For the past four years, the St. Thomas Fire Department has faced the equivalent of an internal multi-alarm blaze. And, it is to be hoped with the announcement this week of Kyle Smith’s promotion to deputy fire chief that the final embers of controversy have been suppressed. You have to delve back to August of 2017 and the death of popular fire chief Rob Broadbent to discover the source of the flames of discontent. The decision was made somewhere in the corridors of city hall to look elsewhere for a replacement for the outgoing, community-minded Broadbent. This is despite a strong candidate in Deputy Fire Chief Ray Ormerod who, according to some sources, was not even granted an interview. We’ll wend our way back to Ormerod shortly. So the search for a new chief ended in Chatham-Kent where the deputy chief in that municipality, Bob Davidson was deemed the ideal replacement. Davidson arrived in St. Thomas in January of 2018 only to abruptly tender his resignation in July 2021.
The question begs an answer.
What exactly is going on with the city’s fire department?
We are now working on the third St. Thomas fire chief in under a year, what gives?
First, it was Bob Davidson, who came on board in January of 2018, after serving as deputy fire chief in Chatham-Kent.
Well, he served until July of last year when it was announced he abruptly retired.
Or did he?
Was he pressured into leaving?
Remember, the St. Thomas Professional Firefighters’ Association was more than a little upset when Davidson was brought aboard after the death of popular fire chief Rob Broadbent in August of 2017.
The decision was made at city hall to hire a chief externally, rather than from within the department with then Deputy Fire Chief Ray Ormerod considered a strong candidate.
Word has it Ormerod was not even granted an interview.
Earlier this month, Jeff Yurek celebrated 10 years in provincial politics as MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Now a decade employed in the same field may seem fairly insignificant, however in the world of politics – at any level of government – that can feel like a lifetime.
Moreso of late with the transformation of the playing field into a highly divisive, confrontational and threatening battleground.
We talked at length this week with Yurek about his political career to date.
As we jokingly asked Yurek, what would possess a successful and popular downtown pharmacist to throw his hat in the political ring?
He admitted he has always had an interest in politics.
“I think it was the combination of being involved with the government of the day dealing with pharmacy issues. Everyone always looks back and wants to do better for the next generation.
“Opportunity arose and I thought I would put my name forward.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.” He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated. “I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).” We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca. The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
With the drawing to a close this past week of Indigenous History Month and the horrific revelation of more bodies discovered in unmarked graves at another residential school, our conversation with Ray John took on increased significance. He is an impassioned Indigenous cultural teacher at the London District Catholic School Board and with boards elsewhere in the province. He has worked in the education field for more than 15 years and he says the mixed emotions of the past month have had a unifying effect in his Oneida community and within Indigenous communities elsewhere in the country. “You drive up and down in our community and you see so many orange shirts. You see toys out there dedicated to the young ones that are gone. “But there’s a real sense of unity here. It’s not that it wasn’t here before. I think it is more that we are supporting each other.” John has been awarded for working “tirelessly in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation” and he stresses only through engaging in tough conversations will Canadians be able to educate themselves on Indigenous culture and the tyranny of residential schools.
The question was posed recently by Peter Ostojic of Walter Ostojic & Sons Ltd. “Just do not understand why the city is involved in building affordable housing units themselves.” The former mayor of St. Thomas was referencing the community and social services hub now under construction at 230 Talbot St. The subject was broached again this past Tuesday (Sept. 3) at the reference committee meeting in which city manager Wendell Graves updated council on Phase 2 of the project, which will front onto Queen Street. With Phase 1 nearing completion this fall – “something Graves described as a shiny, new nickel for us” – he presented a conceptual business case to council members. The structure would contain a minimum of 48 housing units on two floors with the possibility of more units should the structure be expanded to a third or fourth floor. The estimated cost of constructing each unit is $225,000 with 24 of them renting out at $500 or so per month and another 24 geared to income at approximately $300 per month.