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Caicco slams lack of local leadership on Essar Algoma insolvency

Former mayoral candidate and Ward 1 councillor James Caicco says Essar Steel Algoma should be the city's Number 1 issue. 'Where's the advocacy? Where's the leadership?' he asks
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Caicco says Sault Ste. Marie missed a golden opportunity one year ago to help local businesses left holding $24 million in questionable Essar Algoma debt. File photo of Essar Steel Algoma by Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday.

City leaders are relying far too much on Sault MPP David Orazietti's cabinet clout to save local steelmaking, says a director of Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., the provincial government's Crown corporation and development agency.

"I find our community efforts lacking in this issue," former Ward 1 Councillor James Caicco tells SooToday.

Caicco, who ran a close second to Debbie Amaroso in the Sault's 2010 mayoral race, was expanding today on comments he made yesterday as part of an NOHFC presentation to the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

NOHFC is working on "major, major funding" to help in the Essar Algoma restructuring, but the impetus came from bureaucrats in Toronto, not city politicians, he told the EDC.

"We want to let the EDC and the city know that the province is doing something. The province is working at a solution. The province is at the table. In typical David Orazietti fashion, he's going to use whatever tools are available to him to help a situation. NOHFC is one tool."

Orazietti has been in politics almost 20 years and has developed superb lobbying skills, Caicco tells SooToday.

"David has been so effective in producing results and getting provincial funding. Just because David's been so effective, I don't know if the leaders just kind of sit on the sidelines and say 'David will fix it. The province will do something.' The city leaders may not be at the head table of this restructuring effort, but they do have a role."

"When you have a strong community, it takes a number of players to be working together. We just can't rely on one person and one position time and time again to find solutions, find results, find funding. We need the efforts of everybody."

"Their role might  be a little different than the restructuring itself. Their efforts might be more co-ordinated in helping out the local companies that were adversely affected. It might be in lobbying. It might be in advocacy. They may be a resource and and support."

Caicco emphasized that the NOHFC funding package is not a fait accompli.

"We're working on funding. It has to go through a whole process and many approvals. Sometimes applications are successful. Sometimes they're not. The city's leadership should have a more active role in this."

Caicco cites a smaller Algoma municipality that he says does it right.

"A perfect example is Elliot Lake. The mall collapses. It affects dozens of businesses. Elliot Lake is at NOHFC's door immediately. NOHFC gave them $2 million to help businesses that were adversely affected in this situation."

Caicco says Sault Ste. Marie missed a golden opportunity one year ago to help local businesses left holding $24 million in questionable Essar Algoma debt.

"I thought that if City Council would have come to us last November when all those local businesses were affected, maybe there's something we could have done at the EDC level. But in that case, time is of the essence. You have to react quickly to situations."

"At that time. NOHFC wasn't approached. The community leaders remained silent. Where's the advocacy? Where's the leadership? They should be actively making this their Number 1 priority every single day until it's resolved."

"NOHFC can't just give money that was lost in that kind of credit protection. But maybe we could have set up a fund to help those businesses affected with marketing, setting up business plans for new revenue opportunities, or assisting them however we need to because they're hurting. I don't see the effort from the local leaders in helping those businesses."

"At the very least, there's advocacy the city should be doing. There's lobbying. And there's working . . . It's very difficult for a city to become economically vibrant without this situation resolved."

"That organization, that collaboration, that all has to happen at a city level. The municipality really has to take ownership of that and run with it. It's still not solved and I think we need leadership."

"To me, just being a community citizen, that aspect, that role of municipal government, has been largely silent."

The city's economic development activities are currently undergoing a third-party performance review by MDB Insight, which is expected to present a draft version of its findings to City Council on December 6.