Lack of will leaves city absent at table

Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis braved the elements. So did Woodstock Mayor Michael Harding and Mayor Mel Veale from snowbound Strathroy.
Anne Marie DeCicco-Best from London was also in attendance, as 22 mayors from across Ontario met in Toronto last Friday to discuss the battered automotive sector.
Conspicuous by his absence was Mayor Cliff Barwick who, along with Economic Development Corporation CEO Bob Wheeler, begged off attending because of the threat of snow, which never materialized in this area.
“We decided not to go because of the weather, the warnings that we had were the weather was severe for Elgin county so we decided not to,” Wheeler told City Scope as the talks progressed in Toronto.
This in spite of the fact the day dawned under a mainly sunny sky, favourable conditions that prevailed throughout Friday.
When told Francis had no trouble making his presence felt in Toronto, Wheeler observed, “That’s fine, maybe they flew.”
It may come as a revelation, but the option of taking advantage of a reliable train and bus service to Toronto was available to the St. Thomas delegation. Or, with a little planning, Wheeler and Barwick could have departed the day before.
There appears to be no difficulty jetting half-way around the world to support Japanese investors, yet city representatives can’t find their way two hours down the highway to support 4,000 city jobs under threat.
Earlier this month, Barwick justified his Japan junket by warning, “Perhaps there is a cutback here at Japanese-owned companies. Is that attributable to the fact I wasn’t there (on the trade mission next February)?”
Employing that logic, what if the city gets less than its share of financial assistance from upper tier governments because we were a no-show in Toronto.
What message does that send?
It wasn’t the threat of a winter wallop that kept city reps from trundling to Toronto, it was the lack of will.

It would behoove our elected officials from all levels of government to put aside an hour this afternoon to participate in the open house at GCW Custom Kitchens and Cabinetry in their new location at 233 Edward St. in St. Thomas.
Take the time to introduce yourselves to general manager Ron Deweger who will be more than pleased to personally tour you through their 1,950-square metre (21,000-square foot) operation that grew out of little more than a garage undertaking in less than a decade.
What you’ll witness is not just a state-of-the art facility that employs 30 people at their 1.6 hectare (4 acre) site in the city’s industrial core, you’ll get an insight into the economic direction this city might want to pursue.
“We need some good news stories,” stressed DeWeger in a conversation earlier this week. “We employ 30 people here and it’s an operation that could nicely grow in a time where others are suffering.”
They produce custom millwork that is being installed in homes and offices well beyond the boundaries of Elgin, in the process establishing a name for the firm and the city with their innovative workmanship.
All of this done without the aid of trips to Japan or government handouts.
No doubt there are countless other success stories tucked away in the city’s industrial area and Messrs. Barwick and Wheeler would do well to forego expensive overseas junkets to soothe skitterish investors and instead encourage and develop manufacturing opportunities right in our own backyard.

Last week in this corner we documented several positive developments contained within the pages of the T-J, including a $900,000 investment by the province to proceed with planning for a 15-bed mental health unit in St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital.
However, all is not as it seems, suggests a caller to City Scope familiar with programs now delivered at Regional Mental Health Care – St. Thomas.
Yes, the new beds are very positive for our community, she agrees, but it will ultimately result in the closure of Regional Mental Health Care – St. Thomas
The existing facility currently houses 23 assessment beds on top of numerous other beds required by the community.
That is in addition to a full out-patient department with staff and doctors who will be will be impacted.
It’s a huge reduction of employment for this area once they close and instead place 15 new beds in STEGH, she advises.
The community has no idea what is coming down the pipeline for mental health services in St. Thomas and it’s a pretty scary outlook, she cautions.
As always, we’re open to clarification, explanation or denial from MPP Steve Peters, who announced the funding, or officials at STEGH.


Jean MacDougall has a vision for Port Stanley that she is the first to admit is not popular with all area residents.
About two years ago, the 83-year-old sparkplug gathered together a dozen or so like-minded citizens and formed a think tank to promote a Lake Erie ferry service and revival of both freight and passenger rail service north to London.
She contacted City Scope this week to advise a public meeting will be held 7 p. m. Thursday at the Legion hall in Port Stanley to discuss the merits and status of harbour divestiture.
The meeting should prove “very interesting,” she chuckles, “maybe even combatitive.”

“We can discuss the weather for a long time, but based on the weather that I saw when I went to bed, the warnings were still in place, so it was based on that. Do you respect our position?”
Economic Development Corporation CEO Bob Wheeler says the threat of snow in the St. Thomas area (which never materialized) was the reason he and Mayor Cliff Barwick chose not to attend a meeting of Ontario mayors in Toronto called to discuss the ailing auto sector.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to:


3 thoughts on “Lack of will leaves city absent at table

  1. It seems Mayors are at their worst,when you need them the most.It’s plain and simple,Mayor Barwick and his side kick,Bob Wheeler should have been in Toronto regardless the weather.You mean to tell me the weather kept these 2 guys from attending a meeting,that was as important as this,because they were worried about getting a little snow on their boots.St.Thomas is a beautiful city,and should be promoted,no matter what the weather.This mayor has shown that even though his city is facing a crisis,that will undoubtedly be felt for many years to come,the thought of a little snow scared him enough,to put the city’s business on the back burner.Maybe Mayor Barwick should request such important meetings be held in July & August,thus making his only concern,that he and Bob Wheeler have enough sunscreen,for the trip to T.O.

    Bob Foster

  2. Hi Ian, Just popped in to check out your seen as I have seen it flash up many times on Alpha.
    Best wishes

  3. While Ian rightly questions the mayor’s absence, this was more than just a lack of will; it was a dereliction of duty. The Ontario Mayors for Automotive Investment (OMAI) representing more than thirty municipalities across the province met in Toronto on Friday Nov.21st, 2008 to discuss the crisis hitting the auto sector. The mayors shared perspectives on the impact of the crisis on their communities and possible solutions. Those who attended should be applauded for their efforts.

    A statement released by those in attendance stressed;

    “The time is now for immediate and bold action to deal with the crisis hitting Canada’s automotive sector.

    As mayors we see the effects of this crisis in our communities every day. We expect to be at the table to give voice to the concerns of our residents who are now facing uncertainty in these very troubled times.”

    Despite the alarming majority of the 4,500 job losses in the auto sector having occurred front and centre, right here in St. Thomas, this important meeting and collaborative effort by the mayors of Ontario was not even mentioned during the St. Thomas council meeting held Nov.17th, 2008. Was there no plan to attend? Weather did not prevent twenty-two mayors, including those from London, Woodstock, and Strathroy from attending the meeting; they had their priorities straight. It was an extraordinary disservice to the overwhelming number of jobless in St. Thomas not being “at the table”. While Barwick talks the talk, other Ontario mayors walk the talk and seek solutions. If Barwick really wanted to participate, all he had to do was arrange a conference bridge with Co-Chair, Michael Harding (Mayor of Woodstock) and dial-in. That would have required little thought or effort.

    Given Barwick’s apparent indifference to the plight of the jobless, let’s do something worthy for the unemployed in our city this Christmas by rescinding the mayor’s excursion to Japan and reallocating the $7,000 toward putting some food “on their table” during these troubled times.

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