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.”
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.”
Less than an hour after the polls closed in Thursday’s provincial election, the takeaway from the campaign in Elgin-Middlesex-London presented itself.
For the most part, the eight candidates ran a clean race with no mud-slinging, vitriol and finger-pointing evident.
Around 10 that evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall, as Flack was bathing in the adoration of his supporters, word was relayed to him Liberal candidate Heather Jackson was waiting outside the room to offer congratulations.
You could tell Flack was truly moved by the gesture of the city’s former mayor.
A classy moment all around in a world dominated by raging rhetoric and damning divisiveness.
After the brief exchange, Flack continued with his words of thanks, which included a fitting tip of the hat to the riding’s previous MPP, who stepped aside at the end of February.
The 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.
With 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.
The three major parties have now announced their candidates to run in Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial vote.
All three were acclaimed.
In the first week of March, the NDP announced Andy Kroeker as their candidate to contest the riding with the Conservatives’ Rob Flack and the Liberals’ Heather Jackson.
Kroeker has been the executive director of the West Elgin Community Health Centre for the past dozen years.
Working in health care, Kroeker says he has witnessed how underfunding has impacted rural communities in particular.
It’s just one item on a substantial “laundry list” of concerns that need to be addressed.
“Certainly I have my concerns about healthcare,” stresses Kroeker, “social services and affordable housing and education.
“So there is a long laundry list, I guess, of things which are challenging in a post-COVID environment.”
As is the case with so many things in life, it all becomes a matter of timing. And so, three-and-a-half years after losing to Joe Preston by less than 650 votes in the 2018 St. Thomas municipal vote as she sought a third term as mayor, Heather Jackson asserts the time is right to return to politics.
In this case, she is on the verge of being acclaimed as Liberal candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London in the June provincial election.
Her candidacy will become official before the end of the month, and it is not without some controversy (see the following item).
“It’s all about timing,” advised Jackson, “and I think it’s a good opportunity to jump back into politics and see if I can make a difference again.”
Timing, in this case, relates to former MPP Jeff Yurek’s decision to not seek re-election in June and in the process surrender his seat at the end of February.