After about a year’s worth of talks between Volkswagen, and the federal and provincial governments, the deal was made public this past Monday.
The automaker announced it was locating an electric-vehicle battery plant in St. Thomas.
It’s Volkswagen’s first overseas gigafactory.
It’s a logical choice given the city’s location, its proximity to essential minerals mined in Northern Ontario and required for production and the provincial deal just consummated that brings hundreds of acres of Central Elgin land into the confines of St. Thomas.
The plant will be operated by Volkswagen’s battery division, PowerCo.
Few details were made available on the size of the plant, the number of workers to be employed and how much will the deal ultimately cost taxpayers in this country.
More on that in a moment.
Following the announcement around noon on Monday, Mayor Joe Preston advised this is only the beginning.
“This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.” Coun. Linda Stevenson’s observation at the Jan. 16 reference committee was typical of the words of support from council members for the Hospice of Elgin, a 10-bed palliative care facility which, when built, would serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin county. Trouble is, neither municipality has come forward and put dollars on the table. Even though in September of last year, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott pledged $1.6 million pledge toward construction of the hospice at a yet-to-be-determined location. Plus, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs. Late last month, the county played its cards in the form of a letter from Warden Dave Mennill to city council advising municipal officials there resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support.” In a conversation with after this week’s reference committee, he elaborated further. “It won’t be financial support because we are tied to 2023.” That’s when the county’s financial commitment to The Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is fulfilled.
“All things are positive from the get-go.” That’s the upbeat assessment of the working environment at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association after the Southwest Local Health Integration Network took a unique approach by appointing a supervisor for the St. Thomas/Elgin operation. That move, initiated this past spring, was prompted by the report from healthcare consultant Ron McRae which pointed to numerous issues of poor governance and a lack of oversight. Things had sunk to such a level last October that an information picket was held outside the Centre Street office in St. Thomas by staff – represented by OPSEU Local 133 – who claimed they were working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. Continue reading →
Last October, about two dozen staff at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association stood outside the Centre Street office where they claimed to be working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. At that time, OPSEU staff representative Carol Warner asserted St. Thomas employees are consistently targeted and penalized by upper management for speaking up about health, safety and other workplace concerns. “It’s hideous, it’s a long-standing issue,” noted Warner. “I would say it’s a systemic issue. We have grievances in the docket that are, at a minimum, four or five years old. And the grievance program has flaws as well.” That information picket by members of OPSEU Local 133 and the allegations of workplace harassment resulted in the appointment of a third-party investigator by the Southwest Local Health Integration Network (SW LHIN) to report on CMHA Elgin’s compliance with its contractual agreement to the LHIN.Continue reading →
Correction: As noted previously by then police chief Darryl Pinnell, the correct number of members of the St. Thomas Police Service earning in excess of $100,000 in 2016 should have been 46 and not 43, making the overall total for that year 113. The increase then for this year is from 46 members to 49.
A report on the salaries of municipal employees earning in excess of $100,000 in 2017 is included in Monday’s council agenda. This is required under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act of 1996. In total, 117 employees eared more than $100,000, that’s up from 110 in 2016. Breaking down by sector, 49 members of the St. Thomas Police Service are included, up substantially from 43 in 2016. At the St. Thomas Fire Department, 46 are on the list and that is down by two from the previous year due to retirements. In city administration, 22 staffers are listed, up three from 2016. Most notable is the hefty increase in remuneration for some of the senior staff, while most others saw their salary remain relatively stable from 2016. Continue reading →
They deal with some of the most vulnerable members of the community, but staff at the Elgin branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association say they are struggling with their own unbearable stress. And now, members of OPSEU Local 133 are breaking the silence. Bolstered by CMHA members from Oxford, about two dozen staff took a stand outside the Centre Street office where they claim to be working in an environment of fear, intimidation and anxiety. According to Carol Warner, OPSEU staff representative, St. Thomas employees are consistently targeted and penalized by upper management for speaking up about health, safety and other workplace concerns. “It’s hideous, it’s a long-standing issue,” notes Warner. “I would say it’s a systemic issue. We have grievances in the docket that are, at a minimum, four or five years old. And the grievance program has flaws as well. “If one decides to, they can influence how quickly or how slowly the grievance process unfolds.” Continue reading →
As if playing home to this country’s first elevated park wasn’t high enough honour, St. Thomas could be one starting point for an ambitious trail project – an undertaking pinned to the pending merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, based out of Chatham-Kent.
Earlier this week Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, released details of what the St. Thomas Elevated Park will look like when the gate at the eastern approach swings open Aug. 27.
When the organization acquired the former Michigan Central Railroad trestle – built in 1929 at a cost of $689,000 – the purchase included 4 km of railway right-of-way at the western end of the structure running to Lyle Road in Southwold.
Is the goal of this provincial government to encourage migration from rural areas to urban centres, as suggested by one Elgin county mayor? That was one of the issues raised at a roundtable on rural poverty held Feb. 24 at the CASO station in St. Thomas and hosted by Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek.
Attended by two dozen municipal and social/community agency representatives, the forum was designed to get a sense of what rural poverty is and its impact on St. Thomas and Elgin county municipalities, explained Yurek afterward.
“What’s available and what barriers are out there for people. Too often policies are developed in Toronto with an urban lens and we need to look at it with a rural point of view. It’s different living in rural Ontario and we need to have a balance in policies to ensure we can help get people out of poverty in rural Ontario.”
It’s a new beginning for Tara Hall. The 36-bed, adult assisted-living home dating back to 1988 on Chester St., is under new ownership and is now re-branded as New Beginnings Residence.
Late last year we dwelt with the domiciliary hostel, one of several unregulated residences in St. Thomas that provide board or lodging for vulnerable individuals who need supervision of their daily living activities.
The facility currently is on a month-to-month contract with the city for the provision of lodging and late last year, the situation with Tara Hall and previous owner Jim Akey was the topic of discussion behind closed doors.
We had a lengthy discussion with new owner John Gaspar, who operates four other residences across the province.
“When taking over the place, I was surprised there was a level of violence and a bit of chaos,” Gaspar admits.
“Doing further investigation,” he continues, “there were some agencies, and even the police, that were not happy with some of the rumors about what was going on in the place. So, I wanted to make a clear and fresh start and let the community know this was a new beginning and hence the name. Continue reading →