St. Thomas council noted for what it didn’t do

Ian McCallum

Ian McCallum

A body of elected representatives is most often judged by what it does. In the case of city council, one of its most prudent decisions to date this year was what it didn’t do.
Instead of endorsing a resolution from the Canadian Auto Workers which in part requires the purchase of municipal goods and services “with the highest possible level” of Canadian content, council sought input from city staff.
A wise decision.

To date, the resolution has only been adopted by 14 Ontario municipalities and we understand several of those communities may very well reconsider their support.
In addition to possibly violating procedural bylaws in St. Thomas with regard to accepting the lowest tender bid, the “Buy Canadian-Building Communities” resolution would likely raise red flags in other areas, as noted by Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association this week in the Daily Commercial News.
While construction contracts are not specifically cited, a CAW spokesman said the resolution would cover procurement of materials and supplies on publicly-funded projects.
Thurston said it would be “virtually impossible” for contractors to comply, given the fact that products and materials used in construction are sourced from around the world.
“It’s great to be patriotic, it’s great to want to buy locally, but we cannot ignore the fact that we live in a global economy,” he said. “To demand a certain level of Canadian content (on construction projects) is just not realistic.”
Thurston also questioned how such requirements could in fact be enforced by municipalities.
At the federal level, Canadian Construction Association president Mike Atkinson said CCA does not support preferential procurement policies “unless they have been implemented in response to particular restrictive trade practices” of other countries.
“We also think these kinds of (protectionist) measures tend to evoke reciprocal-type measures from other jurisdictions,” Atkinson said. “Do we really want to fan the flames of protectionism in (say) the United States?”
Indeed, now is certainly not the time to adopt short-sighted protectionist strategies in which this country has far too much, i.e. jobs, to risk losing.

A week ago, Mayor Cliff Barwick told T-J reporter Kyle Rea the observance of Earth Hour, Sat. March 28 had “slipped under the radar.”
Nothing was brought forward at any council meeting and Mayor Barwick advised us the city didn’t receive “proper notice of it.”
Well, lo and behold, what should appear in the agenda package for the April 6 council meeting but a letter from Jim Watson, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to the attention of the mayor’s office.
The letter is clearly stamped received March 16 and it advises council of details for the world-wide recognition of Earth Hour with the notation, “we all have the opportunity to do something simple while showing we are leaders when it comes to the environment.”
Being as there was a council meeting that very evening, the last prior to Earth Hour, would you not expect the letter to be presented at the meeting as new business or a public notice, even though there was no time to formally add it to the agenda.
With a little bit of effort, Mayor Barwick could have ensured this global event in fact would not elude the radar screen.
Or is this just one more case of a lack of will on the part of our city’s administrative leader?

Doors Open Ontario 2009 allows visitors the opportunity to explore
heritage buildings, architectural showpieces and community landmarks at 48 events across the province.
And this year, St. Thomas and east Elgin have joined the Ontario Heritage Trust program, which has proven to be a popular event in Sparta and Port Stanley.
Each year, hundreds of historic buildings, natural spaces and heritage gardens, some of which are rarely accessible to the public – open free of charge as part of Doors Open Ontario. Since the program began in 2002, nearly three million visits have been made to heritage sites during community events.
St. Thomas will hold its Doors Open event on Oct. 17-18 while east Elgin will participate on Sept. 26.
Port Stanley and Sparta, meantime, have opted for Oct. 3.

It’s been a year since BFI Canada assumed the city’s waste management contract from Green Lane Environmental Group.
In addition to a growing list of contract clarifications and resident complaints, the outstanding matter of a fee structure for dropping off material at the Bush Line transfer station will finally be addressed by city council this Monday.
As proposed, BFI is seeking a $1.75 charge per regular-sized garbage bag to be dropped off at the transfer station.
Stashing that unwanted sofa will set you back $20 while turfing car tires comes at a price of $4 each.
All well and dandy, but is BFI willing to issue a receipt upon payment for this privilege. They haven’t to date, which makes you wonder how exactly they account for materials disposed of at the transfer station.
It’s all about neatness after all.

Debate over the need for a CAO in St. Thomas is again generating letters to the Times-Journal and no doubt the merits of a highly-qualified city administrator is a topic of discussion in business circles where the value of a proactive, long-term economic strategy is not only appreciated, but deemed mandatory.
Now, more than ever, with staggering job losses, factory closures and unprecedented government funding on the line, progressive leadership in the form of a CAO is of the highest priority.
We again defer to municipal consultant and author George Cuff, no stranger to our elected officials at city hall, who in the May, 2005 issue of Municipal World advised, “Any mayor who assumes the functions and prerogatives of a chief administrative officer is not only guilty of undermining the most important administrative linkage a council has to its staff, but also lessens the potential positive impact that a political leader can impart to the community.”
It is not possible to do well at both positions concurrently, advised Cuff. One or both will inevitably suffer, and in most instances, it will be both.
And in these unprecedented times, ego and stubbornness must yield to common sense.

“The problems of this riding will continue until we collectively demand representatives who are more than nice guys. Representatives, who are not only willing, but also able to effectively champion our cause.”
In a letter to the editor this week, reader Gary Lazenby argues this area needs both an MP and MPP who have “a bit of a backbone and the tenacity to stand up and fight for this riding.”

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


2 thoughts on “St. Thomas council noted for what it didn’t do


    There has been a lot of talk lately about trash in our city. What seems to be missing from the dialogue is the relationship with the new service provider. Shortly after BFI purchased Green Lane last May, council immediately set the acrimonious tone for the relationship with Alderman Tom Johnston, chairman of the environmental services spouting, “we haven’t given consent yet”. Talk about being full of yourself, and what was to be gained by the additional trash talking directed towards the new owner by other members of council? “If these people (BFI) don’t want to do the job here as according to the contract, we could very well come back to this council and say we’re going to request for proposals,” beaked the Mayor and Alderman Warden added his two cents, “This opens up a real quandary to me. Because to me, the contractor is in breach of its contract.” There you have it, a variant on Relationship Building for Dummies.

    Since then it has become painfully clear that the city’s contract with Green Lane had not been kept current by environmental services and the obligations inherited by BFI were at best unclear. Are contracts with the City of St. Thomas suppliers not reviewed, and updated where necessary, on an annual basis regardless of their duration? And specifically in the case of the contract with Green Lane, on Feb 28th, 2008 the city had extended its contract for a five year term commencing March 1, 2009 – did nobody review this contract? How can you extend any contract for five years without fully understanding the services you have purchased and the monies you have committed on behalf of the city? Sometimes our city hall operates just like a computer, garbage in – garbage out.

    As we approach the first anniversary of the purchase by BFI, is the city any closer to an amended contract, or do we have to hire some consultants to assist the newly hired Waste Management Coordinator? It took less time to scribe the Magna Carta. Johnston’s continued efforts will prove to be invaluable, “Maybe discussions have to be more intense at a city level if we want to improve it.” It high time the city stopped trash talking and started talking trash – as in a new updated contract now. Here’s a suggestion on how to get started – give Dave Raney, BFI District Manager a call and let him know you want to talk to him not about him.

    Bill Sandison
    Advocate for a Better Municipal Government
    STR8TALK in St. Thomas

  2. Bill:
    The wheels fell off the garbage cart when Bob McCaig and Green Lane Environmental Group sold the landfill site to Toronto and BFI bought out Green Lane and assumed the municipal waste contract with the city. Residents and some members of council always thought Bob was tough to deal and now we’re finding he in fact over perfomed on his garbage pickup and recycling obligations. Unfortunately it’s not quite as easy as sitting down with Dave Raney from BFI. He hasn’t returned calls from the T-J in months, even when we tried to do a positive backgrounder for our annual Business and Industrial Review last month. He was to appear before council earlier this year to answer questions from council and was a no-show … instead he sent a letter to inform the city he would abide by the current contract, no more no less. This after the Christmas tree recycling fiasco that the city had to sort out. Again Bob McCaig had gone the extra mile with this service. As we are witnessing with BFI, if it isn’t in the contract, forget it. Even down to how much recyclable material they will pick up and as a result our diversion rate from landfill is slipping. Ian

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