For Steve Peters, his focus is on city hall (once again)


city_scope_logo-cmykStanding at the front of his house, he has a clear view of the city hall tower. And now, Steve Peters is seriously contemplating a return to the council chamber at that very same building where he first cut his teeth on municipal politics, 30 years ago this fall.
A former city alderman, mayor, Elgin-Middlesex-London Liberal MPP and Speaker of the Ontario Legislature, Peters has so far remained coy about his intentions once the nomination period opens May 1, other than to insist he is not interested in again donning the mayor’s chain of office.
An in-depth conversation this week, however, did shed considerable light on whether the political will to serve the populace still burns within Peters.
“Someone said you’re sitting on the fence. But I’ve been there and I’ve done that. And people say why are you going to go back?” Continue reading

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Unlike London, carding is not a trending topic in St. Thomas


city_scope_logo-cmykIt was what we called in radio, a cluster-buster.

A Tweet from Police Chief Darryl Pinnell Friday morning sure cut through the clutter.

“Let the @STPSmedia “Collection of Identifying Information in Certain Circumstances” training begin!” proclaimed the message, with accompanying photo.

Sounded for all the world like they’re delving into carding, a trending topic up the road in London.

A phone call to St. Thomas Police media contact, Const. Jeff DeLeeuw, confirmed they were in training but it’s not what you think. Continue reading

Can the Burstein boys of Brampton breathe life back into Elgin Mall?


city_scope_logo-cmykConsidered the poor cousin of enclosed shopping malls by its previous owner OneREIT, Elgin Mall has wonderful potential according to the small, family owned real estate investment company that acquired the 263,000-square-foot property last month.

Brothers Jay and Mory Burstein are adamant their intention is not to demolish the retail centre that first opened in 1975.

“Our goal is to try and lease the vacant space as quickly as possible and try to make this mall the vibrant place it once was,” Jay assured in an interview this week.

An optimistic game plan for a mall that is operating at a roughly 50 per cent vacancy rate. Continue reading

Voters hung up on robocalls, now it’s time to dial in on issues.


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In a municipal election campaign that deeply divided the city, it would be fair to say most residents do agree on one thing — thank goodness the damn thing is over with.

The focus on a new police station and, to a lesser extent, revisiting the two-year-old Ascent remuneration boondoggle that ensnared Ald. Tom Johnston, completely shifted the focus away from more pressing concerns.

Will this new council work as a unified body to address unemployment, poverty and homelessness, a staggering infrastructure deficit, the city’s woeful transit system and the west end of Talbot St., to name but a few items requiring urgent attention?

And, while it would be easy for us all to take credit for electing a new-look council, the realization is fresh faces in the council chamber at city hall was an inevitable reality as three veterans were retiring and another two would be casualties in the mayoral race.
Continue reading

Who is accountable for accountability?


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It was a rubber-stamp item on Monday’s city council agenda; authorizing the deposit of $59,047.62 into a reserve account of Valleyview Home.
The money is the final distribution of funds from the estate of Ralph Counsell, a former Valleyview resident who donated $400,000 to Valleyview with the stipulation the money be used in the activation department for the benefit of residents.
The activation department is responsible for the recreation, therapeutic and social activities of the residents.
In a report to council in November of last year, Valleyview staff recommended items like a Karaoke machine, bingo machine and cards, televisions, decorations and a movie projector, among other things, be purchased.
Continue reading

‘Time to sweep aside featherbedding,’ says Bob McCaig


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He’s never one to shy away from controversy and if that has ever been in doubt, then the following comments passed along to us from St. Thomas entrepreneur Bob McCaig should spark lively debate.
His observations are culled from a letter sent to Randy Hillier, Conservative MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, in which McCaig praises Ontario PC’s “for having the guts to openly discuss major labour reform in Ontario.”
In a nutshell, McCaig says the time has come to end the union free ride at the expense of taxpayers.

Bob McCaig


I warned you feathers would be ruffled.
McCaig opens by observing: “Here in St. Thomas where I live, we have witnessed the careful dismantling of 99% of our industrial base. It would be convenient to blame organized labour, particularly the CAW, for the collapse of our manufacturing base, but it would be unfair to blame them alone.

Continue reading

‘Mayor’s negativity . . . unwarranted,’ says TV show’s fan


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    As we wrote in this corner last week, City Scope applauds the decision made to take a flyer on providing the backdrop for the popular reality series, Million Dollar Neighbourhood, because of the negative light in which it might cast St. Thomas.

     Reader Bill Sandison takes exception and passed along the following argument.

     ” So much for this mayor and meaningful community engagement; a missed opportunity to build community spirit over a 10-week stretch as 100 families would help each other try to achieve a community savings of $1,000,000; equating to $1,000 a week for each family,” Sandison writes.

     “Mayor Heather Jackson reportedly reached consensus with the Economic Development Corporation and Chamber of Commerce to say no.”

     He continues, they “should replay the video “St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada – Faster. Stronger. Better.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qQl4Nvrmmc) It portrays St. Thomas in a far more progressive light, one that appears to have been forgotten.  While the video is industrial focused, it is about a community working together, which is exactly the premise behind Million Dollar Neighbourhood, except it involves ordinary families working together to improve their individual circumstances and the community as a whole.

     “Each week the families select one household to receive $10,000 for leadership towards achieving their goal. Has Mayor Heather Jackson watched any of the 10 episodes; talked to any of the 100 families participating in saving Aldergrove $1,000,000; talked to Aldergrove resident Irene Setka who won the $100,000; talked to Mayor Jack Froese or any of the township councillors before trashing the opportunity as simply “more negativity about the city?”              

       Sandison points out, “Joanne Nicolato, a participant, said in her address to council, ‘I found myself bursting with community pride.’ Not quite the image being portrayed by our mayor.

     “While other Ontario communities are actively soliciting the Million Dollar Neighbourhood show, our mayor turns her nose up at the offer.  Perhaps it is just indifference towards the residents of St. Thomas?

     “After all, what 10 families here could possibly use $10,000 and potentially $100,000?  While I can appreciate Jackson’s fear of criticism, it has nothing to do with the families living in St. Thomas.”

     Sandison concludes, “The mayor’s negativity is defensive and unwarranted, and has deprived local families of hard cash and an opportunity to showcase community pride.”

     As always, this corner encourages input from readers.

LET’S GET THIS STRAIGHT . . .

     Ascent, formerly St. Thomas Holdings Inc., has an off year and yet board chairman, Ald. Tom Johnston, feels the directors should receive a hike in compensation.

     Johnston would not reveal specifics of the increase, but board members currently receive about $8,500 for attending 10 or so meetings a year.

     Handsome remuneration for the work involved.

     Thankfully, city council was united in nixing this proposal to further stock the trough.

     So, who sits on the Ascent board of directors?

     In addition to Johnston and Mayor Heather Jackson, neither of who are compensated, the members include former St. Thomas mayor Peter Ostojic, vice-chairman Jim Herbert, Brian Dempsey and local businessman Joseph Starcevic.

     “I can’t support this recommendation,” asserted Ald. Gord Campbell. “St. Thomas Holdings had a difficult year, lost some money.

     It was Campbell who called for the recorded vote,

     Is that why council was unanimous in opposition? Shame by association?

GUESS NO LONGER

     After months of speculation, the where-will-Steve-Peters-surface-again question was answered this week with an announcement from the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors (AOFP) that their new executive director is none other than the former mayor of St. Thomas.

     AOFP is a member-driven organization representing over 650 food and beverage processing companies in Ontario and employing more than 110,000 people.

     Can’t think of a more qualified and enthusiastic ag business promoter than Steve. He served as this province’s minister of agriculture from 2003-2005, then moved on to minister of labour from 2005-2007.

     Of course, long-time residents of St. Thomas will remember Steve really got a hands-on education in the food business stocking grocery store shelves in the previous century.

     Reader David Delgado gives two thumbs up to the announcement.    

     “Good for Stevie boy,” he notes on the T-J website. The AOFP got a good man to work with them. Too bad we can’t convince him to come back as mayor!”

     It’s a safe bet the AOFP is not familiar to many in the province. It will be interesting, therefore, to follow Steve’s impact on the alliance, both in profile and increased political clout.

THIS WILL BE A PARTY

     After a two-year hiatus, Canada Day celebrations will return to Pinafore Park, a venue that was vacated due to risks associated with the grand finale fireworks display and the proximity to the Lake Margaret development.

     It’s a wise decision by the city, albeit unfortunate the compromise solution could not have been reached much sooner so as not to break the long tradition of celebrating Canada’s birthday in the family-friendly confines of Pinafore Park.

     The Douglas J. Tarry Sports Complex is a wonderful site for ball tournaments and the like, but as a gathering spot for the community to come together for a day-long party, it just doesn’t cut it.

     Based on early comments on the T-J website, the prospect of renewing the association with Pinafore Park on July 1 is embraced by readers.

     “One of the best decisions made so far this year,” writes ‘dewing.’ “Back to the Park! That should be the most repeated saying of the city. Congratulations on bringing ‘family’ back to July 1.”  

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

     “I am looking forward to the opportunity to be a champion for a manufacturing sector that is so vital to Ontario’s economy.”

     Former Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Steve Peters on his appointment this week as executive director of the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors.

     City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions or comments can be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.