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.
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.
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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.
It’s not a situation unique to St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital (STEGH) as facilities across the province are grappling with staffing challenges, inpatient overcapacity and stressed emergency departments. All of which is creating capacity challenges which ultimately impact those requiring emergency care. In an interview with Karen Davies, STEGH president and CEO, on Thursday (June 30), she confided that the hospital is dealing with a more than 30 percent increase in ER visits. “In March of this year, we were seeing about 900 patients a week and now we’re seeing over 1,200 patients. “And so the impact in our emergency department and also our inpatient side where we added 22 new beds in the early days of the pandemic. “All 22 of those beds are full.”
Earlier this month, the province announced the St. Thomas Police Service is to receive $786,925 in funding for community-based safety and policing initiatives.
That should be tempered by the fact funding is spread over three years.
A portion of the money will support an initiative to deal with a modern-day reality in the majority of communities across Ontario while the remainder will support a local program that is a throwback to policing from a bygone era.
In the first scenario, the funding will allow for a uniform officer to remain with the Mobile Outreach Support Team (MOST) to ensure a public safety presence.
As Chief Chris Herridge observed a year ago in this corner, “Our community is facing increasing social-related issues resulting in a rise in crime and a feeling of being unsafe in our downtown.
“We immediately need a ‘boots on the ground’ professional health team (mental health, medical, addictions, housing, etc.) in our downtown in partnership with the St. Thomas Police Service who will assist when public safety is a concern.
“The police require a team of experts so we can triage these health-related calls and the appropriate assistance/supports can be provided.”
It has been a significant week for housing news in St. Thomas.
A pair of announcements mid-week covered off a broad swath of the residential spectrum.
At Wednesday’s site plan control committee meeting, conditional approval was granted to Fast Forward Ventures of London for their 14-storey, 162-unit apartment building to rise on the south end of the former Timken Canada property near the intersection of First Avenue and Talbot Street.
The Timken plant closed in 2013 and was demolished and the site cleared in 2017.
The next day, the province announced $3 million in funding to develop 20 supportive housing units inside Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub now under construction at 16 Queen Street.
Let’s take a closer look at both developments – which Mayor Joe Preston described as “one more step in attacking the city’s housing shortage.”
He’s lived in the downtown core for 29 years and Steve Peters recounts over that time, “either sitting in my front window and watching the traffic on the street or sitting on my deck and hearing the traffic, things have changed.”
Boy, have they ever and Coun. Peters begins to open up on the challenges people face in finding a place to live in the heart of St. Thomas.
How much of that is due to what is referred to as the gentrification of downtown neighbourhoods?
“In the core area, the number of retrofits I have seen and continue to see,” suggested Peters.
“I am aware of a family that has had to move out of their place because the building has been sold and the new owner is coming in and is going to spend a lot of money to upgrade the place.
“I can look at a house beside me that is a fourplex and changed hands about four years ago and the new owner I bet spent over $200,000 or more and where this fourplex was probably renting for $600 is now renting for $1,200 plus utilities.”
Preserve a critical piece of property intrinsically linked to the city’s railway heritage or build 240 or so badly needed housing units in the downtown core. That’s the question to be put to members of the Elgin County Railway Museum early next month. St. Thomas developer Doug Tarry is offering to purchase eight acres of railway land immediately west of the museum at $300,000 per acre for low-rise residential development that would front on to a new street to be built off Ross Street and north of Jonas Street. The museum would remain, as would the transfer table to the east. Much of the existing yard track would have to be lifted to create a new yard to the north of the museum, maintaining the connection with the Port Stanley Terminal Rail line. The offer is conditional on the museum receiving approval of the membership. The reason for a possible sale of some of the excess land is to raise funds to go toward restoring the museum building – the former Michigan Central Railroad locomotive shops – while reducing ongoing operating costs. Proceeds from the sale will provide seed money to access additional loans and grants to allow for the complete restoration of the building.