As we say goodbye to the year that was and move ahead to 2021, ending the COVID-19 pandemic and rolling out a vaccine to the Nipissing District is top of mind for three political leaders.
In North Bay, Mayor Al McDonald, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and Liberal MP Anthony Rota are looking back on 2020 and are optimistic about what’s to come in 2021.
McDonald says despite the pandemic, the city’s real estate market had a strong year.
“Our housing market was on fire. It was not uncommon to hear anywhere from two to eight bids over asking for houses and I think that really showed how attractive our city was,” said McDonald.
McDonald credits the city’s front-line workers, local businesses, and the citizens for doing their part to keep the community safe.
“We’re always either the lowest or the second lowest in our province for cases,” said McDonald.
The city had its hands full this year. Two tent cities were organized in front of city hall and there was a subsequent demonstration.
The city and the social services board worked to open a new warming centre in December and keep operations going at the low-barrier shelter.
City council is also expected to pass its budget in early January. From there, council will vote on the proposed community centre project, after a final estimate comes back to city staff. The community centre has generated a lot of talk and opinion in the city.
“The arenas are our most used facilities that we have,” said McDonald speaking on the upcoming vote.
“Last year, we had conservatively 380,000 visits. It’s mostly younger families that use the arena, but adults use them a well.”
McDonald faced criticism this year over a ‘lack of transparency’ from a taxpayer named Kevin Ferris, who filed an FOI (Freedom of Information) request to find out why the city’s former CAO Jerry Knox was paid $203,000 in both 2016 and 2017 as a "corporate advisor”. It's not known whether Knox did any actual work.
Knox announced his resignation as CAO at a press conference on Dec. 9, 2015. There was no mention at the time that Knox would continue on as a corporate advisor. He then retired effective June 3, 2016 and began the corporate advisor role the next day.
The city released heavily redacted documents last month of an in-camera meeting where the matter was discussed. Ferris said the documents were so full of blacked out portions, it doesn't shed any light on the mystery.
McDonald weighed in Thursday.
“The elected officials aren’t part of any Freedom of Information request,” said McDonald.
“There’s always Freedom of Information requests filed to the city clerk all the time.”
McDonald says he is now working with both Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and federal Liberal MP Anthony Rota regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fedeli, maintains the province’s lockdown is what is needed to keep locals safe in the early weeks of January and says the film industry was strong at the beginning of 2020.
Fedeli says he is now waiting for a vaccine rollout in Northeastern Ontario.
“We’re looking at long-term care facilities, front-line health care workers, adult indigenous leaders will receive the vaccine first.”
As his role of Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, Fedeli held virtual meetings with representatives in India and in the U.S this year.
“We landed two companies: an auto parts maker and a packaging company which will be their first forays outside of India,” said Fedeli.
“We just signed a strategic investment and procurement agreement with Maryland. It was the first of its kind.”
The federal government launched the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to help Canadians who stopped working because of COVID-19 which has also comes with its fair share of controversy.
“When we talk to people, we hear ‘Why does it take so long to get legislation through?’ and I think this was a prime example of what happens when we rush legislation,” said Nipissing-Timiskaming Liberal MP Anthony Rota.
“There are small openings that are left behind and small loopholes that aren’t closed.”
Rota has also concluded his first year as Speaker of the House of Commons.
“It was my first year and it was a year of many firsts,” Rota reflected.
“We held the first virtual meeting. This has been a record year for funding as far as COVID programs and other programs to help Canadians.”
Rota highlighted the success of programs started to support local seniors, the creation of wage subsidies, and rental subsidies.
All three leaders are optimistic that 2021 will be a good rebound year for Canadians.