By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
The chair of the Southwest Economic Alliance (SWEA) said he hopes the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund hasn’t died on the provincial legislature’s table.
“Hopefully it didn’t die (and) at this stage it’s just been delayed into the fall term,” said Peter White, who is also the president and CEO of the London Economic Development Corporation.
The purpose of the fund is to create jobs and protect existing ones. It has been heralded as a means to attract investment and help businesses address global uncertainty, something that would be done through an $80 million investment over four years.
While it wasn’t defeated at Queen’s Park, it wasn’t voted on either, which could mean the fund would brought forward again during the provincial parliament’s fall sitting or it would fall by the wayside.
White stressed the importance of the initiative, saying it would benefits for small- and large-urban, as well as rural communities, alike.
“We just felt the fund would be able to address opportunities and requirements for a variety of projects and a variety of potential wins and expansions within the communities,” he said. “We all know the challenges that have occurred in our region over the past four years and we just felt it was time that we had something that would help us.
“All of us across our region have really wanted to see this type of support to help us continue to build new opportunities.”
London West Liberal MPP Chris Bentley pointed to the Conservative party as the reason the bill wasn’t voted on, saying they “played their procedural games and wouldn’t let the bill come for a vote.”
“If your family is looking for work, you should be looking to tell the PC members what you think of their decision,” he said. “They have stopped this Southwestern Ontario Economic Development Fund from helping families in London and in southwestern Ontario.”
While she said the blame game isn’t the solution to the problem, London Fanshawe NDP MPP Teresa Armstrong said all parties need to work together to get the bill back into the legislature so it can be passed.
“I’m ready to pass that bill so we get Ontarians who are looking for work and give them some hope,” she said. “Working together and stopping the blame game and putting this through is going to help the city of London, the southwestern Ontario region that’s really hurting with the job market.”
Both White and Bentley agreed the fund is worth much more than the provincial contribution.
While White suggested for every dollar invested by the government, $5-$7 could be leveraged from the private sector, Bentley offered a more conservative figure $4 for every provincial dollar.
“You weren’t just dealing with an $80 million fund, you were dealing with something that was $880 million worth of capital — most of it private — to support business activity, new jobs in our region,” Bentley said.
Moving forward, White said SWEA will be advocating that the fund or a similar initiative be brought forward in the fall sitting. He used the old adage, a rising tide lifts all boats, to further his point.
“It certainly is going to impact and create positive impact for everyone in our area.”