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Supreme Court rules no prayer before council meetings

A majority decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada says that prayers should not be allowed at council meetings. In part the ruling states that elected bodies have “a duty to remain neutral on religious matters”. The high court’s ruling ends an eight-year-old battle to maintain the Catholic prayer before council meetings in Saguenay, Que. Lorraine Heinbuch, Director of Corporate Services and Deputy Clerk for the Town of St. Marys, told the Independent that the Town will seek legal advice on the issue, which is included in the present procedures for the Town. In recent times a prayer has been recited by a “volunteer” Councillor and not necessarily by every council member. In Perth South instead of a prayer they have a moment of reflection before their council meetings. Many municipalities have indicated that they will eliminate the saying of a prayer before their meetings, however, John Henry, Mayor of Oshawa, has indicated that he will continue to say the Lord’s Prayer before their council meeting stating that ‘I am Canadian and it has been out tradition to do so”. It will be interesting to see what St. Marys does especially for the inaugural meeting which has always been attended by one of the local clergy to offer prayers for the upcoming session of council.

Harvey to feature live music, set changes and a bit of magic – By Dan Rankin

When the Mary Chase comedy “Harvey” comes to the stage at the St. Marys Town Hall Theatre – beginning with a preview performance on Thursday, April 23 and running April 24-26, 30 and May 1-3 – it will bring with it some unique features that have not appeared in recent St. Marys Community Players productions. First, unlike their last show “You Can’t Take It With You,” which was set entirely in a New York City apartment, “Harvey” offers two distinct settings. The first is the library of an upper crust American home in the 1940s, where Elwood P. Dowd ruins the social aspirations of his sister and niece by bringing home his friend Harvey – a giant rabbit whom no one else can see or hear. The second setting is in the offices of a psychiatric hospital, where Elwood’s sister Veta attempts to have him committed. Rotating set walls speedily transform the stage from one location to the other. “I’m excited for people to come see the show,” said director Aaron Kropf, of Stratford. “The set in itself is exciting. It required quite a feat of design and thought to go into it.” He credits the hard work of set designer and construction manager Don Wells. “He really did a great job building the set,” Kropf said. “I think his idea of doing some rotating walls and adding a few bits and pieces really helped make that work. We’ve also put a few surprises in that we want people to come check out.” That includes a painting in Act I that has a little more to it than meets the eye, he said. Another feature setting “Harvey” apart will be the live music provided by musician Michel Allard, who will be seated behind his keyboard at the side of the stage for the play’s duration. “I’ve worked with Michel on some other shows, particularly musicals,” said Kropf. Previously, that’s mostly involved recording music for it to be played back during the shows. “This time, he asked if he could try out playing some live music,” said Kropf. “It’ll be exciting to have a non-musical, with a musician sitting on stage playing for us. Michel has sort of looked at all the main characters and come up with five or six different bits that are sort of theme for the main characters.” Of course, having a play where a key character is completely invisible presents its own challenges, but the group has jumped at the opportunity to bring Harvey the mischievous “Pooka” to life. Light cues and other surprises help the audience “see” Harvey, as does the space work of lead actor John Allen, of St. Thomas. “John, who plays Elwood, has really worked hard at making everyone believe that there’s that extra invisible character on stage with him at all times,” Kropf said. “Harvey” previews Thursday, April 23 at 8:00 pm and opens Friday, April 24 at 8:00 pm. Other performances are Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26 at 2:00 pm, Thursday, April 30, Friday, May 1 and Saturday, May 2 at 8:00 pm. It closes on Sunday, May 3 at 2:00 pm. Tickets are $20 except for the preview which is $10. Three meal packages are on offer including Saturday, April 25 presented by Friends of the Library for a 2:00 pm matinee and Westover Inn dinner ($55); Sunday, April 26 Westover Inn brunch and 2:00 pm matinee ($35); and Saturday, May 2 Wildstone dinner and 8:00 pm show ($45). Tickets are now on sale at the Flower Shop & More in St. Marys (519-284-2013) or purchase tickets online at stmaryscommunityplayers.ca.

St. Marys and Perth South reps call meeting on James Street South economic development “positive” first step – By Dan Rankin

“You might as well get along with your neighbours,” said Perth South councillor Cathy Barker. “Life is short.” The Town of St. Marys and the Township of Perth South haven’t always gotten along, but a preliminary meeting that took place this week regarding the development of the industrial land located on James Street South seems to indicate both sides are ready to let bygones be bygones. Officials representing the economic development committees of both St. Marys and Perth South met with Perth County’s economic development co-ordinator Kristin Sainsbury to “warm up those discussions and see if anything could happen,” St. Marys councillor Carey Pope said. “I care about tomorrow; I don’t care about what happened 10 years ago,” said Coun. Pope, who characterized the meeting as a positive first step. Talks mainly focused on ways the two governmental bodies could work together, with topics discussed ranging from housing, to tourism, to taxes, as well as “the elephant in the room,” Coun. Pope said. “There were some old grudges with the water and wastewater.” “We can’t change that, can we?” said Coun. Barker, who also called the meeting very positive. “We can only change the future, so we best look to what’s going to happen in the next not-quite four years now. Let’s move forward and do something great.” Coun. Barker said she remembers three councils ago, when the land to the south of town was zoned, and these discussions began. “Then, two councils ago, we put the agreement in place and it has sat since then,” she said. “We had the economic downturn in there which didn’t help the timing of it all. So, if not now, when?” Coun. Pope called the idea of St. Marys and Perth South not having these conversations “irresponsible.” “If we don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen in the future and we’ll have very little industry growth in town,” she said. “But, until we have shovel-ready property that permits for people to dig within 60 days, we’ll lose it to places like Stratford or Listowel. We need shovel-ready industry sites ready now. We need tax dollars. Both of us do.” A second meeting between economic development representatives from St. Marys and Perth South has been tentatively scheduled for the end of May, with quarterly meetings planned to begin after that.

Mayor lays out “Little Red” carpet for Perth-Wellington Conservative candidate – By Dan Rankin

St. Marys Mayor Al Strathdee showed federal Conservative candidate for Perth-Wellington John Nater around the town on Monday, April 13, introducing him to downtown business people, before attending the Nater campaign event at Little Reds Pub and Eatery that evening. Strathdee’s children provided entertainment at the event, playing guitar, harmonica and singing. “I’m going to keep working hard here in St. Marys,” said Nater, a resident of Mitchell and past West Perth councillor. “It’s an important community and I look forward to continuing our efforts here.” Nater said he has been in St. Marys several times recently to attend meetings connected with the Save Via movement. “I’ve met with Chris West and Greg Gormick and I’ve really enjoyed reading their articles and their plans, and seeing what we can do on our end to help push that to VIA Rail and see what options we can implement here,” he said. “For senior citizens, for students, for those who need medical appointments – I think we need to make sure transportation options are available to get them where they need to be.” As someone who formerly relied on VIA service while attending school in Ottawa and Kingston, he said he looks forward to “working with all three levels of government and with VIA Rail to see what options we can put in place” to maintain the “important community asset.” Looking ahead to the expected (but not confirmed) October 19 federal election, Nater said his “core priority” is “helping communities and municipalities deal with what they see as their own priorities.” The Conservative Party’s $53-billion “New Building Canada Fund” includes a small communities component that can help communities in Perth-Wellington, he said. “A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t appropriate,” he said. “Each community needs to identify the key priorities they see for infrastructure and community projects and we need to work with them.” Nater was also bullish on the Tories’ soon-to-be-released budget. “I think it’s going to be a good budget, and the key point there is it will be a balanced budget,” he said, adding that one of its main focuses will be tax credits for families with young and teenaged children. As for health care, Nater said he wants to see “long-term, sustainable and predictable funding” from Ottawa. “Right now we’ve committed to the next three years of continued six percent increases in health care funding,” he said. “After those three years, we’re committed to a further three percent in funding, or the rate of inflation, whatever is higher. That allows funding to keep up with the inflation rate to make sure we have the money there to keep healthcare viable, especially in our rural communities.” As the weather continues to improve, Nater said he will be out “knocking on doors.” “You may see me on your doorstep at some point,” he said before joking: “Hopefully you won’t slam the door too hard on my face.”

McCotter speaks in Stratford at Volunteer Week event

On Monday evening April 13, Perth-Wellington federal Liberal candidate Stephen McCotter was a guest speaker at the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s annual ‘Difference Makers’ Volunteer Appreciation Event in Stratford. In his speech at the event, which was scheduled as part of National Volunteer Week, McCotter congratulated those in attendance for the work they’d done in the community. “National Volunteer Week began in 1943 to draw attention to the vital contribution women made to the war effort on the home front,” he said. “After the war, when volunteerism and helping out became a corner stone of Canadian values, National Volunteer Week broadened and emphasized the importance of thanking volunteers across the country. It is now the largest celebration of civic participation in Canada.” McCotter stressed his view that volunteerism is a “core Canadian value” that is essential to maintain. “Public service and the greater good is not secondary to our national priorities, it is essential to our national priorities,” he said. “If we are to tackle the challenges our country is facing – whether it is environmental change, poverty, unemployment, or health care – service and community involvement is integral to dealing with these challenges.” McCotter was in St. Marys last week from April 9-11 for the first stop of his “Talk Shop” tour of Perth-Wellington, the objective of which is to bring attention to the riding’s main streets and to promote local business, volunteer organizations and upcoming community events.

Councillor Pope delivers welcome gifts to young Dominican ball players – By Dan Rankin

For the past few years, St. Marys town councillor, and Pass it On store owner Carey Pope has been collecting used baseball gear here in Canada, from gloves to bats to balls, on behalf of Samana, a town full of aspiring baseball players in the Dominican Republic. Samana is a hilly town in Northeastern Dominican Republic rich in talented ball players but poor in resources. Some of the pro players currently in the MLB from Samana include two-time All-Star pitcher Fernando Rodney, three-time All-Star and two-time National League Silver Slugger Hanley Ramirez, young arm for the Kansas City Royals Yordano Ventura, and Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta. In an interview with Alabama’s Al.com when he played for the Brewers’ farm team in Huntsville, Peralta describes growing up in Samana without a baseball glove of his own until he was 11 years old, and developing his throwing skills with a lemon. His daily routine, he said, involved going from home to school to the baseball diamond. According to Pope, that’s how most boys in Samana spend their time. “They’re on the field before school, after school before dinner, and after dinner,” she said. “These same kids every day, seven days a week.” The younger kids don’t belong to organized teams, but that doesn’t stop them from honing their skills in the hopes of being picked to be part of a team; a potentially life-altering event in their lives. Most of the children she saw on her recent trip to the country at the end of March rely on borrowing gloves and other equipment from a storage building by the diamonds. “Then at the end of the day they just return it,” she said. “If they walked home with some of this equipment they’d lose it. It would be taken from them. Baseball gloves are a couple week’s wages.” She brought not only the gloves, bats and balls donated at her store, but also a used laptop to help a local coach keep track of data on his players. “And of course a Blue Jays hat, which was promised, for the coach,” she added. Also, for the first time this year, Pope brought down a number of St. Thomas Cardinals baseball uniforms for the kids. “One of the people that works for the town, his kids play on the St. Thomas team,” she said. “They were used but they were in good condition, and all the kids loved them.” Now that officials with St. Thomas baseball have seen the photos of kids in their jerseys, they “have made it so I can go back with more later this year,” Pope said. “I also have a whole bunch more gloves and bats donated. It’s really developing into something.” She encouraged others with used baseball equipment to bring it in to her store, located at 31 Water Street South in St. Marys. “Don’t dump it in the landfill,” she said. “If it’s still usable, these kids don’t have anything, so, for them to have a glove or a bat or even a t-shirt, it means a lot.”