“We must act like where we want to be and not where we have been” – St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston’s expectation for the next four years of council


city_scope_logo-cmyk“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.
City council 2022 inaugurationBoth 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.

coviddashboard

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.”
Discrimination in St. Thomas and ElginSecondly, 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

Related post:

St. Thomas municipal council asked to renew its commitment to addressing discrimination in the community

COMING UP

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.

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For Devon Church, what St. Thomas municipal council needs is a candidate with ‘lived experience’


city_scope_logo-cmykAs 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.

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‘No half measures for me. It’s about dreaming big’ – St. Thomas city council hopeful, Gregg McCart


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’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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‘Accountability, integrity and trust, where are those these days?’ – St. Thomas council candidate Shawn DeNeire


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’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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Invigorated by the accomplishments of this council, Jeff Kohler is pursuing another term at St. Thomas city hall


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’s the longest-serving mayor/alderman/councillor currently in St. Thomas and earlier this month, Jeff Kohler declared his intention to seek another four-year term on city council.
Kohler has served in that capacity since 2010, but his introduction to municipal politics is a story unto itself.
He first threw his hat into the ring in 1997 and finished as third runner-up in that year’s municipal vote.
Referencing Eric Bunnell’s People column from April of 2000, Ald. Helen Cole had announced her resignation and council met behind closed doors to unanimously agree Kohler should fill the vacant seat.
The top vote-getter in 1997, Terry Shackelton had already moved on to council and the next hopeful in line, former alderman Hugh Shields, declined the appointment to council.

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Poverty to possibility: ensuring affordable and supportive housing is on the radar of EML candidates in the June provincial vote


city_scope_logo-cmykThe first Elgin-Middlesex-London candidate forum for the June 2 provincial election was held this past Tuesday at the St. Thomas Public Library.
Hosted by the Elgin-St. Thomas Coalition to End Poverty, the two-hour session featured 10 questions from coalition members relating to poverty, homelessness, a living wage and mental health issues.
The three hopefuls present were PC candidate Rob Flack, Liberal candidate Heather Jackson and NDP candidate Andy Kroeker.
Moderated by the myFM news team featuring Kennedy Freeman and myself, the event kicked off what will be a hectic 28-day runup to the election itself.
Not present for the forum but who have now declared their candidacy are Matt Millar from the New Blue Party of Ontario, Brigitte Belton of the Ontario Party and Amanda Stark of the Green Party of Ontario.

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‘There’s a lot of opportunity in the region right now,’ but do we have the labour pool to support it?


city_scope_logo-cmykWith two area employers seeking more than 3,500 workers, at first glance, it would appear to be a rosy picture for job seekers in St. Thomas, Elgin county and neighbouring municipalities.
More so in light of two years of economic fallout related to the pandemic.
But there are other factors at play when you consider employers here and across the province are coping with a labour shortage.
We talked this week with Sean Dyke, CEO of St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation to ascertain the impact this will have on smaller firms already hunting for employees.
How easy will it be to find 2,000 or so employees for the Amazon fulfillment centre north of Talbotville plus 1,500 workers for the Maple Leaf Foods plant in south London, both opening next year?
“I do think they will be able to draw from a wide range of areas in the surrounding region,” suggested Dyke.

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Addressing homelessness, addiction and mental health issues . . . how do we collectively get on the same page?


city_scope_logo-cmykHe’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.”

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Ceremony on a vacant lot at 16 Queen Street in St. Thomas a case of ‘standing on the ground of compassion’


city_scope_logo-cmykThanks 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.

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