business case and the project had to be put on hold, forcing the relocation of a childcare centre that was to be housed on-site.
As announced Wednesday, the four-storey structure expected to open in the spring of 2023 will contain 45 one-bedroom apartments and eventually a third fire hall.
Well, a new wrinkle in the city’s much-maligned grant policy.
As evident in the agenda for Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting, the city’s director of finance is now a gatekeeper in the grant application process, taking some of the heat off the mayor and council.
And, it’s not good news for two of the more recognized organizations in the city.
In his report to council, Dan Sheridan reminds members “Successful applications under the current (grant) policy are more likely to be for special events or one-time start-up funding for new community initiatives that align with council’s strategic priorities.”
Sheridan continues, “Grant applications that request funding for expenses that an organization incurs through its normal course of operations are not recommended for approval.
“These could be salaries, advertising or facility repairs, for example. Even costs that are one-time in nature can be considered operating costs if they are used to support the organization’s normal course of operations.”
Quite a tightening of the rules in what has been a loosey-goosey undertaking in the past.
Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March. Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley. Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring. “The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves. In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.” Did you catch the common theme here? Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager. Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council. After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
Councillors sent a clear message to Mayor Joe Preston and city manager Wendell Graves this past Monday. Push forward with the construction of an 88-space downtown childcare centre in an expedient fashion. Preston responded as he has in the past, by deflecting. In his report to council, Graves recommended retendering the project this fall with construction to be completed by the end of next year. The reason for the delay in going out to tender, advised Graves, is an increase in costs in the neighbourhood of $300,000 when the project was tendered last month. Putting the cost estimate in the $4.3 million range whereas just over $4 million has been budgeted for the badly needed childcare facility to be located on St. Catharine Street. “Childcare spaces in our community are desperately needed,” reminded Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands, “and I believe once we start coming out of COVID a little more rapidly, the people who are going to be requiring the service of daycare is going to be growing exponentially.”