For many of us, we’ve settled into a pandemic dictated routine where our days are punctuated with Zoom meetings interspersed with live-streamed gatherings, exponentially increasing our screen time. Leaving us to wonder how much of this will pivot over to the new reality? But what happens when one of these feeds fails or the audio stream is so out of whack it is impossible to follow along? It has happened twice this month with city council: once with a reference committee meeting dealing with community grants and again this week with the scheduled council meeting.
MPP Jeff Yurek’s office has been the target of a couple of healthcare-related protests over the past few weeks, with the latest being yesterday (Friday). About 30 nurses gathered over the noon hour to protest against Bill 124 and the lack of pay equity in the bill supported by Yurek. It caps public sector wage increases to no greater than one per cent for three years. Nurses ask health care is included in the public sector but why are physicians exempt. The nurses stress this is not about pandemic pay and we caught up with Rebecca Jesney, an RN in the emergency department at London’s Victoria Hospital, to learn more. “Nurses are realizing the Doug Ford government as well as Jeff Yurek, are affecting nurses specifically and targetting us at a time when we’re supposed to be recognized as heroes. “Nurses have had enough.”
They are not included in the daily tally issued by health units across the province – including Southwestern Public Health in this area – and yet these individuals have been victimized and their lives put on hold by the coronavirus. And last week’s release of the framework to be adhered to by hospitals is a welcome ray of hope for those whose elective surgeries and procedures also fell victim to COVID-19. Although it may still be several weeks before ramping up the numbers, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital president and CEO Robert Biron says the preparatory work is underway. Speaking with him yesterday (Friday), Biron advised the immediate task is to work with other hospitals in the region to create a joint plan so that all hospitals are working “in a lockstep approach.” He adds, “There is a lot of complexity involved in that because there is a pandemic we have to account for.
Have to admit, we haven’t experienced a week like this since, what, the 2008 financial meltdown? Wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage with the city unveiling its balanced approach to the COVID-19 pandemic and city manager Wendell Graves suggesting the management team likely would not have to declare an emergency. A day later and the Doug Ford government did exactly that. City hall closed, municipal facilities all shuttered. Students on furlough for at least a couple of weeks. Ditto for many of their parents. Have you ever seen traffic on Talbot Street downtown so sporadic? Do you think life will return to normal on April 6? Do you think COVID-19 gives a tinker’s damn about a calendar date?
“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.
Size does, in fact, matter. That was the finding back in 2003 of what was known as the McCarthy-Tetrault report, a full and independent review of the council of the day and its working relationships at city hall. The initial call for a review of council and staff dated back to April 28 of that year when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.” The subsequent report categorized council as “dysfunctional” and its inability to operate in cohesive fashion is “rooted in the mix of personalities . . . . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.” The report’s author, Chris White of the law firm McCarthy-Tetrault, made several recommendations, the most contentious of which called for the reduction in the size of council to seven members from the then-current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.
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.”
For the second time in less than a month, Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands failed in her bid to have council endorse a motion to declare a climate emergency in the city. So, you have to ask what is the motivation behind this motion that Baldwin-Sands admits is purely symbolic in nature? Well, if you were one of the several dozen supporters in the public gallery Monday (April 15) and you listened objectively to what was espoused by seven councillors, the mayor and city manager, then you should have your answer. The motion, tabled by the member of council who is seeking the Liberal nomination for Elgin-Middlesex-London riding in this fall’s federal vote is, pure and simply politically motivated.
In the end, the allure of economic opportunity prevailed over health and policing concerns. It was not unanimous, however, city council last night (Jan. 14) voted 6-2 to opt into the province’s cannabis retail outlet program. Councillors Jeff Kohler and Mark Tinlin were opposed while Gary Clarke was absent for the vote. Giving the green light to one or more retail outlets in St. Thomas doesn’t mean a pot shop will sprout up on a city street any time soon. Last month the province reversed course and announced it will limit the number of initial licences to 25 because of cannabis supply shortages. And last Friday (Jan. 11) in the opening round of the cannabis retail lottery, 25 winning applicants were announced – seven in southwestern Ontario – who now have the opportunity to apply for a provincial retail licence. Continue reading →