Do city officials have the maturity to move forward?


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Monday’s announcement this corner of the province is in line to benefit from an $80-million job-generation fund had the City Scope research department scurrying to dust off the archives.
Before delving into those findings, we must note one of the drivers that led to the creation of the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund by Premier Dalton McGuinty was the Southwest Economic Alliance (SWEA).
Launched in 2006, SWEA is an advocacy body encompassing partners from municipalities, counties, educational institutions and businesses in the region.
Today, under the presidency of St. Thomas resident Serge Lavoie, SWEA is comprised of 10 counties, including Elgin, and four independent cities, none of which is St. Thomas.

The irony is not lost on Lavoie — as president of SWEA, now based in St. Thomas, his home city has repeatedly balked at joining the cooperative venture whose “high level of cooperation lead directly to the creation of the provincial fund,” he notes in a letter this week to the Times-Journal.
He continues: “A similar success was achieved in 2009, when the federal government introduced the Federal Economic Development Agency for southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
Now, lets step back to 1998, when Woodstock, St. Thomas and Stratford formed the Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance (SOMA) — a partnership designed to take advantage of economic development opportunities — which has channelled much of its energy into trade missions to Japan and Germany.
The powers-to-be up in London chose to thumb their nose at membership in SOMA and ran as a lone wolf until the formation of SWEA.
One of SWEA’s first ventures was a two-day Southwest Economic Assembly in May, 2006, to which SOMA members were invited to participate — Woodstock and Stratford eagerly took advantage.
In fact, Stratford Mayor Don Mathieson passed on a SOMA junket to Japan to host the economic summit.
“We have an opportunity to make a difference,” Mathieson said at the time.
St. Thomas officials, meantime, played tit-for-tat and declined to participate in anything involving London.
A Times-Journal editorial from that time noted St. Thomas’s decision to skip the important economic summit was best described as obstinate behavior and reflected poorly.
The editorial concluded: “It’s time to put history behind us and move forward with a new spirit of cooperation and economic prosperity between neighbouring municipalities.
Note to Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman and members of council from Lavoie: “I can only say my home city will be welcomed with open arms when it chooses to join the alliance.”
For the miniscule membership fee of $4,000 annually, St. Thomas may avoid becoming the hole in the economic map of southwestern Ontario.

THE NEW TRANSPARENCY AT QUEEN’S PARK
You have to hand it to Jeff Yurek for keeping his sense of humour as he settles in to a routine at the Ontario Legislature. Seems the Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP had a difficult first couple of attempts at gaining recognition.
On Nov. 24, in a member’s statement, Yurek had to point Speaker Dave Levack in the right direction, as recorded in Hansard:
Speaker: The member from Northumberland-Quinte West.
Yurek: The one beside it.
Speaker: Oh, the other guy.
Yurek: Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Speaker: Yes. I’m looking at the wrong one. Elgin-Middlesex.
That set the tone for Yurek’s maiden speech on Nov. 28 with the Acting Speaker, Paul Miller, treading lightly:
Acting Speaker: Questions and comments? The member from — I hope I’ve got this right — Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Yurek: You have it right.
An hour later and Miller was bobbling the ball.
Acting Speaker: The member from — I’ve lost it for a minute here.
Yurek: You’ve got it.
Acting Speaker: Elgin-Middlesex-Kent. Middlesex, sorry.
Yurek: I think I have the toughest riding to remember the name of, but I’ll wear a name tag or something.
At 5 p.m. that same day, Miller was right on the mark.
Acting Speaker: We’ll get it right this time: Elgin-Middlesex-London.
Yurek: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Perhaps we should have former speaker Steve Peters trot in from the bullpen for the occasions when Yurek is about to speak.

PRESERVING THE CITY’S PAST
The Balaclava Street School community can take heart in the knowledge city council is expected to follow the advice of CAO Wendell Graves Monday and proceed down the path leading to a heritage designation for the school, designed by St. Thomas architect Neil Darrach.
The CAO’s report, however, includes the following caveat.
“Council should be reminded that at this point in time, the city does not have a specific property standards bylaw in place for the protection of heritage properties once designated.”
The ghost of Alma lingers.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We keep trying to make the point, but it’s hard to be heard.”
Former Elgin county warden John Wilson, who now sits on the Community School Alliance, has long lobbied the London-centered school board to acknowledge rural schools are not only places of learning, they’re valuable community assets.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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