We all know that famous phrase from the Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy's dog Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the ominous sounding voice is none other than a small old man with a big megaphone and a way of projecting his face to larger-than-life.
Of course, Fort Erie has its own version of "the wizard." Jim Thibert makes a grand entrance when he speaks at council and he speaks as though from on high. He dazzles the low information residents of Fort Erie who hang on his every word as though it were gospel. He has taken his budget presentations to an art form all his own. The Thibert Treatment is rife with stats and accusations towards anyone other than his arm's length corporation that is supposed to be in charge of economic development and tourism for Fort Erie.
But it's not and many of us are fully aware that it is merely Jim Thibert's personal fiefdom, heavily weighted in favour of a horse race track. Case in point: expensive brochure of a couple of years ago had glowing accounts of a marina on the Niagara Boulevard (dead in the water, now awaiting resurrection); a motor speedway (years away from completion); and the horse track (close to death for several years, saved only by massive amounts of money from slots/province). Missing from the brochure was the refurbished Point Abino Light Station and full information about the beaches - especially Bay Beach, part of the only public beach in Crystal Beach. Oh, he did mention the high rise proposed for the public lands in Bay Beach. In light of the Molinaros walking away from the deal, that should give Thibert a trifecta of losing propositions for Fort Erie.
Sure, I have called for his firing. So have many others. He has an abysmal track record (excuse the pun.) Earlier this month, he chose to blame everyone else but his corporation for Fort Erie's downward slide: the province, unskilled workers, cross-border shopping, and the best: lack of leadership. On the last, I can agree with him, except he was probably implying that the lack of leadership comes from four town councillors. Except that leadership in a town is the onus of its mayor and Mayor Martin has displayed a decided lack of leadership as he struggles against those representing the will of the people who elected the councillors by wide margins. Certainly not like Martin who won by a mere five votes in 2010.
And so, it came as no surprise when Don Lubberts reported to council a conversation he had with a local eye doctor who, with a partner is hoping to place his medical marijuana operation in the abandoned former Pharma plant on Jarvis Street. Some remember that Thibert's corporation was given thousands of dollars to find a suitable business to take over the plant. Nothing happened except that Pharma declared bankruptcy. Some may also recall that former Chamber of Commerce head Dick Dimberio declared bankruptcy for his Williams Gold, thus enabling the town to forgive over $35,000. in back property taxes. Lubberts reported that when Thibert's EDTC was approached originally by the doctor's group, Thibert opined that it was not a good fit for the building or the town. He later expressed support for the proposal. Lubberts reported this so that it would go on record and the doctor expressly wanted the public to know that he was rebuffed by Thibert in the beginning.
Which begs the question: why would the general manager of the town's economic development and tourism corporation discourage any legitimate interest in a building that is now unused? Why would the head of the EDTC stand in front of council and complain about designated wetlands thwarting new commercial business developments and then discourage the interest in a perfectly good building? Who are all these interested industrial clients who have been shut out of Fort Erie by the wetland designations? Thibert has been on this bandwagon for years and some people are gullible enough to buy this as the reason for the high unemployment and business loss in Fort Erie. And then the Horton's Steel site comes to mind, sitting there, mostly idle, awaiting an industrial business. (Except when Sandy Annunziata was hot to turn it into a housing development. Good idea that. Not. Another of Sandy's accomplishments was to make sure that no high rise would be erected at the foot of Jarvis Street. Had to change the zoning for that, yet he voted to change zoning to allow the development of a high rise in Bay Beach - on public land.)
So how does Jim Thibert survive amongst the ruins of Fort Erie's economic climate? By virtue of his ego and his swagger. Oh, and by suing a blogger (me) for publishing "slander" against him. Lance Armstrong successfully sued a writer for accusing him of taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. And then the truth came out.
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