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.”
Well, a new wrinkle in the city’s much-maligned grant policy.
As evident in the agenda for Monday’s (Sept. 13) council meeting, the city’s director of finance is now a gatekeeper in the grant application process, taking some of the heat off the mayor and council.
And, it’s not good news for two of the more recognized organizations in the city.
In his report to council, Dan Sheridan reminds members “Successful applications under the current (grant) policy are more likely to be for special events or one-time start-up funding for new community initiatives that align with council’s strategic priorities.”
Sheridan continues, “Grant applications that request funding for expenses that an organization incurs through its normal course of operations are not recommended for approval.
“These could be salaries, advertising or facility repairs, for example. Even costs that are one-time in nature can be considered operating costs if they are used to support the organization’s normal course of operations.”
Quite a tightening of the rules in what has been a loosey-goosey undertaking in the past.
Last week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council. She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.” She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues. “For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.” At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence. Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.” The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”
Quite the surprise this week with the announcement City Manager Wendell Graves plans to retire next March. Hard to imagine he began his public service 41 years ago as a student in the Municipality of Central Elgin planning office. That’s according to the city hall media release, however Central Elgin was not established as a municipality until 1998 and as reader Dave Mathers correctly points out it would have to be a planning office in Belmont, Yarmouth or Port Stanley. Also, surprising is his rationale for the long lead time up to that date next spring. “The next few months will fly by and I want to ensure city council has the opportunity to plan strategically for its next leadership,” advises Graves. In commenting on the announcement, Mayor Joe Preston notes, “With our city positioned in such a strong, strategic direction city council appreciates the fact that Wendell has provided a good planning horizon so that we can thoughtfully recruit and put in place the next leadership for the City.” Did you catch the common theme here? Leadership for the city is provided by the city manager. Most residents of St. Thomas are likely under the impression the city is led by the mayor and council. After all, isn’t that why we elect them?
After an extensive national search, St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital had to look no further than its administrative offices to appoint a new president and CEO. The current vice-president of integrated care, Karen Davies, will take over the helm Aug. 7 from retiring president Robert Biron. We spoke with Davies on Tuesday (June 22) and she considers it a privilege the hospital board of directors has given her a vote of confidence. “It’s not about you,” suggested Davies, “it’s about the patients and all of the amazing people who work here, all of the staff and all of the physicians and the community we serve. “So, it really is a great privilege. And no, I didn’t anticipate to be in the middle of a pandemic but I’ve come to see, though, it is also such a good time of opportunity.” Credit is due to the team at STEGH, added Davies, for the manner in which they have been able to navigate the hospital through the COVID-19 pandemic. And continue to do so.
Monday night (June 21), city council is expected to declare Mark Tinlin’s seat officially vacant after his death on June 13 at the age of 79. It is the second time in just over a year that members of council have gone through this emotional process. In March of last year, council was faced with the death of second-term councillor Linda Stevenson. Former councillor Steve Wookey was appointed to fill the vacant seat. The process has not always been that seamless as we’ll delve into shortly. Born and raised in St. Thomas, Tinlin was characterized as a “great role model for the rest of us,” by Mayor Joe Preston. He graduated from the Ontario Police College north of Aylmer in 1963 and served with the London Police Service from 1962 through 1966. He spent five years with the RCMP and over 20 years guiding security at universities. His municipal career included stints as a councillor and deputy mayor of the Township of South Frontenac. He was first elected to city council in 2014 as an alderman. Preston had high praise for Tinlin.
It took a question from Coun. Jim Herbert at Monday’s (June 7) council meeting to get a sense of how people are handling newfound freedom at Lake Margaret. Coun. Herbert pointed out, “people don’t seem to be following the bylaws, you go by and people are fishing. How many tickets have been given out? Hopefully, it is settling down.” To which Jeff Bray, the city’s new director of parks, recreation and property management responded, “I can’t say how many tickets have been issued. I know bylaw enforcement has been out there and I can check with them. “I know the Ministry of Natural Resources has been very active there and they have been issuing lots of tickets. Bray continued, “On Sunday, I know that they gave a bit of an education piece to 10 to 15 fishers out there. They were 12 to 16 years of age.
Is it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago? It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents. As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season. The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake. “No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.” Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”
Fishing and canoeing are now permitted activities at Lake Margaret after Monday’s (May 10) 6-3 vote in support of a couple of motions brought forward by Coun. Gary Clarke. The turn of events caught city staff off guard as no policies are in place, let alone any signage or launch areas for watercraft. In speaking with city clerk Maria Konefal this week, her initial advice is “stay tuned.” She added, “We’ll have a plan that will be coming forward so people are aware how and where . . .” On Friday the city sent out an advisory of additional items for Monday’s (May 17) agenda including “an overview of measures that will be implemented to provide for non-motorized boating and fishing on Lake Margaret.” Coun. Clarke calls Lake Margaret, “a positive recreational place for the city to add to Waterworks and Pinafore. It has some features those two don’t have, in terms of accessibility.”