Thoughts on the Election & the State of St. Thomas
Our young & free press team has been heavily involved in the St. Thomas municipal election this year. We have interviewed all the candidates for Mayor and several of the candidates for City Council. Significantly, we moderated two early ‘Town Hall Forum’ events, one for the Mayoral candidates at the CASO Station and one for the Council candidates at the Elgin County Railway Museum. We have attended several City Council meetings in recent months, gradually assembling a reasonably comprehensive view of the state of the community. Our editor Andrew Gunn and young journalist Maddie King have even introduced a new show on our Instagram page called ‘young & free at city council’ to provide a quick, weekly wrap-up of issues at City Hall.
With this in mind, we want to attempt to answer a few questions. What are the main challenges facing St. Thomas? What should the community expect of our next Mayor and Council? Given that our journalists are mostly teenagers and in high school, what have we learned in this process and how might young people contribute to the growth of the City?
Challenges Facing St. Thomas
We have identified some significant challenges for St. Thomas. Our downtown area is still struggling, and as the downtown of any city stands as the civic and cultural centre of the community, we need to improve how this area looks, feels, and functions. We have talked about the need to be innovative in addressing the issues of mental health care, homelessness, drug use and addiction. Further, we are lacking green space downtown. There has been a lot of discussion about the need for a park and event space that brings the community together, attracts visitors, and boosts local businesses. Will the next Mayor and Council focus on not only improving the infrastructure and appearance of our downtown, but the culture as well?
Other key challenges include developing a better transit system, revamping how the City provides grants to community organizations, supporting our local arts and culture scene, examining how to partner with post-secondary institutions to address the shortage of skilled workers in our region, and continuing to diversify our economic base.
Expectations of the Mayor and City Council
We have a few ideas for what we feel the community should expect from the next Mayor. At this stage, St. Thomas needs a Mayor who can build the Council into a high-functioning team, communicate effectively with citizens in-person and through social media, and who is not afraid to attempt some transformational projects for the community. There is a lot of positive momentum in St. Thomas. We need a Mayor and Council who can manage this growth and collaborate with developers. Ask for input. Be innovative. Draw ideas from other cities.
What Have We Learned?
Our three young journalists, Maddie King, Jenn Klassen, and Alex Popen, wanted to share some thoughts on the experience of moderating two ‘Town Hall Forums’ in St. Thomas and learning about the issues facing the community.
Here is what everyone thought of the event with the Mayoral candidates, which we hosted on Wednesday, September 19th at the CASO Station:
Maddie King: “My experience moderating the Town Hall was an interesting one. Preparing and making questions really made me realize how passionate I was about the community. As a teenager, I’ve noticed adults don’t think that we care about politics or our cities, but by us moderating and asking questions of the candidates, we have shown them a different side. Before the Town Hall, we had become acquainted with all four candidates, but throughout the night, my view of each candidate changed. The whole thing was a great learning experience and I am very excited to see how the election plays out.”
Alex Popen: “I didn’t really know what to expect going into this event. Previous to it, I felt comfortable with each candidate as we had each on our shows. The setting in the CASO Station was awesome. I think the crowd turned out great. Moving onto the candidates, I thought each answered truthfully and honestly. Both Steve Wookey and Joe Preston stood out to me the most. I love how Steve brought more of a teacher-aspect to the event. He showed you the pros and cons of each question, and gave an interesting dream project for St. Thomas. As for Joe, he has such a positive attitude and showed great respect for each candidate. I believe Joe would make a great Mayor because he loves building off people as well as being a team player.”
Jenn Klassen: “All of the candidates did a great job. What impressed me the most, though, were Malichi Malé’s answers. He stood up for what he believed in and he wasn’t afraid to be a voice that was bolder or different from the others. He also spoke in a way that made you want to continue to listen, which to be fair, is hard to do with this generation!”
Here is what everyone thought of the event with the City Council candidates, which we hosted on Wednesday, September 26th at the Elgin County Railway Museum:
Maddie King: “The Town Hall for Council candidates was set in the beautiful Railway Museum. I’ve attended two other events in that building and it’s changed to be the perfect venue for each one. I had met a few candidates before, but most I had not. I felt confident in my ability after the previous Town Hall. It was interesting to hear each candidate’s answers. I observed that many were stuck on the past of St. Thomas and few on the future. A couple candidates shared some ideas that I really liked. The experience furthered my interest in local politics and showed the importance of putting the city in the hands of people who will move it forward, not back.”
Alex Popen: “I think the Council debate was awesome. I absolutely loved the way the Railway Museum looked with the lighting. I could tell there was a lot of energy with each candidate. All had awesome responses and made an effort to interact with the audience. If I could choose a candidate that stood out to me, it would have to be Tim Hedden. He answered each question to the best of his ability, as well as showed great passion for arts and culture in St. Thomas. I loved how each candidate brought so much energy to put forth for our city for the next four years. It is a big election this year, as we have people leaving Council and potentially a new Mayor this year.”
Jenn Klassen: “Steve Peters and Petrusia Hontar stood out the most to me. They both voiced their opinions calmly and made clear that they cared about St. Thomas and the people living here. I had the chance to talk to Petrusia and I believe she would be a great addition to the Council.”