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.
After a nearly 35-year career with the St. Thomas Police Service – the last five at the helm – Chief Chris Herridge, this week announced he is retiring.
“It is time for a new journey,” noted Herridge.
Speaking with Herridge minutes before the official announcement on Thursday, he confided, “It is a personal and professional decision.”
He continued, “My family, Kim and the girls, have given up so much for my career in policing.
“The time has come, I have 34-plus years when it is all said and done and it’s time to give back to them. I’m a grandfather now.”
Like an athlete hanging up the cleats or skates, Herridge stressed, “It’s time.”
Herridge observed, “People always say you will realize it. I still love this job but as much as I love it, it’s time.”
To use another sports analogy, you are best to go out on a winning or high note.
“We have made tremendous strides in transforming into one of the most professional, advanced and transparent police services in Ontario,” noted Herridge.
“Leadership is about preparing, empowering and inspiring others to lead. Continue reading →
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.
She has yet to win a seat on city council and yet no candidate in the St. Thomas municipal election has more campaign experience than Rose Gibson.
This is her sixth run for the roses and, on that alone, you have to respect her tenacity.
In 2018 she finished 10th in a 19-candidate field, less than 500 votes away from knocking Jim Herbert out of the running.
Her first outing was in 2000 and she returned to the fray in 2003, 2010 and 2014. Of note, each time she secured more votes than in her previous attempt.
And that vote differential four years ago is the driving force in this campaign, advised Gibson.
“I have a good group of people who really believe in me. I think the voters last time believed in me.
“You know there is an area that you learn where you made your mistakes and I realize that.
We live today in a house so divided. However, yesterday (Friday) over the noon hour at city hall, a hundred or so individuals were able to cast aside their differences and unite in what the colour orange represents.
The sea of orange gathered to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
A day to remember but equally important to learn.
To learn what we were never taught in school.
The dark chapter in this country’s history.
A chapter finally seeing the light of day as a result of hundreds and ultimately thousands of unmarked graves of young children.
Young Indigenous children, the victims of cultural genocide.
Students snapped from their homes and shuffled off to residential schools where their identities were erased.
The last of which closed as recently as 1996.
It’s now a three-horse mayoral race in the Oct. 24 St. Thomas municipal vote. Joining Joe Preston is former mayor Heather Jackson and newcomer Gregg McCart, who admits it’s a daunting task trying to unseat a high-profile incumbent.
However, McCart feels he may have an advantage in one area, that being his experience in dealing with homelessness in the city.
With reference to Mayor Preston, he admits, “I kind of like the guy, to be honest. But I believe that he is too far away from this particular problem.”
That problem is the scourge of homelessness, particularly in the downtown core.
McCart continues, “I don’t want to say anything bad, but it is my peers who are suffering the most, as far as income levels.
“And I believe, because of that, I have an advantage over him. So, maybe I can do something.”
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After pitching in with the Heather Jackson campaign team in the June provincial vote, Timothy Hedden is turning his attention to this fall’s municipal vote.
This is his second run for a seat on city council. He was in a crowded field of 19 candidates, finishing 15th with 1,711 votes in the 2018 municipal election.
Hedden tells us he learned plenty from that unsuccessful run and now has a clearer understanding of the role of a city councillor.
“It’s an interesting role that I think I understand a lot better now having been through the process once and watching council meet and paying attention to the things they actually do.”
His understanding of a councillor’s responsibilities and mandates has matured over the past four years, and his campaigning on the plight of the homeless likewise has taken on a sharper focus.
“You might be able to stamp out not homelessness entirely because it is a revolving thing, but I think you can get to the point where there are very, very few individuals that we are having to help out.
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.
Eugene Francois made a brief video court appearance yesterday (June 24) at the Elgin County Courthouse.
He is facing 16 charges in relation to 10 victims who attended his Talbot Street residence – which is also his music studio – where he filmed individuals without their knowledge or consent.
The new charges include voyeurism, making child pornography and possession of child pornography.
St. Thomas Police believe there are more victims and they are asking females who attended his residence between 2009 and May of last year to contact their Criminal Investigation Branch if they have not done so already.
These new charges are in addition to human trafficking, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, traffic in persons under the age of 18, benefitting from trafficking and possession of child pornography charges laid one year ago.
He was arrested by St. Thomas Police on May 27 of 2021 after a search warrant was issued for his apartment.