SW Ontario lagging behind in job creation, income growth, warns economist

city_scope_logo-cmykA sobering report released this week that brings into perspective the impact manufacturing’s decline has had on southwestern Ontario’s median household income through 2015 (the last year of available census data).
The report’s author Ben Eisen, a senior fellow with the Fraser Institute, notes Windsor falls from 10th highest median household income to 25th while London falls from 15th to 27th (out of 36 Canadian metropolitan centres).
St. Thomas is included in the London Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) and so the report has important local relevance.
Eisen’s work covers the period between 2005 and 2015 and so it is a look back in time and the next census in 2021 may give a clearer picture of where we are today.

Continue reading

Is jockeying for position underway for the 2018 mayoral race?

city_scope_logo-cmykThe plug has been pulled – at least temporarily – on Mayor Heather Jackson’s vision of a fibre optics network for St. Thomas.

Her plan for a fibre optics information session was voted down in a closed-door meeting on June 20 and Jackson was so infuriated she fired off an email to various players in the business community pointing the finger at councillors Jeff Kohler and Gary Clarke, who put forth the motion that “The Information Session regarding fibre planned for July 19, 2016 be postponed until a date agreeable to Council.”

Council voted 6-2 in favour of the motion.

The cost of such a network would be tens of millions of dollars according to an individual in the know and this may have played a role in council putting the brakes on the mayor’s plans. Continue reading

Revitalized Tories feel a Wynne is in sight


A reinvigorated party, ready to head to the polls and unseat Kathleen Wynne and the scandal-plagued Liberals.
That’s the prognosis from Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek as his party emerged from last weekend’s pep rally in London.
“All of the caucus left pretty invigorated and ready to go behind Tim (Hudak),” Jeff told City Scope on Thursday.
“Tim has even come out on fire in the legislature all week and really focused on jobs and the economy. He has really loosened up and he’s ready to go for the next election.”
We’ll zero in on jobs in a moment, however we had to peg Jeff down on the party’s leader who just doesn’t seem to resonate with the majority of voters.
Continue reading

We could have put that information to very good use


With the imminent departure of CEO Bob Wheeler, is it time for a new direction over at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp?
After 14 years at the helm, the question of a replacement for Wheeler offers intriguing possibilities.
What better person to approach than EDC board president, Dennis Broome, whom we talked to Thursday.
“We’ve struck a committee to look at what we’re going to do,” Dennis informs. “And, we’ll make recommendations. That will happen in November. The upside is we have some pretty competent people there already in Sean (Dyke) and Cindy (Hastings), who’ve been there for a long time and know the ropes. For Sean that’s almost a natural progression. He is a very capable young man.”
A compelling case to bring this bright, young gun to the forefront.
Be it known, this corner has, in the past, leaned in the direction of former MPP Steve Peters with his stuffed Rolodex of contacts.
However, an outside hire may not be in the cards for the EDC.
“My thought is that for going forward right now, there won’t be a replacement,” advises Dennis. “That’s open to the board changing their mind. We’re happy the way things are going.”
Would it be premature, then, to offer congratulations to Sean?
But, let’s backtrack. Why would Wheeler abandon a six-figure salary at this particular point in time or was he not offered a new contract?
“Bob was going to retire three or four years ago,” Dennis explains. “And the contract was extended twice to him. It was time for him to retire. So, that’s what he’s going to do.”
A complaint in the past, from a media perspective, has been the lack of on-going data in a workable format from which we could paint a true picture of the employment situation in St. Thomas.
“One thing people don’t realize – and we probably are remiss in our non-issue of information – is if you take it from when Sterling Trucks left St. Thomas, and take it from that day forward, we’ve actually had a plus-jobs creation in the city in the last three years of almost 800 jobs.”
These include new jobs or hire-backs at Masco, Format, Presstran, London Castings, C.D.C. Warehouse Inc. and Starwood Hotels and Resorts, Dennis points out.
We will pursue this job creation figure in greater depth this week in the Times-Journal, and we appreciate the honesty of Dennis when he concedes the EDC may not always have made available information that would help us portray an accurate jobs picture in St. Thomas.
To counter one critic, we are indeed on the hunt for good news.

It’s mid-September, 2003, and Ald. Gord Campbell has just met with St. Thomas police Chief Bill Lynch to discuss “a serious breach of etiquette” at city hall, to determine if there was enough evidence to warrant an investigation.
Campbell told the Times-Journal at the time he had concerns about “a serious breach of etiquette involving the public works community that has never been resolved.”
The matter at hand involved alleged harassing behaviour that had “demoralized” some members of city hall staff.
We reference this dark chapter only because it has come to the attention of City Scope we should now be asking questions in the environmental services department at city hall about complaints of harassment.
And, we will.
Is this an indication the toxic environment of nine years ago has oozed to the surface again, albeit down a different corridor?

Was the decision to hire Ron Osborne as the new Ascent CEO – replacing the retired Brian Hollywood – unanimously approved by the Ascent board of directors?
Our request to speak with board chairman Jim Herbert has yet to yield a response.

We briefly alluded to Jason McComb last week in this corner. He’s the guy trying to draw attention to Canada’s homeless through his website.
Well, it seems Jason camped out for a spell on the steps of city hall Monday and then attempted to introduce himself to Mayor Heather Jackson.
Hearing who was in the office, she promptly dialed 9-1-1 and four of the city’s finest convinced a bewildered Jason to exit city hall.
Jason tells us he even put on the best of his clothes in order to present the mayor with one of his posters. No ulterior motives whatsoever.
Which prompted the following observation from a member of the DDB board of directors.
“When incidents like this occur I’m concerned. He is a DDB member and local merchant. He pays rent at a storefront on Talbot Street. He has rights! What a shameful situation.”
Maybe if the mayor closes her eyes, Jason and others of the homeless ilk will just disappear.

“The scandal-plagued Liberals have put the government on autopilot with the doors shut and the lights off leaving their reckless spending to go unchecked with no plan to kick-start private sector job creation.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek as he stood on the doorstep of health minister Deb Matthews Friday in London to encourage the Liberal party to end prorogation of the legislature.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca

The Horton Farmers Market is a wonderful success story – now let’s build on that momentum

The following guest editorial is from Bruce Stewart of Troy Media. The original version can be found here

A community guide to creating jobs . . . all it takes is one old building of a reasonable size with a number of merchants to share the space

Shelley Holmes, chairwoman of the board for the St. Thomas Horton Farmers’ Market polishes up their sandwhich board for the season opening of the market this Saturday at 8 a.m. until 12 noon. The market operates every Saturday until the end of October.

TORONTO, ON – “Where are the jobs?” That’s a comment you can hear over coffee from one end of Canada to the other. We look at our children and wonder where they’ll work. We look at those of us forced into early retirement because of closures and layoffs and wonder the same for ourselves.

A little creativity is all that’s required, and we’ll have lots of work for everyone.

Major employers are nice to have: it’s why town and city councils constantly vote to provide incentives to attract them. The trouble is that major employers don’t have the same commitment to the community and its future as local employers do. So how do we make more local opportunity?
Continue reading

Health unit ‘reverses and changes’ will impact ratepayers, warns London developer


We opened up City Scope seven days ago by suggesting the ball was in the court of London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The comment was in reference to the decision by Elgin St. Thomas Public Health to seek new digs, not located on property owned by Farhi in the city’s west end.
Well, Farhi has rifled the ball back into this corner in convincing fashion.
He is most upset at a comment we made as to where the allegiance of members of council lie.
Specifically, my observation “any dissenting voice on city council (on a minor zoning variation needed by Family and Children’s of St. Thomas and Elgin to move into the 99 Edward St. location that is the current home of the health unit) would certainly be based on allegiance to Farhi . . . rather than to city ratepayers.
That prompted a terse email from Farhi, who asserts he had a deal in place with the health unit for his Talbot Street property.

Continue reading

A new home for health unit and it’s not on Farhi property


Over to you Shmuel.
Elgin St. Thomas Public Health made it official this week: they are seeking a new home and it won’t be on property at the west end of Talbot Street owned by London developer Shmuel Farhi.
As reported in the Times-Journal, the health unit is close to a deal for two acres of property at a yet-to-be-disclosed location, with a budget of about $10 million to design and build a new, 30,000-square-foot-home.
Their current abode is 27,000 square feet at 99 Edward St., and the proposed move prompted T-J reader Bill Petryshyn to post on our website: “10 million dollars for an extra 3000 sq ft? Seems pricey.”

Continue reading

Sorry, we’re very busy getting our house in order


It’s a gutsy call . . . turning down an opportunity to have St. Thomas profiled on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Mayor Heather Jackson and other city officials turned thumbs down on feelers from Force Four Entertainment in Vancouver requesting the city consider serving as a backdrop for the second season of Million Dollar Neighbourhood.
Promotional material touting the series gushes, “Million Dollar Neighbourhood is a groundbreaking television series about taking control of finances, the power of community and guiding people toward their best lives.”

Continue reading

Thoughts on the potential for economic development between St. Thomas and First Nations of Ontario

The following was forwarded to City Scope by St. Thomas resident Bev Walpole and illustrates the “outside-of-the-box” thinking so sorely lacking today. It’s a case of addressing a large-scale national issue with a made-in-St.Thomas solution.Please take a few moments to read Bev’s paper and feel free to comment. This is certainly far removed from the initiatives currently being floated by local politicians and business development groups . . .

From 1978-1985 I was a public health inspector working for the federal department then known as Health and Welfare Canada, Medical Services Branch. My duties included advising Inuit and First Nations communities about sanitation and environmental issues. My work took me throughout the Northwest Territories, part of what is now Nunavut, Northern Saskatchewan and the province of Manitoba. During those years I encountered problems in those communities such as inadequate housing, inadequate and improper disposal of sewage, unsafe water supplies and the myriad of social issues endured by the citizens of those communities.

Throughout those years, I did my best to advocate for more and better housing, clean, safe water supplies and safe disposal of sewage and household wastes. I approached my own department as well as the Department of Indian affairs on behalf of the communities. I encouraged the leaders of the community to work towards improvement of conditions on their reserves and villages. The response from the community leaders was to ask where the money would come from to improve their situation. The Federal government departments for whom I worked and to whom I advocated on behalf of the communities responded with excuses such as “there is no money; resources are limited; and they’ll only wreck it anyway.” It was frustrating to visit these isolated communities, each time reporting on conditions and submitting recommendations for improvement and realizing that probably nothing would be done to make the situation better. I recall mentioning to a friend that if the temperature was to increase in the northern communities, disease would spread like wildfire because of the improper disposal of human waste, and the consumption of untreated or improperly treated water supplies.
Continue reading