MORRISBURG – The past year has seen many challenges. Soon-to-be outgoing member of provincial Parliament Jim McDonell said that the supportive community and adapting to the pandemic have been positives for him in 2021. The Leader spoke to McDonell about the past year, the pandemic, the riding, and his nearly 28-year career in public service.
Speaking of vaccination efforts since the beginning of 2021, McDonell said Ontario had one of the best records in the world for vaccine uptake.
“In Canada, we’re only behind British Columbia,” McDonell said. “When you look at places in Europe like Germany and the United Kingdom, we’ve done very well.
He acknowledged that early in the year there were supply challenges, but those issues have been sorted out. Even with vaccinations, many events and activities were cancelled in the riding. What did happen though was a positive for him.
“There has been a lot of cooperation and eagerness to make things work,” McDonell explained. “In the summertime people were out supporting restuarants and on patios, despite maybe some uneasiness in the community. We dealt with the business of the day but [the pandemic] didn’t get us down.”
He said that most worked within the various rules put in place through the reopening plans and that the activities that were held were successful.
Having been in public service since 1994 when he was first elected in Charlottenburgh Township (now part of South Glengarry), McDonell has been a councillor, mayor, warden, and MPP. Out of the four jobs, he said he enjoyed being MPP the most.
“The opportunity to travel in the riding, and in the province and have an impact at a higher level of government is a privilege.”
He said he is proud of being able to champion local issues and bring a local perspective to Queen’s Park, regardless of being in opposition or government.
After the 2018 election, McDonell was named parliamentary assistant to Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark. As part of government, McDonell said one of the achievements he is most proud of is the government action on bringing high speed internet to all parts of the province by 2025.
“By 2022 there will be contracts tendered for every area of the province that doesn’t have some high speed internet,” he said.
Many areas of the SDSG riding are part of that government program.
McDonell said 2022 was going to be challenging. At the time of this interview before Christmas COVID-19 numbers were increasing in Ontario. Since then, the Omicron variant has become the dominant variant in Ontario with over 15,000 new infections per day reported.
“COVID-19 is not going away. We’re tied to science,” he said of the pandemic and restrictions past and future. “It’s a matter of getting the economy going as much as we can, to support our businesses.”
McDonell said something he is looking forward to in the few months remaining in his term is Ontario signing a deal with the federal government for $10 per day childcare. He added that getting that deal is relatively simple, “just give [Ontario] the same deal Quebec got.”
As for the search for his replacement as Progressive Conservative Party candidate for the upcoming election, he said he is staying out of the process.
“Several have shown interest in running, but I am not involved,” McDonell said.
Retiring from public office does not mean he plans on slowing down.
“I’ll be 68. My wife Margie and I want to do some travelling,” he said adding that will happen when pandemic restrictions allow.
While most of his family is in Glengarry County, serving in public office, and the pandemic, has meant he hasn’t seen many relatives, something McDonell said he wanted to do. That includes spending more time with his grandkids.
The MPP also plans on reconnecting with local service and community groups that he was a volunteer for before and getting involved again.
“There are a lot of groups out there and the volunteer numbers have been declining,” he said of wanting to still help out.
Slowing down is something McDonell is looking forward to though.
“There’s no question that at Queen’s Park there is a lot to do and a lot of time away from home,” he said. “Even in the summertime, there are a lot of things being done – events to go to – and that is part of the job, and it’s great. But now it’s time for us to do things.”
This article was originally written for and published in The Morrisbrug Leader.