Local MPP reflects on toughest year in political career

·6 min read

A local politician is proud to serve as the MPP for Chatham-Kent-Leamington in his third term and the 42nd Parliament of Ontario.

Rick Nicholls was born and raised in Chatham-Kent. He was first elected to the Ontario Legislative Assembly in October of 2011. According to Nicholls, he strongly believes in building solid working relationships with those at Queen’s Park and within his constituency.

While Nicholls has had a successful career in politics, he admits the past year has been the most difficult year of his career. However, he is thankful his experience as a baseball umpire has been useful in the Ontario Legislature, helping him make the tough calls.

“I’m in my 10th year now as the MPP for Chatham Kent -Leamington, and I have to confess this has been by far the most difficult year my staff and I have ever experienced,” said Nicholls. “But don’t feel sorry for me because it’s every politician.”

Nicholls recognizes the past year has also been difficult for families, noting savings have dwindled to nothing.

“I believe the people of Chatham-Kent are a resilient group of people. We will bounce back, and we will bounce back.”

According to Nicholls, in addition to getting people to understand and follow the guidelines the government has put down, one of the biggest issues right now is attending to the needs of those who are experiencing challenges from being locked down or even dealing with the children having to do online learning at school.

“If parents choose to let their kids go back to school, there’s a mental health issue component of that, which is not only for the children but also for parents as well, and they’ve discovered it’s very, very challenging,” said Nicholls.

He admitted lockdown and dealing with rules and regulations for the past year hasn’t been easy for anyone to deal with, noting most people’s patience is running out.

Last week, the province announced that municipalities would be receiving an additional $500 million to ensure critical services are delivered and capital projects stay on track during the pandemic. Chatham-Kent will receive $1,459,125.

Nicholls said the funding is being prioritized to help municipalities hardest hit by the pandemic. He added the money could be used for things like personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and bylaw enforcement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on us, and eradicating this virus remains a major priority of our government,” said Nicholls in a statement. “This funding is crucial to keeping our capital projects moving forward so we may still build for a better tomorrow.”

To help boost mental health and addiction services, the province announced it is providing funding for the various campuses of St. Clair College and the University of Windsor.

A total of $729,389 has been allocated for different purposes, including strengthening community partnerships, increasing the number of mental-health workers and programs and expanding access for students to the provincial mental health and addictions system during the pandemic.

“Mental health has now become an everyday topic as we slowly work to destigmatize these conversations,” said Nicholls. “This funding will further help those in need and is especially useful in the high-stress environments of post-secondary schools.”

While COVID-19 has impacted many, Nicholls also pointed out the impacts it has had on small businesses.

“Nobody liked the fact that small businesses were shutting down, and in some cases, they’ll never reopen,” said Nicholls. “I take that personally. I was a small business owner before I got involved in politics.

Nicholls emphasized the province is offering grants of up to $20,000 to help small businesses recover lost revenue during the lockdown.

“If you could provide financial details for your business and as a result of the lockdown if you experienced a minimum of 20% drop in sales, the government was providing a $10,000 grant plus up to another $10,000 based on how hard the other business had been hit. So they could, in fact, apply for and receive up to a $20,000 grant; you don’t have to pay that back,” said Nicholls.

While Nicholls admits the past year has been difficult, he admitted there have also been several positives to come from the pandemic.

“I think it’s brought a lot of families together,” said Nicholls. “Kids need parental supervision and direction as well. I see that as a plus.

While the politician mentioned how proud he is of the community coming together to phone neighbours to check-in, he highlighted several food drives such as the ‘Miracle of May 16’ and ‘The Gift’ to be great examples of positive news stories during the pandemic.

Nicholls said he is pleased to see the COVID-19 vaccine clinic ramping up. He added while the circumstances are not ideal, he is pleased healthcare workers are finally getting the recognition they have always deserved.

“The downside; there’s a lot of staff burned out because they’re putting in some pretty long hours. It’s just like playing a hockey game, but not knowing when the game is going to end,” said Nicholls.

The Progressive Conservative member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario serves as the Government Deputy Speaker. Two of Nicholls’s proposals from the last government, a concrete barrier on the 401 highway in Southwest Ontario and better safety standards for school-busses, have already been implemented in the new government’s first year. He looks forward to continuing this track record with more improvements to public policy for the benefit of families and communities.

Nicholls said his job allows him to help many people in his riding, and as such, he is committed to helping represent his community, regardless of political background.

“Our office is colorblind. We help everybody. They may be of a different political persuasion. But if we’re able to help them, I will work hard on their behalf to hopefully help them get the desired outcome they want. It might not always happen that way, but I’m fighting in their corner,” said Nicholls.

As the days go by and COVID-19 approaches the rearview mirror with mass vaccinations, Nicholls said that he is excited to get back out into the community when it is safe. He said he is most excited about the opportunities to visit and encourage businesses, attend events, sing in retirement homes, and meet with people in the riding.

“I’m in it to make a difference for the people in my riding and my community,” said Nicholls. “Regardless of a political stripe, we help everybody. We’re here to serve the public.”

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News