So Moved, St. John’s: 30 November 2020

Come for the roundup of Monday’s city council meeting; stay for the delightful interview with Gord Follett Jr., the “fastest man who never ran.”

A Story of Storeys

A proposal for a three-storey single detached house at 1 Ozark Place (a Southlands cul-de-sac) was seeking Council’s approval on Monday. The city’s Municipal Plan states that buildings in the Residential Low Density (R1) zone are “generally low profile, not exceeding two storeys… subject to a Land Use Assessment Report, individual projects may allow heights up to three storeys.” But because three storeys would be higher than existing (and possibly future) homes, it was deemed important to evaluate how the proposal would affect the surrounding area.

Staff gave a thumbs up to the plan, but there was one submission from a neighbour who wanted it known that they “highly object” to a three-storey home on this lot. They complained of privacy issues: “An individual on the third floor of this house could clearly see my backyard…”

Christ. I’m not sure what kind of embarrassing things people in Southlands might do in their backyards that they’d like to hide from the rest of the world. I am now very curious. They’ll have to plant some trees or something though, because the motion was approved.

Cleaning up the Dump

Alyssa’s Property Services Pro Inc. submitted the lowest bid and won the contract for general ground maintenance services at the Robin Hood Bay Waste Management Facility. Before the motion passed, Cllr Burton asked staff about the current status of the Social Procurement Policy. She drew attention to the fact that Choices For Youth’s social enterprise came in as the second lowest bidder, and that the social benefits spurred on by such outfits should weigh into decision making. 

Derek Coffey, Deputy City Manager, responded that the pandemic derailed progress on that front. For now, we have to stick with the lowest bid (as per the Public Procurement Act). This sounds like a prime example of Covid scapegoating, but okay.

The City of Halifax passed a social procurement policy in July of this year, but councillors were disappointed with its weak wording. Departments are required to “consider” including evaluation criteria such as:

  • Supplier diversity (including African Nova Scotians, Indigenous peoples, people with disabilities and/or other traditionally underrepresented groups)
  • Workforce development (offering apprenticeships, skills training, etc.)
  • Paying employees a living wage
  • Community and/or environmental benefits
  • Socially responsible production
  • Advanced health and safety practices.

There’s a lesson to be learned there. Points should be awarded for bids delivering on these categories, to make sure that value beyond the bottom line can be taken into account. 

Let The Games Begin (Hopefully!)

The city of St. John’s is bidding to host the 2025 Canada Summer Games! Cllr Hickman was very proud to read out a resolution that supports a $3 million boost to the 2022 – 2024 Capital Budgets (matching equivalent contributions from both the Province, and the Government of Canada) to support the Host Society, once established. The last time our province had this honour was in 1977, when we won our first medal EVER in Summer Games history. Gordon Follet Jr. took home bronze in the 10,000 m race walk. I pulled out all the stops and tracked down “the fastest man who never ran” for a chat before publication. And what a treat that was. 

When asked what he thought about the opportunity for St. John’s to host the 2025 Canada Summer Games, Mr. Follett was “absolutely supportive.” He noted that when times are tough and government cut-backs are happening, sports are typically at the bottom of the list. “It’s always good when government—municipal, provincial, or federal—recognizes how important sports are to people… this kind of thing will do a lot for the physical and mental development of the kids who will be taking part. The benefits of hosting the Canada Games are almost endless, for the province in general and the entire St. John’s metro area in particular.”

Gord told me that in the lead-up to the ‘77 Games, St. John’s was the centre of the sports world in Canada. No matter where you went in and around the city, there was a buzz. The talk was all about the Games, and the infrastructure and facilities that were coming with it. “That was incredible, and we’re still seeing the benefits today,” he said.

Cllr Burton echoed this sentiment during Monday’s meeting. She noted, “we can leverage opportunities to improve our infrastructure within the city at a lower cost than would otherwise be available.” We did get the Aquarena out of it last time. But in true St. John’s fashion, the track and field facility built right next door was eventually paved over and turned into a parking lot. Sigh.

As soon as his father, Gordon Follet Sr. (an accomplished race walker himself), heard the news, he told his son to get in shape. “I said, ‘Oh no… that means training 4 or 5 times a week,’ but I listened to my father,” Gord Jr. recalled. To avoid being in the sprinters’ way on the track, he would go to Donovan’s Industrial Park (which was just starting to be developed) in the evenings to train when there was no traffic on the go. “I had the streets to myself, and I wasn’t in anybody’s way.” That would seriously have made the best training montage video in Newfoundland history.

I couldn’t resist asking him, as a decorated walker, what he thought about City Council’s recent decision to not improve winter sidewalk clearing services. Gord told me that as much as he is in support of hosting the Canada Summer Games, when it comes to municipal budgetary priorities, “transportation safety, whether it’s sidewalks or transit, I’d support the transportation.” 

He also acknowledged the enormous boost to the local economy that comes with hosting the Games. According to Cllr Korab, we’re talking $80 – 110 million in economic benefit within the city and surrounding area. “They could clear every sidewalk in the city with the revenue from Canada Games,” said Follett. He’s right—if only the revenue went to the municipal coffers rather than the businesses that benefit from an influx of athletes and their minders.

To young local athletes eying the 2025 Games, Mr. Follett says this: “Teams are not yet selected. Never give up on your dreams. If you want to make it, in whatever sport, work as hard as you can. In any sport there’s so much talent involved, but the hard work…I was always in shape and played almost every sport I could, but [Canada Games] was different. I had to get in shape for race walking, and I had to concentrate on it.” You heard it first here, kids. It’s time to get serious, and Gord believes in you.

He also shared that shortly after winning national bronze, he got a job with the Daily News’ sports department. That grew into sports reporting for The Telegram, the Sunday Express, and then eventually the Newfoundland Sportsman. Gord has enjoyed a 40 year career in the media business, “because of the Canada Games.” You should also know that Gord is a fan of The Independent, and our “gutsy” work. If Gord thinks we’re cool, that’s enough for me.

Team NL won the Centennial Cup for Most Improved Team in 1977, almost doubling their total points earned during the previous Games in British Columbia. Sounds kinda like a pat on the head, but as someone who competed in the 2009 Canada Summer Games for heptathlon, I can tell you how truly meaningful this is. Island life might be optimal for pandemic bubbles and doing genetics research, but it’s not always great for things like competitive athletic development. Bringing the national stage of sport to St. John’s would be the single-most monumental builder of sport for a generation of Newfoundland and Labrador athletes.

It will be announced in February, 2021 whether our bid was successful; however, the chance we’ll get it is high. We were, according to The Telegram, slated to host the 2021 Games based on provincial turn-taking rotation. But Council announced in 2015 that they would not be prepared to do so, and swapped out with Niagara, Ontario.

International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and 16 Days of Activism

Deputy Mayor O’Leary brought forward a resolution that will see Council support efforts to address “disproportionate and devastating social and economic impacts of gender-based violence on women and girls”. The word “support” here means writing to provincial government leaders of all three parties and requesting action on six items—many of which have been long-awaited by local activists, allies, and survivors. These include an all-party, interdepartmental task force to address judicial and educational reform on the issue; mandatory training for judges, layers, and police on the law of assault and the psychological and neurobiological impacts of trauma; and, updated curriculum in schools to include feminism and consent.

This resolution comes on the heels of last week’s panel discussion organized by the St. John’s Centre NDP District Association, Justice for Survivors, in response to the recent mistrial in the Doug Snelgrove case. The Independent is currently working on publishing coverage from this event, so you’ll be able to read more on this very soon.

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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