By Rori Bennett – Junior Reporter
The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged differently across the country, the province, and across the globe.
Chatham-Kent Mayor Darrin Canniff caught up with the Sydenham Current for a telephone interview to share his thoughts regarding the response by Chatham-Kent residents and those in positions of authority throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following are the Mayor’s responses to five questions regarding leadership, challenges and how the pandemic has impacted the community:
What has been the largest challenge that you faced during the pandemic?
“Well, the largest challenge when dealing with the pandemic is just trying to keep the public safe while dealing with a worldwide crisis, and ensuring that people have food, and are safe, and dealing with the changes in everyone’s lives,” Mayor Canniff said.
“Everybody’s lives changed from COVID, and we are all dealing with stress from those changes. Overall, we are just trying to deal with the stresses of the community, ensuring that everyone stays safe.”
What have been some positive, encouraging moments that you have seen during the pandemic?
“The way that the community has come together during the pandemic, is one of the biggest things, the number of people who stepped up to help others,” Mayor Canniff said.
“The May 16th Miracle is a perfect example of how we came together all across Chatham-Kent and the massive amount of food that was given to those in the community that need it. The number of people that have called me, asking how they can help, the number of calls to United Way, helping the less fortunate, those dropping in on their neighbors to check in and help to those that couldn’t get out.”
Mayor Canniff added: “It’s how we came together as a community. I knew it would happen and that’s what I expected to happen, and they delivered big-time.”
How has COVID-19 changed your role as mayor and the workload that you have?
“Certainly, there have been a couple of big things,” the Mayor said.
“There has been a lot more work, as far as dealing with a lot of crisis and issues across the community, that’s been a huge piece of it.”
Mayor Canniff added: “As well, I usually spend a lot of much time out in the community. COVID very much changed how I did my job. Instead of being out in the community a lot, I’m not out in the community at all. It really became a time where I was between the office and my home and that was a huge change for me, because I was not able to go out and feel the energy in the community.”
Canniff said those were the biggest changes.
“I feel there was a lot more office work-type things, where you sit down, and deal with a lot of issues,” he said.
“We always dealt with a lot of issues, but COVID brought even more.”
Looking at the pandemic from a global perspective, how do you view Chatham-Kent’s response overall, especially when compared to the United States, other countries around the world and other communities across Ontario and Canada?
“Well, I look at it that Chatham-Kent took it very seriously, as far as social distancing and other things that may not have happened around the world,” Mayor Canniff said.
“We see what is happening in the United States right now, their communities weren’t coming together to take it seriously. Chatham-Kent did take it seriously and one of the big things that we have not seen, knock on wood, is an occurrence of COVID-19 at any of the senior’s homes. Those have many vulnerable individuals and we took that very seriously, and kept it out of there.”
Canniff added: “We kept our cases down and people were respectful of the process. The Medical officer, David Colby, and his team did a fabulous job of informing us and doing their job to find all connections when there was a case and ensuring that everyone in contact with that person is in isolation. I can’t speak for municipal staff across the world, but I know that ours stepped up big time. I was thrilled with how hard, and how well everyone worked.”
Knowing you don’t have a crystal ball and understanding that there remains a lot of uncertainty with the ongoing COVID-19 situation, what does the future hold in Chatham-Kent and what are you focusing on?
“As we start progressing into phase 3, a lot has opened,” Canniff said.
“We, Council and myself, really have to focus on, not just getting through COVID, but the post-COVID situation as well and what that looks like in Chatham-Kent.”
Mayor Canniff said he is “really excited” about the future of Chatham-Kent.
“COVID-19 has highlighted a lot of the wonderful things that happen here,” he said.
“We have a low number of people per square kilometer, we are very safe as far as crime goes, we have great temperatures, we have cost of living advantages. All of these things make people want to come to Chatham-Kent, and COVID really opened the door for people working at home and realizing that we can do that. Someone can work in Toronto, but live in Chatham-Kent. It really opened doors for our community.”