Pleasant surprises have been in short supply the past two months in a world locked in the grip of a coronavirus that introduced us to social distancing, self-isolation, face masks, makeshift home offices and the vulnerability of those housed in long-term care facilities who often died alone with loved ones unable to say goodbye.
So, Friday’s announcement by the Ford government that, beginning Monday, the door to recovery is going to open just a crack is welcoming news
There is a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel.
The day before, there was a prelude to the shape of things to come with the introduction of the province’s Jobs and Recovery Committee which, according to the media release, “will focus on getting businesses up and running and people back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.”
With cramped quarters and no exit doors near the rear of the buses to keep passengers distant from drivers, is it safe to ride St. Thomas Transit in these far-from-normal times? Well, it appears this week much attention is being paid to the safety of passengers and drivers. But what about the situation over the last month when the transit system was operating a regular service while others in the province had shut down or substantially reduced hours. And, larger operators with full-sized transit buses could take the front door out of service and have passengers enter and exit the vehicles through the rear door, well away from drivers. With the city’s fleet of what can only be described as glorified airport parking shuttle buses, the above is not an option.
Let’s pray it never reaches this stage – and to date, there is no indication St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is about to be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients – however, the president of OPSEU is urging the province “to look for creative ways to combat the spread of the coronavirus.” Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas is urging the Doug Ford government to consider opening portions of previously shuttered regional mental health centres including the facility south of St. Thomas and the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls to ease a potential capacity crisis in the healthcare system. In a media release issued last month, Thomas noted, “They can be used for currently hospitalized alternative care patients or as dedicated COVID-19 centres to relieve pressure on our hospitals. Let’s be proactive. Now is the time for action.”
The city’s much-maligned transit system may very well become a greatly relied upon people mover if council endorses the recommendations of the soon-to-be-released Strategic Transit Plan. The proposed changes would involve route and schedule adjustments, the introduction of demand-responsive transit (DRT), the possibility of larger buses and electric bus technology and a pilot project to explore regional bus service. At Monday’s (Nov. 18) reference committee meeting, Brian Putre of Stantec Consulting and city engineer Justin Lawrence presented an overview of recommendations to members of city council. The plan, which is 95 per cent complete, drew favourable comments from all of council, including the stark observation from Coun. Joan Rymal that “any change is better than what we have now.”
“I can guarantee there will be a hospice in Elgin county . . . during my term.” Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek issued that assurance last December and less than a year later, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott backed that guarantee with a $1.6 million pledge to open an eight-bed residential hospice to serve St. Thomas and Elgin. Friday morning (Sept. 20) Elliott, who is also the province’s health minister, made the announcement at Memory Garden in Pinafore Park and added once the facility opens, 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.
In a ceremony held this morning at the main fire hall in St. Thomas, several dozen firefighters, members of the police service and EMS gathered for a 9-11 memorial service and to recognize the efforts of the people “willing to step up and answer the call to action when it is needed.” Hosted by the St. Thomas Professional Firefighters’ Association, the ceremony honoured the more than 400 firefighters and law enforcement officers who died in the World Trade Center and on the ground in New York City. It was also an opportunity for elected officials to pay tribute to the city’s first responders. “Thank you so much for all of the work you do each and every day to keep us safe,” observed Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio.
An ambitious construction schedule this month along the St. Thomas Elevated Park is resulting in transformative development closer aligned to the final design. This beehive of activity meant the closure of the park atop the Michigan Central Railroad bridge during August. And now, due to unforeseen delays, it has resulted in the cancellation of the annual Elevated Picnic scheduled for tomorrow (Aug. 25). We caught up with On Track St. Thomas director Serge Lavoie hard at work in the park for an update. “Because the construction schedule was slipping, we felt it wasn’t going to be safe enough to do the picnic,” advised Lavoie. “What we’re doing instead is a grand opening on Sept. 14,” added Lavoie, “which coincides with an event the city and the health unit are doing called Trails Open St. Thomas.”
With just 99 days until the federal election, you might very well be wondering who the Liberal party has tasked with attempting to unseat incumbent Karen Vecchio in Elgin-Middlesex-London (EML) riding. Well, the short answer is no one. The nomination meeting was originally scheduled for January and here we are midway through July with no designated candidate although we know Lori Baldwin-Sands has filed papers. Will she be acclaimed at some point in the very near future? A phone call to David Goodwin of the federal Liberal riding association should result in some answers. “They haven’t called the nomination yet,” advised Goodwin.
St. Thomas will be the venue for the latest inquest into an inmate death at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC). The coroner’s inquest into the death of 47-year-old Michael Fall on July 30, 2017, will begin Sept. 23 at the Elgin County Courthouse. Fall was one of five inmates to die that year at the London institution which has experienced 15 deaths in the past decade. An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act and it will examine the circumstances surrounding his death. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths. It’s certainly not the first inquest into an inmate death and, most recently, on June 22 another male prisoner was found unresponsive in his cell and later died in hospital. Two days later, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek advised in a statement, “I will continue to work with the solicitor general to ensure the safety of correctional officers, staff and inmates.”