Heritage is fine, say lawyers, but not for us

Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum

Having remained out of the spotlight since last summer, the Elgin County Court House is back on the radar, following a letter sent Feb. 5 by the Elgin Law Association to Ontario Realty Corporation.
At its last meeting, the association acknowledged the court house is “an impressive building of historical and architectural significance,” and it supports preservation of the Wellington Street facility that predates Confederation.

However lawyers in St. Thomas and Elgin don’t want the building, owned by London developer Shmuel Farhi, as their place of business for much longer.
In their letter to ORC, members of the association are of the firm belief “any proposal to convert the Wellington Street building to a consolidated facility sufficient to satisfy the current and future needs of this community makes neither practical nor economic sense.
The law association is of the opinion “it would be unreasonable to expect that the heritage value and basic character of the present structure and the surrounding neighbourhood could be meaningfully preserved and maintained if a consolidated facility were to be constructed at that site.”
So when did the legal profession in Elgin become architects and heritage consultants?
And, have they huddled with Farhi to ascertain for themselves the scope of his pledge to upgrade and expand the present building to meet future needs?
The law association followed up their letter to ORC five days later with correspondence to Mayor Cliff Barwick and council urging them to rethink their motion to work with Farhi to preserve the court house so that it will continue to function in its intended role.
The ELA “wishes to encourage the owner … to work with the City of St. Thomas and consider alternate uses for the site that could serve to benefit our community and at the same time preserve the court house building.”
Isn’t that what Farhi and the city are pressing the province to undertake, yet maintain the integrity of the building at the same time?
And, as a result, “bring both access to justice as well as new jobs and new opportunities to the citizens of St. Thomas,” as the law association seems to have established as its priority.
Seems like the law profession is suffering from not-in-my-backyard syndrome. They appreciate the value of heritage, as long as its not where they hang their robes at the end of the day.
Chatham-Kent, Simcoe and Sarnia all have modern consolidated court facilities and the lawyers of Elgin are making it clear they will settle for nothing less.

The St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation this week announced it has hired the consulting firm of Millier Dickinson Blais “to create an economic development strategic plan for the community that will foster the city’s future prosperity.”
It’s an admirable undertaking but you have to wonder with a fairly lengthy timetable until final recommendations are presented to council, what about the thousands of people who are out of work now or shortly will be?
Is another strategic plan the route to travel when so many other consultant reports gather dust on the shelves at city hall. The province’s Innovation Team report is the perfect example.
So is the McCarthy-Tetrault report of 2003, which branded council as dysfunctional.
Warning flags go up when the EDC announcement is smothered in phrases such as: “positioning statements for business development” and “developing a branding and marketing strategy.”
It all sounds highly conceptual, as if we were positioning a new laundry detergent or line of cosmetics in the market.
Compare that to this week’s roll-out of the new helicopter school at the airport. While it won’t employ a lot of people, it’s the type of innovative, new entrepreneurial direction this city has to pursue.
Or how about Presstran’s green strategy the firm hopes will save jobs … now.
Not on the heels of another strategic report many months down the road.
While the city ratchets this project up, Elgin county is already winning awards with their Progressive by Nature marketing developed before the great crash of ’08.
But then again, they have a CAO taking care of business.


Last week’s observation in this corner that Timken Centre donors deserve recognition, prompted Mr. Soccer, Bob Luft, to write and stress they are not the only group.
“Talking about recognition, the St. Thomas Soccer Club contributed in excess of $100,000 toward the support building at Athletic Park in 1992,” he reminds. “The club is still waiting for a plaque commemorating the event over 15 years ago.”
One more piece of business for the new community services chairman, Ald. David Warden, to deal with.

“The Elgin Law Association understands and appreciates the importance of heritage in our community. The Elgin Law Association itself was established in 1886.”
The law association, in a letter to Mayor Cliff Barwick and council, makes it clear heritage is wonderful, as long was we they don’t have to work in such surroundings.
City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

3 thoughts on “Heritage is fine, say lawyers, but not for us


    In the business section of the London Free Press Feb.11th, 2009 Norman De Bono’s article, “Firm hired to help St. Thomas fix its economy” noted that the Bob Wheeler of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. had engaged a Hamilton consulting firm, Miller Dickenson Blais to produce a report for $87,413. The provincial government has made funding available of $185,000 to the City of St. Thomas to draw up the new economic strategy.

    In December I had suggested to our Council, MP and MPP that a business development strategy was long overdue. Only MP Joe Preston showed enough interest and concern to respond. Now, two months later we are going to spend $87,413 on a consultant’s report – a strategic plan that “Wheeler hopes will be completed before June.”

    Why did we not approach Dean Carol Stephenson of the Richard Ivey School of Business in London for her assistance? Ms. Stephenson’s goal as the Dean is to “dramatically advance the practice of business management and leadership and to create business leaders who think globally, act strategically and contribute to the societies in which they operate.” We could have harnessed one of the premier business institutions in Canada at probably a fraction of the cost. Further, this initiative could have developed into an ongoing partnership between local government, an educational institution and business for the overall prosperity of our city and our region.

    Time will tell if the Miller Dickenson Blais document is to be just another report that will gather dust on a shelf somewhere on Talbot Street; or one that tells Bob Wheeler and the rest of us what we already know – we need to diversify.

    Money well spent? You be the judge.

  2. When all else fails,politicians will do what is called “keeping up appearances”.They must appear to be addressing the problem,whether it be the economy,healthcare,unemployment etc.They will hire a consulting firm,at a considerable cost to the taxpayer,the report will state the obvious and solve nothing,but politicians must appear to be hard at work.The report will take many months to produce and will be released with little fanfare,and filed away in the archives.Anyone who follows politics can see the simplest of tasks,put into the governments hands,eventually turns into a 3 ring circus.The economy is in a mess,unemployment is rampant and politicians will step to the microphone and say “we plan to do a comprehensive report”,and in the meantime,all you people about to lose your jobs,homes,cars,businesse’s etc,will just have to wait until our overpaid consultants can find a solution,at which time we WILL NOT implement any of there reccomendations.Always remember one thing,politicians are concerned about one thing only, keeping themselves employed,and that comes about every 4 years,until that time,we’re on our own.

    Bob Foster

  3. Bob,
    Couldn’t have said it better myself!!

    Michael Quartz (Heritage Advocate)

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