Millroy: The Importance of Economic Development


When I mentioned in last week’s column that city council had only given lip service to the city’s economic development department back in the 1980s, I was being charitable.

It was actually ready to drop it altogether. In fact, it pretty well left that decision to an outside agency.

Doug Leighton, then the economic development commissioner, was asking council to increase from $135,000 to $200,000 its  budget proposal for his department. He said if he didn’t get it, council would be wasting the city’s money.

It was a comment the Late Charlie Swift, then a councillor, jumped on.

“I have to take the man at his word,” Swift told council. “If he feels $135,000 is being wasted, then we should not waste $135,000. I say eliminate the waste.”

Leighton didn’t get much in the way of support from then mayor Don Macgregor either.

As council shot down his claim for an increase in his budget, the mayor added that council would not decide on the fate of the economic development department until it received a recommendation from the joint manpower assessment and planning committee (MAP), a non-elected body charged with developing an economic strategy for the city.

“This,” I said in a column at the time, “in effect left with an outside agency the responsibility for recommendations concerning the future, if any, of the economic development department.”

The mayor said council would take the MAP recommendations “very, very seriously.”

Leighton was lucky in that he got support from MAP, its chairman Tony Holmes coming out quickly with support for his efforts to win more funding.

The city was probably lucky too, the disappearance of the economic development department at this time meaning that it would have to start at square one when sharper heads with more-forward thinking ideas won a place on council in the future.

Roger Harnock, manager of the Bank of Nova Scotia’s Station Mall branch, was another who offered support, telling the Chamber of Commerce “we have to diversify from the steel industry. We cannot rely on the steel company and its offshoots for economic survival”
He said one way to increase diversification was by having the economic development commissioner play a stronger role in bringing new business to the city.

His remarks, of course, may have resonated with his audience but they fell on deaf ears at city hall.

To show how bad Mr. Leighton had it, I will quote from a column I wrote at the time:
“About the only way Mr. Leighton could travel, which most economic development commissioners do at times, would be to steal a page from George Jonescu’s book, written when he was with the convention bureau.

“George would pack his gear into his car and take off, hoping he could find a friend to bunk with and be able to scrounge a meal or two as well.”
Jonescu, as you can see, wasn’t bankrolled well either.

I also mentioned that it must make Leighton more than a little envious to see that his counterpart in Guelph was seeking a $200,000 increase to a budget that was already $288,000.

Leighton didn’t stay around for the long term, with no encouragement from council obviously translating into discouragement on his part.

I don’t know if he is still around today but I wonder if he ever kept up on what eventually transpired in the Sault, a council that saw the merits of economic development and acted accordingly, setting up an organization that became a legitimate entry in its field.

I know Leighton can’t be credited with the heavy lifting in bringing this about, but I do believe he deserves some credit for attempting to get the council of the day to realize the importance of economic development. I think his efforts went a long way toward keeping at least some thought of economic development alive in this city.

If you were wondering if the traffic lights were going to come back on the reconstructed Bay Street, as I was, you can rest easy.

They are.

The only question is when.

Chief Administrative Officer Malcolm White told me in an email that representatives from engineering met with the contractor last week and apparently they are waiting for some further parts to arrive.

“Once they have them they will be installing the lights at the intersections that are ready to receive them,” White said.

That takes care of the timeline in regard to the installation.
It doesn’t, as far as I am concerned, take care of what I see as a problem with the contractor.

This project started in June. This is January of the following year. And the contractor is waiting for further parts to arrive?

There is something wrong with this picture.

Bay is a one-way streets. Traffic lights were always intended to go back on it to replace the tedious four-way stops at nearly every block. Surely it would have been only common sense to have all the parts available so the installation of the lights could be timed to co-ordinate with the end of the first season of roadwork.

It boggles the mind that a contractor could screw this up.

And I would hope that it would come with some rebuke from the city on behalf of those of us who travel the route on a regular basis


  1. I am now use to the 4 ways and like them better than lights. At least you don’t have to sit through a light when there is no traffic in sight. Send back the lights.

  2. Doug…you make some great points. I see so much potential in the Soo but there seems to only be pockets of people that try to make things better and it seems like they don’t get much support from the powers that be. Could you do an article on why they had to prepare a proposal for Amazon and why one wasn’t ready to go with just some tweaking? Also, has anything been done to capitalize on the 15 minutes of fame the city got from the national press of the application? And finally, after Duane Moleni left his post from the Downtown Association he had a few scathing things to say about the city that seemed true. Has anything been done to address his concerns in the years since?

  3. The 4 way stops aren’t that bad. It actually calms traffic and is a lot better from it being a drag strip when all lights were synchronized.

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