Honouring our veterans

41450083_2131032263812923_3532185678370570240_oIt has been a busy week so far and several of the events I have been involved in were related to a similar theme, our veterans, and I wanted to draw attention to this as a means of showing support and appreciation for some great organizations in our community doing important work for our veterans.

On Monday, I attended a kick-off event for Veteran Families Week in our community at Superior Nissan. Thanks to the leadership of people like Greg Lefave and Frank Iezzi, along with support from the Algoma Veterans Association and the Veteran Family Program and business such as Superior Nissan, Algoma Water Tower Inn, Beyoutiful Esthetics and Lavish Salon, there are a variety of activities going on this week. I encourage people to visit www.veteranfamilyprogram.ca for a full schedule of events.

On Tuesday, I attended a street renaming ceremony for a portion of the roadway between Pine Street and Upton Road. As a tribute to the 49th Field Regiment, the area where the Armoury is located is now known as “Garrison Way”. I understand that Garrison, in the military context, is used to acknowledge a group of units that have come together. It is a fitting name for the street where our Armoury is located because the people who come together there come together to advance security at home and abroad; they come together to demonstrate pride for our community and country; they come together to support our citizens through programming and activities.

Thanks to the efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Lance Knox and the assistance of Councillors Susan Myers and Sandra Hollingsworth, the renaming request was unanimously approved City Council earlier this year. I want to recognize City staff as well, who worked diligently to facilitate the renaming.

The renaming ceremony provided me with the opportunity to serve as the reviewing officer inspecting the troops. I have enjoyed developing a close relationship with the 49th Field Regiment and 33 Service Battalion during my mayoralty and I was honoured to receive a commanding officer’s coin on Tuesday as a recognition of the City’s efforts to support and promote the Regiment and Battalion

On Wednesday, I attended a renaming ceremony for the GFL Memorial Gardens. It is fantastic to see the “Memorial Gardens” name return to our community. The original arena was built as a memorial and it is important to continue the legacy of paying tribute to our veterans. It would not have happened without a great community partner in GFL Environmental, who recognized the importance of the name, and the support of City Council, who directed staff to include the Memorial Gardens name in the RFP.

There is no overstating the importance of veterans to our community, and it is important for our community to demonstrate this support. We have fantastic organizations such as the 49th Field Regiment, 33 Service Battalion, Royal Canadian Legion Branch 25 and the Algoma Veterans Association, and I encourage to people these organizations and their members.

Growing our community

A recent article in the Sault Star highlighted a key point that was discussed during a local roundtable meeting held by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen with industry representatives, union officials, post-secondary staff, service providers and sector experts landed on a key issue: the need for more immigration to Sault Ste. Marie as a means to address our community’s shortage of skilled workers, the effects of which are being felt locally.

It is an issue I spoke about with Minister Hussen and it is an issue the Northern Ontario Large Urban Mayors feel can be helped by a policy change. As outlined in a letter to Minister Hussen, the NOLUM feels Northern Ontario is a fit for a program similar to the Atlantic Immigration Pilot. The program sees the Federal Government and four Atlantic provinces (New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island) help employers in the region hire job candidates who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents by expediting the immigration process. The candidates fill jobs employers have had trouble filling locally.

The Sault’s largest employer, Algoma, provides an example of the local need for immigration. The steelmaker has about 700 workers eligible for retirement and there is a shortage of skilled workers ready to fill these positions. Part of the issue is a lack of younger people obtaining an education related to the skilled trades, and this is certainly something that can be addressed through community development (and our community development roundtable’s sub-group focused on education), but in the near-term expedited immigration to our community would help local employers like Algoma fill positions and it would benefit the community as a whole.

Another great example of the need for labour in our community is JD Aero. JD Aero is a dynamic and growing company that employs approximately 150 people and operates from hangars on the Sault Ste. Marie Airport Development Corporation property. JD Aero does aircraft maintenance for a number of different companies and airlines. I met with its executive this month and they were clear: there is more business to be had and if they could find the people, they can employ those people and grow their business. As a company, they were supportive of the NOLUM request for an immigration pilot in Northern Ontario. I committed to work with JD Aero to support their business and we will do so.

Newcomers moving to Sault Ste. Marie for well-playing, middle class jobs will provide a boost to our local economy. These people will buy homes, vehicles and recreational options, resulting in an increased consumer confidence that can lead to new businesses starting and existing businesses expanding.

Aside from a need for immigration, Sault Ste. Marie possess the capacity needed to help newcomers adjust to life in our community. We have fantastic organizations such as the Local Immigration Partnership, Sault Community Career Centre, Refugee 705 and Global Friends.

While remedial efforts to address the province’s immigration imbalance would provide much needed assistance, there are steps the City can take. For example, the development of a community brand can help attract people to our area. Sault Ste. Marie offers numerous quality of life benefits in community with modern amenities. Our location is a defining strength. We are a stone’s throw from Canada’s largest trading partner, a short flight to Toronto, at the heart of the greatest fresh water resource in the world, surrounded by natural power generation, and in the midst of some of the best mountain biking, skiing, hiking, sailing, camping, and cottage country in North America. Unlike many major urban centres, buying a home in Sault Ste. Marie is a reasonable prospect. Telling this story through the development of a community brand and advertising campaigns will help attract people to our community, and we are working on a community branding project that will come before City Council this fall or early winter.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall and sharing the truth of the residential school system

I had the opportunity to attend the grand opening of a residential school exhibition, called Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall, at Algoma University last week. It is a survivor-driven exhibition, and I want to recognize and thank the survivors who contributed to it, along with Algoma University and in particular the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre for helping facilitate the establishment of this important addition to our community.

For far too long we did not as a country, a province or a city, acknowledge, tell or share the story of the residential school system. I did not learn of the residential school system as a child in elementary school, a teen in high school or a university student who completed two degrees at two different institutions in two different parts of our country. I was not told the story of how children were often taken from their parents, how parents and grandparents would resist, how siblings were separated, how the children were unwillingly divorced from their language, their culture, their history, how they were told what they knew and loved and believed in was wrong and how children were mistreated. It affected tens of thousands of children and tens of thousands of families; and the social and cultural consequences are still very much a part of today. This is the truth and it is a truth we must acknowledge. Most importantly, it is a truth we must share.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, final report and calls to action show us a path forward, but I suggest that it is critical we keep one simple idea constantly in mind: Truth comes before Reconciliation. Truth comes first.

I strongly believe, and have said for years, that Sault Ste. Marie has all of the elements to lead. We have tremendous First Nation and Métis leadership, we live in an important place, Bawating: the heart of Turtle Island, and we are home to a residential school which is now a place of higher learning.

The establishment of a permanent Survivor-driven exhibition in a former residential school demonstrates this leadership and represents an important step for Algoma University and for our community. I commend the leadership and staff at the university for making this project a reality, and I encourage people to visit it. It is open to the public and guided tours are available. To book a tour, you can email shingwaukdg@algomau.ca or call 705-949-2301, Ext. 4623.

Reclaiming Shingwauk Hall will advance our community’s efforts to share the truth of the residential school system. It will help ensure our community at large learns about what happened and it will help ensure the experiences of survivors are never forgotten.

Recognizing our fantastic local volunteers

I was asked to say a few words last week at ARCH’s annual butterfly release last week and I spoke about how, as Mayor, I am included in or invited to events across the community and I am always impressed by the care and kindness people in our community show for one another. I was in two parades this past weekend and I found myself reflecting on those comments during both and I want to thank and recognize all of the community leaders and citizens who made both events happen.

The first was our annual Rotaryfest parade on Saturday. What the Rotarians do for our community is nothing short of tremendous and to think that Rotaryfest is largely volunteer driven is incredible. It is a great weekend every year and it would not happen without the exceptional commitment and community service of our Rotarians.  If you have the time, you should check out the exhibit at the Museum celebrating Rotary’s 100-year anniversary in our community. And if you see a Rotarian, thank them. Thank them for their time and their effort and the care they show for our community. It is, really, remarkable.

The second happened on Sunday morning. We raised the Pride flag in front of City Hall and then walked as a group over to the Bushplane to start the Pride celebrations. Pride has really grown in our community and I think Sunday was the biggest group we have had for a Pride flag raising. It was great to see people from across our community celebrating Pride and really nice to see representation from our elected officials, Canada Border Services, the RCMP, the OPP and Sault Ste. Marie Police Services, including Chief Stevenson.

It is important to recognize that these events would not have happened but for the engaged people in our community that make them happen. Volunteerism and participation are essential to an active and vibrant community. We are fortunate to have so many people who care enough about each other, and our community at large, to make these events happen. They make this a better place to live and I thankful for their efforts.

A city-wide Smart Grid for Sault Ste. Marie

City Council has unanimously supported the Sault Ste. Marie Smart Grid proposal approved by the Board of Directors of PUC Inc. This was an important step for a project that will help our community upgrade its electrical infrastructure, be more innovative and encourage economic growth and diversity.

I wanted to use a blog post to break down the project for those who may have missed Monday night’s meeting.

The Smart Grid concept has been discussed both by Council and the PUC for a number of years. As a PUC board member since 2015, I can confirm that the time and effort it took us to get to this point was important. It is time and effort that was required to ensure the appropriate due diligence was completed and the entire project thoroughly assessed.  This is a big infrastructure spend and we needed to spend the time and make the effort to ensure it was a sound and beneficial project. We have done that.

The project will result in a grid that is ready to meet new and growing demands for reliable and improved power quality. Recent media articles offer a summary of how a Smart Grid functions. To provide you with an example: the smart grid optimizes voltage for the purpose of minimizing the customer’s energy consumption; leading to lower bills. In addition to the improved efficiency the self-healing feature of the smart grid will see a reduction in the frequency and duration of power outages. Other benefits also include; a reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions, enhanced cyber-security, and economic growth.

As a result of receiving Council’s approval, the PUC will move forward with this project and efforts to secure funding from the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario. The PUC and the board are looking for a commitment of around $14 million in federal and provincial support for the construction of the Smart Grid. The project will not move ahead if we do not receive the necessary funding because if we do not receive the funding, the cost of the project will exceed the efficiencies in the project. Therefore, project would not be bill neutral. It was critical to both the PUC board of directors and city council that the project is bill neutral.

As this project moves forward, there is also a plan to construct a Centre of Energy Excellence for Northern Environments (CENEX) in our downtown. Infrastructure Energy (IE), the company the PUC is working with on this project, intends to establish a corporate presence in Sault Ste. Marie, and the plan is for CENEX to be that presence for IE and other partner companies.

A city-wide Smart Grid would provide electricity cost benefits to residents and business, job creation for our local economy, benefits to the environment (reduction in carbon dioxide emissions) and growth in our downtown core. This project is a great project for Sault Ste. Marie, and I was proud to cast the shareholder’s vote on behalf of council. I want to recognize my fellow PUC board members, the PUC management and staff and reiterate my commitment to helping move this project forward.

$50,723 for Every Breakfast Counts

A team effort and tremendous support from our community has secured the operation of Every Breakfast Counts for the summer of 2018 and the summer of 2019. In just three weeks, we raised $50,723, far exceeding our target of $25,000.

This would not have been possible without contributions from businesses, organizations and citizens, along with help from our partners: Algoma Family Services, Sault Ste. Marie District Social Services and the United Way of Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District.

This spring, staff in my office approached me with a question: what happens to the local students who depend on breakfast programming provided at school for a meal to begin the day? When we asked about this need, and how we could assist with addressing it, we quickly determined the following:

Our community has the expertise to help – Algoma Family Services works with our school boards throughout the year to address food insecurity.

Our community has the desire to help – the United Way has developed, and City Council has endorsed, a poverty plan, it has acknowledged and prioritized food insecurity and it is currently in the process of establishing a Food Security Resource Center.

Our community has the infrastructure to help – Social Services operates across our community year round and works with many of the same families who are challenged by food insecurity.

So, if we have the expertise to help, and the desire to help and the infrastructure to help, what were we missing? What we are missing was the funding to purchase the food for a summer program.

I not only saw this as a challenge we could meet, I saw it as one we had a responsibility to solve. So my office committed to our partners that they could go ahead and develop the program, and we would make sure the money was raised.

Thanks to our caring community, this was not a challenging task and thanks to our caring community, there will be a new option to address food insecurity.

It is also important to recognize the importance of our community partners. Algoma Family Services has used its expertise to develop a food plan and is also able to help increase our buying power, meaning we will be getting the most out of the support raised. The United Way accepted donations and distributed receipts to donors. Social services staff and summer students will purchase food and distribute meals.

Meals will be provided through Social Services neighbourhood programming, and 100 percent of the funds raised will go towards the purchase of fresh fruit, milk, yogurt, cereals and other healthy food options.

Once again, to all of the people who supported our campaign through financial contributions, or the contributions of their time and efforts: thank you for your generosity. Your community will be better off because of your civic-minded actions.