No future for heritage preservation


Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum


As guest of the Elgin St. Thomas Archives Association, Mayor Cliff Barwick’s presentation Wednesday on heritage building preservation was so laced with negativity, it made his bland New Year’s address stand out as stirring motivational oratory.
And as was the case in his state of the union to open the 129th council of the Corporation of the City of St. Thomas early in January, Barwick proved a master of buck passing this week before 50 or so gathered in the public library’s Carnegie Room.

The province should provide financial incentives before designating a property as heritage, huffed Barwick.
Fair enough, but it was the city that designated Alma as a heritage property in 1994, so the province is not the only tier of government on the hook here to provide financial sweetening.
Barwick made it clear the city has nary a penny to devote to preservation and therefore he would like to see an Ontario heritage fund established with a reserve of $500 million, raised in a fashion similar to the existing provincial gas tax.
The audience was aroused out of its slumber at the onset of question period when Suzanne van Bommel, president of the Alma Advocacy Association, and several other heritage advocates had Barwick backpedalling in impressive fashion.
She was steamed at Barwick’s insistence city taxpayers are on the hook in efforts to uphold minimum property standards for properties like Alma College.
“It was disingenuous at best to imply that anything to protect or preserve the property would have been at the sole expense of taxpayers,” stressed van Bommel afterward. “It’s not true.”
Any money spent in that manner goes on the property tax bill for the owner, she added.
The proceedings terminated prematurely after David McGee, owner of the Sutherland Press building zinged Barwick with a right hook.
“You’ve mentioned difficulties having funds available to do things necessary with Alma College,” he noted. “But $154,000 became available to demolish the (Sutherland) building, despite the fact that I already advised you and advised everybody in council that I would do whatever repairs are necessary.”
Barwick steadfastly refused to engage McGee which prompted a spirited exchange culminating in this spectacular outburst.
“Your question has nothing to do with heritage. Your situation on Talbot Street, quite frankly, is absolutely disgraceful and you should be ashamed of yourself.”
By dodging a perfectly reasonable query, Barwick neatly skirted the bone of contention voiced by heritage advocates.
The money spent ensuring the Sutherland Press building was not a safety hazard could just as easily have been directed toward securing Alma College, as it endured the ravages of neglect, weather and vandals.
On this evening, Barwick validated the warning issued by London developer Shmuel Farhi — St. Thomas is the Bermuda Triangle for heritage properties.

A FINANCIAL CAT-ASTROPHE
In addition to cavernous pot holes, disintegrating watermains, washboard roads and crumbling sidewalks, the 2009 city budget discussions must now acknowledge the escalating cost of dealing with unwanted cats.
In a report to council Monday, deputy chief clerk Rick Beachey notes the city may have to deal with the realization upwards of 230 or more cats may face euthanization this year, at a cost of $85 per animal or about $20,000 in total.
Last year Animal Aide removed approximately 235 cats from the city’s animal shelter, something they will cease to do this year, which may result in a substantial increase in vet charges which are budgeted at just $500.
Pets Friends for Life may be available to remove some of those cats, however their capacity is undetermined.
Good luck dealing with the tab for tabbies, it’s an emotional hot button. So few dollars, so many requests.

PITFALLS OF PROTECTIONISM
While headlines warn of the repercussions emanating from the Barack Obama administration’s Buy American brand of protectionism, St. Thomas council is being asked to endorse a resolution Monday pushing the same agenda with a Buy Canadian policy.
Ryan Dolby, Elgin-Middlesex-London NDP riding association president will appear before council calling on it to support Buy Canadian legislation “applying to direct public purchases, and to grants and other funding provided to municipal governments.”
Similar legislation was passed earlier this week in the U.S. House of Representatives that prohibits purchasing foreign iron and steel in that country’s $800 billion stimulus package.
It is worth noting Canada exported more than $11 billion worth of steel to the U.S. in 2007 and that figure has caught the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who admits this is “a serious concern to us.”
Trade Minister Stockwell Day went a step further, noting this very same protectionism had catastrophic results in the 1930s.
The Feds are currently lobbying the U.S. administration to avoid inclusion of protectionist clauses in their stimulus package, so why would we push an identical agenda?
A contract for $600 million worth of Stryker armoured vehicles for the U.S. army was placed last year at the General Dynamics Land Systems plant in London. The threat of protectionism on either side of the border will only threaten trade wars and the loss of further jobs in Canada.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“This was an exercise that Pontius Pilate couldn’t have done better. This was wash your hands of all responsibility for anything.”
Suzanne van Bommel, president of the Alma Advocacy Association, registers here frustration following Wednesday’s presentation on heritage building preservation hosted by the Elgin St. Thomas Archives Association and featuring guest speaker, Mayor Cliff Barwick.

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

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