Chatham-Kent has received a harsh and timely wake-up call from Dr. Strasser, indicating just how delicate relations can be between elected officials and potential investors. The President of St. Clair College has been working tirelessly for years with the municipality to improve the Thames Campus with an Arena, Community Wellness and Aquatic Centre, Gymnasium, and other recreational amenities, not to mention plans for expansions to the educational capacity of the College itself.
In return, he's met resistance, disbelief and opposition from our new mayor. If the lobbyists have their way, it's wouldn't be the first time investors have packed their suitcases of cash and left over careless political comments.
As a former mayoral and council candidate, I can attest to the extreme lobbying pressure exerted by certain agitators, both publicly through this paper and privately, to oppose the Rec Centre. However, at the end of the day, when the dust was blown off the calculator display, I could find no valid reason to oppose such a positive community building initiative.
By taking an informed and principled stand in the face of this pressure, I was subject to malicious sabotage to my campaign by anonymous defamatory advertising, purchased by cowardly parties who refused to reveal their identities.
There continues to be those in this community with no sense of vision or creativity. When all of the misinformation and lies about the proposed Rec Centre are discounted, it's hard to find anything negative about it.
However, it is an embarrassment to all of us that our mayor is under the influence of this lobbying and misinformation from cynical forces, refusing to read the facts in the reports and use some logic to think for himself and understand the consequences of his stance.
We witnessed many councillors showing the leadership they were elected to provide, speaking eloquently in favour of the Rec Centre in full possession of the facts, or asking questions when unsure. Some councillors even respectfully admonished mayor Hope for his lack of leadership and closed-minded thinking. This despite each councillor being subject to the same lobbying pressure to oppose it as Hope, with the possible exception of campaign support and endorsements.
That mayor Hope continues to be influenced mainly by narrow special interests instead of the best interests of Chatham-Kent, and then be protected from public scrutiny of this fact by selective and filtered media reporting does not bode well for our future. We cannot afford 4 more years of weak and directionless leadership easily subject to undue lobbying influence.
More ominously, with the Chatham Daily News editorial of April 5th serving as yet another example, local media continues to shelter Hope from criticism in a manner that's both biased and unjournalistic. The truth simply isn't being reported, and those who dare to ask the hard questions are censored. It's time the honeymoon ended.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to recognize that the emperor has no clothes. Dr. Strasser understands what's been happening in Chatham-Kent, and wasn't afraid to point out what the media has refused to report.
If the Rec Centre fails to proceed because of Hope's illogical opposition, it sends a contradictory message to potential Chatham-Kent investors than the positive growth-oriented image we've been desperately trying to promote with our tax dollars. Mayor Hope threatens to undo years of Economic Development efforts as a result.
It is worth noting the many times Chatham-Kent has come in second when a company has been deciding the location of a new plant, and one reason often cited is the lack of recreational facilities such as those proposed by St. Clair College. Ironically, a lack of post-secondary educational facilities has been suggested as well, and this proposal addresses both concerns with no impact to property taxes.
The Rec Centre will inject millions of dollars into our economy and bring at least 500 new students annually, which are both key components of our Community Strategic Plan which were recently affirmed by council and even the mayor as a vital part of our future strategic direction.
Mayor Hope's obstinate personal opposition to this particular project, and "no" votes in view of council's majority full-hearted support, merely demonstrates that Hope doesn't understand his role as mayor and isn't up to the job. Hope claims to have done his homework when defending his negative opinion, but who exactly was his study partner?
Based on any analysis, it's hard to see how any part of Chatham-Kent will come out as a winner should mayor Hope prevail and chase away this investment. I would urge Dr. Strasser to discount the present leadership vacuum in Chatham-Kent and proceed with the Rec Centre with the support of the majority of council, administration, and informed residents.
Unfortunately, it appears this may be the only method Chatham-Kent will reap any progress at all over the next 4 years.