On Monday night Glen Grant was sworn in as the new Mayor of Cornwall. He has years of experience on Council behind him, a competent administration to support him, and active and engaged colleagues around the council table to both offer their support and differing views when necessary.
It is a good thing that Grant has these advantages going into his new job, because while his term as Mayor may be short, it will no doubt be eventful and challenging.
During Thursday night’s Special Meeting of Council where Grant was appointed to the top job by a vote of Council 6-to-2. Councillor Elaine MacDonald held up the City of Cornwall’s Strategic Plan and said Cornwall had nothing to fear of a change of course because this Council and this Mayor would continued to be guided by the goals set out in that document.
I believe that Elaine is correct, that the 2019-2022 Strategic Plan lays out achievable goals that the city should strive for, and that Council will more or less follow it. I feel however that such a rigid commitment to this document could be a detriment for the city.
Look at the years this Strategic Plan covers, 2019-2022. This plan was devised and agreed upon prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am sure that all members of Council and Administration will say that much has changed since the start of the pandemic and that includes municipal priorities.
Right now, today, the City of Cornwall is facing some serious challenges that have been brought on by the pandemic. While infection rates are down, and vaccination rates are up, there are still significant issues that the city will have to face long after this virus is behind us.
The most pressing issue is housing. Rental rates in the city are climbing as are housing prices as the market remains hot. Over the past three weeks, I have talked to several residents of Cornwall who are either facing homelessness or already are homeless.
Housing is included as one of the five pillars of Council’s Strategic Plan, but its bullet points hardly goes far enough to address this issue that is becoming more and more urgent.
The 2019-2022 Strategic Plan calls for three things to be done to address the issue of housing in Cornwall. 1. Form a task force. 2. Create rental licensing registry to enable a database and adherence to applicable by-laws and standards. 3. Look at options to increase enforcement of property standards, building & fire codes.
Not one of these above points will do anything for a person who is currently homeless in the City of Cornwall.
The housing task force was created earlier this year and was chaired by former Mayor Bernadette Clement. I hope that Mayor Grant will also chair this important task force so that this issue receives his full attention.
That being said, more needs to be done now. Our neighbours in the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) are moving on this issue quickly and the city of Cornwall needs to keep up with them. The MCA is preparing to open a Healing Centre at the former Cornwall General Hospital. This site will be open to the homeless and will have 11 rooms. It also will provide lockers and backpacks to those who are living on the street. They will be open as soon as they receive approval of permits from the City of Cornwall, which I hope are getting the attention that they are due.
Cornwall City Council needs to become actively involved on the issue of homelessness now by working with the MCA on their Healing Centre project, and also through offering their own support programs for residents in the city.
Rent prices are rising and I have heard from more than one person that this is quickly leading to tough decisions between choosing to pay rent, food, or electricity. Ontario works provides up to $733 a month for basic needs including shelter. A quick search on Kijiji will show single rooms for rent from between $600 to as much as $1,000 or more.
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