As the year draws to close, it’s time to look back at the news stories that dominated London’s headlines over the past year.
From a municipal election scandal to the Juno Awards to a house-levelling explosion, here are the city’s top news stories of 2019.
A Global News exclusive published days before the federal election in October reported that Dr. Daniel Lefcoe, a prominent London psychiatrist, was linked to support of the Canadian Nationalist Party (CNP).
The CNP’s main polices, as stated on the party’s website, include a plan to discontinue public funding for Pride parades, along with removing “homosexuality/transgenderism from the academic curriculum entirely.” The party’s demographic policy also seeks to “maintain the current demographic status of the current European-descended majority.”
Global News reached out to Lefcoe at the time of the report, but the doctor declined to comment on the matter.
A former patient of Lefcoe’s told Global News that his connection to the CNP prompted her to file a complaint with the psychiatrist’s employer, the London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
“London Health Sciences Centre does not ask for the political affiliations of its staff or physicians as that is a personal choice,” the LHSC wrote in a statement to Global News. “Use of hospital resources including time during normal working hours on any personal political activity (local, provincial, or federal) is not permitted.”
In June, a London task force declared a jobs crisis in the city.
The declaration was made in a report released by the London Jobs Now task force, a group established by Mayor Ed Holder in April in an attempt to address the city’s relatively low labour force participation rates.
The report provided four recommendations to address the jobs crisis, including better transit for southern and eastern industrial areas, the development of a sustainable business plan for filling jobs and a call for the media to “hold the city’s feet to the fire for meeting the 13,000 jobs-filled goal.”
The declaration was soon followed by the creation of a London jobs board, which aimed to connect local employers with local jobseekers.
Toward the end of 2019, London had added more than 17,000 jobs to the city on a net basis.
The City of London also declared a climate emergency in April.
The move saw London join ranks with Halifax, Kingston, Vancouver and a growing number of municipalities across Canada that have made similar declarations.
A few months later, city staff unveiled a laundry list of recommendations that aimed to curb climate change. The recommendations earned support among city councillors, as did the goal to see London achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Londoner Maggie MacNeil made a splash on the international swimming scene in July when she won Canada’s first gold medal at the World Aquatics Championships.
Competing on her first senior national team, the 19-year-old set a Canadian record with a time of 55.83 seconds in the women’s 100-metre butterfly, 0.39 seconds ahead of reigning Olympic champ and world-record holder Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden.
MacNeil later told Global News it was amazing to be around swimmers she’s looked up to in the past.
“Quite literally, actually — most of the competitors are at least six foot, which is really funny just because I’m just under five-seven so they literally are giants,” she said.
MacNeil’s success helped Canada qualify for the new 4×100-metre mixed medley relay event at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics after the country finished fifth at the World Aquatics Championships in South Korea.
Blackridge Strategy made headlines in May when the London-based PR firm became enveloped in a scandal surrounding the creation of websites targeting incumbent city councillors during the 2018 municipal election.
Court documents obtained on behalf of Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy and former Ward 10 councillor Virginia Ridley linked the websites to an individual named Amir Farahi. One of the co-founders of Blackridge, also named Amir Farahi, acknowledged in July that the websites were created by the PR firm.
Blackridge would go on to defend the websites, telling the public in a statement: “The media has willfully misrepresented the content of these websites as being slanderous and non-factual when the information presented on each website reflected verified, albeit harsh, facts.”
Months after the news broke, the Thames Valley District School Board formed a formal inquiry committee to examine a code-of-conduct complaint against board trustee Jake Skinner, who runs Blackridge with Farahi.
In December, Blackridge received a court order to hand over client files related to websites in question.
Tensions were on the rise among Ontario educators this year as unions representing teachers in the province attempted to hammer out new contracts with the Doug Ford government.
A stalemate in contract negotiations saw unionized high school teachers commit to one-day walkouts for three consecutive weeks, though not all of these walkouts were provincewide. The unions would also go on to launch charter challenges to a provincial law capping public-sector wage increases.
The issue remains unresolved in Ontario and is set to carry over into 2020.
As the Justin Trudeau Liberals regained power across the nation in October’s federal election so, too, did a number of familiar names in London.
The 2019 general election saw Liberals Peter Fragiskatos and Kate Young re-elected in London North Centre and London West, respectively, while Karen Vecchio maintained Conservative control in Elgin-Middlesex-London.
The NDP was aided by Lindsay Mathyssen in London-Fanshawe, who won her first bid in federal politics. Mathyssen took over from her retiring mother, Irene Mathyssen, who held the seat for the New Democrats for more than a decade.
London flexed its musical muscles when it got the chance to host the 2019 Juno Awards in March.
The awards themselves included many nods to the Forest City, opening with a performance from Loud Luxury with Western University’s marching band and cheerleaders.
John Stobie of Stobie’s Pizza, a staple of London’s dining scene, later told Global News he was floored when his restaurant was mentioned during the live broadcast by Arkells.
Vaping in Canada reached a turning point in September when the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) reported the first case of a vaping-related illness in the country.
The case involved a 17-year-old boy who went from being in perfect health to being on life support after just five months of regularly using e-cigarettes.
A report on the boy’s 47-day hospital stay found he narrowly averted a double-lung transplant and that his condition resembled what medical professionals describe as “popcorn lung.”
The incident was followed by a number of policy moves intended to address youth vaping in Canada, including an Ontario ban on vaping promotion that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
London’s biggest story of the year came from one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
On the night of Aug. 14, emergency crews were called to 450 Woodman Ave., a home that sits in the heart of the city’s Old East Village neighbourhood. Police say a vehicle slammed into the residence, striking a gas line and causing a natural gas leak.
The leak led to a house-levelling explosion that damaged several residences, including two that were later demolished, and sent seven people — including six first responders — to hospital. Nearly 100 homes were forced to evacuate.
The tragedy was followed by an outpouring of support from the local community, including a benefit concert that drew hundreds of Londoners.
Following the incident, Daniella Leis was charged with a number of impaired driving-related offences in connection with the blast. Hearings continue in Leis’ case, which has been held over until Jan. 29, 2020.